The 2021 Kia Sorento 000270, -0.87% hybrid is all new and a good choice for those seeking a fuel-efficient, family-oriented SUV.
The Sorento hybrid is one of the few 3-row hybrid crossover SUVs available. At present, there aren’t many on the market, and those that are — like hybrid versions of the Toyota TM, +0.55% Highlander Hybrid and Ford F, +1.75% Explorer — are slightly larger and pricier. Those models also seat (Explorer) or up to eight (Highlander), opposed to the Sorento hybrid’s 6-passenger configuration.
If a hybrid powertrain is not a must-have, the competitive set further opens up to vehicles such as the 2021 VW VWAGY, +2.12% Tiguan, 2021 Subaru FUJHY, +1.46% Ascent, and the forthcoming 2022 Mitsubishi MMTOF, -0.56% Outlander.
One important limiting factor with the 2021 Sorento hybrid is that it only comes with front-wheel drive (FWD). All-wheel drive (AWD) is not available, which may limit the vehicle’s appeal to consumers living in cold-weather states. But it should be noted that Kia does have a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the Sorento coming later in 2021. That model will have AWD and other advantages over the hybrid (albeit at an increased price).
Despite the lack of AWD, we are still big fans of the 2021 Sorento hybrid. If you are looking for an economical, versatile, and well-equipped SUV, the Kia is hard to beat, especially for the price.
What’s new for 2021?
As an all-new model, the 2021 Sorento hybrid distinguishes itself from its peers with a crisply styled, slightly aggressive SUV design.
The exterior looks sharp and purposeful, replete with a wide grille, high-tech headlights, and available matte black accents around the wheel openings.
Inside, the 3-row seat layout gains a little more space over the previous generation Sorento. This means the third row seat is more usable for adult occupants, as opposed to just children.
In most smaller SUVs with three rows, the third row is virtually unusable. Kia’s designers have managed to eke out relatively decent legroom and headroom. However, the low seat height means taller occupants will find their knees at chin level.
Non-hybrid Sorento models can be ordered with a three-across bench in the second row. But the hybrid comes with two captain’s chairs. Thus the Sorento hybrid seats a maximum of six passengers, versus seven in other models.
With all the seats occupied, cargo space is minimal behind the third row. But if you fold the rearmost seats, cargo capacity is more than competitive with rivals and becomes even more impressive with the second-row chairs folded.
Around the cabin, the level of trim is a step down from the top non-hybrid models. But the Sorento hybrid still provides a few pleasing aesthetic touches. These include an 8-in. center touchscreen, plus some metal trim pieces, faux leather upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All this helps to relieve the typical “sea of plastic” cabin atmosphere.
We are not enamored with the vertically oriented air vents on the dashboard. Visually, these vents disrupt the flow of an otherwise businesslike dashboard.
Under the hood, the 2021 Sorento hybrid comes armed with a significantly more powerful turbocharged, 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine. Producing an extra 42 horsepower more than its predecessor, this engine, combined with the hybrid’s electric motor, delivers a total of 227 hp.
What we like
- Decent performance for a hybrid
- Usable third-row seat
- Crisp, contemporary design
- Excellent fuel economy
- Impressive warranty
What we don’t
- Lack of AWD
- Odd-looking dashboard air vents
- Modest towing capability (2,000 pounds)
Prices for the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid start at $33,590 for the S trim and climb to $36,590 for the EX model. The destination charge is $1,170.
The Kia Sorento is powered by a 178-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, paired with a 60-hp electric motor. This combination feeds power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
As such, the Sorento returns 39 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 37 mpg combined, according to fuel economy tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Standard features and options
There are two trim levels for the 2021 Sorento hybrid; S and EX. Both share most of the same features, with the EX adding a few upscale elements.
The S trim is shod with 17-inch wheels and features LED headlights, heated door mirrors, chrome roof rails, and black finish grille and wheel arches.
Inside, there is push-button/remote start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, faux leather seat trim, power-adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, 4.2-inch instrument display, and 8.0-inch center touchscreen.
To this list, the EX adds a panoramic sunroof, black exterior trim, LED fog lights, wireless phone charger, and adaptive cruise control.
For 2021, the Sorento hybrid adds more driver aids as standard. These include a forward-collision system, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, rear-occupant alert, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The EX trim enhances the safety systems suite by adding a more sophisticated forward-collision system that detects cyclists, as well as vehicles and pedestrians. The EX also has a parking-sensor system that works at front and rear, instead of just the rear.
Most automakers are working hard to upgrade vehicle safety systems and Kia is no exception. The standard driver aids on the Sorento hybrid compare well with rivals and provide welcome peace of mind for buyers.
Behind the wheel
The 2021 Sorento Hybrid driving experience is made markedly better by two factors: the vehicle’s power, and its use of a traditional automatic transmission, versus a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) as found on many hybrids.
In terms of power, the Sorento hybrid’s 227 hp is claimed by Kia to be the most in its class. Indeed, the Sorento responds keenly to the throttle in most situations, including when climbing hills.
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We suspect the hybrid Sorento’s relatively powerful electric motor, with its immediate torque response, helps the Kia feel so sprightly.
As for the absence of a CVT, we rejoice, as this type of transmission usually allows the engine to rev noisily under full throttle until the vehicle speed catches up.
By comparison, the Kia is a fairly refined companion on a road trip, with low noise levels and a comfortable ride quality.
Drivers can choose from four drive modes that adjust the powertrain response as desired. And paddle shifters are provided for drivers who want to prompt the automatic transmission to shift on command.
Other cars to consider
2021 Ford Explorer hybrid—A full 10-inches longer than the Sorento hybrid, the Explorer is one of few 3-row hybrids in the same ballpark as the Kia.
2021 Toyota Highlander hybrid—Like the Explorer, the Highlander hybrid really belongs in another category than the Kia, but it does offer 3-row seating.
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There’s not much to choose from in the 2021 Kia Sorento hybrid lineup. The EX trim adds some nice-to-have but not essential items to the S trim level, so you can save $3,000 by opting for the base Sorento hybrid.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.