Review: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid leaves compacts behind
Kia revamped the Sorento for the 2021 model year, giving it a redesign from the wheels on up and adding new hybrid and plug-in hybrid options to the family. With excellent fuel economy and a comfortable ride, the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid looks to be the pick of the bunch.
At a glance:
- Hybrid model adds significant fuel economy to the Sorento
- Turbocharged gasoline model is sportier, but Hybrid model is more daily drive
- The Sorento is bigger and roomier, but that comes at a price
The Kia Sorento has been a popular mainstay of the larger compact crossover options. One of the few with three rows of seating, the Sorento often stood out as being slightly roomier that a true compact. One of the fastest-growing segments, compact crossovers are now the biggest-selling cars in North America, outstripping sedans in sales. The complete revamp of the Sorento, however, pushes it out of the compact arena and closer to midsize. At that, though, the Sorento Hybrid adds a new dimension that keeps the Sorento as a strong contender in the market.
We drove both the new 2021 Sorento in its gasoline format as well as the Sorento Hybrid with its gasoline-electric powertrain. The plug-in hybrid Sorento is available in Europe, but not yet in the U.S. As with many hybrid-electric models, the Sorento Hybrid has a better vehicle balance and feel on the road when compared to its gasoline-only sibling. One downer, though, is that the hybrid model does not have an all-wheel drive option.
The 2021 Sorento is a good-looking redesign with sleek lines and a robust, but not overpowering exterior. Taking cues from the larger Telluride and the renamed K5 sedan (formerly the Optima), the Sorento also pushes its interior upscale. All things we’re glad to see. Technology is also upgraded in the form of an 8-inch touchscreen at base, which grows to 10.25 inches as trim levels improve. The screen has a fast-responding interface that is simple, but very capable, and it's augmented by an optional 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that adds blind spot cameras and other thoughtful features.
The third row in the new and larger Sorento is useful for more than kids, though adults won’t want to be back there for longer than a short ride. Kids, however, will enjoy having more space and parents will appreciate the easier access to child safety seat latches. Rear cargo is also very good, having plenty of room (even with the third row up) for daily use. Folding down the third row gives more than enough room for a busy family’s box store runs and big grocery grabs.
The standard 2021 Kia Sorento is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that can be upgraded to a turbocharged 2.5L. We drove the latter, with AWD, and enjoyed its power output. The engine didn’t feel over the top for the Sorento’s size and the turbocharged four-cylinder efficiently replaces the larger V6 that was the previous-generation’s upgrade powertrain. The gasoline-only, turbocharged Sorento is rated at 29 mpg (8.1 l/100km) on the highway and we averaged 28.5 in our testing, so that EPA estimate seems realistic. Pricing for the Sorento starts at $30,565 plus delivery.
Driving the Sorento Hybrid
The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. These combine for 227 horsepower (169 kW) of output. That’s about 20 hp lower than the turbo-four in the gas-only model. Fuel economy here is rated at 37 mpg on the highway, a significant jump up from the gasoline model. Our testing on the same route as the gasoline model produced 35 mpg, with crosswinds accounting for some of the drop compared to the estimates. The Sorento Hybrid model starts at $34,765 plus delivery and is outfitted similarly to the $33,000 Sorento S, the next model trim up from the base model Sorento.
The Hybrid drives very well. Both the gasoline and hybrid models are quiet on the road, feel confident in their dynamics, and are comfortable to operate. The quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the Sorento’s turbocharged model is a very nice touch, though it hesitates on downshifts when at speed. The Sorento Hybrid has a less sporty automatic transmission, but still feels confident. Compared to most rivals, the Sorento’s overall drive feel is much more refined.
The newer, larger Sorento, however, does have its downsides. Namely, it's big. Compared to its chief rival, the also all-new 2021 Nissan Rogue, the Sorento has a much larger footprint and is thus more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. The available 360-degree cameras help, but there’s no getting around the sheer size of the new Kia. That could mean some buyers will lose interest despite the benefits of a much larger interior that comes with the size.
Our overall assessment, though, is positive for the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid. It feels more premium than the price tag suggests and the hybrid is smooth, convenient, and efficient. Kia’s move into electrification will continue with the PHEV model coming later, but it’s likely that pricing for that will be towards the top end of the Sorento’s lineup.
Product Page: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid