Skip to main content

Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid Road Handling Review: Pacific Northwest Winter Edition

While visiting family for the Christmas holiday, I got a chance to do more road testing of our Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUV. This time, we put the vehicle through some trials I haven’t been able to attempt before.

This included driving through torrential downpours with a full capacity load on twisty rural highways with lots of standing water on the roadway and poor visibility at times. Sounds like the kind of driving conditions we all dream about, right? Well, that might be a stretch but until recently, I hadn’t actually gotten to do too much driving in harsh conditions in our Sorento PHEV. To be clear, it isn’t that I want to drive in challenging conditions, but I do want to know how well our Kia can handle inclement weather and road conditions in the Pacific Northwest where we live. It’s the principle of knowing what to expect, from the vehicle, when things get ugly outside. It is also useful to get practice driving in such conditions now and then too, so I don’t grow complacent and lazy about the more challenging aspects of driving in inclement weather.

So how bad were those driving conditions? This time, it wasn’t about snow and or ice (which I tend to use the Kia’s Snow Mode for), but rather an excess of water. The highways and rural two lane roads were mostly drenched in either a steady downfall or an outright deluge. In multiple places I had to drive through standing water, including one spot where it was at least 6 inches deep (this was on a slower stretch going through a small town on the way to our destination). Mostly the standing water was just puddles and or streams of water draining down or off the highway, but at no point did I experience any loss of traction. In terms of grip, it felt like we might as well have been on dry pavement as Kia’s AWD and the Blizzak snow and ice tires handled these conditions with aplomb. Honestly wet handling was the main reason I bought Blizzak tires instead of the Michelin X-ice snow tires I have purchased for other vehicles (they don’t seem to have the best wet road handling and are acceptable at best). This being the case, I highly recommend that anyone living in a region with extreme winter weather conditions consider investing in quality traction tires that are appropriate for your weather (be that lots of snow or lots of rain, or both as in our case). Of course there’s no replacement for driving safely too, especially adjusting your driving for conditions as warranted.

Here’s more detail about our drive in these appalling conditions: For the longest side trip (108 miles) I had 850 pounds or so of people and cargo in the vehicle and I managed to cover about 31 miles in electric only (EV) mode (16 going and 15 coming back). My tires were inflated to 39 psi, cold (or about 42 warm). I have my roof racks on still, but no cargo box and the speed limits when not passing through small towns were 40 - 60 MPH. I stayed within 3 MPH of the speed limit for most of the drive. I didn’t use cruise control (with the flowing water on the runway that would have been a little dangerous). Outside temps were in the low 40’s to low 50’s F and the worst visibility I had at some points was about 300 feet due to low clouds/fog and heavy rain. The brakes, as usual, worked perfectly without ever feeling grabby and transitioned smoothly between regen and actual mechanical pressure on the discs. Likewise, the gas engine remained quiet and almost unnoticeable throughout (you can hear/feel a muted hum when accelerating up hills or to pass someone on the highway when in HEV mode but otherwise can barely tell its running). I got about 2 MPG better fuel economy on the return leg than outbound, but for the entire 108 mile trip my blended average MPG was 37.6 which I consider to be quite impressive considering the full load, snow tires, and conditions of the drive. That is very close to similar trips I would have taken in summertime on my all season tires. I feel that my slower speed was the key to great fuel efficiency results. At the end of our family holiday visit, we charged up the hybrid battery again and headed home the next day. Quite surprisingly, on the 59.2 mile trip home (we went a slightly different route) I managed to achieve 74.2 MPG, blended (EV and HEV). Also note that I used “Automatic” mode for about ⅔ of the trip home and only switched out of it when I noticed it wasn’t switching into EV mode on downhill stretches or flat sections, it just kept me in HEV mode from about 10 miles into the drive. I figured it was not going to use up the remainder of the battery before we got home so I wanted to force that change. It is possible the automatic mode would have changed to EV mode again, before I got off the freeway but I don’t think the algorithm is smart enough to know where I am going and when exactly to switch in order to use up the hybrid battery charge just before/as we arrive; I believe it just goes off of sustained speed, and how hard one accelerates. I’ll do more testing of that setting in particular, in the future. For reference, my guess on when to switch back to EV mode resulted in using up the battery about 1 mile before we reached home (missed it by that much!). What questions do you have about the Kia Sorento PHEV’s performance? Please leave any questions or comments below. Image provided by Justin Hart. Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.


Burnside (not verified)    January 17, 2023 - 11:12PM

How does the 3rd row legroom compare on the Sorento PHEV and Outlander PHEV? Like the idea of 7 seats on the Outlander vs the Sorento.

Justin Hart    January 20, 2023 - 4:30PM

In reply to by Burnside (not verified)

As far as I know (I’ll have to try and get into an Outlander for comparison) from what I have read and the measurements for each, the Sorento is MUCH more roomy in the 2nd row and a little roomier in the 3rd. The Sorento has the most (or perhaps second most) 2nd row legroom in its class I believe. The 3rd row is tight, but at 6’ 1” I can fit in the 3rd row comfortably enough to make a 1 hour trip back there (wouldn’t want to spend much more than that back there though). My wife at 5’ 4” rode in the 3rd row with our daughter for a 3 hour trip without complaint. I expect the Outlander 3rd row is not suitable for anyone over 12 or 13 years old, and that the second row is comfortable 2 adults of average size, but for 3 would only be suitable in a pinch. 3 children might be just fine in the 2nd row of the Outlander though.