The fourth-generation Sorento introduces plug-in hybrid tech to the big CCT100 Award-winning Kia SUV’s range. But is the PHEV a fleet winner?
On the road
On the road
The new Kia Sorento arrived last autumn in diesel and ‘self-charging’ hybrid form, instantly impressing enough to win the 2021 Company Car Today CCT100 Large SUV of the Year Award. And that was even before the arrival of the most appealing model for anyone paying company car Benefit-in-Kind tax, because the Korean brand has now added a plug-in hybrid to the Sorento line-up.
1. Six Isofix points, six USB points and three 12-volt charging slots should be enough to look after the whole family.
2. There’s a long slide on the middle row of seats, making for either plenty of rear passenger space, even more boot space or
a balance of legroom for passengers in the second and third rows.
3. The Sorento is a touch keen to sound an alert, not even giving the driver a chance to get a seat belt on before chiming away.
The PHEV powertrain combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with 13.8kWh battery feeding an electric motor. It offers a combined 261hp as well as a range that, crucially for company car BiK, is 35 miles. That puts the car in the 11% BiK band, rather than 13% if it had been below 30 miles. It’s also a realistic 35 miles, as achieved in real-world conditions, something that’s certainly not true of all PHEVs. Obviously, all electrified models are affected by colder weather, and by less economical driving styles, but the 35-mile target is certainly an achievable goal in regular usage; and without you feeling like any performance is being withheld.
That efficiency is helped by the car defaulting to its Eco setting, rather than Comfort or Sport, although it’s hard to spot the difference from behind the wheel. Indeed, in regular driving it doesn’t feel like the Sorento PHEV is in any sort of reduced-power Eco mode, and there’s little impact on the overall experience, so little need to switch to either of the other settings.
Good news with the PHEV is that the practicality is unchanged, so all models come with seven seats as standard, the rear two folding flat into the boot floor to create an expansive load area that can be made even larger by sliding forward the middle row of seats if carrying capacity needs to take precedence over legroom.
However, the boot is cavernous without needing to push the seats forward, at which point there’s plenty of space for larger adults in the rear seats. They will, however, need to be slid forward a bit, albeit not to the point of discomfort, if the third row of seats is in use, but it’s easy to settle on a solution where everyone should have enough legroom. There’s also a useful button for tilting the second row from the back, so rearmost passengers aren’t reliant on those ahead remembering to let them out.
The only issue with the seating position in the third row is that the seats are set low enough that adult-sized passengers will end up feeling like their knees are up in the air. Still, it’s absolutely fine for shorter runs, and leaves just about enough space for a couple of bags in the boot area, as well as a place the parcel shelf can slot securely into while not in use.
Interior quality is impressive throughout, with some neat design details adding interest to the cabin. Another welcome sight is that the climate control remains separate from the very usable touchscreen system, rather than built into the infotainment for a cleaner cabin look.
The PHEV is available in the same three trim levels as the regular hybrid model, imaginatively titled 2, 3 and 4, while the diesel is offered in the middle specification only. There are huge price jumps between the specs, but that’s reflected in the extra equipment as you move up, and the options list contains only different paint colours and some dealer-fit accessories, with the standard Essence Brown the only one not incurring an additional cost of £660.
Although the entry car is expected to be the fleet favourite, the middle 3 spec is well worth the hefty £3900 addition because it brings 19-inch alloys, rather than the 17-inch wheels on the entry PHEV, as well as a 10.25-inch touchscreen (up from 8in in the lesser model), keyless entry and start, a powered driver’s seat, privacy glass, heated outer seats in the second row, wireless phone charger, self-levelling rear suspension, LED bi-function headlights with LED indicators, leather upholstery and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic safety systems. Among other things.
Another £4200 takes you up to the top-spec model that’s expected to be most popular with retail customers, but the extra cost will be reflected in the PHEV’s otherwise very modest BiK payments, and brings luxury items that, although nice, aren’t exactly a necessity, such as ventilated seats, a Bose sound system, a powered passenger seat, a panoramic sunroof and a head-up display.
From behind the wheel, the Sorento initially feels like the bulky car that it is, although it seems to shrink around you once you’re on the move, helped by the commanding driving position. The only time it truly feels its size is when filling the whole of a supermarket parking space.
On the move, it rides nicely and there’s an impressive lack of body roll when cornering, although within the confines of it being a large SUV rather than anything sportier. But it means passengers don’t feel like they’re being thrown around on twistier roads. The acceleration is brisker than the figures suggest when both petrol and electric systems are deployed for maximum power, and the only complaint is that the engine isn’t the quietest when under duress. The flip-side is that it’s easy to keep the power within the electric-only level of accelerator prod, with a large dial showing how far to push without the system starting the engine to help out, which makes for a more efficient real-world package.
