A road trip in a 2023 Kia Sorento plug-in yields 35.2 mpg over 1,225 miles after using 34 miles of battery driving
Table of Contents
Competing PHEV SUVs
Hybrid Battery Charging
Ride and Handling
Back Seats and Cargo Space
Why Buy the Kia Sorento PHEV?
Ijust completed a 1,225-mile road trip in the Kia Sorento PHEV and logged an average of 35.2 miles per gallon. Much of the round-trip from San Diego to Sonoma, Calif., was driven at 70 mph with cruise control. I was pleased with the mileage and expect most owners of this all-wheel-drive, midsize SUV with three rows of seating would be, too.
A plug-in hybrid isn’t necessarily the optimum choice for a road trip, but the Sorento is ideal for its comfort and a sense of reinforced safety. With 31- to 34- miles of battery-electric driving, many owners could drive the workweek with minimal emissions, engine firing, and using pricey fuel.
The six-seat Sorento PHEV is rich in premium interior materials and contemporary design. The midsize cabin provides ample space for shoulder width, tall headroom, and a third row that folds flat to the floor. There is plenty of room for luggage and treasures picked up along the way.
For daylong driving, the suite of advanced driver-assist systems took away much of the stress in guarding my line. I grew to trust the system, which kept the Sorento well-centered in the lane, including the curves. Steering assist was reassuring and not invasive. And I drove the entire round trip with no dashboard warnings or loud safety alerts: the Sorento and its network of electronics performed flawlessly.
Besides its suite of advanced safety technologies, the Sorento PHEV has solid NHTSA safety ratings:
• 4 out of 5 stars overall
• 4 stars for frontal and rollover crashes
• 5 stars for side-impact protection
• 4.5 stars for rollover protection
Redesigned last year, the fourth-generation Kia Sorento is nearly 1.4 inches longer than the previous model, adding to interior space. The body structure was made stronger, which Kia says improved ride, handling, noise, vibration, and harshness.
The body structure is designed with a multi-load path to distribute the impact forces of kinetic energy through the body. Seven air bags are standard with an array of standard and optional safety technologies and advanced driver-assist systems.
As a midsize SUV crossover, the Sorento is part of Kia’s “Plan S” electrification strategy. The lineup of Sorento trim levels is a triple play of four-cylinder powertrains: gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid, and the plug-in-hybrid.
The base gas-powered Sorento ($31,000) has a choice of a 191-hp, non-turbocharged 2.5 liter or a 281-hp turbocharged version ($37,000); both with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Sorento Hybrid ($38,000) has a turbocharged 227-hp, 1.6-liter engine, and six-speed automatic. And the top-line Sorento PHEV has a 261-hp version of the 1.6-liter engine and six-speed automatic.
Competing Midsize SUV Plug-in Hybrids
- Hyundai Santa Fe, 31-mile EV range; $41,000-$47,000;
- Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, 25-mile battery range; $61,000-$69,000;
- Volvo XC60 Recharge, 19-mile EV range; $59,000-$69,000;
- Volvo XC90 Recharge, 18-mile EV range; $73,000-$80,000;
- Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, 21-mile EV range; $71,000;
- BMW X5 xDrive45e, 31-mile range; $66,000;
- Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, 17-mile range; $88,000; and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, 15-mile range; $173,000.
*Above MSRPs include AWD and the freight charge.
For 2023, there is just one well-stocked trim level of Sorento PHEV, the SX-Prestige with all-wheel drive. And it has a one size fits all starting price of $50,185, including the $1,295 freight charge from Korea. With two options for Snow White Pearl paint ($445) and carpeted floor mats ($210), the as-tested price was a reasonable $50,840 (though there likely will be pricing surcharges at the dealership and a possible “protection” package that could add more to the sticker price).
A cargo cover, $190, would be a smart addition, as would a cargo-area mat, $115, which might help with soundproofing in an open cargo area.
Kia Sorento warranties include 10-years/100,000-miles of coverage for the powertrain and hybrid battery. Bumper-to-bumper coverage is for 5-years/60,000-miles with roadside assistance.
Find current pricing and available lease or purchase offers here.
Sorento SX-P Upgrades
Kia loaded the 2023 Sorento PHEV SX-P with desirable standard features. Among them:
- 3-row seating with second-row captain’s chairs;
- Perforated leather seat upholstery;
- All-wheel-drive with torque vectoring;
- 19-inch alloy wheels;
- 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster (a first for any Kia SUV);
- Surround View Monitor, using four cameras to create a 360-degree perspective around the vehicle;
- Blind View Monitor projects live video view of adjacent lanes in the instrument cluster, activated via the turn signal;
- Electrochromic rearview mirror.
Other standard Sorento PHEV features include:
•Smart key with push-button start and remote start (from key fob).
•Eight USB charging ports.
•10.25-inch high-resolution color touchscreen display with navigation and Kia’s UVO telematics link.
•Wireless smartphone charging pad.
