We’ve driven the Sorento before in hybrid and diesel forms, but this is our first chance to drive the plug-in hybrid (PHEV), the KIA Sorento 1.6 T-GDi Plug-In Hybrid 4.
If you tow a caravan with your company car, favourable tax rates mean the PHEV is likely to be your first choice. For private buyers, it could still make sense if most of your trips are short and can be completed on electric power alone.
The downside here is that, despite being heavier than the diesel Sorento, the PHEV has a legal towing limit of 1500kg, a whole tonne less than the diesel’s.
What are we looking for?
As a car to tow with and to live with every day, how does the PHEV compare with the regular hybrid and the diesel?
We’ve already touched on the disadvantage of the PHEV – the reduced towing limit. This means that some large luxury caravans are off limits. However, a reasonable range of other tourers remains suitable.
For our test, we matched the Sorento to a Swift Challenger 530 with a MiRO of 1330kg, borrowed from Broad Lane Leisure. The Sorento pulled the Swift with ease, comfortably holding 50mph on steep hills.
On dual carriageway and motorway inclines, the Kia was comfortable and unflustered towing at 60mph. The vehicle had enough power in reserve, even as the battery drained and it relied more on the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
At times, especially when we were towing downhill, the Sorento would tow on electric power alone. Even with the battery at a low state of charge, the car was quiet unless accelerating hard, in which case the petrol engine could sound strained.
Stability is a key trait of the best tow cars, and counts for a great deal more than strong acceleration while towing. We’d have no qualms towing long distances with the Sorento PHEV.
We could sometimes see a little shuffle from the caravan in our mirrors when overtaking a high-sided vehicle, but nothing that required any steering correction.
Hill starts are no problem at all, either. The electronic parking brake holds car and caravan still, and the electric motor takes the strain away from the petrol engine, so neither power source must work too hard. Our test took place in dry weather, but being four-wheel drive, the Sorento PHEV should cope well with damp Tarmac.
On site, the Kia is easy to manoeuvre. Rearward visibility could be better, but this isn’t much of a problem, thanks to the suite of cameras provided with 4 spec. You get a 360-degree view of the car, and a reversing camera with a clear view of the towball.
The towing gear fitted to our test car drops and retracts at the press of a button just inside the tailgate. Cheaper fixed and detachable towballs are also available. The socket sits near the bumper, but not close enough to risk skinned knuckles.
Yes, it has a relatively low towing limit, but the PHEV performs well as a tow car. Judged purely on towing ability, however, we’d take the diesel for its plentiful pulling power and ability to tow heavier tourers.
Like any plug-in hybrid, the KIA Sorento 1.6 T-GDi Plug-In Hybrid 4 is at its best with plenty of charge. That way, it can be driven using electricity alone on many journeys. The official electric range is 35 miles, although high 20s will probably be more realistic, depending on the weather and your driving style.
With lots of charge, the driver can choose between pure electric and hybrid running. When the petrol engine starts up, it does so smoothly, with none of the awkward jolting some PHEVs suffer.
The engine is quiet unless revved hard, which isn’t something you need to do as often in solo driving as you do in towing.
If you have a heavy right foot, the Sorento will shift along at a decent pace: Kia quotes a 0-60mph time of 8.4 seconds, making the PHEV quicker than the regular hybrid (8.7 seconds) or the diesel (9.1 seconds).
However, that’s not really playing to the Sorento’s strengths. The steering is precise and it will handle neatly, but it’s better at covering long distances in comfort, rather than rushing about. A BMW X3 is more rewarding for keen drivers, but doesn’t have the Sorento’s third row of seats.
The Kia’s ride is comfortable, especially at speed. It can be a bit lumpier in town. Lower-spec cars with other powertrains have smaller alloys and a more forgiving low-speed ride. Every PHEV has 19-inch alloys, whether you go for the entry-level 2 spec, the 3, or the range-topping 4.
Forward visibility is good, but the thick rear pillars get in the way of the view over your shoulder while reversing. Fortunately, the 360-degree camera system is as handy when you’re reversing into a parking spot as it is when backing up to a caravan.
Space and practicality
Here’s where the Sorento really comes into its own – this is an extremely practical and very roomy vehicle.
Both the driver and the front passenger sit in comfortable seats, with electric adjustment. They’re ventilated and heated, so will cool you on a hot day as well as warm you up when the weather turns chilly.
Finding a suitable driving position is easy, too, and the high-set seating position gives you a clear view out.
There’s a digital display in front of the driver rather than conventional dials, and this can be configured to show different information using buttons on the steering wheel.
A 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system sits in the centre of the dashboard. The graphics are sharp and it’s very easy to use.
