An evolutionary step toward the modern SUV

Medium to larger ‘road orientated’ SUVs have never been exactly what I’d call visually captivating or glamorous. They’re not ugly … they are… nice, pleasant, non-offensive and generally follow a cookie cutter body design mathematically tested to achieve optimal form and function.

Well, thankfully, things are changing, with the board of decision makers sending incessant calls from the bean counting department to voice mail. They’ve finally recognised the value of allowing clever design and engineering teams the freedom to be creative and use their expertise to engender bold eye-catching exterior design and wow-worthy interiors. The result is an inspiring shift in passenger pampering and comfort with new levels of convenience, connectivity and safety in the next generation of environmentally aware, family-orientated SUVs.

Meet the new 2022 KIA plug-in hybrid electric vehicle PHEV 7-seat Sorento GT Line.

It takes an evolutionary step to redefine the measure of luxury, performance, and technology of a modern SUV.

Front, side or rear; the styling is fresh and bold thanks to sharper, stronger body lines and sculpted panels giving this Sorento instantly recognisable and appealing good looks. It’s elegant, not flashy. The prominent signature black tiger nose grille, and warrior facial markings in the form of contoured daytime running lights doubling as indicators delivers the perfect backdrop for the bold new KIA insignia proudly displayed front and centre.

It’s a hard to see change but it is just a tad wider at 10mm with a 35mm longer wheelbase, thanks to KIA’s new third-generation midsize SUV platform designed to accommodate a large battery pack, electric motor, fuel tank and engine all neatly compacted within the vehicle’s structure, allowing the Sorento’s interior to provide generous space for seven people and luggage.

Dressing off the side appearance, this new chariot rides on stylish polished alloy 19-inch rims, wrapped in 235/55 Continental rubber. Interestingly smaller than the standard 20-inch rims found on the 2.2L diesel or 3.5L V6 in the Sorento GT line up. But it is a better option if you intend to explore the AWD capability on some picturesque winding gravel roads, as that slightly taller profile aids in ride comfort over rougher surfaces. 

Plus, there’s a full-sized spare for when venturing the roads less travelled. 

With shorter overhangs front and rear, KIA cleverly moved the A-pillar back some 30mm to extend the overall bonnet length. This allowed the KIA designers to achieve the visual hallmarks of a longer, sportier profile, despite a small increase in height.

Rearwards, the modish split dual vertical taillights with the outer corners cutting a v-shape back into the rear guards add to the Sorrento’s robust solid appearance. 

The contrasting two-tone trim with inset reflectors on the lower bumper gives a sneaky impression of dual exhausts, whilst the cleverly placed underslung spare tyre minimises the impact on interior space for the third-row folding seats. 

No matter where I took the Sorento, it looked at ease with its surroundings

whether down at the beach, outside an elegant restaurant, cruising under the city lights at night, or parked in the driveway at home.

Inside, the GT Line makes a favourable first impression, with tasteful combinations of piano black, satin chrome, tactile knurled rotary dials and toggle switches, quilted nappa leather, heated and cooled power-adjustable driver and passenger front seats and accented stitching. There’s no mistaking the abundance of premium finishes, attention to detail, and high-tech features of this vehicle’s well-appointed and quality constructed interior.

It’s good to see that designers have got those hideous floating screens out of their systems, which always made me cringe as they looked like commercial work vans fitted with laptop mounting brackets. The one piece piano black horizontal dual screen enclosure hints at a pseudo wide screen effect. 

It’s nicely stepped with the driver instrumentation recessed back into the housing, shadowed by soft touch crash pad atop for a conventional but contemporary appearance which is both pleasing and easy on the eye.

The crisp, colourful 12.3-inch digital driver instrument cluster displays all relevant vehicle information and will change its appearance depending on drive mode—ECO, Smart or Sports. Or you can further individualise the display to suit personal taste. 

A feature that at first seemed odd to me, but for which I developed an appreciation, is the blind spot monitor view. As you indicate left or right the digital instrumentation will drop either the tacho or speedo gauge respectively, and temporarily replace them with a clear camera view to the side and rear of the vehicle to ensure it’s safe to change lanes. The heads-up display is crisp and provides important information at a glance, reducing driver distraction from their forward view of the road.

There’s no need to fuss with cables thanks to the convenient wireless smartphone charger at the base of the centre console. But for those with older or other gadgets, the Sorrento offers an abundance of power delivery options. There are two standard 12 volt sockets—one at the rear of the console and another in the cargo area. 

No less than three USB charging points up front. Second row passengers also get three USBs, one in each front seat and one on the rear of the console. And let’s not forget our third-row guests with their own two USBs in the back. 

This SUV is a mobile accessory powerhouse.

Front seating is comfortable, they’re broad and flat making ingress and egress easy. The memory function retains seat adjustment, wing mirror position, heads up display configuration and your personal mood lighting—with so many settings retained there should be no more grumbles about having had your seat shifted!

The 60:40 split-fold second row seats are also heated, and room is a real strong point, there’s loads of leg room and head room.

A third adult in the middle second row is doable, for short to moderate trips. But you might need to rotate for the long hauls.

The third row isn’t bad, but is a miniature-human only convenience for anything but emergencies. It’s handy that the second-row seats slide forward and aft for a little more relief, plus making it easier to access the third row. The second-row release and fold buttons in the rear were a nice touch, allowing third row occupants to escape with relative ease.

Plus, there’s a smart phone holder and on/off swich and fan speed for the rear AC, such a simple but welcome feature. I also appreciated the electric slide control on the side of the passenger’s seat if needing to access a little more space. 

And you can drop the 50:50 split third row to form a flat loading space. Perfect for the fur kid.

When it comes to load space, there’s plenty of it on offer with a convenient 604L behind the second-row seats, which jumps to a healthy 1,988L if you fold them forward. And should you be needing to tow a camper trailer, or tinnie for those fun adventurous outings, the PHEV GT Line will happily pull 750kg unbraked or 1,350kg braked.

Overall, it’s easy to spend time in the Sorrento, the interior feels spacious with all controls and switches in a logical layout meaning you can just jump in and drive, without having to over think, fiddle or fuss. Visibility is good, and there’s the usual convenient driver assist technologies on hand to keep a watchful eye on your surroundings and other drivers.

Hooking up my phone was one of the easiest connections I’ve ever done—within seconds my favourite Spotify melodies were streaming effortlessly through the Sorento’s impressive powerful premium BOSE surround-sound system, making the driving experience all the more rewarding on longer journeys. Even better, on a clear day, slide the covers back on the large panoramic sunroof, to bathe the interior in natural light.

I really appreciated the smart temperature control function, which checks the difference between outside temperature and internal climate control, then activates heating or cooling in the seats for maximum comfort. Trust me, it’s blissful on long drives with changing weather conditions which jump from cold, overcast conditions in one location to blue skies and warm sunshine at the next township.

KIA also makes very clever use of technology, combining hands free microphones and speakers to make it possible to hold an easy conversation with back row passengers or play music in the back while driver and front seat passenger chat in comfort.

This KIA Sorento PHEV leverages both electric and petrol power, each capable of driving all four wheels. It can use purely electric or petrol or run in a blended mode, utilising both power sources. The real benefit is for small trips around town of up to 50-60km where you can run pure electric. On longer trips, you can engage the petrol power plant as needed.

Then plug into a standard house GPO socket to charge up overnight–-easy. KIA indicates the Sorento can go from 15-95% charge in as little as 3 hours and 25 minutes, based on an optional 3.3kW KIA wall box charger.

Noteworthy is the responsive driving characteristics of the electric motor, never feeling wanting during normal stop-start traffic or cruising at freeway speed.

In most cases, you’ll have to push the Sorento firmly to engage the petrol engine, as the electric motor easily manages 90% of driving demands and only pulls on the petrol for a short burst of rapid acceleration.

