Think hybrid family SUVs and you think Toyota Kluger. Kia wants to change that mindset and it’s offering the impressive Sorento hybrid as a fully-equipped and sharply-priced alternative for families on a fuel budget.
There’s no place where a rise in fuel prices hurts more than in the family budget. But topping up at the pump is a necessary evil for many Australian families who need a large car to manage school, sports, shopping and friends – and that’s just a regular Tuesday.
The introduction of petrol-electric hybrid efficiency, with plugless convenience, in practical seven-seat family SUVs, is exactly what buyers are looking for. The drop in consumption more than offsets the capital outlay, purely for the lower weekly running cost.
In this comparison, we take a pair of well-known names in the school-run stakes, both of which are now offered with a modern, closed-loop hybrid system, and work out which one offers the best solution for family buyers.
The 2022 Kia Sorento Hybrid has arrived, rounding out the Sorento range that already comprises diesel, V6 petrol, and plug-in hybrid options.
The new Kia Sorento Hybrid model is a closed-loop system, so no plug and no wall charging required. Instead, a small battery and electric motor work with a small petrol engine to provide the kind of performance you might expect with much smaller fuel bills.
The system charges itself, either by using the energy you’d otherwise waste decelerating or braking, or diverting excess engine power not used during cruising. That battery power runs an electric motor that can either run on its own for very short stints, or shares the load with the petrol engine.
Because moving from a standstill is the thirstiest work your car will do, taking some of that strain off helps keep fuel bills low.
Of course, the hybrid idea isn’t new. Toyota offers the most hybrid models in Australia with the Yaris, Yaris Cross, C-HR, RAV4, Corolla, Camry and, more recently, the Kluger seven-seat SUV.
As the most obvious direct rival, the Kluger sits in the same large SUV class, and has the same family all-rounder aspirations as the Kia Sorento Hybrid.
Pricing for the Sorento Hybrid range starts from $66,750 in two-wheel-drive form, or $69,750 (both before on-road costs) for the all-wheel-drive model you see here. You’ll pay less for the all-wheel-drive diesel ($65,070 plus on-road costs), but more for the plug-in hybrid ($80,330 plus on-road costs).
It’s worth noting that the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid Sorento models come in flagship GT-Line trim only, meaning both come fully equipped – only missing out on 20-inch wheels of the non-hybrid models, with 19-inch wheels instead.
Apart from the wheels, there are no tell-tale signs to separate the hybrid from a regular Sorento. You get the same bluff and chiselled styling, LED head- and tail-lights, a massive panoramic sunroof, rear privacy glass, and exterior details in gloss black and satin silver.
As Toyota continues to roll out its well-regarded closed-loop petrol hybrid technology into more and more models, we’ve got the big-daddy of the bunch. It’s a 2022 Toyota Kluger with the fuel-saving hybrid powertrain in range-topping Grande specification.
No stones unturned, then, for this flagship of the range.
Perhaps the strongest competition comes from Kia’s Sorento, whose top-spec GT-Line can be had as either a frugal 2.2-litre diesel ($65,070), closed-loop hybrid ($66,750) or plug-in hybrid ($80,330) all before on-road costs, the last of which gets 57km of electric-only range and is, for now, unique in its segment.
While the Sorento has no doubt taken big strides forward with its current-generation model, the Kluger strikes out from an enviable position of segment authority. Alongside the extremely popular LandCruiser Prado, the Kluger has been dominating sales figures in the large SUV segment for many years.
And in true Toyota fashion, the recipe hasn’t really changed much in comparison to the previous generation. Sure, there’s a new look inside and out, more tech, a fresh platform, and upgraded safety credentials. However, it’s got an acute sense of familiarity and connection to the previous generation.
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The real ace up the sleeve for the Kluger is the ‘Hybrid Synergy Drive’ powertrain, which Toyota (and Lexus) has applied to a majority of its range. It’s a hybrid electric vehicle, but one that doesn’t need plugging in at any time.
