Plug-in hybrid power furthers the Kia Sorento’s appeal

A new plug-in hybrid powertrain looks to boost the Sorento’s popularity even further – but what it’s like to drive? JACK EVANS finds out.

Kia is a company dead-set on electrification. Only last month it announced that it plans to introduce 11 electrified models within seven years, showcasing just how focused it is on plug-in power. One such electrically assisted vehicle is this – the Sorento PHEV – which aims to deliver just as much practicality as the regularly powered model, but with an added dose of efficiency.

In fact, despite its low emissions, it arrives as the most powerful option in the Sorento range. But does this hybrid powertrain detract from other areas where it traditionally excels, such as ease-of-use and spaciousness? We’ve been behind the wheel to find out.

This is the first time that the Sorento has been available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, while the SUV itself has also undergone some substantial changes for its latest generation. Wider and longer than the car it replaces, it’s been cleverly packaged to deliver more in the way of cabin space, while the PHEV also brings seven seats – a real plus in this heavily congested SUV segment.

Photos: PA Media

The exterior design has also been given an extensive overhaul, bringing a radical new design that certainly stands out from the crowd – to our eyes at least.

As already alluded to, this Sorento’s party piece is its plug-in hybrid powertrain. It sees a 1.6-litre petrol engine linked with a 67kW electric motor and a 13.8kWh battery. Combined, the setup produces 261bhp and 350Nm, resulting in a 0-60mph time of 8.4 seconds – not bad for a car of this size.

But of course, the focus here is on efficiency and in that sense, the Sorento does well. Kia claims CO2 emissions of just 38g/km, while claimed fuel economy chimes in at an impressive 176.7mpg. Kia also claims that the Sorento will achieve up to 35 miles of electric-only driving, or more if travelling around the city. A full charge should take around three and a half hours via conventional plug, too.

This efficient powertrain means the Sorento appears to be a sure fire-hit with fleet buyers. In fact, Kia expects a 60/40 fleet-retail split, with business drivers attracted by the 10 per cent first-year BIK rate.

Clamber behind the wheel of the Sorento and you’re met with an open, commanding view of the road ahead. However, thanks to large side mirrors and a decent view out of the back, it isn’t intimidating to get acquainted with, while light steering means those slow-speed manoeuvres aren’t tricky.

That electric powertrain means that driving around town feels quiet and refined, too, though the added weight of the batteries does make its presence known at lower speeds where the Sorento has a tendency to crash through potholes and skitter over poor surfaces.

Gather a bit more speed, however, and the Sorento remains composed, while the electric and petrol motors interchange seamlessly – you really are hard-pressed to notice the switch between the two. Kia seems to be pretty spot-on with its claimed electric-only range, too – we managed around 30 miles after a mix of driving.

As we already mentioned, the Sorento showcases a look that is far departed from the older car. It’s all sharp lines and angles, which really does combine to create an edgy, futuristic look. Against other more rounded rivals, the Sorento strikes a completely different chord. To our eyes at least it looks superb in the metal and it’s imposing, too – that new interpretation of Kia’s ‘Tiger Nose’ looks particularly in-your-face here.

Around the back, the upright tail lights look like very little on the road today, while the large chrome badging shows real pride in both the brand and the model.

The sense of quality that you get inside the Sorento is one of the most impressive aspects of the whole car, with all manner of tactile finishes and materials used throughout. It’s spacious, too, with an airy atmosphere for forward passengers to enjoy, while those sitting in the middle row are treated to a good amount of headroom and legroom. There’s, of course, a third row available to use, too.

Kia has worked hard to ensure that the hybrid powertrain doesn’t impose itself on the Sorento’s cabin space, which is why both the fuel tank and on-board charger are situated low in the car – so even those sitting in the middle seat won’t find themselves fighting others for room.

Boot space is good, too. With the third row folded flat, there are 809 litres to play with, while even with those rearmost seats in place there’s 175 litres or enough for some weekend bags and some shopping.

Kia has started gaining a reputation for producing impressively well-equipped cars and the Sorento is no different. Even base-spec ‘2’ cars boast 19-inch alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Kia’s latest digital dial setup which is really handy for viewing information about the car’s state of charge and remaining range.

Kia reckons, however, that top-spec ‘4’ models will be the most popular with retail buyers – it plans for ‘2’ grade cars to be the pick for fleet drivers – and this brings high-end features such as leather upholstery, a Bose premium sound system and a large 10.25-inch infotainment setup.

Whichever grade you go for, the Sorento feels very well-equipped.

The Sorento feels like a real punch into the premium segment by Kia. This plug-in hybrid powertrain only furthers its appeal, bringing low running costs that will be appreciated by private buyers and seen as a real point of consideration for fleets. Either way, the Sorento PHEV is an SUV that can fly with the best of them.

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