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Kia Sorento PHEV Review

Kia sorento phev review

By Matt Robinson

What Is It?

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It’s the Kia Sorento, which has always been a very good 7-seat SUV for those on a budget since it launched in 2002. However, the old Mk3, which was built from 2014 to 2020, was particularly impressive. Aside from slightly smoothed-off ‘soap bar’ looks, designed to appeal to the US market primarily, there was little to dislike about it and much to love – mainly because, unlike a lot of supposedly 7-seat SUVs, which actually turn out to be more ‘5+2s’ (as in, their third row of seats is for the tiniest of kids only), the Sorento could sort of take 7 adults in comfort. Admittedly, it still wasn’t the most spacious machine right back there in the cheap seats, but it made a better fist of it than some far more expensive and prestigious rivals.

Aside from that, it drove well, was generously equipped and it even had a nice-looking, well-appointed cabin. The only other slight fly in the ointment was that the Sorento Mk3 was only sold with a solitary 2.2-litre CRDi turbodiesel engine. It was not a bad unit at all, developing 197hp and 441Nm at first, and then ever-so-slightly massaged to 200hp for its midlife facelift in 2018, but when it came to the spread of engines in the Mk3 then it was a Hobson’s choice kind of thing for people looking at people movers for larger families.

All that changes with the Sorento Mk4. While the 2.2-litre CRDi continues, mainly to serve as the range’s towing vehicle, now the emphasis is on hybridised petrols. A 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder T-GDi petrol engine serves as the solitary form of motive power, and it either comes with a sliver of electric power and a 1.49kWh lithium-ion battery in the 230hp Sorento Hybrid (HEV), or a bit more electrical oomph and a 13.8kWh power pack in the 265hp Sorento PHEV (plug-in hybrid), which is what we’re testing right here. 

What’s Good About It?

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Whereas the old Sorento was quite an anonymous-looking thing, no such accusation can be levelled at this Mk4. It’s very angular and striking, with unusual split-lamp rear clusters and a big, square, lantern-jawed appearance at the front. It took us a while to get used to the styling of the latest Sorento, but now that we have we’re prepared to say it’s not only a distinctive machine to look at, it can also be safely classified as ‘handsome’ too.

Inside, it’s another belting Kia interior. A lot of thought and ingenuity has been put into the entire passenger cabin of the Sorento SUV, but we’ll come onto those points in the practicality section later – therefore, even if you simply take into account just the ambience of the front seats and the dashboard, you realise that this Korean company can now match European rivals in the quality stakes.

In terms of both ergonomics and haptics, the Sorento’s interior is spot on, while all models bar base-spec ‘2’ cars have a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen; on the 2 models, the latter of these is reduced to 8 inches, but the classy, advanced TFT cluster is retained on all Sorento Mk4s. But there’s also a really nice blend of textures in here, with piano-black elements contrasting nicely with the metal trim strip with cross-hatching on it that bisects the dash, while even the air vents are eye-catching. Basically, some thought, care and proper attention has gone into crafting the Kia’s cockpit, and it shows. 

What Could Be Better?

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There’s still a compromise of sorts to be made with the third row of seating. As we said about the Mk3 Sorento in the intro, the Mk4 version still manages to offer a little more legroom in the back than a few key rivals, but the issue is more that the seat squabs – designed to fold into the floor of the boot in 5-seat mode – are mounted very low. So any taller people in the back (adults) will find their knees in an awkward, raised position, no matter how you move the seats forward and backwards in row 2 in order to accommodate the sixth and seventh passengers. 

What’s It Like To Drive?

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It’s very majestic and comfortable, accepting that – due to its sheer physicality (at more than 4.8 metres long and almost 1.7 metres tall, and clocking in at 2,099kg as tested in PHEV format, the Kia is a chunky old thing) – the Sorento is not the most thrilling thing to be behind the wheel of. However, few 7-seat SUVs of any size are genuinely entertaining for handling, so generally the Kia can hold its head up high among its peers.