Instead of the 3.5-litre petrol V6 found elsewhere in the range, the Kluger Hybrid is powered by a four-cylinder engine. It’s a 2.5-litre unit, which runs on the frugal Atkinson Cycle and makes 142kW @ 6000rpm and 242Nm @ 4400rpm on its own, though that’s not the whole story.
The petrol engine runs through a continuously variable automatic transmission, which is also tasked with blending the outputs of the 134kW/270Nm electric motors up front. There is a smaller 40kW/121Nm motor powering the rear axle, though without any mechanical connection to the front wheels.
The petrol engine only powers the front wheels, but the rear electric motor gives the all-wheel-drive ability. Toyota doesn’t quote a peak combined torque output with this set-up, but peak power is set at 184kW, 34 kilowatts less than the V6.
A 6.5Ah nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery is charged up during driving, coasting and braking. It’s not there for a pure-electric driving range, though it can manage short bursts of low-speed and coasting without help from the petrol engine. It harvests back otherwise lost energy and uses it to supplement the petrol engine and reduce fuel consumption.
Grande is a big jump in asking price over the mis-spec GXL, but there is some unique gear that helps to set this specification apart: projector LED headlights, powered rear tailgate, heated and ventilated front seats, a premium interior treatment, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, head-up display, 360-degree camera and 11-speaker JBL sound system.
|Key details||2022 Kia Sorento GT-Line Hybrid AWD||2022 Toyota Kluger Grande Hybrid|
|Price (MSRP)||$69,750 plus on-road costs||$75,700 plus on-road costs|
|Colour of test car||Snow White Pearl||Saturn Blue|
|Options||Pearlescent paint – $695||Premium beige interior – no cost|
Metallic paint – $675
Rear seat entertainment pack – $1500
|Price as tested||$70,445 plus on-road costs||$77,875 plus on-road costs|
|Drive-away price||$77,141 drive-away (Melbourne)||$83,823 drive-away (Sydney)|
The 2022 Kia Sorento Hybrid shares its interior with other members of the range, so that means this blocky, centre stack, lots of metallic trim, and heaps of storage.
The seats are trimmed in quilted nappa leather, which is pretty plush, and the front seats come with heating and ventilation, plus 14-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat with two-position memory. The steering wheel is heated too.
Even with a big infotainment screen (more on that below), Kia retains physical buttons for the dual-zone climate control and other vehicle functions, with a neat and logical layout that makes it easy to use.
Up front there’s a lidded bin that houses three USB-A ports and a wireless charge pad. The centre console carries the rotary gear selector and cupholders, plus a lidded centre armrest.
There’s 64-colour ambient lighting and interesting design details throughout to lift the Sorento beyond the realms of mere family transport.
Into the second row and the first thing you’ll notice is how much space there is. The second-row seats offer fore-aft sliding adjustment, which means you can stretch out or slide forward a little to make more space for passengers in the third row.
Again, you get the same quilted nappa leather, the outboard rear seats are heated, and the windows have retractable sunblinds built in.
There are air vents in the back of the centre console and another three USB ports. One in the console, and one on the side of each front seat, making them easier to access.
The doors have cupholders built into them, there’s a fold-down armrest in the middle, and you can recline the backrest, making for a pretty comfy place to take a longer trip.
Access to the third row is a breeze. There’s a one-touch button and the middle-row seat slides and folds for access to the rear.
It’s not a badly proportioned space back there, but that said, it’s not as roomy as the first two rows. Passengers still get quilted seat trim, but no seat heating this time. Amenities include air vents with a separate booster fan control plus USB power.
These rear seats have ISOFIX child seat mounts, too, to go with the two in the second row.
Behind the Sorento’s powered tailgate there’s 179L of cargo space with all three rows in use. Fold the third-row seats to unlock 608L of boot space, or with the second row stowed up to 1996L.
In each case, the Sorento Hybrid’s boot is a touch bigger than the Sorento Plug-in Hybrid, but slightly smaller than the petrol or diesel versions. Certainly not enough to make a significant impact.
If the Kluger were a cricketer, it would be Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid. It gets the job done with impressive skill, even when under pressure. But it perhaps doesn’t do it with the same kind of theatre as other options out there, like the VVS Laxmans of the world.
That safe, solid and conservative demeanour is perhaps most seen on the inside. There are lots of cues and design elements lifted directly from the previous-generation model. The handy storage shelf that runs along the dashboard and the sliding centre console lid being two. There are three USB-A power outlets up front and two in the rear, along with two front 12V points, but no wireless charging pad.
This Grande specification adds a fair chunk of trinkets atop of the GXL, with smaller details like ambient interior lighting and metal scuff plates joining heating, venting and memory for the electric ‘premium’ seats which replace the GXL’s faux-leather trim with quilted and perforated partial leather trim.
The rear-seat entertainment screen fitted to the vehicle shown is optional, which in turn reduces the size of the standard moonroof to just a sunroof over the front seats.
Although the Kluger is an all-new model, it feels old hat in a few respects. Against the likes of a Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota has stuck with a conservative and traditional look and feel for the Kluger. Some might think it’s not special enough for a new car worth more than seventy thousand dollars.
Where the wow factor might come in, then, is through straight practicality and space. The Kluger trades well in storage space with the big centre console, dashboard shelf, and door bins able to absorb large volumes of your daily carry.
You get a sense of the Kluger’s size when you slide into the second row. This is a big vehicle, after all. And even with a big human in the driver’s seat, there is enough room behind for a carbon copy in the back. There are climate-controlled air vents in the roof and power outlets near the floor, and the 60/40 seats slide and tilt in all directions.
The third row isn’t bad, either. It’s not the biggest in the segment, however. Those who want the biggest third row should look at a Hyundai Palisade, or swallow their misplaced price and buy a Kia Carnival people mover. But for a third row that is going to see more than occasional use by kids, teenagers and adults alike, the Kluger has the right amount of space available for the job. There are air vents and cupholders in the cheap seats as well, which will keep occupants happy.
In seven-seat mode, the leftover boot in the Kluger isn’t huge. Its 241L would be enough for a grocery run, and you could probably load a half-dozen backpacks in there. But as a five-seater, 552L is available and would take a significant amount of gear to fill up.
|2022 Kia Sorento GT-Line Hybrid AWD||2022 Toyota Kluger Grande Hybrid|
|Boot volume||179L to third row|
608L to second row
1996L to first row
|241L to third row|
552L to second row
1150L to first row
Infotainment and Connectivity
The driver faces a colour head-up display and a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster, which changes depending on your drive mode.
This sits alongside a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen loaded with inbuilt satellite navigation, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – but smartphone connection requires plugging in. There’s no wireless CarPlay or Android Auto yet.
You get 12-speaker Bose audio and Kia has incorporated an in-car intercom, so you can broadcast messages to the back seat instead of having to yell.
Kia doesn’t yet include connected infotainment on the Sorento range (but has announced a new live infotainment platform is set to start rolling out), so you can’t remotely access your car via smartphone or send info from phone to car or vice versa.
In a world where screens are getting bigger and things like buttons are disappearing, the Kluger’s infotainment display appears a little old hat. It measures in at only 8.0 inches, which is shared across the range and feels small at this price point especially when top trims in overseas markets have access to a 12.3-inch display.
It’s also surrounded by buttons and dials that might seem old-fashioned, but make operation and navigation through the operating system dead easy.
Along with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Kluger Grande picks up digital radio, native navigation, and an 11-speaker JBL sound system, the last of which is unique to the Grande.
In front of the driver, there is a 7.0-inch multifunction display that is a little bigger than the typical portrait-style screen for your trip computer readouts. It also goes into more detail around the hybrid powertrain – always interesting to keep an eye on – along with some of the more advanced driving aids.
Those who want more digital acreage and pixel power won’t need to look far to find it. Kia’s Sorento jumps to mind with its larger 10.25-inch infotainment display and 12.3-inch instrument cluster.
