Car reviews - Kia - Sorento - GT-Line PHEV
Hushed EV drive, negligible road noise, fuel economy, EV-only range, standard equipment levels, quality of fit and finish, forward visibility, logical human-machine interface
Room for improvement
Price premium over combustion-engined variants, reduced towing capacity, petrol-engine blatter, no third-row airbag coverage, firmer ride due to vehicle heft
Kia’s plug-in Sorento is a pearler, but is it worth the money?
17 Mar 2022
By MATT BROGAN
KIA is moving rapidly towards new energy vehicles, which is why the number of electrified models in its portfolio has increased considerably. From family SUVs, such as the Sorento GT-Line PHEV tested here, to the forthcoming and exciting EV6, the Korean brand will soon offer something for everyone; Kia has promised to democratise its EV range – and that goal is almost within reach.
Well, it’s close, but not quite there just yet… For the time being, Kia’s plug-in hybrid and battery-electric variants attract a distinct premium over their combustion-engined counterparts. Case in point, the Sorento GT-Line PHEV, which at $81,900 drive-away is $14,700 dearer than its turbo-diesel-powered – and otherwise identically specified – sibling.
And while the high-pricing trend for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) isn’t exclusive to Kia – every manufacturer demands a premium for its comparable new energy variants – it is one that raises the value question for potential customers. Besides the feel-good factor that comes from “saving the planet”, there are few other incentives to make the move to an electrified model, even when it is one that is as good as the Sorento GT-Line PHEV.
The additional expense of the Sorento GT-Line PHEV comes entirely from its driveline. The offering combines a (132kW/265Nm) 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with a 67kW/304Nm electric motor to provide a peak system outputs 195kW and 350Nm. The combo is paired with a six-speed epicyclic automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Electric power is drawn from a 14kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack, which can offer up to 68km (NEDC) or 57km (WLTP) of all-electric driving range, and which contributes to an ADR combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of just 1.6 litres per 100km (and 36g/km of CO2 emissions). Kia says the Sorento GT-Line PHEV's battery pack can be charged at a rate of up to 3.3kW, which will take it from 15 to 95 per cent capacity in three hours and 25 minutes.
The South Korean brand’s large SUV model was designed from the outset to house a battery pack and of its associated mechanical items beneath the floor, which means there is little negative impact on cabin or cargo space when compared to petrol- or diesel-powered variants.
The seven-seater offers 604 litres of cargo space in five-seat mode compared with the diesel model’s 616 litres, and towing capacity drops to 1350kg (braked) against the ICE-only variant’s 2000kg.
Like the “regular” Sorento GT-Line, the PHEV variant scores all the luxuries and tech features one expects at its price point.
Quilted Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a 10.25-inch infotainment array, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, 12-speaker Bose audio system, LED ambient cabin lighting, a configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, Terrain Select multi-mode all-wheel drive system, panoramic sunroof, LED head- and tail-lights, and model-specific 19-inch alloy wheels with full-size spare.
Currently, the only direct rival to the Kia Sorento GT-Line PHEV is the Toyota Kluger Grande eFour (which is a series hybrid and not a plug-in) with a recommended retail price of $75,700 (plus on-road costs). Unlike the Toyota, Kia’s plug-in hybrid Sorento is not available in lower trim grades.
All Kia passenger models are covered by a seven-year/unlimited warranty, which includes roadside assistance and capped-price servicing. Service intervals are set at 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first) and servicing costs over five years amount to $2388.
The Sorento PHEV is 144kg heavier than the turbo-diesel-powered GT-Line and it feels a little weightier on the road. Despite the reduction in wheel diameter from 20- to 19 inches, the PHEV variant does present a somewhat firmer ride, which can feel a little “grainy” over broken surfaces.
That said, we are being quite nit-picky here, because the ride quality is generally very good – and at least on par with other seven-seat large SUVs. The Sorento’s suspension recovers well from traversing large troughs and potholes and presents very controlled body sway for a vehicle that tips the scale at 2052kg (tare).
Kia’s electrically assisted steering is, likewise, well resolved. It’s easy to twirl the ‘wheel at carpark speeds and through roundabouts, but on the open road the feedback is sedan-like and the response accurate. For a large vehicle the Sorento is very easy to manoeuvre and place. Forward and lateral visibility is excellent, and with the combination of an excellent surround-view camera system and decent 11.6-metre turning circle, it is also an easy vehicle to park.
The driveline is deceptively strong and eminently smooth. You can hear the power unit transition from electric to petrol propulsion – as well as the gear changes through the six-speed automatic transmission – but you certainly don’t feel them.
NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) is supressed to levels that would make some prestige marques blush, and whether syphoning through inner-city traffic or threading along a country backroad, the Sorento GT-Line PHEV provides a relaxing experience for all on board.
Cabin space is fantastic for four, friendly for five, and “do we have to” for seven. But with younger kids in the back, the Sorento is a good-sized family hauler.
Luggage space varies considerably, obviously, depending on seating configuration, but as a five-seater that occasionally serves as a seven-seater, there’s very little not to like. The seats fold logically and easily, and even adults have little drama getting in and out of the rear-most row.
Kia’s ease of use extends to almost every facet of the vehicle… From charging the car at night, setting up the infotainment and instrument panels to your preferences, to getting the seat just right, there’s nothing about the car that requires an IT degree, which is undoubtedly a plus.
The HVAC system works very well – ventilation to the rearmost row can be controlled by separate dials on the sixth seat’s armrest, or from the dashboard’s central array. The view out is also terrific, so back-seat travellers are unlikely to get car sick and can talk easily to those seated at the front thanks to the nifty (and handsfree) intercom.
Alternatively, you could drown out the noise created by boisterous rear-seat occupants entirely... The Sorento GT-Line PHEV has a terrific stereo with rich bass and remarkable mid-range clarity. Whether tuned to your favourite digital radio station or streaming wirelessly from your ‘phone, the audio system is just the ticket for enjoying long drives – well, unless you’re permanently dialled into ABC KIDS.
Of course, packaging and tech inclusions for the Sorento PHEV are identical to those of the regular GT-Line, which can make the price premium a little hard to swallow. Yes, the plug-in version of Kia’s seven-seat large SUV is difficult to criticise and, yes, the energy consumption totals are a blessing in the current climate (we managed 3.9 litres per 100km on test).
However, unless you’re prepared to charge the car every night – and have the additional $15k the plug-in model asks over its diesel sibling to begin with – the point, perhaps, is somewhat moot.
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