Six seats and 37 miles per gallon for under $40 grand.
If someone asked us for a recommendation on a three-row family SUV, the Kia Telluride would be our number one choice. But with gas prices hitting record highs, the Telluride's thirsty V6 engine may not be ideal for parents on a budget. Assuming the family will only use the third row in a pinch and can live with a slightly smaller vehicle, the 2022 Kia Sorento Hybrid is a great alternative. It takes everything we love about the standard Sorento, but packages it with a more fuel-efficient powertrain.
After spending a week driving the Sorento Hybrid in its top EX trim level, we came away convinced that the Sorento Hybrid is the ideal family car in the current high-gas mileage climate.
Aside from the 17-inch wheels on our front-wheel-drive EX tester, which admittedly look pretty basic, there's little to separate the Sorento Hybrid from its gas-only counterpart. Just a little "ECO Hybrid" badge on the back. It still wears the same aggressive tiger-nose grille at the front, Mustang-like taillights at the back, and comes in some interesting colors like Gravity Blue and our test unit's Runway Red (a $445 option). The Sorento Hybrid is an attractive vehicle overall but if you can't get past those wheels, adding all-wheel-drive for $2,300 (a new option for 2022) on the EX trim ups them to 19-inchers.
Kia says the Sorento Hybrid will manage 39 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 37 mpg combined with its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and 44-kW electric motor. Those numbers drop a bit in the AWD version. But in our week of testing with a mix of city and highway usage, we averaged a whopping 43 mpg. So long as you can remain light on the throttle, the Sorento loves staying in electric mode as much as possible, keeping the engine off and the fuel economy sky high. The low rolling resistance eco tires play a major role as well.
Despite being so frugal, the Sorento is plenty peppy with 227 horsepower on tap. The six-speed automatic transmission lacks the smoothness of the gas model's eight-speed dual-clutch or Toyota's hybrid CVT, but it's certainly not what we'd call jarring.
Kia only sells the Sorento Hybrid in S and EX trims, which are mid-level trims on the gasoline variant. We sampled the EX, which boasts plenty of features for a discerning family, including a standard 10.25-inch touchscreen, heated leatherette front seats, dual-zone climate control, power liftgate, and a comprehensive ADAS suite. Blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keep assist are all standard here, and work fabulously.
Stepping up to the EX from the S model is only a $2,000 upgrade that feels worth the premium. With an as-tested price of under $38,000, the Sorento Hybrid EX feels like a bargain. Unfortunately, there's no way to get the top SX trim without upgrading to the plug-in hybrid, which is much pricier.
The Sorento is classified as a midsize vehicle, but it sits on a the smaller end of the segment closer to two-row models such as the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe. The space behind the third-row isn't the biggest, and the third row itself is cramped for tall occupants. Think of this car as a 4+2 rather than a full six-seater, and it makes more sense. That back row is there in a pinch, not for everyday use.
We would like to see Kia offer the Sorento Hybrid with a seven-seat option, but it's only available with captain's chairs in the second row. Those chairs are very comfortable at least, with plenty of storage space behind them. Getting into the third row is easy, with a single button push sliding the captain's chairs far forward. There are more practical midsize models out there, but we think the Sorento offers plenty of space without feeling cumbersome.
If you have a bit more cash to spend, you may want to consider the Sorento Plug-In Hybrid. It starts at $45,190, making it $9,300 more than the EX Hybrid. That gap starts to fade when you consider the PHEV includes AWD and 19-inch wheels as standard (a $2,300 value), a more powerful electric motor (upping the output to 261 hp), and a 32-mile electric-only range. It's actually better value than the raw numbers would suggest. The PHEV is also eligible for a $6,587 tax credit, with further improves the value proposition. A fully-loaded Sorento PHEV SX Prestige can exceed $50,000, which is about the same as its closest rival.
The Sorento Hybrid only has one direct, mainstream three-row hybrid competitor: the 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Toyota's hybrid SUV is slightly larger than Kia's, providing more trunk space and a bit more legroom. It's got more power too, with 243 hp from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and two electric motors. However, the Highlander's 35-mpg average is slightly below the Sorento's, and in the real world, the Kia easily outperforms its ratings.
Then there's the matter of price. A base Highlander Hybrid LE starts at $39,555, which is about the same as a Sorento Hybrid EX with AWD added, but with fewer features. If you don't need the extra features or standard AWD of the Toyota, the Sorento Hybrid S is around $5,000 less, starting at $34,090. A fully-loaded Highlander Hybrid Limited will cost over $50,000, but it won't include the plug-in range available in the Sorento.
Though the Toyota offers more interior volume, the Kia wins on value, fuel economy, and styling. An incoming 2023 refresh may swing the pendulum back in the Highlander's favor, but if we were to choose one of the two today, it would be the Sorento.