Our newly arrived plug-in hybrid SUV is big, but is it also clever? Let’s find out
Why we’re running it: To see if a plug-in hybrid family SUV can justify its eco credentials
Life with a Sorento PHEV: Month 5
Fill yer boot – 1 December 2021
I’ve resisted the urge to ‘tip’ for over four months, but a recent clearout meant I could resist no longer. And it revealed a fault with the seats that had previously gone unnoticed: the offside middle won’t go flat, so it was even more of a feat of origami to fold all the rubbish into the remaining space. It’s booked into the dealer shortly, so a fix beckons.
Life with a Sorento PHEV: Month 4
Beating the odds – 3 November 2021
I’m not one to brag, but will you just look at that figure! The hypermiling tips that Mission Motorsport gave me (8 September) have massively paid off, as the Sorento managed 40 miles from a single charge. That’s a full five miles farther than officially claimed. Most impressively, it was on a mixed route of villages and flowing B-roads, not just a 15mph crawl.
Did our PHEV make it out of this unfamiliar setting in one piece? – 20 October 2021
As anyone with a vague memory of being five will know, curious minds are rewarded when buttons are pressed. And so it is that we find ourselves perched on top of what feels more like a cliff than a steep off-road slope, Kia Sorento primed to descend, with buttons being prodded and Terrain mode knobs being twirled.
We’ve reached here entirely silently, creeping through a lower section of the quarry on electricity, with the only sound the crunch of rock under tyre and the occasional ‘bong’ from the car. The Sorento does like to announce itself with plenty of synthesised warning noises.
Creep up the slope, watching where the nose and tyres head, as there are plenty of sharp boulders around and we’re most definitely not running on tough-sidewalled off-road tyres. Get to the top of the scree, with a great view out over the quarry and elements of the downhill section in front, the detail hidden underneath the Sorento’s bonnet. Hold it on the brake, wait for the guide to say I’m good to go…
But let’s just pause a moment, as it’s worth an explanation as to why on earth a family-friendly plug-in hybrid Sorento is being subjected to far more than the school run. Truth be told, we mainly went to the quarry to recce the place for the road test team, to see if it might be suitable for the next hardcore off-road test.
But it also seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up on testing all the systems the Kia has to offer, which is more than you would think. Although it’s on a monocoque chassis (like the Mk2 and Mk3 versions but unlike the first-gen model, which ran a more traditional off-road ladder- frame set-up), the PHEV comes as standard with Terrain mode and hill descent control, the former giving three options covering mud, snow and sand. It’s four-wheel drive as standard, albeit with the sort of set-up that means it runs in front- wheel drive most of the time. It’s only when the car detects slip that it switches drive to all four corners.
Terrain mode works by adjusting engine torque and distribution, as well as the stability control parameters and the shift points of the six-speed automatic gearbox. Basically, they’re all tweaked as to the conditions, so ‘snow’ limits torque to try to rein in wheel spin, for instance. It’s not as comprehensive as Land Rover’s but, still, it’s far more than you would expect in a world of fake tailpipes and soft-roaders. Fair play to Kia for actually fitting the hardware to match the looks.
Back to the action, then. Hill descent control engaged, terrain knob twizzled to mud mode, ease off the brakes. It wasn’t the most controlled of descents, as I did have to intervene and get on the brake rather than relying entirely on the hill descent, but it made it down.
But we then hit a snag. Despite all the technical hardware on show, the Sorento does have quite bulbous bumpers, especially at the front. Luckily, I had a man walking in front (a very handy accessory, as it turns out), who stopped me before we clobbered any of the car’s red plastic protrusions. The slope was really quite gentle yet the bumper was mighty close to the scree.
It’s a pity, because Kia’s engineers have obviously dedicated a lot of effort to the Terrain mode in order to give the Sorento some substance to back up the style, in that never- ending departmental debate. It looks like the design division still won the argument, though.
A kind of magic Cooler autumn mornings have meant the heated steering wheel getting a run-out.
Radio gaga The radio has now started cutting out. The trip to the dealer can’t come soon enough.
Getting ready for the cold – 13 October 2021
Winter is coming, as any fan of Game of Thrones knows, which means dew-laden mornings and misted- over side mirrors. This isn’t helped by the Sorento being parked near a yew hedge and in the shade. It does have heated mirrors, but only when you turn on the rear heated screen do they come alive. Not the most logical step.
