The 2023 Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid is a standout choice among the hotly contested mid-size hybrid crossover segment, offering a ton of standard features and a solid design for a relatively reasonable price.
While driving dynamics are far from satisfying, that’s not the point of a three-row, seven-seater vehicle like this. Instead, we suggest focusing on the numerous comfort, tech, and safety add-ons that put the Sorento in line with more expensive luxury offerings.
If you can put up with the pedestrian nameplate, the not-so-smooth hybrid system, and the laggy infotainment, the Sorento is a smart choice that can compete with cars like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
|2023 Kia Sorento PHEV
|Turbocharged 1.6-Liter Four-Cylinder & Electric Motor
|261 Horsepower / 258 Pound-Feet
|$49,990 + $1,325 Destination
|Price As Tested
The Sorento has healthy power numbers, even for a vehicle weighing over two tons.
The Good: Kia has been on a roll with its design. The Sorento is proof of that, even if this particular look has been around for a few years. The front fascia is direct and purposeful without being too angular or goofy. The rear end, with its dual vertical taillights on either side, is easy to spot in a parking lot and it reminds us of the equally handsome Telluride.
The cabin too is easy on the eyes, with a pleasant yet usable dashboard that features a sizable 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster display and a 10.3-inch center-mounted infotainment screen. Thankfully there are still physical controls for things like volume and climate control — a welcome sight in a world where more and more adjustments are being moved into the touchscreen. The horizontally split vents are another nice touch, allowing occupants to adjust lower and upper airflow separately for optimal comfort.
The features don’t stop there. There’s also heated and ventilated memory front seats, heated second-row seats, wireless charging for your phone, and a comprehensive suite of safety add-ons, including highway driving assist, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alerts, and blind spot collision avoidance.
Under the hood sits a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four making 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired to a single electric motor supplied by a 13.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack, resulting in a combined output of 261 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The Sorento has healthy power numbers, even for a vehicle weighing over two tons. Pop the Sorento PHEV into sport and it defaults to hybrid mode while upping the response from the throttle pedal, resulting in strong acceleration. And if you need to get somewhere where traction isn’t at a premium, there’s even a center differential lock for the all-wheel drive system — not something you usually see in a mid-size crossover.
Handling prowess is predictably forgettable for an SUV of this size, though we’d expect a better ride considering the price.
The Bad: As powerful and efficient as the plug-in powertrain can be, it’s not exactly the smoothest. The transition from all-electric to hybrid mode is far from seamless, with a slight lurch every time the four-cylinder kicks in. The six-speed automatic transmission is acceptable but not overly impressive, and the steering wheel-mounted paddles aren’t very quick to respond to inputs. Not that those things are extremely important to potential buyers.
Handling prowess is predictably forgettable for an SUV of this size, though we’d expect a better ride considering the price. Small bumps in the Sorento are handled with ease, though larger imperfections make their way into the cabin. If you live in a place where the infrastructure isn’t great, we’d suggest an extended test drive to ensure you’ll be satisfied.
Then there’s the infotainment system. Kia’s user interface is nice to look at and easy to navigate, though every input, whether it be via the touchscreen or physical buttons throughout the car, is met with a one-to-two second delay before the system responds. That’s not much time, but in a world where our smartphones respond instantly to our every command, it gets infuriating quickly. This system has worked far better in the past with other Kias we’ve tested, so it’s possible this was a problem specific to this vehicle. Still, yikes.
What wasn’t specific to this car was the lack of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While it’s not the end of the world, you’d think in 2023 virtually every car should have this stuff as standard, but alas, that’s wishful thinking for cars like the Sorento. Weirdly there’s no USB-C either, so remember to bring an old-fashioned USB-A cable to connect your phone.
The Verdict: The Kia Sorento PHEV isn’t especially exciting but its efficient drivetrain, good looks, and long list of standard features make it a compelling buy versus similarly priced competition. If you can put up with the lackluster dynamics, less-than-cushy ride, and questionable infotainment response, it’s a solid option to fill the family car-sized hole in your garage.
2023 Kia Sorento PHEV