2022 Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid Review: The Affordable 3-Row That Can Pretty Much Do It All

The 2022 Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid starts at $46,365 and wows with its upmarket interior and modern-feeling powertrain.

byKristen Lee| PUBLISHED Nov 2, 2022 11:00 AM
2022 Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid Review: The Affordable 3-Row That Can Pretty Much Do It All
Kristen Lee
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If you want a three-row SUV, there’s a good long list of ’em to choose from. If you want a three-row SUV that’s also a plug-in hybrid, that list instantly dwindles to a tiny handful. And the ones left on it aren’t exactly cheap. Except for the 2022 Kia Sorento PHEV. Now there’s a good and honest car.

Together, Kia and Hyundai—and also the latter’s Genesis luxury arm—are currently putting out some of the most consistently interesting designs in the industry. The current Sorento benefits from those designers’ pens and looks like a massive leap over the previous generation.

That, in addition to its roomy, thoughtful cabin and a highly usable electric-only range, makes the Sorento plug-in truly feel like a family car fit for the modern era.

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV Review Specs

  • Base price (SX-Prestige AWD as tested): $46,365 ($49,720)
  • Powertrain: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | permanent magnet synchronous motor with 13.8-kWh battery | 6-speed auto | all-wheel drive
  • Performance
    • 1.6-liter: 177.2 hp @ 5,500 rpm | 195.4 lb-ft @ 1,500 to 4,500 rpm
    • Electric motor: 89.8 hp @ 2,100 to 3,300 rpm | 224.2 lb-ft @ 0 to 2,100 rpm
    • Combined: 261 hp | 258 lb-ft
  • Seating capacity: 6
  • Ground clearance: 6.9 inches
  • Max curb weight: 4,537 pounds
  • Cargo space: 12.6 cubic feet (behind third row)
  • Electric-only driving range: 32 miles (est.)
  • Fuel economy: 35 mpg city | 33 highway | 79 mpge combined | 36 mpg as tested
  • Quick take: A wonderfully efficient and comfortable plug-in hybrid people-hauler that excels at the local commutes because of its impressive electric-only range.
  • Score: 8.5/10

The Basics

As a midsize SUV, the new, fourth-generation Sorento sits above the Niro and the Sportage and below the Carnival minivan and Telluride. Offered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, Sorento buyers can choose from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a hybrid, or a plug-in hybrid. However, it’s the plug-in Sorento that currently sits at the top of Kia’s hybrid and electric range in terms of price and size. The subject of today’s review, it’s also the most expensive Sorento model you can buy.

Visually, the leap from the outgoing Sorento to this current generation, which was unveiled in 2020, could not have been greater. Gone are the rounded but overall anonymous oblong shapes. Instead, the midsize SUV now looks like it was sketched out by a person whose only tool was a straight edge. It looks good, and I especially appreciate the restraint when it came to the front grille. It does look distinctly like a modern Kia now. What sets the plug-in model apart from the others are its additional plug port—located on the right side—some badging, and 19-inch wheels as standard.

Inside, the plug-in Sorento is a highly modern spot, with a rotary gear selector and extremely comfortable second-row seats. The driver information cluster is fully digital and displayed on a 12.3-inch screen, and the infotainment is handled via a 10.25-inch touchscreen. Two captain’s chairs and a bench seat for two make up the second and third rows, respectively. A second-row bench seat for three cannot be optioned with the plug-in Sorento, however. Overall, the car has eight USB charging ports and seats up to six. I wouldn’t call it the most elegant interior design I’ve ever seen, but everything was easily within reach and simple to use. I particularly enjoyed the two-tone leather, as well as the textures and patterns on the doors and seats. It made the interior feel more upmarket.

The plug-in hybrid Sorento is fitted with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a permanent magnet synchronous motor with a 13.8-kWh battery, a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive as standard. Total system output comes to a claimed 261 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and Kia says the car has a “targeted” all-electric driving range of 32 miles.

Driving the Kia Sorento PHEV

Surprisingly, the plug-in Sorento’s steering feedback wasn’t the light, featherweight stuff I’ve come to expect from mass-appeal midsize SUVs. Rather, it had a healthy and almost natural-feeling heft to it, which made the car easy to place and maneuver in both tighter spaces and faster corners. It rode serenely over bumps, and while there was some unavoidable lean if you were a bit more aggressive with your turning, it was all very manageable and progressive. The transmission worked smoothly with the engine, which seamlessly swapped between all-electric and hybrid driving without so much as a shudder to the cabin. 

The available power on tap was perfectly adequate to get the plug-in Sorento moving, whether that was merging onto highways or passing slower traffic. For long-distance stints, I found myself relying heavily on the car’s excellent Highway Driving Assist adaptive cruise control system. From a user perspective, it was essentially the same system I previously used in the Genesis G80 sedan. Lane-keep positioned the car perfectly in the center of its lane and could “see” all the traffic around it—even cars in adjacent lanes. This was big, because even when other drivers merged suddenly or cut us off, they never spooked the car and caused it to abruptly slam on its brakes. The system always maintained a safe distance from all the other traffic.

