• Auto123 compares the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV and 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV.
In this day and age when we think of electrified models, South Korea comes to mind pretty quickly. The Hyundai Group’s trio of auto brands, Kia, Hyundai and Genesis, combine for 15 electrified models (as of early fall 2023).
How far these brands have come. Especially in the case of Kia and Hyundai, which we’re looking at more closely here with two models going head to head: the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV and Kia Sorento PHEV.
Specifications sheet of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV - price: $49,699
Specifications sheet of the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV EX - price: $47,795
Specifications sheet of the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV EX+ - price: $52,795
Specifications sheet of the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV SX - price: $57,195
Design of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV - 7.5/10
How you feel about the current Santa Fe’s styling depends on your appetite for flamboyant grilles, low-mount headlights and high-mount DRLs.
Personally, we say, why not? Why not have a little distinction in the mass-market people-moving crossover segment, which could use some flavour.
Design of the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV – 8/10
While the Santa Fe catches the eye with its grille, the Kia is a more well-rounded styling package. It gets some nicely chiseled bumpers and side creases, the “tiger nose” grille is well executed, and the overall result is one of muscularity.
Unlike the Santa Fe, the Sorento gets some very unique taillights complimented by an aluminum rear diffuser. It makes for a more authoritative look than you get from the Hyundai.
Interior of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV – 8.5/10
The interiors of modern SUVS tend to centre on a dominant central infotainment display is, but that’s not really the case with the 2023 Santa Fe.
Here, most notable are the angle of the main 12.3-inch display and many buttons - including those for your gear selector - as well as the drive mode select wheel. It makes for a unique and easy-to-use interface.
The rest of the cabin follows suit, providing great flared surfaces and flowing lines to create a real sense of airiness, comfort and Bauhausian modernity. Add some comfortable seats (that come heated as standard up front) and can be had in either cloth, leatherette or real leather in a nice selection of colours including two-tone and the interior styling is top-drawer.
The Santa Fe can only seat five, though, while the Kia gets a third-row option (it’s longer than the Hyundai and has a longer wheelbase). In return, the second row in the Santa Fe is roomier than it is in the Sorento with its small third row hogging space.
Interior of the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV – 7/10
Recent Kia models are known for their restrained, almost tuxedo-like interior styling. Indeed, it was endearing at first – there was a time not too long ago where folks pined for a more simplistic interior – but times have changed and buyers are wanting brighter. Kia has thus added a little brightener to the Sorento’s cockpit chiefly in the form of the chunky h-shaped centre console. It’s strange-looking, and the piano black nestled within its uprights doesn’t really help.
Still, the controls have a nice, tactile feel and you get a dial shifter as opposed to the Santa Fe’s buttons. That, plus the way the same wheel is used to control both your drive modes and your terrain settings is a good way to keep the interactions straightforward.
The seats look nice and low-profile, but they don’t offer quite the same support as those of the Santa Fe.
Bottom line is the Sorento’s interior is simply showing its age more than the Hyundai’s is and it stands to reason as the Sorento is due for a refresh for 2024.
Tech and safety in the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV – 8/10
Both the gauge cluster and infotainment display are 12.3-inches and offer a responsive touchscreen with big buttons. The colour palette is a muted one whose dark blue hue is easy enough on the eyes, but requires quite a lot of scanning to navigate. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. There’s wireless charging on the top two trims and instead of placing your device flat on its back it slots in vertically just to the right of the driver. Hyundai’s Sounds of Nature app is on-hand to soothe you with the sound of crashing waves, rainfall and even a bustling café.
Safety-wise, all the staples come standard on the PHEV, including forward collision assist, lane-centering, blind spot warning (which unfortunately doesn’t include the two blind spot cameras as those are only available on the nom-hybrid Ultimate Calligraphy model), adaptive cruise control, high beam assist and driver attention warning.
Tech and Safety in the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV – 9/10
Add the blind spot camera system, and you add a point. The Sorento gets it, the Santa Fe does not and it speaks to the Sorento perhaps being the slightly more equipped car. That blind spot camera is one of the most usable safety aids in recent memory. You do have to upgrade to the top SX trim to get the feature. Otherwise the Sorento gets all the same standard features that the Santa Fe does, though it does offer three PHEV trims – EX, EX+ and SX – to the Santa Fe’s one.
The Sorento’s infotainment system switches the Santa Fe’s blues for black and white so is even tamer to look at – but it also gets Sounds of Nature.
Driving the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV – 8.5/10
The Santa Fe is good for a claimed 50 km in full-EV mode – pretty much average in this company. You can’t adjust how forceful the regeneration is when you let off the throttle, there is an EV/HEV button that helps you get the most out of your charge (select HEV, and the Santa Fe will hold on to a charge for longer. In traffic, you can switch to EV and use that system when it’s at its most efficient).
There’s also a drive mode select wheel that lets you tweak the powertrain and chassis settings, offering modes like Snow” and Sport.
This isn’t a performance CUV, so why Sport? A drive in the Santa Fe reveals why it makes some sense.
Power is rated at 178 hp and 195 lb-t of torque via a 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, while the 66.9-kW EV motor adds an additional 90 hp and 29 lb-ft, bringing it more in line with the most powerful Santa Fes that use a 2.5L turbo engine. The output is enough to help negate the effects of the added weight due to the PHEV system.
Where the Santa Fe really shines is in the ride and handling department. It rides smoothly enough that it takes on an almost luxury air, while the suspension is set-up to nicely reduce roll through bends.
Driving the 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV – 8/10
The main reason the Sorento loses by a half point here is because its ride is just firmer than the Santa Fe’s. Which is less appropriate for this PHEV than it is for, say, a Sorento SX non-hybrid, which gets the same 2.5L turbo and power figures (281 hp and 311 lb-ft) that the Santa Fe does.
The Sorento PHEV also gets the same engine the Santa Fe does though here it makes more torque. The result is even more pop of the line, in keeping with the more performance-oriented chassis set-up. Typically, I’m one to choose the firmer set-up but here, the ride provided by the Santa Fe just seem better suited to the vehicle.
The Sorento provides a number of EV/HEV drive modes accessed the same way they are in the Santa Fe. For some reason, the Sorento seems less inclined to stay in EV mode for as long as the Santa Fe does.
These two are so close in range that the defining factor between them really is the drive, which is more refined in the Santa Fe.
The final word
The two models are built as the same plant in West Point, Georgia and they share many elements. But you’d never know it from looking at them. Spending time in each reveals more differences. There’s the floaty, airy vibe of the Santa Fe and the more burly performance-feeling attitude of the Sorento, from its looks on down.
Since we aren’t in the performance crossover world, though, I’m looking for comfort and the Santa Fe offers just that much more in that department. It’s a photo finish, though, and both should be test-driven by anyone looking for a PHEV in this segment.
Which is the most comfortable? Hyundai Santa Fe
Which offers the most Seating capacity? Kia Sorento
Which is the better looking? Tie
Which has better infotainment? Hyundai Santa Fe, by a hair
Which offers the most luxurious interior? Hyundai Santa Fe
Which offers the better safety aids? Kia Sorento, by an inch
Competitors of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV and 2023 Kia Sorento PHEV
- - Ford Escape PHEV
- - Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe
- - Mazda CX-90 PHEV
- - Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV