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* This should go without saying, but all photos from within the moving vehicle were either taken by me as a passenger, or by a passenger while I was driving. Please do not try taking photos of your dashboard or dials while operating a moving vehicle.

My 20-year old Toyota Echo isn't a "family road trip" car.

Since my partner became pregnant a couple years ago, we've been saving up to buy a larger family car. I've been driving a 4-door Toyota Echo for almost 20 years, and she owned a 4-door Mazda 3. Both cars were sufficient for commuting around town and for taking weekend trips out of state back when it was just the 2 of us and our daughter. But both have also seen a lot of wear and tear over the years. And with a baby, which comes with a car seat, stroller, diaper bag, and so forth, those small coups are just not comfortable for long trips. Even though I love my little Toyota Echo, and am determined to drive it till it won't drive anymore, I recognize that it isn't a very good "family road trip" car.

We both agreed that we wanted a vehicle that is big enough to transport our larger family, and which has 4-wheel-drive so that we can safely drive through snow to ski resorts for snowboarding and skiing. But we each had other priorities that we had to compromise on. I wanted an electric car, and I promised myself a long time ago that I would never buy a gasoline-powered car if I could avoid it. My partner wanted a large, 3-row SUV. Unfortunately, there aren't many options for 3-row, 4-wheel-drive, electric SUVs. At least not in 2022. There's the Tesla Model X, and the upcoming Rivian ESUV, but those both cost well over $100 thousand. We needed a more affordable options. So I had to compromise on my all-electric priority and agree to go with a hybrid gas SUV, with a preference for a plug-in hybrid model.

These concessions reduced our options down to 2 vehicles: the Kia Sorento PHEV and the Toyota Highlander hybrid. The Highlander is a little bigger and has a 7-seat capacity, which my partner preferred. I've been driving a Toyota Echo for almost 20 years, and my mom's only two cars during my lifetime have been Toyotas, so I trust Toyotas to be reliable cars. I would have been fine with the Highlander hybrid. In fact, if the Highlander had a plug-in electric hybrid model (instead of just a traditional gas hybrid), we probably would have bought the Highlander instead.

We purchased a 2022 Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid.

But the Sorento has the plug-in electric capability, and there just so happened to be one in the queue at one of our local Kia dealerships. We reserved it. Its arrival was delayed several times, and it took about 3 months before it was finally there at the dealership, ready to be driven home. We have so far been very happy with the purchase, with the only real regret being that we had to pay a high dealership markup due to the high car prices in 2022 and the limited availability of this model in particular. Love the car; hate the price we had to pay for it.

We broke the car in by driving out to Primm to buy some PowerBall lottery tickets when the jackpot was over a billion dollars. Needless to say, we didn't win. But I did enjoy fantasizing during that 24 hours or so in which I was in a quantum superposition of being a billionaire. It didn't take long for us to use the car for for its intended purpose. We have a friend who owns a small yacht, and he invited us to meet him in California to go sailing with him for a few days. So we packed up the car and the 2 kids, and made a weekend Labor Day trip out to the California coast. A month later, my partner treated me and a couple of our closest friends to another trip to California to visit Not-Scary Farms.

The car performed well during these trips and comfortably accommodated all of us. Obviously, we didn't get to take much advantage of the car's all-electric mode, as the battery range was depleted shortly after getting on the open highway. However, the awareness of fuel economy did actually have the effect of changing some of my driving habits. Being aware of my moment-to-moment fuel consumption has been making me drive more conservatively in order to maximize my fuel efficiency. I'll admit, I drive a bit fast on the open highway. 80 miles per hour is my "slow" driving speed on the interstate.

Our first real road trip in the Sorento was a yachting trip with a family friend.

Though, despite my more conscious highway driving, I did push the car up to just under 100 miles per hour for just a moment. The ride was so smooth that my partner was surprised when I told her "we were just going 100 mph." She had no idea. Believe me, when my old Toyota Echo gets up to or above 80, you know it! These newer cars can be dangerous like that. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to get up to 80 or 90 miles per hour and not even realize how fast you're going.

That's where cruise control comes in. I've never driven a car in cruise control before, so I also took the road trips as an opportunity to test the auto drive and driver assist features. This car contains smart cruise control, which automatically matches the speed of the car ahead (up to a driver-specified maximum) and maintains a specified distance. It will even automatically brake if another car changes lanes in front of me. The lane assist also did a good job of keeping the car in the lane, even on bends in the highway. I was able to take my hands off the wheel and foot off the pedal (for like 10 seconds or so), and the Sorento would just keep going.

We've also found that the lane assist has been a helpful tool for keeping the car stable in the gusty winds of Las Vegas. We regularly get 50 mile per hour gusts, or stronger in the valley. My old Echo is a lightweight car, with small tires, and a high profile. It catches a lot of wind. I've often joked that I should just cut a hole in the roof of the Echo and put up a sail to conserve gasoline. Crosswinds will whip my Echo around, making it dangerous to drive faster than the 60 or 65 mph posted speed limit. The Sorento holds the road much better during these conditions, and the lane assist helps to keep the car even more steady.

Lastly, this is the first car that I've ever owned that has a backup cam and proximity sensors. I've never been particularly confident about things like backing into parking spaces or parallel parking, which is a big reason why I always preferred smaller cars and had been reluctant to buy a larger car. But having a backup cam makes these things so much easier, and is spoiling for sure. I frequently get back into my old Echo and immediately miss the backup cam, as well as the larger exterior mirrors of the Sorento. Parking the Sorento, despite its size, is way easier than I feared it would be.

Battery range is nice, but not great

A level 2 charger will make mid-day charging viable.