The Sorento PHEV teams its 1.6-lite engine with a 69kW (91hp) electric motor, which gives rise to some impressive eco-stats and up to 35 miles of zero-emissions driving. However, the integration of the hybrid power forms is what’s most impressive. You just don’t notice the PHEV shifting from electric to petrol to a mix of both, while its 6-speed automatic gearbox is generally a gem – smooth, unflustered and with ratios perfectly matched to the Sorento’s spread of power.

Of which this 7-seat SUV has plenty. Developing its peak 265hp at 5500rpm, all backed up by a robust 350Nm of torque coming on stream at 1500rpm and not letting go until 4500rpm, at no point does the idle thought ‘hmm, a 1.6-litre engine is a bit underdone in a vehicle this large, isn’t it?’ ever cross your mind. A quoted 8.7-second 0-62mph time and 119mph top speed represent respectable data for a 2.1-tonne behemoth like this, and the Kia never feels particularly lacking for either step-off acceleration or midrange urge. OK, so the T-GDi engine does sound a bit coarse at higher revs, but that broad plateau of torque and the silky 6-speed ‘box ensure you never really have to stretch the petrol engine out in the Sorento to make progress.

What’s nicest about it, though, is just how easy-going and relaxing it feels to travel in. When we first drove the Sorento Mk4 at launch, in HEV format, it felt like Kia had gone after some sort of chassis sharpness to bring better handling dynamics to the big SUV, at the expense of low-speed ride comfort. Well, maybe it was just the fact that the suspension is geared for the extra weight of the PHEV that we felt that a year or two back, because this time around, our top-grade ‘4’ plug-in model on 19-inch wheels glided across even the most ravaged of road surfaces with genial good grace. Tyre roar and wind noise were also kept to the barest minimum levels, so if the Sorento was running in its electric-only mode, the passenger compartment was remarkably quiet. The suspension also didn’t lose its cool at higher speeds, either, rendering the SUV assured and steadfast on wider A-roads and motorways.

Yet the Sorento Mk4 is better to drive this time around than the Mk3 was, certainly from the point of view of steering feel and weighting, and body control too. There is roll evident in the shell in the corners, but thankfully the Kia never felt anything like as heavy as its quoted kerb weight when it was being threaded along a more intricate lane, while the precise steering made placing it both pleasurable and easy. OK, a power-to-weight ratio of 126hp-per-tonne is never going to light any driving enthusiast’s fire; however, the Sorento is more talented and capable for roadholding than you might be tempted to give it credit for, if all you do is pore over the on-paper stats.

How Practical Is It?

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This is an immensely practical car. Plenty of design innovation has gone into the entire cabin of the Sorento Mk4, so that everyone in the vehicle feels like they’ve got various touches and functions that serve their individual wellbeing best. It starts up front, obviously, with the transmission tunnel packing a neat compartment with a flat Qi smartphone charging pad in it ahead of the rotary-dial gear selector. Then there are 2 cupholders aligned alongside some of the main controls, before various other shallow storage trays (for coins and suchlike) sit ahead of a large cubby situated beneath the centre armrest’s lid.

Moving into the second row, all 3 seats slide forwards and backwards individually, while there are USB sockets in the sides of the front seats – a handy place to put them, up high, instead of mounted down at floor level. On our 4-grade test PHEV, there are also buttons on the right-hand side of the front seat’s backrest, so that it can be slid backwards and forwards by the driver to make more room in row 2, without the driver having to lean over to the passenger seat’s lower electrical controls.

Those who are sitting in the outer chairs of the middle row of the cabin then have plenty of storage solutions at their disposal, as there is the usual door pocket which can take a drinks bottle in it. But there’s also a storage tray in the grab handle, as well as an individual cupholder moulded into the door card; this is a very neat touch and not something widely seen in any competitors. And if you think sitting in row 3 that things will feel worse, not a bit of it – even back at the very rear of the Sorento’s interior, passengers have their own climate control functions and USB sockets.

Another great touch is that Kia has engineered an underfloor storage compartment in the boot for the luggage cover that you’d otherwise have in place with the Sorento in 5-seat configuration. Sounds simple, this, but you’d be surprised how many other manufacturers make no such concession for it, meaning you either have to have the luggage cover rattling around on the boot floor or in a rear footwell as you drive, or you must simply leave it at home in the first place.

