Now, I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings (because owners of the Chevy Volt tend to be a die hard bunch), and as I said I much prefer how Chevy implemented its EV mode in the Volt, but when I consider each vehicle as a whole, their efficiency, their handling and performance in both electric and hybrid modes, or basically their function as PHEVs, I feel like Kia did a little better job with the Sorento PHEV. Here’s my reasons why I think Kia edges Chevy out with their respective PHEVs.
First and foremost, Kia made a more efficient PHEV in the Sorento. How is this possible, you may ask, when my “gen 2” 2017 Volt has an MPGe of 106 and my Sorento PHEV only has an MPGe value of 79? My Sorento PHEV weighs about 1,000 lbs (or 29%) more than my Chevy Volt. It is also much larger and less aerodynamically efficient, yet I am able to get about 90% of the miles per kWh figure I got in my Volt (3.6 lifetime over 4 and a half years), in my Kia (3.24). That means I can go 90% as far on the same amount of electricity, basically, but am moving 29% more weight every time I do. I drove both vehicles in a similarly gentle way because in a PHEV my goal is to maximize the distance I cover in electric only mode. But the Kia Sorento PHEV is more efficient in another important way too: its use of raw materials. The Sorento PHEV has a 13.8 kWh battery, the 2017 Volt has an 18.4 kWh battery (so the Volt’s battery is 25% greater capacity), That means that Kia’s PHEV, “pound for pound”, is doing more with less since the Chevy Volt used 25% more battery (4.6 kWh worth) to achieve only a 10% better result in its vehicles consumption of electricity in my real world driving results. I believe I know why this is the case: Chevy could tap its hybrid battery for cabin heat whereas Kia can not. Kia may also just have designed a slightly more efficient electric motor or transmission, too (though that’s just a guess on my part). This may not sound like much, and I certainly did like being able to heat my Volt without using gas, but once I researched Kia’s approach a little I have come to appreciate that using a battery for cabin heat is actually pretty inefficient. Perhaps if a heat pump were used instead of a resistance heater, that wouldn’t be the case, but that isn’t what Chevy (or Kia) did.
Next, Kia’s PHEV handles better when running in hybrid mode. Specifically, I mean that when the gas engine is operating in the Kia, I don’t experience some of the characteristics the Volt displayed when running its gas engine. The Volt would “throb” subtly when driving at freeway speeds when in hybrid mode and the gas engine RPM was disconnected from the speed of the vehicle. While I usually had adequate power in hybrid mode, there were some times (when trying to pass a slower moving vehicle for example) that the Volt just felt like it was struggling a bit. In short, the Volt was a great EV, but as a hybrid it felt buzzy, a little bit sluggish at times, and had some unpleasant vibration from the gas engine. The Kia Sorento, with a similarly sized gas engine, feels relatively smooth, more powerful, with seamless integration between the electric motor and gas engine in hybrid mode. I’ll also just point out, even though it is obvious, that the Kia is a much more versatile vehicle (being a midsize SUV), and that is no fault of the Volt itself, being a different class of vehicle, but it is a fault of Chevy (they should have put the powertrain in a more versatile chassis, like it’s Equinox perhaps).
Before Volt fans tar and feather me, I’d like to point out what I think Chevy did better in the Volt than Kia does in the Sorento PHEV. First, as I mentioned above, the EV mode in the Volt is just a better experience and more useful overall because no matter how far you press the accelerator down, the Volt stays in EV mode until you switch it out or the charge is used up. There are engineering and mechanical reasons why this isn’t the case in the Sorento PHEV, but still, the Volt was just a better experience because of this feature or design. And although this isn’t related to these vehicles' performance, the other feature I very much appreciate in the Volt and wish Kia would fix is an aspect of their infotainment system. In the Volt, I could use Apple Car play for GPS while listening to any other audio source available in the car (so bluetooth from a phone, music coming in from a USB port, the radio (FM/AM or XM), etc.). Technically I am able to get the FM/AM and XM radio to play when I am using Apple Car Play for GPS in my Sorento, but it makes no sense at all and only works when I have the forethought to leave the head unit on the desired audio source before I turn off the car knowing that I will plug my phone in to use the GPS next time I drive. Something seems to be messed up in Kia’s operating system running on its head unit (or just poorly designed). I also seem to have far more issues with Car Play than I ever did in my Volt (though to be fair, that could just be due to my phone or the cable I am using, something I’ll have to test in other vehicles or with other cables).
Have you driven both PHEVs, or perhaps other Kia PHEVs? Would you agree with my assessments, or do feel otherwise? Please leave your questions and comments below.
Images courtesy of 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.