Life with a Sorento PHEV: Month 3
No squeeze back there – 29 September 2021
At 4810mm long and 1900mm wide, the Sorento is a big old lump, and its wheelbase is 74mm longer than a Land Rover Disco Sport’s. That means family trips are pretty painless and it’s an effortless thing to press into photography duty. The rearmost seats fold flat easily, so then it’s just a case of bundling the snapper into the boot and strapping them down.
We’ve been on a mission to maximise the big Kia’s electric range – 8 September 2021
The Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid is messing with my psyche. Normally there are any number of different factors dictating how to drive: type of road, weather, traffic, mood, passengers etc. All the usual stuff. But in the Kia, it’s entirely about eking out the electric range. Efficiency is king in this car.
It makes economic sense: electricity is far cheaper than petrol or diesel, so my wallet is happier when I’m maxing out the electric element of the powertrain. Kia claims a range of 35 miles from the Sorento’s 13.8kWh battery; so far I’ve been getting about 28 miles from a charge. Not bad going but it feels like it could be better. A lesson in maximising every last joule is needed.
Step forward Mission Motorsport, an armed forces motor racing charity that recently set a hypermiling record in a Renault Zoe by managing to coax a standard car for a mightily impressive 424.7 miles, equivalent to 9.1 miles per kWh. The record was set by a team of six drivers, two of whom agreed recently to give me some tips.
Before we get into the details, a caveat: their record was set at Thruxton circuit so some of their advice isn’t necessarily transferable to a stop-start schlep up the M1…
“You’ve got to drive delicately,” says Linda Noble, who served in the armed forces for 18 years. “Drive it like it’s glass. I own a Suzuki Swift and regularly get 400 miles out of a tank. It should be about 300-310. And it’s because I’ve learned to drive so delicately.”
Noble and fellow hypermiler Tilly Lambert-Lea both drove in socks for the record attempt, in order to make sure they were as sensitive as possible on the throttle. As Noble says: “I drove just with my big toe. During training, I tried shoes but you can’t feel the accelerator as well. Also, even the weight of the shoe itself was important: we found just the mass of the trainer was pushing down on the throttle.”
As Noble and Lambert-Lea both point out, however, driving without shoes is actually illegal. So what are the other solutions?
For Noble, consistency is the key: “The biggest thing is to keep your speed constant. You have to be softer on the accelerator, use the draught from lorries if you can. Never lift too much because you have to get the power back down again. When we were lifting off the accelerator on a downhill section [to maximise the regen], it was only a tiny lift. Just a few millimetres.”
I have quite a sudden lift when I come off the accelerator, reasoning that will put more power back into the battery, but Mission Motorsport found that easing into the regen was better. The Kia has a display showing whether you’re in Charge, Eco or Power mode, depending on how hard you’re driving, so it’s easy to tell how you’re doing. When you do get back on the throttle, breathe into it, easing into the accelerator gently.
It’s also best to utilise other areas where the car can help. Noble recommends setting a speed limiter (although you should remove this for downhill sections in order to lead to more regenerative braking) and also using the car’s Eco setting. Keep the windows up, turn the air conditioning off (the Zoe interior got so hot the drivers’ phones stopped working), use daylight-running lights only (not possible at night, obviously) and turn the displays and radio off. And leave the charge cables at home, to save weight.
The Kia has a floor-mounted throttle, which threw Noble when she first jumped in because the Zoe’s was mounted from above. But she soon adapted, angling her foot so that she could work the top of the pedal with her toe.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done when you’re late for work and saving the pennies is the last thing on your mind, but since Linda’s and Tilly’s advice, I have really been trying to adhere to their suggestions. The net result of all this? An average fuel economy of 48.4mpg (down, bewilderingly, from the mid-50s, but then I’ve not been able to plug in as much recently). The electric range has gone up to 30 miles, so at least that’s moving in the right direction.
In other news, the Apple CarPlay link between my phone and Sorento has been throwing a wobbly recently. On a long journey north, a couple of issues presented themselves: the podcast I was listening to kept cutting out and CarPlay kept losing its connection. The latter is particularly frustrating when your phone is your only source of nav. And yes, it did do it at a tricky junction.