Over the course of a week, I found the majority of my trips used battery only unless I’d run down battery capacity enough to warrant petrol intervention. And there’s no need for driver action—the transition between power source is near seamless and effortless.

The petrol engine is a moderate turbo charged 1.6L capacity unit feeding from a 67L fuel tank, producing an adequate output of 132kW of urge and 265Nm of effort capable of moving the Sorento’s 2,056kg bulk reasonably quickly when needed. 

Combine this with the permanent magnet electric motor powered by a 13.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack, it provides a strong uplift of 304Nms and 67kW of power and 

The result is an impressive throttle bite and forward urgency

as the Sorento unleashes its combined 195kWs and 350Nms through its all-wheel drive system with selectable terrain modes for snow, mud and sand. 

Mated to a quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the Sorento PHEV reins in the 100kph marker in respectable SUV time of 8.7s.

KIA claim a combined fuel consumption of 1.6L/100km, which can be easily influenced by driver demand, or what you’re towing, so I’d take that as a best of all scenarios and not likely to be a constant in the real world. 

However, achieving 3-4L/100km is not only doable for general driving of a roomy 7-seat SUV, but also damn impressive, especially when it’s hard to identify any performance penalties.

The more I drove the Sorento, the more I appreciated its impressive versatility, not only for its family friendly functionality and practicality, but its very efficient hybrid capability offering the best of both worlds.

Get the Sorento out of the city confines and on-road handling is reassuring and confident for a vehicle of this size, the steering response is linear and has a nicely weighted feel about it. This latest Sorento has less pronounced body roll through corners which KIA attribute to new suspension componentry, revised geometry and keeping the 140kg battery low down in the centre of the body, retaining a low centre of gravity and improved weight distribution between front and rear axles.

Road noise is well controlled over all but the roughest of surfaces providing the driver and passengers with a relaxed ambience to enjoy the richness of the BOSE audio system.

Comfort, practicality, and driveability are the key attributes of the Sorento. This is a vehicle that will happily accommodate whatever your lifestyle demands, and it will do it with a minimum of fuss or effort on your behalf.

It’s the quintessential do it all, easy to live with proposition for the modern growing family.

There’s no denying the flagship KIA Sorento PHEV GT Line commands a hefty price tag at $81,990. And that’s a not so inconsiderable increase over the solid performing diesel GT Line variant which is closer to $70,000 and represents good value for money based on what you get compared to more expensive alternatives.

However, the PHEV’s greatest benefit lies in its environmentally conscious hybrid drive system. Given it is likely to spend most of its life in suburbia, this is a vehicle that has the potential to perform the majority of daily duties running purely on electric power and thus producing zero emissions. I proved that during my week with the Sorento. Backed by a seven-year/150,000km warranty on the electrics, it requires servicing only once every 12 months for the petrol components.

While I have no problem recommending the Sorento for looks, comfort, performance and functionality, the question for the prospective buyer is whether the extra investment for the PHEV is justifiable for the environmental positives it delivers over the cheaper diesel option.

Model: KIA Sorento GT Line PHEV

Price: $81,990

  • Engine: 1.6-litre Turbocharged Petrol Four-Cylinder
  • Electric: 67kW Permanent Synchronous Motor
  • Output: Combined 195kW / 350Nm
  • Transmission: 6 Speed Auto
  • Fuel: Indicated 1.6L/100 (Combined)
  • ANCAP Safety Rating 5 Stars

When it comes to safety inclusions, KIA’s preferred option is to tick all the check boxes. They’re not a company that is backward in coming forward to ensure driver and passengers have the latest and most comprehensive list of advanced vehicle safety systems. With seven airbags consisting of dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbags and front centre airbag, plus KIA’s impressive Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS) covering Forward Collision-Avoidance for pedestrian, cyclist and vehicles when making a turn at a junction. Surround View Monitor, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance, Intelligent Speed Limit, Smart Cruise Control with Stop&Go, Lane Following Assist, Driver Attention Warning and even Highway Driving Assist.

Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.