Gas stations are becoming about as desirable to visit as the dentist. You can floss religiously and otherwise prevent molar maladies in order to avoid the dentist, but it's harder to dodge fuel price fluctuations that can sting worse than a stick in the gums. Two types of drivers can evade this calculus: those with the ability to drive less, and electrified vehicle owners.
Absent a luxury car budget, shoppers who fall outside of this Venn diagram have precious few electric-powered three-row SUVs to choose from. The 2022 Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid is one option. Here's how it did in our testing, and why we think drivers seeking any excuse to avoid filling up the tank (provided they stick to shorter trips while retaining the ability to cruise across the country in a pinch) should check it out.
How Does the 2022 Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid Work?
Indeed, there are three-row hybrid SUVs that minimize fuel stops, including the Sorento. But without any appreciable electric range, those all must return to a gas station eventually—where you'll fall victim to that day's price gouging.
That's where a vehicle such as the Sorento Plug-In Hybrid can help. Like the Sorento Hybrid, a turbocharged 1.6-liter I-4 connected to a six-speed automatic transmission is at the core of its powertrain. But where the Hybrid has a 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery, the PHEV carries a 13.8-kWh pack. That powers a motor for combined totals of 261 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, sent through standard AWD.
The Sorento PHEV favors pulling away on electric drive only before the engine sparks on to help. Shifts are smooth all the while. It hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds on a battery charged to 94 percent. That's exactly 1.0 second ahead of the 227-hp Hybrid and 1.0 second behind the 281-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter I-4 in our Sorento SX long-term review vehicle.
Stopping from 60 mph took 122 feet, 1 foot behind the Hybrid and farther than our long-termer's 117-foot result. The brake pedal's travel is short and firm, with seamless blending between friction and regenerative braking. As good as it feels to press the pedal, when coming off it the regenerative effect sticks for a moment, slowing the Sorento slightly more than planned. Overall regenerative braking strength is minimal, not enough for one-pedal driving.
What's the Sorento Plug-In Hybrid's Range and Fuel Efficiency?
Crucially, that battery enables all-electric range: according to the EPA, up to 32 miles without burning a drop of expensive gas. That may not seem like much compared to a fully electric vehicle. But if you're scrutinizing every inch behind the wheel these days, consider whether typical tasks take you farther than 32 miles.
In all-electric mode, the PHEV doesn't have the immediate torquey punch that makes some EVs fun. Rather, we observed an annoying delay between pressing the accelerator and actually departing a stop. Once underway the SUV easily keeps pace with traffic, and the accelerator reacts more readily.
After the 32 miles are up (or when the driver chooses before that mark is reached), the PHEV goes into hybrid mode, bringing the 1.6-liter engine to attention. Even if zero electric range is indicated, the battery never fully depletes, leaving enough juice to enable consistent, electricity-assisted driving regardless of its state of charge—just like a regular hybrid.
Trouble is, if you run any PHEV as a hybrid most or all of the time, you'd probably be better off just buying the hybrid version instead—it's going to be more efficient (given that the PHEV's bigger battery typically adds considerable mass). The Sorento PHEV for example gets a 34 mpg city/highway/combined fuel economy rating, while the equivalent Hybrid AWD gets 35 mpg. The most efficient Sorento is the Hybrid FWD, which scores 37 mpg. But in the Sorento PHEV's favor is its electric only range, the Hybrid Sorentos have no electric range rating.
Tidy Three-Row SUV Manners
Kia made the Sorento sportier on its 2021 redesign. Like its counterparts, the PHEV's steering is feelsome, and its chassis nicely balanced. Compared to off-road-ish X-Line models, its height is several inches lower. That, combined with the 309-pound battery, contributes to stable, planted handling that belies the SUV's size.
In our figure-eight test, the PHEV lapped in 27.7 seconds at 0.61 g average, essentially tying the Hybrid. Skidpad grip came in at 0.83 g average. Models with the big turbo engine do better; the figure eight is dispatched in 26.5 seconds at 0.67 g average, and the skidpad rounded at 0.85 g average. Even if the PHEV isn't the sportiest Sorento variant, our test team was impressed by its reflexes given its efficient aims.
How's the Interior?
Excellent interior packaging is a factor that earned the Sorento a finalist ticket at our 2022 SUV of the Year competition. The SUV's sizing splits segments: its footprint is slightly larger than most two-row midsize crossovers, yet it's smaller than dedicated three-row options. Even so, the Sorento's third row is spacious enough for adults, although the ergonomics aren't great. Access is aided by how easily the second-row seats fold, and the large aperture created when they do.
Things are more comfortable in the seats ahead, but note that second-row captain's chairs are mandatory in the PHEV; a seven-seat arrangement is available only with the Sorento's base engine. Up front, the rotary drive selector dial is less conventional than a knob, but the driver's zone remains stylish and smartly arranged. All three rows are equipped with useful cupholders, storage spaces, and USB ports.
Cargo space is impacted slightly by the lithium-ion battery, as it takes up some of the underfloor storage area. Otherwise, interior capacities are as practical as any other Sorento.
Is the Sorento PHEV Enough of an EV?
Ponder again that 32-mile electric only range rating—imagine all the drives you could complete sans gas and the resultant gallons you wouldn't have to pay for. Frustratingly, Kia's powertrain strategy somewhat pops the Sorento PHEV's electric bubble.
Even in hybrid mode, high speeds rapidly deplete the battery. We'd spend hours hooked to a charger, only to get on the freeway and watch the range drain away in a fraction of the time. Some plug-in hybrids have a mode that prioritizes the gas engine so that the battery is preserved for miles of the driver's choosing. Not the Sorento. As such, freeway miles can revert this semi-electric SUV into a simple hybrid on city streets.
Be Sure This Is the Best Sorento for You
This relates to the most important caveat for the Sorento Plug-In Hybrid (which applies to most PHEVs, actually): Only buy it if you'll charge it. There's potentially tremendous benefit if you regularly plug in; a 240-volt Level 2 setup can replenish the battery in two hours. If you don't have such access or motivation, choose the Sorento Hybrid instead.
That's especially pertinent given the Hybrid starts some $11,000 less than the approximately $46,400 PHEV. Consider, however, that only the PHEV is potentially eligible for nearly $6,600 in tax credits.
Even though the Sorento is a likable and versatile midsize SUV, we only recommend its Plug-In variant to drivers willing and able to commit to recharging. But with gas costs drilling into your wallet like an overzealous oral hygienist, you're likely eager for alternatives. That's where the 2022 Sorento Plug-In Hybrid makes a case for itself: as a three-row SUV that doesn't need to use any gas at all.
2022 Kia Sorento AWD Eco Plug-In (SX Prestige) Specifications
|PRICE AS TESTED||$49,960|
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