Kia's Sorento entices with plug-in hybrid

·6-min read

Afraid of commitment, but keen to flirt with something completely new?

This might be the perfect match for you.

No, this is not some kind of weird dating app. It's actually quite an impressive love story - about how two very different kinds of cars came together and produced something magical.

Commitment? Well, lots of people are still afraid of jumping into the EV market feet first. They'd rather dabble a toe into the water for a while, just to be sure.

And this might be your chance to do that, provided you don't get inundated by the flood of fully electric models headed for our showrooms..

It's Korean maker Kia's very smart and refined Sorento PHEV (that stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle).

The electric car for people who aren't yet sure about buying an electric car.

It goes something like this.

Take a popular, practical machine, like Kia's flagship SUV, the Sorento - and give it a heart transplant. Well, a new engine and drivetrain, at least.

And bingo, suddenly you're in love.

At least that's how this new part-petrol, part-electric Sorento impressed us.

The PHEV format - giving a car a limited electric-only range then defaulting to the petrol "backup" engine, has been around for a few years now - first seen in the likes of Mitsubishi's Outlander.

That car always seemed to have a slightly split personality, although the concept is sound - electric for short trips around town during the week, then a petrol-electric hybrid when travelling further afield on the weekend.

Simple.

With an EV-only range of about 55km, that might sound like a bit of a stretch. But many urban families will be able to squeeze two or maybe even three days worth of "silent running" around town - to work or school pickups - without needing to recharge.

Then, as the modest-sized batteries are depleted, you can either recharge your Sorento overnight from a normal power point, or simply switch to hybrid drive, where it delivers frugal driving of less than 5L/100km.

Think of it as a hybrid SUV (like the market-leading Toyota RAV4 Hybrid - that can also give you extended electric-only running) but one which combines electric with hybrid.

Of course like any marriage, it helps if the two parties complement each other, and that's particularly true of the Sorento.

This latest model of the Korean seven-seater oozes style, quality and refinement - something that's only magnified by the silent-running capability of its electric motor.

When it finds the need to switch back to petrol running (after about 50km in EV mode) the switch is smooth and seamless.

As it stands, the Sorento impresses with its flexibility. It could be argued that the Plug-In Hybrid EV is two, or even three vehicles in one. A city-friendly machine, a plush SUV and, when needed, a long-distance tourer with a very small thirst.

Value for money? Well, that very much depends on your perspective.

At $79,330, it's one of the most expensive models in the Kia range and is about $15,000 more expensive than a similarly-equipped, GT-Line Sorento with the conventional engine choices.

That's a bigger differential than the current Mitsubishi Outlander charges for its PHEV version - and way more than Toyota charges to upgrade from conventional to the hybrid-powered RAV4 and, notably, the Sorento-sized Kluger Hybrid.

Even Kia's much-vaunted, purpose-built electric flagship, the stunning EV6, is more than $10,000 cheaper than the Sorento PHEV.

That's quite a premium for a car with clever, but not exactly cutting edge, technology.

On the positive side, you get most of the benefits of an electric vehicle, without many of the drawbacks.

Fitted out in the smart GT trim, it brings an impressive array of technology, convenience and comfort features.

That list stretches to panoramic sunroof, quilted leather-trimmed, heated and ventilated electric seats (three rows); LED headlights, heated steering wheel and shift-by-wire transmission.

Electronic aids include vehicle stability management, trailer stability assist, downhill brake control and a brilliant 360-degree parking camera.

It's comfortable, bordering on plush, and very attractively inside.

There's a "Benz-like" twin screen instrument and info-tainment format - boasting crisp graphics on a dazzling display.

The rotary-style gearshift and clever drive mode setup with Eco, Smart and Sport options allow plenty of driver input which, in turn, makes the Sorento a surprisingly fun thing to drive.

What is really surprising is how that smallish, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine manages the task of lugging around what is a fairly large machine. It produces a combined 132kW and 265Nm of torque but it actually feels a bit smarter than that.

Regardless of mode, it's a sturdy well-balanced and compliant thing to drive.

Even when EV mode is fully depleted, the electric motor acts as it might in a traditional hybrid, adding some extra boost on takeoff and whenever the driver demands it. It harvests energy from its own petrol engine, as well as regenerative braking, to ensure there's always some electric boost on hand when needed.

That turns the Sorento into a very capable, very easy-to-drive machine that belies that rather puny engine.

Okay when lined up alongside pure electric options (like the BMW iX3) the Kia does seem a bit old-fashioned, purely by virtue of its power train.

But at the very worst you're left with the appeal of one of the nation's top-ranking SUVs - and winner of numerous best-car awards, with some clever party tricks.

And it's a seven-seater, to boot, and a pretty decent one at that.

Perfect for someone with lots of family commitments, you could say.

KIA SORENTO GT-LINE PHEV

HOW BIG? It's a full-sized, seven-seat SUV, with plenty of space for a big family. The electric battery slightly reduces cargo space in the back.

HOW FAST? It's not particularly quick in any mode, but the electric motor delivers the most zip.

HOW THIRSTY? That's a tricky one to answer. Its official thirst is 1.6L/100km which is insanely frugal. But that assumes that for every 100km you'll use the electric system for about 55 of them. In reality, it uses a bit under 5L/100km when in petrol-hybrid mode - which is still very good. And, for short trips during the week, you can potentially drive fuel-free.

HOW MUCH: The big-spec, GT-Line model tested her costs $79,330 plus on road costs.

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