•12-speaker Bose Centerpoint sound system.
According to the EPA, the Sorento PHEV’s combined gasoline-electric driving range can be as high as 460 miles. But in my experience, the most driving range I achieved, according to the onboard computer, was 390 miles. That factored the 31 miles of a fully charged battery and 359 miles from the gas engine.
After switching from battery power to engine, the EPA mileage ratings, using 87 octane fuel, are 35 mpg city, 33 highway, and 34 mpg combined, or a combined 79 MPGe rating.
Filling the fuel tank of 12.4 gallons with 87 octane wasn’t overly painful. Gas prices ranged from $5.99 per gallon at the start of my trip to $6.59 and almost $7 by week’s end. The price of unleaded 87 octane had jumped by $1 since I’d filled up for the trip.
Finessing the Fuel
Kia’s plug-in hybrid system switches from battery power to engine intervention for more aggressive driving. And even with a depleted battery, the hybrid system functions as any other hybrid system, giving some short-range and low-speed acceleration, regenerative braking, and auto stop-start at idle.
Because Kia uses a traditional, stepped six-speed automatic transmission, there is no delay in forward motion.
Driving with battery power lifts the performance noticeably. Acceleration is more absolute off the line and continues quickly up to highway speeds. After the transition to gasoline, the turbocharged four-cylinder is quite capable at hefting the Sorento PHEV’s curb weight of 4,537 pounds, which includes 309 pounds for the hybrid battery.
Torque-vectoring all-wheel drive (cornering control) includes a locking center differential. If the system detects wheel slippage, it reroutes power between the front and rear axles and applies subtle braking pressure to the left and right wheels to help maintain traction.
The 14 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery can be recharged in two to three hours or more, Kia says. And all of my charging sessions for a depleted battery took four hours. That is too long for a stop during a road trip, so most of my driving was on gasoline with some input from the hybrid system. I tried to charge in Sonoma, but the public charging station I visited had four charge stations, three of which were “unavailable.” Two other EV drivers had pulled in, and we shared gripes about the poor maintenance of public charging in general. The one functioning charger was occupied by a fully charged car, but no owner was in sight.
For those over-the-river trips to friends and family, Kia includes a heavy-duty charging cable that can be plugged into a household outlet. Plan on nine hours for a full charge.
I am a hands-on driver when using driver-assist systems. It takes time to develop trust in these electronics. Still, Kia’s assistance calibrations were accurate and prevented the Sorento from drifting across lane lines, and it even tracked well when the lane lines were disrupted or decayed.
The Sorento PHEV has an expansive network of Kia Drive Wise Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems, including:
Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist — Rear with parallel exit: Under certain conditions, the system can detect vehicles traveling in the next lane. When a vehicle is “seen” in the blind spot, it brakes the outer wheel to help return the vehicle to its lane.
Forward Collision Warning: Designed to detect a vehicle ahead and to calculate distance and closing speed. The system will fire off an alert if it senses a potential frontal collision.
Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist — Junction Turning: As the driver brakes to prevent a collision, the system can lessen the effects when turning left and an oncoming vehicle is approaching.
Highway Driving Assist: Uses federal highway speed limit information from the navigation system and, under certain conditions, will automatically adjust speed to be within the posted speed limit.
Intelligent Speed Limit Assist: Automatically changes the set speed of Smart Cruise Control by using the speed limit information detected through the front camera or GPS navigation information.
Lane Following Assist: Follows lane markings with steering inputs to help maintain lane-centering.
Navigation-Based Smart Cruise Control — Curve: The system can reduce vehicle speed proactively before upcoming curves.
Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist: When approaching cross traffic is detected, the system alerts the driver and can apply the brakes.
Sorento’s steel-spring suspension (front MacPherson struts with a multilink rear) capably handles the hefty curb weight. Straight-line ride quality is quite smooth, and I could sense the engineering for low friction and extended glide. However, there is noticeable head toss when turning into driveways or navigating speed bumps.
The 19-inch Continental CrossContact LX Sport 235/55 tires are very compliant with a comfortable treadwear rating of 480, which translates to a 50,000-mile warranty.
Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes have 12.8-inch rotors front and rear. Pedal response is refined and regeneration is well modulated without unexpected grabbiness.
There appears to have been a generous budget to make the Sorento PHEV more luxurious than some entry-luxury vehicles. The cabin is rich in premium materials, neatly stitched leather, and soft surfaces for elbows. The black woven headliner is calming without making the cabin feel closed in.
Driver sightlines are open at the side mirrors by the small corner glass. Over-the-shoulder glances are compromised by the second-row headrests of the captain’s chairs. But the restricted view was of no consequence with the around-view camera system and Kia’s nifty turn-signal camera views, left or right.
Front headroom is tall at 40.3 inches with long legroom of 41.4 inches.
Fourteen-way power front seats are comfortably bolstered and well-stuffed to handle a tankful of road-trip driving. The seats include a newly added thigh extender, so tall drivers should be able to find an optimum position.
