What makes Kia a hot commodity right now?
I would say that their latest design language is the draw for the brand, but there’s more to that. It is all about execution – an overused word that describes how well they have successfully launched each new vehicle onto the marketplace.
That has become an expectation with Kia. Deliver on a high level of vehicle to become more desirable than its competitors. Oh, and get accolades for your hard work.
That is why the Telluride was awarded every trophy it could get – including #VOTY19, the World Car of The Year, and so forth. That is also why I was very impressed with the K5 sedan.
Now, it’s the Sorento’s turn. This mid-sized, three-row SUV slots underneath the extremely hot Telluride as a more scaled-down family hauler. Yet, it has yielded a lot of good press for its…wait for it…product execution.
This fourth generation Sorento is also transformational. Instead of offering a V6, Kia opted to go with an all-four-cylinder engine lineup, including two turbocharged powerplants. One of them happen to be attached to an electric motor.
That was what I drew for this review – the first Sorento Hybrid ever.
With my curiosity piqued, I wanted to see that (a) the 2021 Sorento is another hit for Kia and (b) if the hybrid driveline is a good choice for one of Kia’s longtime offerings.
First, just take a look at how the Sorento has transformed in the face of being slotted below the Telluride. One thing to make clear that most markets Kia sells their wares in do not offer the big award-winning West Point, Georgia-made SUV. The Sorento is as big of a Kia as you will get in most of this planet. Therefore, this new model is seen as a very important product for families in those markets.
With that said, a lot of the design elements I saw on the K5 sedan are evident in the newest Sorento. The grille still retains its “tiger” shape, but it has caved in a bit. That front end if flanked by two sets of LED headlamp units with multiple bulbs similar to Lincoln and Acura, along with an LED driving lamp that surrounds it. The front end is handsome, contemporary and distinctive.
Flowing from that point is a side profile that appears to be lower than previous generations of the Sorento. It also shows off a lot of sculpting and distinctive satin chrome trim pieces that just appear randomly. Actually, they are not random. The accent a few key elements of the side profile, including the piece on the c-pillar glass that breaks up the roof silhouette.
On the rear end are a set of vertical taillamps that may remind you of a Ford Mustang…maybe. The double pairs make the Sorento pop out a bit more. The roofline is fastback-like, but the slope is friendlier for cargo and third-row headroom.
My Hybrid EX tester came with a set of 17-inch aerodynamic alloy wheels with taller sidewall tires. All in the effort towards efficiency. They look nice, though.
Once you step into the Sorento, I was entertained by a flash of retro styling on the instrument panel. Look at the vents! Do they remind you of a 1960s Mercury or Dodge? Whomever designed these vents – thank you from the bottom of my aging heart!
That piece of retro styling fits well with a very modern dashboard. You have a mix of analog and digital readouts in the instrument cluster, that is simple to understand. The center console and steering wheel are also very modern, with typical and easy-to-use switchgear found on other Kia models.
On the center console is a very curious piece of switchgear – the rotary transmission knob. This is found on most models across the lineup. Having already encountered this in another vehicle from the same corporate family, I was ready to use it this time around. If you understand the knob’s logic, then you will be fine. The Sorento Hybrid also have paddle shifters in case you need them.
Attached to the instrument cluster assembly is an eight-inch touchscreen powered by UVO. You get both wireless charging and smartphone integration on this Hybrid EX tester. There are six speakers emitting sound throughout the cabin.
The front row seats are OK. I had some comfort and support in places. The second row have similar seats, since they care captain’s chairs without a center console. While they can be adjusted for rake and recline, the second row seats can slide forward and tilt with a press of a button for third row access. Small children will find enough space in the third row.
If you keep the third row of seats up, you can fill the 12.6 cubic feet hold with groceries and a few things. However travelers may find that you will have to fold down the third row to fit luggage for four adults – or two oversized suitcases. Fold down the second row to open up 75.5 cubic feet of space.
Powering the Sorento Hybrid is a combination of a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an electric motor fueled by a high voltage battery pack, and a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels only. Combined system power is rated at 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
The Sorento’s hybrid driveline does will exhibiting good passing and on-ramp performance, while maintaining a solid cruise on the highway. It is also efficient, returning an average of 39.9 MPG. That’s very efficient for an SUV of its size class!
The ride quality was really superb. It’s just smooth enough to manage the bumpier roads. I could give credit to the taller sidewall tires, but I also think Kia put in a lot of work to give the entire Sorento lineup a great ride. As for handling, it was a bit on the soft side. Yet, it was also well managed when it comes to cornering and evading hazards.
Steering-wise, the Sorento offered a decent turning radius even with some road feel from the wheel. On-center feel was good overall. Stops were solid in panic and moist situations, while I found a tad bit of hesitation on normal stops. Brake pedal was also a tad soft for my liking.
The sticker price on this 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX tester came to $38,205. Sorento Hybrids starts at $33,590, while the entire Sorento lineup is priced from $29,390.
One important note to pass along: Since this tester had front-wheel-drive, I was told that an all-wheel-drive hybrid driveline is coming for the 2022 model year.
Does not having all-wheel-drive detract from what is a truly competent family SUV? Not really. It is a market preference for the northern climes to have that extra measure of traction.
The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid has a very handsome body and well-executed interior. It also offers great efficiency from its turbocharged hybrid driveline. Although, I would a chance to work with a non-hybrid Sorento to see how the all-wheel-drive system works and to explore other aspects of this strong selling model for Kia.
If you are looking for a hybrid SUV, take a look at the Kia Sorento. You may like what you see and drive.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Kia America
All photos by Randy Stern