Since then, I’ve barely had any CarPlay connection. I should point out that the phone still connects via Bluetooth, so legal phone calls remain possible, but all the extras CarPlay brings (such as those podcasts and apps like Waze) are out of reach for now. The phone works fine on other cars, so I assume it’s something to do with the Kia.
Perfectly practical Fold-flat rear seats are still proving to be hugely useful. Workhorse Sorento is earning its keep.
Tech irritations Issues with CarPlay make long journeys more of a gamble than they need to be.
Positive numbers – 1 September 2021
According to industry analysis guru Felipe Munoz (@lovecarindustry on Twitter), the global D-SUV market fell by 3% last year. The Koreans needn’t worry too much, though: shifting 435,000 examples of the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe, they comfortably outsold the five next best-sellers combined. It would seem that keeping up with the Joneses has never been easier.
Life with a Sorento PHEV: Month 2
A trip to Suffolk gives our family-size SUV a chance to stretch its legs – 18 August 2021
I’m as guilty as anyone of bemoaning an SUV when it suits, but there’s no denying they’re handy to have in a tight spot – and no spot comes tighter than a family holiday.
Our kids are now at the age where a buggy is no longer required, but the Kia’s boot was still packed full to capacity, with a PhD in origami required to fold all the luggage into the 604-litre space. We’ve hardly used the rearmost seats but that was no bad thing for this trip, because folded flat they do free up a decent space.
Off we toddled to Suffolk, where it soon became obvious that the Sorento’s infotainment has a crucial flaw: if you don’t have a phone signal, you don’t have sat-nav. Large parts of Suffolk have been left behind in the sprint for 5G data provision, and without it the car is mapless.
You can download offline maps on Google Maps, but it’s not a perfect science and besides, we were dashing out of the house we’d rented so didn’t have time to sort it properly. It’s very much a first-world problem, and there’s a part of me that thinks ‘just buy a map, Piers’, but in an age when you’re used to just jumping in and going, it’s a flaw in the Kia. More so in a car that costs over £45,000.
But it was otherwise a decent companion for the staycation – even Henrying all the sand out at the end of the holiday was a quick task thanks to all the simple seat mechanisms. The kids loved the fact that they got their own individual cupholder, and crucially these are in the rear doors so one sibling can’t reach the others’. It’s difficult to express how much that matters: one less reason for children to argue with each other is something I’d sacrifice a lottery win for.
We had access to a three-pin plug for the first few days, so local trips were done 99% on electric running. Our electricity costs are now running at a smidge over £30, which is impressively cheap going when you think the car has done nearly 1500 miles with us. The petrol engine got more use in the second part of our trip, when we couldn’t plug in, but even allowing for that, we’re still averaging nearly 55mpg. From a 2.0-tonne SUV, that’s not bad going.
Obviously, it all depends on the sort of trips you’re doing. School run and not much else? You’ll easily see over 100mpg. Longer trips where the battery is exhausted? Closer to the mid-30s. But the number of journeys we are managing to do on electricity alone just goes to show that a 35-mile range is well judged.
Charging home A three-pin domestic plug can fully recharge the PHEV’s drive battery in only six hours.
Chuntering petrol The contrast between electric and internal combustion is marked.
So many beeps – 11 August 2021
For all its family-friendly capability, the Kia Sorento emits the most annoying sounds. Here’s what happens before you travel even five yards: a tune as you turn the car on, a bong to let you know the car is ready to go, another ping to alert you if you try to drive off with the auto handbrake still engaged and not yet a seatbelt clipped in. Deafening.
Life with a Sorento PHEV: Month 1
A first proper drive – 28 July 2021
At last, a welcome chance to go to a live motorsport event. In this case, it was the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the Sorento and I found an entirely new route home courtesy of Waze and Apple CarPlay. Narrow in places, it made me realise the Kia is a big old lump of metal in this generation. But a tree-lined route was a great way to unwind after a frantic day rushing around FoS.
Welcoming the plug-in Sorento to the fleet – 21 July 2021
The five-year-old’s voice coming from the rearmost seats in the Kia Sorento was seriously excited, as if he had just found Captain Hook’s treasure buried back there: “Daddy, you won’t believe it. I’m so shocked. I just can’t believe it. I HAVE BUTTONS!”