The center shift console is a multi-use desktop. The shift module anchors the rotary shift dial and performance-control selections (Eco, Sport, Smart). The wireless charging pad, two charging USBs, and a data-media USB are just ahead on the console.
Driver information is easily viewed on the 12-inch-wide screen, which can be configured to show a range of functions. But there is a lot of information to fit in the smallish gauge dials.
Infotainment selections are separated from the 10.25-inch touchscreen with AC and vent controls below.
Especially appreciated are the second-tier air vents, four of them across the dashboard. A female friend once told me that she bought her SUV because it had crotch-cooling vents, and the Sorento’s venting should have the same effect.
Legroom in the second row is impressively long at 40.3 inches with headroom of 39.1 inches. And the expansive pano roof creates an enjoyable space. But the seat bottoms of the captain’s chairs might feel downsized to upsized adults.
A flat second-row floor adds to a sense of openness. And the seats have several inches of fore-aft slide with seatback recline.
Access to the pair of third-row seats is by an easy-to-operate tilt and slide second row. Legroom is kid-class at 29.6 inches (or less if the second-row seats are not moved forward). However, the space is accommodating with a USB charge port on each side, and a cup-mug holder and a burger-snack slot.
Large corner glass is a humane child-tending addition for ambient light.
The cargo area has wide access of 44 inches with 30 ½ inches of entry height. Fold the third-row seats for 41 inches of square and flat cargo space. Handy straps on the back of the seats make them easy to pull back into position.
Or fold both rows of seats for almost 7 feet in length (if the front passenger seat is moved forward).
There is some subfloor storage, but it’s not large enough to stow the charging cable.
A plug-in hybrid is a half-step to total battery-electric driving. For many drivers, a plug-in will be a smart choice until battery technology advances to provide more than 300 miles of cost-effective range.
The Kia Sorento Hybrid is also a good family choice. It is less expensive with fuel economy ratings of 39/35/37 mpg in front drive or 36/33/36 mpg AWD. But it does not have the value-added asset of fuel-price protection.
A range of 31 to 34 miles is almost like getting a free gallon of gas every day from the Kia Sorento PHEV. And for those owners with a home charger, there is the reassurance of always having a full “tank.”
Body style: midsize 6-seat, 5-door SUV with active on-demand 4WD
Engine: 177.2-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder; 195.4 lb.-ft. torque from 1,500-4,500 rpm
Hybrid System: 89.8 hp permanent magnet motor with 360-volt, 14 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery
Total system power: 261 hp and 258 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Battery-electric driving range: 31-34 miles
Total driving range: 460 miles, maximum (390 miles observed)
MPGe fuel economy equivalent: 54/48/52 mpge city/hwy/combined; regular unleaded fuel
Engine-only fuel economy: 35/33/34 mpg; 87 octane recommended
Top speed: 74.6mph in EV mode; 120 mph for ICE
0-62 mph acceleration: 8.7 seconds
Towing capacity: 1,654 pounds with an unbraked trailer
BY THE NUMBERS
Fuel tank: 12.4 gallons
Cargo space: 12.6 to 38.5 cubic feet
Front head/leg room: 40.3/41.4 inches
2nd-row head/leg room: 39.1/40.3 inches
3rd-row head/leg room: 36.8/29.6 inches
Length/wheelbase: 189.4/110.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,537 pounds (including 309 lbs. for the hybrid battery)
Turning circle: 37.9 feet
Standard Sorento equipment includes: smart-key entry with push-button ignition and remote start, power and heated front seats, 2nd-row captain’s chairs, one-touch slide and fold 2nd-row seats10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation and MapCare, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay apps; UVO link with a free trial; satellite radio 3-month free trial; 4.2-inch supervision cluster, USB charging in all 3 rows
Standard Sorento exterior equipment: 19-inch wheels; hands-free liftgate; roof rails; LED projector headlights, fog, and taillights; heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators .
Sorento SX-P AWD features include: surround-view monitor, blind-spot view monitor, Bose premium audio, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated 2nd-row seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-folding side mirrors, parking collision-avoidance assist-reverse, multi power adjustable driver’s seat with memory.
Safety features include: 7 air bags (including driver’s knee bag), rear occupant alert with ultrasonic sensors, stability and traction controls
Driver-assist technologies: forward collision avoidance (cyclist and junction turning), blind-spot collision avoidance assist-rear; rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, intelligent cruise control with stop and go; lane-keeping assist and lane-following assist, parking distance warning, forward and reverse
Base Kia Sorento PHEV price: $50,185, including $1,295 freight charge; price as tested $50,840.
Options on test vehicle: Snow White Pearl paint $445; carpeted floor mats $210.
Where assembled: Hwasung, Korea
Warranties: 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain; 5-years/60,000-miles bumper-to-bumper coverage with roadside assistance.Read more