Rivals for the Sorento PHEV are varied, given the still-developing nature of electrified models. The Land Rover Discovery Sport and Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrids are both slightly cheaper than the Sorento, although both are smaller (the Discovery Sport in particular) and, unlike the Kia, neither are able to retain the seven-seat practicality that their petrol or diesel siblings offer due to the battery packaging. And the Outlander, the PHEV pioneer, is about to disappear when Mitsubishi exits the UK market by the end of this year.
The new Toyota Highlander is a seven-seat SUV that’s actually bigger than the Sorento, but is offered only with a ‘self-charging’ hybrid powertrain. This will run the car for just short periods on electric power, but doesn’t require charging so is better suited for anyone who can’t charge at home. PHEVs only make proper sense – apart from the BiK tax advantage – if they’re regularly charged and run on electric power for the maximum time possible. More and more fleets are also now, not before time, finding ways to ensure that plug-in hybrids taken by drivers are actually being charged.
While the Highlander looks more expensive to buy and run, especially in BiK terms, drivers will need to plug in their PHEV to receive the full fuel cost benefits versus running them on petrol, for both themselves and their business. The Sorento’s BiK numbers sit at £179 per month for a 40% tax payer, compared with £520 for its hybrid sibling, and £497 for the Sorento diesel, which very quickly eats into any additional up-front or monthly lease cost.
The Sorento has jumped into a little gap at the moment, where nothing this side of the premium brands – Audi Q7, BMW X5, Volvo XC90 among them – can offer big seven-seat SUV practicality and towing ability along with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. But it’s more than an opportunist, the PHEV Sorento is classy, well-equipped, cost-effective to run (if slightly eye-watering on P11D price) and good to drive, as well as huge and immensely practical.
The Sorento dates back to 2002, when the original version of Kia’s big SUV (pictured) landed in the UK. It was the first model tasked with raising the reputation of what was then a much more budget brand than the mainstream volume company that Kia has become today.
That first car was powered by 2.5-litre diesel or 3.3-litre petrol engines, and had a ladder-frame chassis that made it more of a workhorse than comfort SUV model. The first-generation car was a multiple towcar award winner, laying the groundwork for a towing legacy that remains just as strong today.
The second generation in 2009 was a big change styling wise, to the point where Kia reportedly briefly considered changing the car’s name. This was the first to offer seven seats, a layout that has carried through to the new car. It also switched to a new more road-orientated and lighter chassis design to improve the driving dynamics.
The third generation ran from 2014 to last year, following the changes in the previous car to again become longer and lower. The current fourth-generation model was originally scheduled to be revealed at the 2020 Geneva motor show, but that was canned due to the pandemic.
What they said
What They Said
"The all-new Kia Sorento PHEV really is a unique proposition in the fleet market, with seven-seat practicality and the inherent economies that arise from its plug-in hybrid powertrain. Similar cars exist, but aren't even close to the same price".
"Economy-wise, it speaks for itself: 38g/km of CO2 and a 35-mile electric range ensure company car tax is as low as possible, at 11% for the current tax year."
"Add to this the predicted strong residual values at 45% after three years/60,000 miles and the Sorento PHEV really is in a league of its own."
John Hargreaves, head of fleet and remarketing, Kia Motors (UK) Ltd
Need to know
Three things we like...
Having somewhere to store the parcel shelf is vastly underrated
There’s plenty of handy plug-in-related info available via the big screen
As well as a door pocket, the rear cupholder is a handy storage spot
...And one we don't
The keyless entry only works on the front doors, which can be a frustrating omission
The Sorento handles very tidily, with surprisingly little body roll when cornering for such a big car.
The official electric-only range figure of 35 miles seems rather obtainable in the real world.
There’s a huge boot, seven usable seats, a good slide on the middle row and plenty of stowage space and power points.
Big steps in price between the three trim levels reflect the extra standard kit, but the mid-spec ‘3’ model has all you’d need.
Unashamedly big and chunky, the new Sorento has a strong and good-looking style to it.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The engine makes a bit of noise under acceleration, but otherwise all is fine, and the Sorento feels smaller than its bulk when being driven. Ride quality is good and the driving position commanding.
There are plenty of pleasant-feeling materials and the dash is contoured nicely to break up the large panels. The door bins are a touch narrow but the central storage area is huge.
The long but slightly narrow screen is easy to navigate around and seems to simplify an abundance of tasks.
Whole life costs 8/10
Residual values are excellent, and running costs will be kept low as long as the car is charged properly. High SMR is a surprise.
CCT opinion 9/10
A really good all-round company car package for anyone paying BiK but needing huge space.
Our reigning CCT100 Large SUV of the Year is even better with PHEV power, making a huge amount of sense for anyone needing seven-seat SUV practicality in low-BiK form.