Mercifully, Kia has resisted the modern trend to bury the heating and ventilation controls in a touchscreen menu, instead fitting knobs and switches below the screen. These are easier to use without taking your eyes from the road for long.
Passengers in the middle row of seats are going to be scarcely less comfortable than those in the front, thanks to ample head- and legroom, even with the panoramic sunroof fitted
to the 4 spec model.
These seats slide back and forth and recline, and the outer two are also heated.
Although sitting in the third row of seats means that you’ve drawn the short straw in most seven-seaters, there’s still more room in the back of the Sorento than you’ll find in the Škoda Kodiaq, for example.
The middle seats in 4 spec cars motor out of the way at the push of a button to give easy access to the third row. If the passengers in the middle row are willing to slide their seats forward a bit, seats six and seven should be reasonably accommodating, although better suited to children.
Wherever you sit, there’s ample storage, with cupholders for drinks and USB ports for charging phones and tablets. This really is an exceptionally well thought-out cabin.
The boot is modest if every seat is in use, but huge with the third row folded down, and in that case, only slightly smaller than the diesel’s.
Buying and owning
PHEVs make most sense for company car drivers who have somewhere to recharge the car overnight. If that applies to you, then you’ll benefit from a low company car tax bill and should also be able to make most short journeys using electricity rather than petrol.
The case for the PHEV is not so clear-cut for private buyers, especially if you don’t have off-street parking. The Sorento PHEV 4 costs £54,695. Dropping to 3 spec lowers this to £50,345, still over £7000 more than the diesel in the same trim.
Running costs will be low, however, provided you keep the battery topped up.
The official combined figure for the Sorento is 176.6mpg, although how close you will get to that in practice depends on how often you recharge and the types of journey you undertake.
Starting with the battery showing just under a quarter charge, the Sorento returned 24.3mpg towing the Swift.
If the boss offers you a KIA Sorento 1.6 T-GDi Plug-In Hybrid 4 as a company car and is happy for you to order it with a towball, bite their hand off. For a private buyer, we still prefer the diesel. It’s more affordable to buy and will tow a heavier van.
However, if you are determined to opt for a PHEV, the Sorento does have a great deal going for it, with the vehicle included in our best plug-in hybrid tow car round-up for a reason.
We’re particularly impressed that Kia has been able to squeeze in the hybrid components without losing the third row of seats, and with just a slight change to the Sorento’s luggage capacity.
With a full battery, the vehicle is a quiet and relaxing way to travel. Even when the petrol engine gets to work, it remains smooth and refined, so long as you don’t rev that petrol engine too hard.
The 1500kg towing limit will rule out the PHEV for some caravanners, but what the plug-in Sorento can tow, it tows very well. The hybrid powertrain has plenty of power, and pulls up to speed easily, even if the battery is low. Once up to 60mph, the Kia is stable and secure.
As with any Sorento, the PHEV is an exceptionally practical car. There’s more space in the third row than you’ll find in most seven-seaters, and there are lots of thoughtful touches throughout the cabin.
Running costs will be low for the right owner, but the purchase price remains off-putting. It’s so much more expensive than the equivalent diesel.
If we were spending our own money on a Sorento, the diesel is still the model we would buy.
Interested in a pre-owned towing car instead? Then be sure to take a look at our guide to the best used tow cars.
- Price: £54,695
- Retained value after three years: 50%
- Kerbweight: 2099kg
- 85% of kerbweight: Not legal
- Gross vehicle weight: 2680kg
- Max towing limit: 1500kg
- Gross train weight: 4180kg
- Towball limit: 100kg
- Price of towball and electrics: £718
- Boot size min/max: 604/1988 litres
- Payload: 581kg
- Test conditions: Dry
- Engine size: 1598cc
- Official combined economy: 176.6mpg
- Towing economy: 24.3mpg
- Power (hp)/rpm: 261/5500
- Torque (lb ft)/rpm: 258/1500-4500
- CO2 emissions: 38g/km
- First year car tax: £0
- Second year car tax: £480
- Insurance group: 34D
Or you could try
- Price from: £35,905
The Kuga lacks the Sorento’s third row of seats, but drives and tows well.
Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV
- Price from: £45,865
Closely related to the Sorento, the Santa Fe should be an equally capable tow car.
- 64-plate, 74,000 miles
- Price: £11,950
This is a bargain price for a pioneering plug-in hybrid SUV.
Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Momentum
- 66-plate, 36,000 miles
- Price: £37,549
Volvo’s luxury hybrid is a rapid and stable tow car.
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|Engine Size||1598 cc|
|Towball Limit||100 kg|
|Maximum Towing Limit||1500 kg|
|Torque||258 lb ft|
|Offical MPG||176.6 mpg|
|Towing MPG||24.3 mpg|