Tested in the year 2022 The Kia Sorento PHEV Requires an Additional Motor

With only 90 electric horsepower, maximizing the Sorento's all-electric range requires patience.

Plug-in hybrids have the potential to bridge the gap between internal combustion vehicles and electric vehicles by providing a useful amount of all-electric range in addition to the ability to fill up and drive straight to Topeka, just as you did in your '68 Olds 442. While this appears to be an ideal combination, the gasoline and electric components of a PHEV rarely play equal roles. For the most part, these are gasoline-powered vehicles that can occasionally pass as an electric vehicle, rather than vice versa. And the utility of that ability is contingent upon two factors: battery capacity and the size of the electric motor (or motors). Regarding the first part of that equation, the EPA rates the 2022 Kia Sorento PHEV at 32 miles of all-electric range, which may be sufficient for daily driving. However, its electric motor produces only 90 horsepower, and this is the crux of the matter. The purpose of a plug-in hybrid is to maximize its use as an electric vehicle, but the Sorento's power-to-weight ratio in EV mode makes a Yugo look like a Ferrari SF90 Stradale.

The Sorento's electric motor is sandwiched between a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, combining to produce 261 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, a significant increase over the 227 horsepower of the non-plug-in Sorento Hybrid we tested last year. However, the plug-additional in's 221 pounds of battery contribute to a curb weight that is 395 pounds heavier than the hybrid's, although some of that difference is due to the PHEV's standard all-wheel drive and the fact that the plug-in is only available in the higher-trim SX trim level. (For 2021, the Sorento Hybrid was only available in front-wheel drive; however, AWD is now available for 2022.) All of that additional weight more than offsets the PHEV's 34 horsepower boost, with the plug-in Sorento reaching 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, compared to 7.2 seconds for the hybrid. The PHEV also trails the Hybrid by 0.2 second and 3 mph in the quarter-mile sprint, clocking 15.8 seconds at 89 mph. While an AWD Hybrid is likely to achieve similar performance to the PHEV, the point remains that you are not purchasing the plug-in for performance. This is not a Toyota RAV4 Prime.

Why would you then pay an additional $6800 for an AWD Sorento EX Hybrid? To begin, because you can recoup the majority of that cost through a federal tax credit—the PHEV's 13.8-kWh (11.8-kWh usable) battery qualifies for a $6587 tax credit. However, the other reason is that you intend to plug it in as frequently as possible and take advantage of the EV mode's EPA-estimated 79 MPGe efficiency. Because once the gas engine is running, the PHEV is no more efficient than a regular hybrid, and is actually slightly less efficient—34 mpg combined EPA, compared to 35 mpg for the hybrid. We averaged 26 MPGe over 600 miles of mixed driving.

To activate the Sorento's electric drivetrain, you typically want to press the EV button on the console to force it into EV mode. Because, unlike the majority of other PHEVs, the Sorento has an odd disdain for its own electric mode and, if left alone, will run the gas engine even in light-throttle situations where you'd expect it to run entirely on electric power. When the battery was fully charged, the Sorento frequently ignored its electric capability in favor of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Perhaps this was because the majority of our testing occurred in cold weather—and it appeared as though the only way to generate significant cabin heat was to run the engine—but sometimes the temperature wasn't quite that low, and the Sorento would hoard battery charge for no apparent reason. Other plug-in hybrid vehicles, such as the Chrysler Pacifica and Ford Escape, will attempt to exhaust their available electric range before engaging the gas engine. Which is reasonable. That is, presumably, why you purchased a plug-in.

After informing the Sorento that you prefer electric propulsion, the challenge is that you now have 90 horsepower motivating 4490 pounds of Kia. It only takes a small amount of throttle to get the gas engine to assist in heaving the oars, and acceleration in EV mode is so gradual that you could probably leave your morning coffee on the roof for a few miles if it needs to cool down. In practice, the Sorento's EV mode is activated once you've reached your cruising speed and intend to remain there for an extended period of time. While the electric motor is located upstream of the transmission and thus benefits from multiple gear ratios, it feels strange to have upshifts interrupt your silent electric driving, shattering the illusion that this is anything but a mutant internal combustion vehicle.

The Sorento is a handsome vehicle in its own right, but with so many variants—2.5-liter naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter turbocharged, 1.6-liter turbocharged hybrid, front-drive and all-wheel drive, 16 trim levels—easy it's to find alternatives that make more sense and cost less. Our Sorento PHEV was more expensive than a top-of-the-line Telluride, a two-time 10Best winner, at $49,960 in SX Prestige trim. It's nearly $8000 more expensive than the entry-level EV6. If those two other Kias exemplify the best of the past and the promise of the future, the Sorento PHEV exemplifies the muddled present—prepared to plug in but still dependent on the pumps.

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