2021 Kia Sorento PHEV Review

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2021 Kia Sorento PHEV Review 2

Does plug-in hybrid power increase the Kia Sorento’s appeal? We find out ahead of the model’s Australian launch.

Now in its fourth generation, the Sorento SUV has followed Kia through its transformation from budget brand to upmarket disrupter.

Launching back in 2002, the original was a practical but largely uninspiring SUV that did little to upset its mainstream rivals. But the new version, which made its debut last year with hybrid and diesel power, saw Kia back to its best. The new Sorento’s blend of premium features and impressive practicality bowled us over, beating the venerable Skoda Kodiaq in a head-to-head test.

And now there’s a plug-in hybrid version. It pairs a 13.8kWh battery with the standard car’s 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, and total power stands at 195kW. Kia reckons the Sorento PHEV can do up to 56km on electric power alone. It will arrive in Australia around October this year although pricing and specifications are yet to be revealed.

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In our European test vehicle for this early review, specifications largely mirror those of other Sorento models, with the single exception being that every PHEV comes with 19-inch wheels; basic hybrid variants (arriving next year) get 17-inch rims for a plusher ride. And yet even entry-level versions like ours get an eight-inch touchscreen, heated seats and a heated steering wheel, a fully digital instrument cluster and LED lights.

Going for the range-topper brings luxuries like a glass panoramic roof, ventilated electric Nappa leather seats, keyless go and a head-up display.

We rated the conventional-engined Sorento’s driving experience very highly when we tried it last year, and much of what we love has transferred to this plug-in model. Body control is impressive, for example, especially for something so tall and heavy. Performance is as strong as you’d want in a car like this, too; 0-100kph takes 8.4 seconds, with instant power from the electric motor giving it great punch off the line.

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The steering doesn’t offer much feel, but it’s consistently weighted and while the ride is on the firm side, the accomplished damping takes the edge off deep potholes and loose drain covers. It’s all but silent running in EV mode, as you’d expect, but even at higher speeds the engine does little to disturb comfort or refinement.

In fact, the most noticeable noise is at a standstill, when the petrol motor has a tendency to cut in and out involuntarily, presumably to keep the 12-volt battery topped up. When the car runs so happily on electricity (we saw roughly 43km on our mixed test route) most of the time, it’s a shame the peace and quiet can be interrupted when stationary.

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In truth, the standard hybrid feels as if its powertrain is better integrated. The plug-in can be slow to respond when you put your foot down – especially when rolling out of a junction or away from a roundabout, hesitating as the car’s computers decide which power source it prefers. Like many plug-in hybrids, the Sorento is at its best running around with a full battery.

Keeping this SUV charged will work wonders for your average fuel economy, of course. We saw around 8L/100km with the battery depleted but thankfully, charging is easy; it’ll take 3hrs 25mins to realise that EV range using a 3kW home wallbox, or five hours via a standard domestic socket. Cables for both charging types are included as standard.

Kia claims the car’s new platform frees up more space in every row, resulting not only in seven usable seats, but a huge van-like boot, too. More impressive is the fact this PHEV model sacrifices just four litres (leaving 604 litres in total) of space to the standard hybrid with the rearmost row folded flat. The maximum load volume for the plug-in stands at a cavernous 1988 litres.

Elsewhere, the Sorento PHEV feels as luxurious and solidly built as its non-plug-in sibling. Granted, our test car did without the lush Nappa leather and gloss trim of more expensive models, but as a family car it ticks all the right boxes.

The dashboard perhaps lacks a little flair, but it’s logically laid out and the central screen is easy to navigate. Thankfully, Kia has kept the climate controls separate from the main display, too, making them simple to operate on the move.

The Kia Sorento remains one of our favourite large SUVs. The standard hybrid is better to drive and more efficient if you don’t have the means to regularly plug in, but keeping the battery topped up makes this an incredibly quiet and surprisingly luxurious family SUV.

Richard Ingram

Model: Kia Sorento PHEV 1.6 T-GDi 6-speed AT AWD
Price: TBA
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol plus electric motor
Power/torque: 195kW/350Nm
Transmission Six-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-100kph: 8.4 seconds
Top speed: 192kph
Fuel economy (claimed)/CO2: 1.6L per 100km/38g per km
On sale: Q4 2021

Final Verdict:
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