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2021 Kia Sorento PHEV review: Price SUV misses the mark

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Kia has launched its new seven-seat SUV laden with hi-tech features, but one element will turn off some potential buyers. Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs) tend to get a bad rap in road tests. They’re expensive compared with petrol and diesel alternatives; their electric range is often too short for daily driving, and most of the time, they are running as a conventional hybrid, on petrol and electricity – technology that’s been around for more than 20 years now and which also costs a lot less.

Kia’s new Sorento PHEV GT Line is a typical example. It’s not bad as far as seven-seater SUVs go, but I can’t make a credible case for actually buying it. Let’s start with the price. Kia asks (sharp cue intake of breath …) $81,990 drives away. It isn’t cheap being green, but this is a whopping $14,700 more than the 2.2-liter diesel Sorento GT Line and $17,700 more than the 3.5-liter V6 petrol variant. The sales pitch is that Sorento’s claimed electric-only (EV) range of 68km is sufficient for many people’s day-to-day driving, which is undoubtedly true.

However, the range numbers carmakers claim for their EVs and hybrids are just as rubbery as the ones they publish for their petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. In the real world, they are inevitably optimistic and rarely achievable. Kia’s 68km claim for the Sorento is based on the NEDC standard, still used in Australia but superseded by the more realistic WLTP test protocol in Europe. Sorento’s WLTP range is 56km. Sorento has switchable EV and Hybrid (HEV) modes, or you can just let its software make the decision. A six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive is standard. Driving around town, our test car covered 25km in EV mode.

Then, with the infotainment screen display showing a 61 percent charge in the 13.8kWh battery and a remaining range of 27 km, the 1.6-liter turbo petrol engine began to fire up intermittently. You should get 50-60km on the battery in slow-moving traffic. However, Sorento’s software will override EV mode and start the engine under some circumstances – if you use more than 70 percent of accelerator travel, for example, once you reach open road speeds. It will also fire up to fully charge the 12-volt battery (which runs the aircon, lights, and other ancillaries).

When an internal combustion engine is running, you’re not driving a clean, green EV, even though it isn’t spinning the wheels. You are burning fossil fuel and making Greta Thunberg angry. Still, with the petrol engine making only an occasional contribution, fuel consumption in town was just 2.7L/100km instead of hauling two tonnes of luxury SUVs around. The 3.5-liter V6 petrol Sorento averages 13.8L/100km. Kia’s WLTP fuel consumption average for Sorento PHEV is 1.6L/100km. Running in hybrid (HEV mode) on the highway, with the petrol engine and electric motor operating together in parallel, Sorento PHEV averaged 7.2L/100km. When I tested the Sorento diesel last year, it averaged 7.0L/100km on the same road.

Sorento’s battery needs to be recharged from a power source. This takes four to six hours from a household PowerPoint, using the supplied cable, or three and a half hours from an optional ($2829.59) 3.3kW wall-mounted charger. Sorento’s cost/benefit ratio may be questionable, but it’s an exceptionally refined, luxurious SUV as a drive. You get immediate, responsive EV torque, respectable performance (0-100km/h in 8.4 seconds), and seamless, smooth hybrid operation, albeit with occasional hesitancy from the auto. Sorento is one of the tidier handling big SUVs, and while there’s plenty of body roll when cornering, the PHEV feels confident and planted at speed with a supple, quiet, and well-controlled ride. The GT-Line spec is uber-luxe, with quilted Nappa leather-faced upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats, heated row-two seats, Bose sound, three-zone air, USBs for all seats, automatic parking, a sunroof, comprehensive driver assist safety tech.

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As a blogger, I’ve had the opportunity to share my experiences and insights with other people. The most important thing I’ve learned about blogging is that it’s not about me. It’s about connecting with others. I love the idea of using writing to build relationships. I’m always thinking about what I can do to make my blog more useful, interesting, and accessible to others. I enjoy talking about technology, health, finance, food, and travel.
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