You have a few drive modes to use, too, one of which keeps the car in all-electric driving. Around town, this was great, as I was driving at low speeds and never needed to go very far. Once the battery was depleted, the car would not allow me to put it in its all-electric driving mode again, but simply plugging it into a 3.7-kW charger juiced it back up in no time. The car projected it would take three hours and 45 minutes to go from 14 percent battery to full. 

Things that could be improved? The brakes, for one; pedal bite was a bit squishy and that made it difficult to properly gauge stopping distances during a few sudden stops from higher speeds. Front-seat comfort, at least from the driver’s perspective, suffered from the same lack of butt-cushioning I experienced in the Genesis GV70. And though the plug-in Sorento is handsome to look at, those sleek lines resulted in a skinny windshield and small windows that were sometimes difficult to see out of.

The Highs and Lows

But perhaps the greatest part of the plug-in Sorento isn’t how it drives. It’s the second-row captain’s chairs. Not only do they have storage space aplenty (a door handle cubby, a door-mounted cupholder, and a netted holder along the seat bottom each), but they offered a relaxed seating position, could tilt to an angle that encouraged top-notch naps, and presented a frankly impressive amount of legroom. Over the weekend that I had the car, I shuttled some friends around, and one of whom is six-foot-six remarked on how much room they had. Those that needed to get into the third row could do so via simply pushing a button on the second-row seats that slid them forward on rails to make room. No motors here, all manual stuff. That third row, by the way, is perfectly usable. It’s just that the floor is a little elevated back there—presumably because of the hybrid system—so passengers with longer legs will find their knees raised a bit higher.

The price of all that passenger roominess, however, is trunk space. At 12.6 cubic feet with the third row of seats upright, the plug-in Sorento’s cargo room is pretty pathetic. I had some trouble fitting my camera backpack in it. So, it’s one or the other. You can either ferry around five other people and hardly any stuff, or you can ferry around only three other people but a ton more stuff. 

Kia Sorento PHEV Features, Options, and Competition

Seeing as the plug-in Sorento is already the high-roller Sorento, it comes pretty loaded as standard. In addition to the powertrain and the torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, the SUV comes with synthetic leather seats, the captain’s chairs, and a rear-occupant alert. Base, non-PHEV, front-wheel drive Sorentos start at $30,845. Base Sorento PHEVs start at $46,445. The test car I drove, in top SX Prestige AWD trim with Snow White Pearl Paint ($445) and carpeted floor mats ($210), came to a grand total of $49,720.

That might seem like a lot for a Kia SUV, but keep in mind this is the plug-in hybrid version, and those systems are never cheap. Think about it this way, though. The only other three-row PHEVs on the market are much pricier luxury entries, a Mitsubishi, and a minivan: the Lincoln Aviator (seats seven but starts at $71,030), Volvo XC90 Recharge (seats seven but starts at $72,995), the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (also seats seven and starts at $41,190) and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (starts at $49,095). When compared to those three and besides the Outlander, the plug-in Sorento is the bargain of the bunch.

Sustainability

Against those competitors, the plug-in Sorento is more efficient than the Aviator and XC90 but worse off than the Pacifica Hybrid. And seeing as they are very closely priced, the two make for very competitive options. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you’re willing to drive a minivan over a sportier-looking SUV.

The regular hybrid—that is to say, non-plug-in—Sorento’s numbers are a touch better. But, of course, this version offers no electric-only driving.

Not being a full EV, the plug-in Sorento does produce some tailpipe emissions. That said, on the car’s window sticker, the EPA rated it a 10 out of 10 for CO2 emissions and gave it a seven out of 10 smog rating.

Value and Verdict

After spending a long weekend with it and putting a few hundred miles on the plug-in Sorento, I really appreciated how everything about the car catered to making life easier and more enjoyable for its occupants. Small stuff—like lowering the radio volume automatically and accordingly when the car slowed down—really showed off its designers’ commitment to consideration. (Are you someone who turns down the radio when you start looking for a house number or destination? I am.) It’s a $50,000 car, yes, but one that felt like it deserved the sticker because it punched far above its weight in terms of interior quality and powertrain performance.

Until there are more and improved public charging stations and everyone collectively gets more used to the idea of owning an electric car, I do believe capable plug-in hybrids are the ideal and necessary middle step. The Toyota RAV4 Prime is one of the greatest cars on sale today, and the plug-in Sorento follows in that winning formula. There’s enough electric-only range for short, daily commutes, there’s a gasoline engine to fall back on for longer road trips, and a totally usable third row of seats. Even if you’re not someone who regularly carts around six passengers, you can still appreciate the potential that extra space offers. And the second-row captain’s chairs are the best seats in the house.

I do hope this powertrain makes it into more Kia products—namely, the Telluride. The Telluride is already so astoundingly good; the only thing it needs is to ditch the aged V6. Conversely, the plug-in system in the 2022 Kia Sorento PHEV made it feel fresh for the first time in ages, and indeed, something to look forward to and get excited about. How about that.

Update 12:09 pm ET: An earlier version of this review neglected to mention the three-row Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. The story has since been updated.

Got a tip? Holla at me: kristen@thedrive.com