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Kia Sorento engines, drive and performance

2020 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 3.9 out of 53.9

Written by Keith Adams Published: 12 July 2023 Updated: 9 October 2023

  • Two hybrids and one diesel available
  • Performance ranges from adequate to quick
  • Drive sedately and you’ll be fine

Hybrid engines

There are two hybrid engines to choose from with the Kia Sorento. The cheapest electrified option is a self-charging hybrid which combines a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 44.2kW electric motor and a 1.48kWh battery pack. The unit has a combined output of 229hp and 350Nm of torque.

The petrol engine tops up the battery, allowing the Sorento to potter around on electric power alone at slow speeds, such as stop-start city driving. The electrical assistance at low speeds is very welcome. It masks the fact that the Sorento is a big car powered by a small engine.

Once you leave town, however, it struggles to disguise the weight the faster you go. You can gently cruise up to the national speed limit with little fuss, but if you need to overtake or slingshot down a motorway slip road, the petrol engine sounds quite coarse.

Kia Sorento review (2023)
If you want decent performance, you’re going to have to pick the plug-in hybrid model.

The plug-in hybrid model is a little sprightlier. The system is based around the same 1.6-litre petrol engine as the self-charging hybrid, but it has a more powerful 66.9kW electric motor and larger 13.8kWh battery. Power increases to 264hp, although torque remains identical at 350Nm.

The extra power from the PHEV system drops the Sorento’s 0–62mph time from 9.0 to 8.7 seconds – and the car is far more willing to accelerate. From rest, it pulls eagerly, even with the drive mode selector locked in Eco mode. The biggest benefits, though, are its improved fuel economy figures and maximum pure-electric range of 35 miles.

Diesel engine

The Sorento’s 2.2-litre diesel engine produces 192hp and 440Nm of torque, which Kia says is enough to shove the SUV from 0–62mph in 9.2 seconds. We think it’s an infinitely better everyday match for the Sorento than the entry-level hybrid thanks to its consistent high torque output and relaxed power delivery. Peak torque arrives at just 1,750rpm, which means it has plenty of low-down grunt – and that makes it ideal for towing.

Speaking of which, towing capacity for the diesel is 2,500kg. The self-charging hybrid model can only haul 1,650kg, while the plug-in makes do with just a 1,500kg towing capacity. Every version of the Sorento comes with four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox, though. Hybrids get a six-speed transmission, while the diesel has an eight-speed unit.

What’s it like to drive?

  • Safe, composed handling
  • Not exciting, but that’s not the point
  • Standard four-wheel drive benefits traction

Considering the Sorento is one of the largest SUVs in its class, it’s surprisingly easy to drive. In terms of handling, it’s responsive enough for you to pilot through small town roads without being in fear of scraping yourself or other road users. Just beware of its dimensions when you need to park it.

The controls are easy to use without being completely numb. The steering has a predictable, consistent weight, while the brakes on the hybrid and PHEV models have a reassuring amount of pressure that doesn’t share the conventionally notchy pedal action as the car switches between regenerative and friction braking. We found the diesel model’s brakes to be a little overly assisted, but they shouldn’t trouble most drivers once they’re used to them.

Kia Sorento review (2023)
The Sorento is comfortable, with well-controlled suspension giving the driver a good feel of the road, too.

The suspension setup is firm enough to stop it from wallowing side to side like the old Sorento, but not enough to jolt the occupants around. In short, it doesn’t feel like you’re piloting a lorry. Trying to pedal the Sorento fast like a hatchback won’t necessarily upset the large SUV but it’ll feel rather clumsy, so it’s best to drive it in a relaxed manner.

There are plenty of drive modes to choose from, all selected by a rotary dial arranged in a similar fashion to Land Rover’s Terrain response system. You get a choice of Eco, Sport and Smart (plus an additional Comfort mode on the diesel), which adjusts throttle and steering response. Sport mode also dials up the regenerative braking while Eco allows the car to coast.