Kia's 2022 Sorento plug-in is no Telluride, but it's still a posh SUV

It’s a solid three-row family PHEV, if a bit basic.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If you're looking for a capable mid-size SUV with a bit of plug-in hybrid pep, three rows of seats and don't mind a slightly ho-hum aesthetic, Kia's 2022 Sorento plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is made for you. It's not nearly as flashy as Toyota's RAV4 Prime, a car widely considered to be the pinnacle of affordable plug-in SUVs. But the Sorento is larger and in many ways more practical for families.

And yet, even though the 2022 Sorento PHEV offers a relatively posh experience, I couldn't help but feel disappointed every time I passed a Telluride, Kia's larger and far more fashionable family SUV. Where the Telluride raises the bar for affordable SUV designs with its aggressive front fascia, voluminous seating space and Land Rover-like styling, the Sorento is decidedly more basic. Sure, it has leather seats and plenty of great safety and entertainment technology, but looking at it just doesn't stir my soul.

That's a shame, because on paper the 2022 Sorento sounds like the ideal family PHEV for people who don't want to make the leap to minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in or Toyota's excellent hybrid Sienna. Its electric engine can keep things moving for up to 32 miles – more than enough to deal with many daily commutes. And in hybrid mode, which also taps into the 1.6-liter gas engine, the Sorento can run for up to 34 miles per gallon. It also offers standard all-wheel drive and up to 75.5 cubic feet of cargo space, more than double the RAV 4 Prime's 33.5 cubic feet of storage. So you wouldn't have to worry about hauling a large TV, or a full trunk of groceries alongside baby gear for two kids.

If all you care about are those specs, the Sorento will serve you nicely. But, like the middle child sandwiched between an over-achieving elder sibling (the Telluride) and a new baby (Kia's adorable EV6), it almost feels like the Sorento PHEV is an afterthought for Kia. While having some pure EV driving is a nice thing to have, especially as gas prices continue to climb, its electric motor only spits out 90 horsepower. That's enough to deal with street-level driving under 40 miles per hour, but it'll need some serious help from the gas engine to deal with highway traffic. As Car and Driver found, the weak EV just holds back the overall driving experience. (It's also unclear to me why the Sorrento still occasionally spun up its gasoline engine at low speeds.)

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV driver seat
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

During my week of testing, I drove the Sorrento PHEV around winding local roads, up highways that climbed along nearby mountains, and to visit family an hour away. The driving experience felt solid and never overtly floaty, but I was also constantly reminded that I was behind the wheel of a 4,537-pound SUV. (The gas variant weighs 3,794 pounds.) Large batteries always add more weight to PHEVs, but the Sorento felt bogged down as I I tried to reach 65MPH highway speeds in hybrid mode. Even so, I appreciated being able to force it to only use EV for local driving, something that Chrysler still doesn't offer on the Pacifica. Though the Sorento's EV motor is relatively weak, it gives a decent bit of electric torque off the line, making it well-suited for dealing with stop signs and traffic lights.

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV side profile

I typically saw around 30 miles of electric driving before the Sorento's gas engine kicked on, but its hybrid efficiency was less impressive, typically clocking in around 32MPG. The RAV4 Prime gets an estimated 42 miles of EV driving (though in my testing that was closer to 35 miles), and it can reach up to 40MPG in hybrid mode. As with any PHEV, your efficiency with the Sorento is dependent on how often you plug it in to charge. It typically took around 12 hours to juice up completely on a standard 110-volt outlet. If you've got access to a Level 2 charger, you can top it off in around 2.5 hours.

Given the complexity involved with installing a Level 2 setup — that involves running a 220-volt outlet to your garage and installing a charger — many EV-curious shoppers may be better off with a PHEV like the Sorento. There's no need to install any additional outlets, plus you don't have to worry about EV range anxiety since PHEVs will automatically flip over to their gas engines when they're out of electricity. That also makes them better suited for family road trips, since you won't have to spend time hunting down EV chargers and waiting to get juiced up.

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV driver and passenger seat
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

I didn't have much to complain about with the Sorento's entertainment system. The 10.3-inch central display was bright, responsive and made it easy to deal with Apple CarPlay. I appreciated that it was a wide screen, since it didn't cut into my view of the road and it didn't prevent Kia from including buttons for climate control right below it. While large and tall screens might look more impressive at first, as we've seen on Teslas and the Prius Prime, I find them much more annoying to use while driving. I'll always prefer physical buttons combined with an unobtrusive screen. Below the dash there's a circular dial for changing gears (which feels as elegant as it does on cars twice as expensive), another dial to manage driving modes, and more buttons to turn on the heated steering wheel, parking camera view and other features.

I'll give Kia credit for delivering an incredible level of comfort in a relatively affordable mid-size SUV. The Sorento's leather seats were perfectly plush, and I appreciated having both heating and ventilation options. The two second-row captains chairs were less comfy, but still better than I've felt on some competitors. It was a bit tough for me to secure my daughter's large car seat, but once I did (thanks to a bit of extra cushioning from a pool noodle), it was easy for me to lift her up and bring her down. And while the third-row seats were far too cramped for me to fit comfortably, they're fine for kids. Most mid-size SUVs have cramped back rows, which is why minivans are still the better choice if you're regularly carting around adults.

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV second row with car seat
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

There’s also a decent dose of safety features, including forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist protection, blind-spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera. I particularly appreciated the camera views whenever I hit the left or right indicators, which allowed me to see right beside the Sorento for any cars or cyclists in my blind spot. If you’re a nervous driver, it may be worth looking into the Sorento for those cameras alone.

The 2022 Sorento PHEV starts at $46,405, around $6,800 more than the AWD Sorento Hybrid EX model. Since it's a plug-in hybrid, you can get a hefty $6,587 tax credit, which puts them on a slightly more level playing field. (You'll still have to wait for your next tax filing before you can see that credit, though.) The Sorento has always been a budget-focused car — the gas-powered 2022 model starts around $30,000 — so the PHEV model feels particularly out of place as it nears $50,000.

Much like video cards, these prices are also purely theoretical. The global chip crunch, along with manufacturing delays and other issues, have pushed new and used car prices up considerably. So while you may see advertised figures close to MSRP, don't be surprised if dealers end up tacking on extra fees once you're ready to negotiate. (During my recent quest to buy a new Toyota Sienna, local dealers regularly added around $8,000 in "market adjustment" fees. I gave up and instead bought a used 2018 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid with a slight markup from Carvana.)

2022 Kia Sorento PHEV side profile
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

There’s a lot to love about the Sorento PHEV, it’s just unfortunate it’s debuting as Kia’s Telluride is winning over reviewers and consumers alike. Still, it’s notable it exists at all, as there aren’t many plug-in hybrids with three rows of seats. It’s perfectly positioned as an upgrade from compact SUVs and sedans, especially for families that want to dabble with electric driving and rely less on gas. Personally, though, I can’t wait for Kia to take what it learned here and bring it over to the Telluride (which debuted as a PHEV concept car).