We're enjoying our Sorento a lot, and it's a huge upgrade as a family car, compared to my small Echo and my partner's old Mazda 3. We do have some nags and nitpicks, however.

I really do wish that the car had more EV range than 30 miles. According to AAA, the average American driver (in 2015) drove 29 miles per day. The 30 mile range of the Kia Sorento is enough to barely cover that average. It's plenty range for my partner or I to commute to and from our respective workplaces. But it doesn't leave much extra range to cover anything else. If we have to run any errands after work, or go out of our way to drop off or pick up the kids across town, then we'll exceed that 30 mile EV range and be stuck using gasoline.

You'd think that the relatively low range of the electric motor battery would mean that it doesn't take long to recharge the battery. But that isn't the case. A level 1 charger (which is included with the car) plugged into a regular wall outlet will take 10-12 hours to fully charge the vehicle -- for a mere 30 miles of range. Installing a level 2 charger at home has reduced that to 4 hours or less. The level 2 charger means that charging (even for just an hour or 2) in the middle of the day between trips actually provides a worthwhile increase in range. If you're going to get a plug-in hybrid with limited range like this, then I definitely recommend a level 2 charger in order to get the most out of the battery.

Despite the limited range, recharging the Sorento every night can allow us to go a long time without having to refill the gas tank. In the month prior to writing this, we actually managed to [just barely] surpass 1000 miles on a single tank of gas! The tank isn't huge either. It's only about 12 gallons, which is only slightly larger than my tiny Toyota Echo. Despite the high gas prices of 2022, we're filling up a 6-seater SUV for less than $45-- and going anywhere from 800 to 1000 miles between each of those refuels. That's pretty damn good. I'm not expecting the savings in gas money to offset the painful dealership markups of 2022 anytime soon (if ever), but it's still nice to know that we're burning only a fraction of the gasoline.

We've managed to get 1000 miles on a single $45 tank of gas!

The car also features regenerative breaking (which I think is standard on all electric vehicles and hybrids). This really helps to maximize the battery range when driving in the city. We recently took a trip up to Mount Charleston for a Halloween event, and on the way back down the mountain, the regenerative breaking recharged almost a quarter of the battery capacity. We got down the mountain with more battery range than we started with!

The hybrid gas engine also has decent fuel economy for a car this size. Even on a road trip without convenient access to charging stations, the Sorento has been getting around 300 miles on a tank (with the air conditioner running). That's better than my partner's old Mazda 3, and only slightly worse than my Echo (which is just a third of the size and weight of the Sorento). Regardless of size, the Sorento's gas engine is still more fuel-efficient than the average American car.

I also have some minor, nagging complaints with the dashboard interface. There's a multitude of useful displays with lots of interesting information and metrics. I've already mentioned how the car shows me its current fuel economy in real time. It also has displays for showing the energy flow, estimated EV and gas range, and multiple trip meters that include average fuel economy in addition to distance driven and all that other typical stuff. There's also some utility screens, such as a compass for navigation, and various diagnostic screens, such as tire pressure and traction.

I wish a few of these screens had been condensed into one single display. I really don't think that we need a whole screen just showing EV range and gas range. There's already an estimate of "total range" on the top of the display. I think this easily could have also included EV and gas range.

I wish that "Energy flow" and "Fuel economy" were on a single screen.

I also wish that the fuel economy meter were combined with the energy flow screen, since these are among my favorite screens to check when I'm driving, and I dislike having to keep toggling between the two. The information present in both screens is closely related, and I'm sure there's plenty of room to simply shrink the energy flow graphic to make room for the fuel economy gauge. Unfortunately, none of these displays are customizable (as far as I know), so I'm stuck with these being separate screens (at least pending any future software updates).

Do I recommend the Kia Sorento PHEV?

We are very much enjoying our new car. I've been wanting an electric car for a while now, but haven't bought one myself because I've been committed to driving my Echo into the ground. A plug-in hybrid isn't quite what I wanted, but it's a fair compromise for our family. Now, I just hope that I can save up enough to buy solar panels to further reduce the carbon footprint of our home and car.

But do I recommend the Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid? Well, that kind of depends. Obviously, car prices are inflated right now, in 2022. Even used cars are selling for 90% of the MSRP, or higher. So now isn't the best time to buy a car if you don't need one immediately. We felt like we needed a new car because we were feeling like we couldn't go on the trips that we wanted to go on with our old cars. So we had to bite the bullet and pay the inflated price.

There is a government tax rebate which will help offset some of the cost of the car, but that might not apply to all new EV or hybrid purchases. We're pretty sure that ours will be grand-fathered into eligibility because we bought it just before the new regulations were passed by congress. I sure as heck hope that we'll be eligible for that tax credit! The assumption that we would get the rebate, which would help offset the dealership markup, was one of our key justifications for purchasing the car now, instead of waiting for prices to go down.

The other compounding factor is that the 2022 Detroit Auto Show featured new all-electric vehicles from pretty much every manufacturer. In 2022, EV and PHEV SUVs were few and far between, and compromises had to be made. If you can wait till later in 2023, however, you might enjoy lower overall prices, and will also have a lot more options. Chevy will be releasing an all-electric Equinox and Blazer which will both get over 300 miles of all-electric range. Mercedes will have an all-electric, 3-row EQB SUV that gets over 240 miles on a charge. And then, of course, there's the upcoming Rivian R1S. And if you can wait even longer, Ford is expected to release an all-electric Explorer in 2024 or 2025. The electric car renaissance is finally here.

Detroit auto show
Photo credit: Reuters
Many manufacturers are announcing all-electric SUVs and trucks for the coming years.

In any case, we're happy with our Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid so far, and expect we'll be driving it for many years to come.

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