Automakers like GM, Kia, and Toyota are embracing eco-friendly vehicles in a big way. Kia, for instance, expects its aggressive rollout of pure electric vehicles (EV), hybrids (HEV), and plug-in hybrids (PHEV) to make up 40% of its sales by 2030. To that end, the 2021 Kia Sorento comes in a hybrid trim and is the first of many alt-fuel vehicles the company is introducing as it kicks off this transition with an 11-model lineup that includes seven fully electric vehicles by 2026. It’s an auspicious start, as the Sorento Hybrid offers the most power you’ll find among midsize CUVs, along with excellent fuel econonmy and enough tech to earn it our Editors’ Choice award.
Pricing, Trims, and Design
Kia’s fourth-generation Sorento and first alt-fuel offering of the popular compact crossover pairs a turbocharged 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a 44-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.5-kWh lithium battery. The Sorento Hybrid produces a combined 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission.
A front-wheel-drive-only vehicle, the Sorento Hybrid nevertheless handles well while achieving respectable EPA fuel-economy ratings of 39mpg in the city, 35mpg on the highway, 37mpg combined, and a gas plus electric range of 655 miles.
The Sorento Hybrid comes in two trims, S and EX. The base S trim starts at $33,590 and comes standard with 17-inch wheels, a black front grille, low-profile chrome roof rails, LED headlights with high-beam assist, variable wipers, heated outside power mirrors, daytime running lights, a smart key with push button entry and remote start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 4.2-inch instrument cluster, a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and heat, second-row captain’s chairs with four-way power adjustable reclining seats, and third-row 50/50-split reclining and folding seats. It also has an 8-inch infotainment touch screen, a six-speaker audio system, AM/FM/HD/satellite radio, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, UVO link with a one-year trial, and eight USB chargers placed among all three rows. Standard driver assist tech includes forward collision mitigation, driver attention warning, lane departure mitigation, and a lane keeping system.
We tested the EX trim that starts at $36,590 and adds a dark-silver front grille, a gloss-black rear spoiler, a power tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, LED fog lights, and a wireless phone charger. Interior embellishments come in the form of embossed leather seating and textured metal dashboard inlays. Driver safety upgrades include forward collision avoidance with cyclist detection, junction turning, forward and reverse parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control. With the premium Passion Red exterior color on our test vehicle, the final sticker including delivery and handling came to $38,205.
The duo-gray tones of the dash in our test vehicle and a diamond-hatched overlay above the glove compartment add a ruggedized appearance to the interior. The Sorento Hybrid seats seven, with third-row seating that places the passenger low to the floor with knees tucked up, but surprisingly adequate space. With all three rows occupied, there’s limited cargo space behind the third row and in underfloor storage. But if you require occasional carpool seating, you can’t find a crossover with a better solution.
Kia provides plenty of storage compartments for passengers in each row, and with the convenient one-touch second- and third-row folding seats, the Sorento offers between 38.5 and 45 cubic feet of capacity. With all three rows dropped, the Sorento has an impressive 75.5 cubic feet of cargo space.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Let’s start with what you can’t get in the Sorento Hybrid: either Kia’s 10.2-inch touch-screen infotainment system or 12.3-inch reconfigurable digital gauge cluster, which are available in the gas-only SX Prestige and X Line trims. This means navigation is accessed strictly through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
You can download Kia’s proprietary app to access its telematics service, UVO, which comes with a one-year trial subscription and allows for hands-free calls, music streaming, navigation to saved points of interest, and vehicle diagnostics, as well as integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Find My Car uses the vehicle’s cameras to capture images of its surroundings and then shares them via the Kia app, and Last Mile Navigation provides walking directions to your final destination if the vehicle is parked between 0.1 and 1.2 miles away.
Kia does an excellent job with its user-friendly interface and colorful graphics, and the 8-inch touch screen on the Sorento Hybrid is no exception. The interface is intuitive and responsive, allowing you to easily access details beyond the home menu. The touch screen also gets style points by blending seamlessly into the dashboard.
The customizable 4.5-inch instrument panel offers clear and readable gauges that change color with the selected drive mode, and monitors display the battery and gas level in separate bar graphics. We also appreciate the abundance of USB chargers, especially the cleverly placed middle row charges embedded in the sides of the front seats.
The first Sorento Hybrid delivers great performance, and the sizable electric motor paired with the lithium battery provides plenty of low-end torque for a surprisingly robust pick up, even on hills. Kia’s turbo-hybrid powertrain adds 42 additional horsepower and nearly 50% better fuel economy than its gas powertrain cousin, and Kia claims the hybrid model is the most powerful in its class.
On the highway, the Sorento Hybrid taps battery power seamlessly and silently while maintaining speed. Road and wind noise levels are quieter than in many CUVs we’ve tested, with the engine purring even under heavy throttle. But the six-speed automatic transmission that handles shifting duties occasionally feels kludgy.
We prefer driving in Eco mode, which keeps engine and transmission performance humming on all kinds of terrain. There’s no electric-only mode on the Sorento Hybrid, and the other modes don’t offer a noticeable change in performance.
While we enjoyed using the steering wheel paddle shifters, we found the regenerative brakes that capture energy back to the battery to be on the grabby side and take some getting used to.
A Top CUV
Kia’s 2021 Sorento Hybrid is an efficient and elegant ride with enough rugged performance to handle all the roads we rolled on. And with its panoramic moon roof exposed to the sky, the cabin feels more spacious than a midsize CUV normally does. If you’re a fan of Kia’s Telluride model but don’t want to dish out the dollars for that larger and more expensive SUV, the Sorento Hybrid offers a similar-looking, lower-cost option with room to comfortably fit family, cargo, and toys, making it an attractive option and an Editors’ Choice winner if you don’t need all-wheel drive. If AWD is a must, you might want to wait for Kia’s Sorento PHEV option coming next year that promises more horsepower and an estimated 30 miles of electric-only driving range.
2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid Specs
|Engine||1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine electric motor|