However, the Kluger’s more humble set-up works well. It’s easy to navigate and operate, and feels fit for purpose. However, it’s one element that leaves the GXL and GX feeling like smarter buying.
The Kia Sorento range carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating as tested in 2020. This applies regardless of the engine type.
ANCAP gave an 82 per cent adult occupant rating, 85 per cent child occupant rating, 63 per cent vulnerable road user (pedestrians and cyclists) protection rating, and an 89 per cent score for safety systems.
All Sorento models come standard with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection intervention, blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping and lane-centring assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, auto high-beam headlights, driver attention monitoring, safe exit assist, and rear occupant alert.
The GT-Line models step up further still with blind-spot cameras (displayed on the instrument cluster when you indicate), parking collision avoidance assist, and advanced rear occupant alert.
Seven airbags are standard, including a centre airbag between front occupants; however, the Sorento’s curtain airbags are only designed to cover the first and second rows. Five top tether and four ISOFIX child seat mounts are also standard.
Going up against the stringent 2021 ANCAP crash-testing regime, the Toyota Kluger managed to score five stars. This included relatively high scores of 90 per cent and 88 per cent for adult and child occupant protection respectively.
Safety equipment that is standard across the board includes autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist detection), blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure alert, automatic high beam, adaptive cruise control and speed sign recognition.
Equipment that only the Grande gets is a head-up display, more powerful projector LED headlamps, a 360-degree camera system, and auto-dimming rear view mirror.
With a list price of $69,750 before on-road costs for the Kia Sorento Hybrid with all-wheel drive, you’ll be paying a circa $4700 premium for the hybrid model compared to a Sorento GT-Line diesel.
Both are equipped with all-wheel drive, but the 2.2-litre turbo diesel provides 148kW and 440Nm compared to 169kW and 350Nm (combined petrol and electric) for the hybrid.
Outside of a Kia showroom, you might also consider the Toyota Kluger Hybrid. The Kluger Hybrid is all-wheel drive only, but the top-spec Kluger Grande Hybrid starts from $75,700, while the lower-spec GXL asks for $63,650, both before on-road costs.
That’s it for large SUV hybrids, though cars like the Hyundai Palisade (diesel) and Mazda CX-9 (turbo petrol) might also make your shopping list.
Like all other Kia models, the Sorento Hybrid comes with a seven-year warranty with no kilometre limit for private buyers. The hybrid battery and high-voltage components are covered for seven years or 150,000km.
Capped-price servicing is available for seven years at 12-month or 10,000km intervals, but each service carries its own price tag. The cheapest is just $323, but at four years or 40,000km you’ll have to stump up $1010.
Official fuel consumption is rated at an impressive 5.8L/100km, but on test we saw 7.1L/100km after a week of running around town and a few highway stints. A little way off the claim, sure, but I reckon anything under 10L/100km for a car of this size is still mightily impressive.
The Sorento will also happily take 91-octane regular unleaded petrol, too, helping keep costs down at the pump.
Those wanting to buy a Toyota Kluger likely want the hybrid variant, which costs just under $3000 more than a V6 all-wheel-drive Grande. It makes sense considering the fuel savings that one will make over the life of the vehicle. However, we’d prefer to look at the GXL or GX specification grades for the best value for money.
The Grande feels a little expensive in comparison to high-spec, all-wheel-drive variants of other large SUVs. Examples from Kia, Hyundai and Mazda all cannot match the high asking price of the Kluger Grande.
Sure, some might really want niceties like heated and vented seats; however, the step up to the Grande is a big one. If it were my money, I’d be zooming in on the GXL Hybrid.
Even GX grade, which has cloth seats with manual adjustment and a more basic overall trim, is a comfortable and practical vehicle well-suited to the daily grind.
Servicing is set at only $250 per year for the first five years, which is quite cheap for a vehicle of this size. Once you get on the other side of this, however, prices increase quite a bit. But if you combine that with the cheap running costs, the Kluger Hybrid stacks up well over the life of your planned ownership.
