Kia has launched its new seven-seat SUV laden with hi-tech features, but one element is sure to 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 a bad thing 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 is asking (sharp cue intake of breath …) $81,990 drive away. I know 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 claimed by carmakers 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Kia’s 68km claim for the Sorento is based on the NEDC standard, still used in Australia but superseded by the more realistic WLTP test protocol in Europe.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 are 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.
In slow-moving traffic, you should get 50-60km on the battery alone, but 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 keep the 12-volt battery (which runs the aircon, lights, and other ancillaries) fully charged.
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 SUV 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, and comprehensive driver assist safety tech.