So there you have it, folks: the key to making any car appeal to a small child is to give them buttons to fiddle with. Here endeth the lesson.
And that really does sum up our new Sorento: family-focused down to a T, with the sort of careful interior planning that makes car journeys easier. It’s with us for the next few months in plug-in hybrid flavour, with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a 90bhp electric motor. Total torque is 258lb ft, with 0-62mph taking 8.4sec. A middling figure, it’s fair to say, but thanks to that torque and the in-fill from the electric motor, the Sorento has the sort of mid-range punch that makes joining a motorway easy.
This car doesn’t need to do more. Its 13.8kWh battery gives it a 35-mile electric-only range from a full charge and, unlike with some PHEVs, so far we’ve not been too far off that. On a long motorway run recently, taken at a healthy pace, the Sorento managed 25 miles before switching to petrol. And that was with the air conditioning running and the radio on. Mooching around on back roads and on the school run, it quite happily covers most of our family miles on just battery power.
We have access to only a standard household plug at the moment, but the longest duration we’ve seen on a single charge so far is six hours. In other words, the sort of timescale that means an overnight juice-up will easily get the battery fully replenished. In fact, during all the recent working from home, it also means that, after the morning drop-off, the car is full by the time of the afternoon school run. None of this is dance-a-jig exciting, but in terms of meeting its brief, the Sorento is so far up to the task.
We’ve had it three weeks and our tactic has been to charge when we can. Short local hops have made that easy. As such, we’ve not used much petrol in more than 500 miles – just 34.02 litres – and so far it has cost £17 in electricity. I would call that a decent return, but the proof will come later this week, as I have some longer journeys to do. It will be interesting to see what sort of economy those yield. After all, this is a two-tonne SUV. Lugging around a 140kg battery is going to have an impact.
Our Sorento is in the base 2 trim, starting at a punchy £45,245. In typical Kia fashion, there aren’t many optional extras, other than accessories: just the premium paint, at £600. I’m glad it came with that, because there’s only one standard colour and it’s called Essence Brown. No matter how on-trend mud-coloured cars get, a dark-brown SUV is going to invite a snigger.
Mind you, despite the dearth of optional extras, it still comes with plenty of kit. Highlights include the third row air-con that got my son so excited, enough USB charging ports to keep an army of screen-obsessed teens happy (three in the front; three in the middle, including two nifty ones in the sides of the front seats; and two more for the rearmost seats), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a heated steering wheel, an 8.0in touchscreen and Bluetooth.
You can see where this is heading. Out-and-out technological frills may be lacking, but in terms of doing what it can to make a careworn parent’s life easier, the Sorento does what’s needed.
There isn’t any satnav, but with a phone connected, you can have all the maps that you will need. These are relatively intuitive to control from the touchscreen, but with nowhere to rest your hand, it’s more often than not a stab-and-miss affair trying to hit the correct icon. To be fair, the climate buttons are all physical switches, but it’s at times like this that I do miss my old BMW 4 Series’ brilliant iDrive system.
Seven seats are standard (impressive, given that a lot of PHEVs can’t make the packaging work for the full gamut of chairs), and they all fold flat easily. Family-friendly rule number one ticked.
In fact, family rule numbers two, three and four are ticked as well: so far, the Sorento is proving easy to live with, and with the sort of storage and practical touches that don’t get journalists excited but do actually make a difference when you just need a car to function and make life simple.
Does this mean it will be the sort of car that creates memories? I’m not sure yet. In an age of ever more competent cars, this is where I think brands will need to excel to stand out. I’ll let you know if the Kia manages it – if I can ever persuade my son to stop fiddling with those buttons.
Having spotted no fewer than five delivery-fresh Sorentos on a recent walk around my local area, I’m clearly not the only person who thinks that Kia’s design department has been doing some fantastic work of late. For a seven-seat SUV, it really is quite the looker. It will be interesting to see if Piers thinks it backs up the premium styling with a driving experience to match.
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDi PHEV AWD 2 specification
Specs: Price New £45,245 Price as tested £45,845 Options Premium paint £600
Test Data: Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus electric motor Power 261bhp at 5500rpm (combined) Electric power 90bhp Battery 13.8kWh Electric range 35 miles Top speed 119mph 0-62mph 8.4sec Fuel economy 176.6mpg CO2 38g/km Faults None Expenses None