The requirement of premium fuel – something not shared with the non-hybrid 3.5-litre V6 engine – would make each tank of fuel cost a little more. However, the fact you’re visiting the bowser less often with the hybrid powertrain is a welcome one.
Toyota’s official claim for the Kluger hybrid is 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres. In testing we settled at 6.6L/100km, which for a car of its size, is still very impressive.
|At a glance||2022 Kia Sorento GT-Line Hybrid AWD||2022 Toyota Kluger Grande Hybrid|
|Warranty||Seven years, unlimited km||Five years, unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months or 10,000km||12 months or 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$1467 (3 years), $2841 (5 years), $4393 (7 years)||$750 (3 years), $1250 (5 years)|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||5.8L/100km||5.6L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||7.1L/100km||6.6L/100km|
|Fuel type||91-octane Regular Unleaded||95-octane Regular Unleaded|
|Fuel tank size||65L||65L|
Looking at hybrid cars, there are usually a lot of numbers to decipher. In this case, the Sorento Hybrid claims 44kW and 264Nm from its electric engine, and 132kW and 265Nm from the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
That’s the same petrol engine as the Sorento PHEV, but the electric motor is a little less powerful. When combined, Kia rates maximum outputs at 169kW and 350Nm.
That’s not too far off the 184kW combined claim of a Toyota Kluger Hybrid, though Toyota doesn’t quote combined torque. It’s also down on the 200kW V6 Sorento, but beats that engine’s 332Nm.
If you’re staring blankly at a Kluger and Sorento brochure unsure what means what, Kia’s system is a little different to the hybrid tech you might be used to in a Toyota hybrid.
I won’t get bogged down in detail, but Toyota uses very frugal petrol engines in its hybrid cars, and gets a lot of legwork out of the electric assistance.
In this Sorento Hybrid, the car will always try to start on electric power, but it starts up the petrol engine early. It’s enough to take the load off, and the electric motor keeps assisting as you drive, even when speeds rise, but I think Toyota’s system manages to keep things electric a little longer.
Still, for trips around town, the Sorento doesn’t feel like it’s lacking urge – although if you’re a bit of a leadfoot, you’ll probably like the power of the V6 or the torque of the diesel more.
The Sorento isn’t shy if you sink the boot in, but it’s just not as urgent as its siblings.
It’s nice and refined, though. There are a few other differences compared to Toyota that are worth mentioning here too.
The Sorento uses a traditional six-speed auto, and the electric motor is transmission-mounted. Toyota uses a CVT auto, which works as a power-splitter between the petrol and electric power sources.
In this car you can feel the gear changes, but it’s still smooth and well behaved, just a bit more ‘traditional’ than the Toyota.
This also means the all-wheel-drive Sorento has a propeller shaft to take power from the transmission to the rear wheels. On a Kluger, the rear axle isn’t physically connected to the transmission, rather it’s powered by an electric motor of its own.
Does any of this really impact the driving experience? Not a bit.
There’s no real user input required. You just jump in, press the start button, select drive, and let the car work out what it needs to do.
I reckon the Sorento might have a slight advantage in being a little quieter when the petrol engine kicks in, but if you demand a burst of big power from either this or the Kluger, it comes with a dose of engine noise.
The ride is quite comfy. The hybrid Sorentos roll on slightly smaller 19-inch wheels compared to 20-inch wheels on the rest of the GT-Line range, so on rough surfaces it is just a touch quieter and more refined.
Kia tunes ride and handling for Australia specifically, and the changes made result in a settled ride on the open road. Given how rough some roads can get, there’s a good balance between control and comfort.
Where the Sorento is likely to spend most of its time, around town, progress is more than acceptable. Bumps and dips in the road surface are well managed, and the powertrain is competent and easy to work with.
Really, the Sorento Hybrid puts up no hard-to-live-with quirks.
The only quibble I had was that when moving at low speeds on electric-only motivation, the accelerator feels a pinch more twitchy than it does on petrol power. Not a deal-breaker, and easy enough to get the hang of once you understand how to adjust it.