And talking of boot space, with all 7 seats in use there’s still 179 litres of cargo space at the back to play with. Not a lot, admittedly, but not a huge amount less than you get in some city cars these days. Fold down the 2 seats in row 3 and the Sorento’s boot rises to a gargantuan 813 litres, but then fold down all of the middle row and you have fully 1996 litres to play with. That’s positively van-like capacity.

How Much Will It Cost Me?

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Although the Kia Sorento PHEV has the highest list price – our test car in 4 specification was a whopping £54,155 as tested – and therefore the most demanding monthly leasing figures through Vanarama, its obvious benefit comes in running costs. Kia claims 176.6mpg from the Sorento plug-in, with just 38g/km of CO2 associated with that. There’s also, as we’ve mentioned, a 35-mile electric-only driving range to play with, in theory. You’ll need to make the most of that zero-emissions number, with once or even twice-daily charging sessions through the mains, if you hope to even get close to 177mpg on a regular basis, of course.

Beyond that, the Sorento is obviously well equipped across the range, as you’d expect of a vehicle from this particular company. The SUV follows Kia’s numbering sequence for trim levels, with the specifications arranged in 2, 3 and, yep, 4 grades. Both the HEV and the PHEV Sorentos are sold at all of these specification levels, but the CRDi turbodiesel is only offered as a ‘3’ model.

Sorentos in 2 spec, then, come with items including 17-inch alloy wheels (on the HEV, the PHEV has 19s at this grade), dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, LED headlamps, an 8-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 6-speaker sound system, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, parking sensors front and rear plus a reversing camera, heated front seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, and also a whole range of advanced driver assist safety (ADAS) systems, such as Driver Attention Warning, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist (City, Pedestrian, Cyclist, Junction), Intelligent Speed Limit Assist, Lane Follow Assist, Multi-Collision Brake Assist and even Trailer Stability Assist.

The 3-spec cars bring in 19-inch wheels for all models, as well as privacy glass, LED bifunction headlights and LED indicators, leather seat upholstery, 8-way electrically adjustable front seats, heated seats in the outer positions of row 2 of the cabin, the premium etching on the metal trim of the fascia, keyless entry and go, a powered tailgate, ambient cabin lighting, the larger 10.25-inch infotainment system, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and enhanced ADAS in the form of Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Highway Driving Assist and self-levelling rear suspension.

Finally, top-spec 4 Sorento models have a panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof, more luxurious Nappa leather for the seats, a 10-way powered driver’s seat (and extra electrically adjustable lumbar support on the front passenger seat), ventilated front seats, metal pedals, a 12-speaker Bose Premium Sound System, a customisable head-up display, the 360-degree Around View Monitor camera system, blind-spot monitoring cameras, and the final 2 bits of ADAS with Parking Collision Avoidance Assist as well as Remote Smart Parking Assist. 

Anything Else I Should Know?

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Just in case you’re wondering, no – we’ve not ‘done a typo’ throughout this piece. Although the Kia SUV is almost certainly named after the famed Italian resort on the Bay of Naples, that place is indeed spelled ‘Sorrento’. Whereas the car has just the 1 ‘r’ in its badge.

What Alternatives Should I Look At?

Hyundai Santa Fe Leasing

Technically very similar, as Kia and Hyundai share parts and technology. Santa Fa is therefore excellent.

Land Rover Discovery Sport Leasing

For an upmarket air, the Disco Sport is the choice – but it’s expensive and space in the back is tight. 

Skoda Kodiaq Leasing

Superb in many regards, the Kodiaq isn’t quite as capacious or well thought-out in row 3 as the Sorento.

The Vanarama Verdict: 9/10

"This is an immensely practical car. Plenty of design innovation has gone into the entire cabin of the Sorento Mk4, so that everyone in the vehicle feels like they’ve got various touches and functions that serve their individual wellbeing best."

3 Things To Remember About The Kia Sorento PHEV:

  • The cabin is full of clever touches

  • All petrol models are some form of hybrid

  • Really comfortable and luxurious to travel in

For more articles, you can check out our car features and guides section. Or if you're looking for a brand new vehicle, we've got a huge range of cars to lease at unbeatable prices.

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