SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – If you drive a car and like it, but no one can actually buy one, does it actually exist? That’s the dilemma faced with the 2022 Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid, a nicely packaged midsize SUV with a superb electrified powertrain that seems to be less attainable than a Ferrari. Even Kia’s all-electric EV6, which is in short supply and subject to dealer markups, is in comparative abundance to the Sorento PHEV. While there were 68 EV6s shown for sale in the Greater Los Angeles area on the day this was written, there were only 25 Sorento PHEVs in the entire country. And that’s just according to new car listings on Autotrader – Kia’s official inventory shows zero.
Most of this has to do with components shortages, especially for batteries, but it also speaks to how in demand the combination of crossover SUV and plug-in hybrids are. It’s for a good reason, too: it makes a ton of sense. The vast majority of miles for family haulers like the Sorento are going to be short, grocery-getting ventures or picking the kids up from school. The Sorento’s estimated 32 miles of electric range should be more than capable of covering that. Indeed, I had no problem matching that range figure during our time grocery getting and picking the kid up from school. Just plug it in for 3 hours and 45 minutes at night using a 240-volt outlet (or longer with a conventional plug), recoup that electric range, and off you go again running on electricity (mostly, but more on that in a moment).
Then, for those once-in-a-blue-moon scenarios people also buy big family SUVs – road trips and other long journeys – the Sorento PHEV behaves like a normal hybrid, using a combination of gas engine and electric motor to go as long as you and the gas tank can. No range anxiety, no need to plug in, and therefore no need to sit at an Electrify America station for 40 minutes as you would with an EV6 in need of a recharge. Plus, unlike plug-in hybrid sedans like our long-term Volvo S60 T8 and BMW 330e, SUVs like the Sorento Plug-In Hybrid don’t lose a substantial amount of cargo capacity, if any. The spare tire is replaced by a can of goo and some prayers, but the Sorento PHEV would’ve performed just as well in a luggage test as its gas-only sibling did.
Beyond the benefits inherent to any PHEV SUV, the Sorento impresses with its distinctive type of plug-in hybrid powertrain. Like the not-quite-as-unobtainable Sorento Hybrid, the PHEV features a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four and conventional six-speed automatic. This unique combo results in a smooth, torque-rich and just-plain-normal power delivery complete with gear changes and therefore without the sort of gear-less droning and raspy engine note of some of Toyota’s well-known powertrains (a combination of naturally aspirated inline-four and CVT-like motor/transmission unit). The PHEV adds a bigger, 66.9-kilowatt electric motor than the HEV’s 44-kilowatt motor, plus the exponentially larger, pluginable 13.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack.
Now, although the use of an automatic transmission makes the Sorento PHEV feel a lot more normal than a RAV4 Prime and other plug-in hybrids like the dearly departed Chevy Volt, it’s a bit of a trip for those used to driving EVs. Basically, it’s weird to experience an electric motor being shifted through an automatic transmission – versus the one-speed transmissions found in nearly every EV or the shiftless experience of the Prime, Volt, etc. The S60 T8 and 330e are similar in this regard.
And here’s an important point to be made: the Sorento PHEV will kick on the engine even in full electric mode should you need max acceleration or find yourself on an extended grade. It’ll also keep the engine at a constant idle after start-up should you need to heat up or cool down the cabin. In this instance, you can accelerate, decelerate and accelerate again while the tach remains resolutely glued at exactly 1.1 rpm x 1,000. Weird. Of course, hybrids like the Volt and various Hondas also can do this, but still, benignly weird.
The rest of this midsize SUV is totally normal, which is probably another reason why it’s so appealing. You can save a lot of gas, cut your carbon footprint and still get that SUV you want/need. And as we’ve documented before, the Sorento is a midsize SUV that meets those needs without going overboard with excessive size. It’s basically a two-row model with a bonus third row for rare occasions or installing your eldest-of-three’s booster seat. Bigger kids will be awfully unhappy with you and a full load of people will basically have to go without their stuff, so if that’s a problem, your next biggest plug-in option is a Chrysler Pacifica.
Inside, the Sorento hybrids differ with a rotary, monostable-type shifter that’s easy enough to use, but then so is the gas-only models’ PRND stick. The dash and door trim are metal-look with a geometric 3D pattern embossed. The PHEV then gets its own instrument graphics and the $400 option of the blue seats and gray interior trim combo you see here. It was technically only available on the SX Prestige trim for 2022, but as that’s the only trim available for 2023, it’s a moot point.
Now, when the 2022 model year began, pricing started at $47,340, including destination. You could also get a federal tax credit. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, though, that credit disappeared due to the Sorento PHEV’s South Korea final assembly (non-hybrid Sorentos are built in Georgia). That’ll still be the case for 2023 unless Kia changes something. The price in general will also be going up due to the higher base trim, supply, demand and a jacked up destination charge: $51,185. Oh, and dealers will inevitably add markups, but good luck finding out what they are without calling, or worse, coming on down to have a chat in person. Which is exactly how commerce works in the year 2022, right?
So yeah, the Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid is a bittersweet new vehicle. It’s so very good, yet getting one seems so daunting, it almost feels like I’m reviewing a Citroen or Skoda. It’s not quite forbidden fruit, but it’s growing well out of arms reach.