While there are no specific hybrid system controls, the Sorento has three drive modes, Eco, Sport or Smart, which can monitor your driving style and adjust the steering, throttle response, and transmission shift points to suit.
It’s also possible to pick a terrain mode with snow, mud and sand settings. Don’t expect to head too far off-road, but if terrain turns soft or icy, these will help direct drive where it’s needed to maintain progress.
Initially I noticed that the Kluger didn’t seem to have as much engine-off time as you’d have in a hybrid RAV4 or Corolla. Our test car had 15,000km on it, and it looked to have had quite a hard life before it arrived at Drive.
The 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine seems to be doing a lot of work from the driver’s seat, sometimes working hard to get the Kluger accelerating. I started thinking that maybe this bigger Kluger wouldn’t get the same economy benefits as smaller hybrid Toyotas, which have always been impressive. However, I was wrong.
Be like the squirrel, it seems. This hybrid powertrain is able to – piece by piece – save portions of fuel during normal driving. They’re only small savings, but they combine into an impressive overall number.
Against a claim of 5.6 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle, we saw 6.6L/100km during our time with the car. The worst I saw was 6.8L/100km. And while it’s higher than the claim, it is still impressive fuel economy from this hybrid vehicle. This is a saving of approximately 4L/100km in comparison to the 3.5-litre petrol V6 claimed consumption, and no doubt more still in real-world conditions.
This big gain in efficiency does come with a loss of performance, with the hybrid Kluger not seeming to carry the same outright punch as the V6. The engine sometimes flares and drones as it groans against the heft of a Kluger Grande. However, outright performance is good enough for daily usability. This compares favourably against the Sorento diesel, which uses between 7.0–8.5L/100km.
In terms of ride quality, there is a slight bit of crashiness present in the Kluger, which is most noticeable around town on rougher surfaces at times. Driving at higher speeds is better, but the lower-speed stuff felt like body control was a little lacking. The comfort is overall quite good, with a soft and cushy nature that befits the application.
Driving around town between 40–60km/h, there are extended periods of engine-off driving. The devil is in the detail, however, with the electric motors still doing plenty of heavy lifting behind the scenes when the engine is running. Then, as you’re onto the brakes and easing off the throttle, the motors switch off quickly.
The important thing is that it’s all quite seamless and barely noticeable from the driver’s seat.
Its steering is light and easy, and the turning circle – 11.4m – is average for this size of SUV. And while visibility is overall decent for tight manoeuvres, the 360-degree camera system in this Grande is a welcome addition.
For those who want to spend a lot of time behind the wheel – with their family no doubt – the ease of operation would be appreciated.
|Key details||2022 Kia Sorento GT-Line Hybrid AWD||2022 Toyota Kluger Grande Hybrid|
|Engine||1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol hybrid||2.5-litre four-cylinder hybrid|
|Power||132kW @ 5500rpm petrol|
|142kW @ 6000rpm petrol|
134kW front electric
40kW rear electric
|Torque||165Nm @ 1500–4500rpm petrol|
|242Nm @ 4400rpm petrol|
270Nm front electric
121Nm rear electric
|Drive type||All-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic||CVT automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||87kW/t||88kW/t|
|Tow rating||1650kg braked, 750kg unbraked||2000kg braked, 700kg unbraked|
There is plenty to like about both our husky hybrids.
Toyota has lead the way with this technology, and the new Kluger presents an excellent package of large-scale form with impressively efficient function.
As the newcomer, the Kia works well in a more efficient configuration, while continuing to impress with its high quality fit, finish and implementation.
You could shake pros and cons for either car, with the Kia’s infotainment slicker than the Toyota, and the Kluger’s interior accommodation more daily commodious than the Sorento. Even price is close enough to call it even.
Where the Kia wins out, ever so slightly, over the Toyota is in the second-most important function of a family car (behind economy), and that’s comfort. The car’s ride quality and composure are just that little more polished and better mannered than the Toyota.
Across town or on a longer haul, the plush ride of the Sorento is a key charm to its success.