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2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid review: Strong features meet reasonable fuel economy

The Sorento is Kia‘s smaller 3-row crossover offering. Sitting below the Telluride in the lineup, it appeals to customers who need space, but don’t necessarily need all the whiz-bang features or extra capability of the larger sibling.

It’s updated for 2021, and the hybrid version comes with a solid EPA rating, loads of excellent standard features, and a competent driving experience. Should you see yourself in a Kia? Let’s find out.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid exterior

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The biggest changes for 2021 come in the exterior of the Sorento. While the previous version was curvy in shape, this new version is more angular.

Up front, the LED headlights are straight and angled down toward the wide, black grille. LED daytime running lamps sit just below the lights, almost like war paint on the vehicle’s angry front face.

Set against the Runway Red Paint (a $445 optional hue) the front looks sinister and mean. It looks aggressive a way many Kias don’t. I dig it.

In profile, the wheels look like they sit behind widened haunches with a solid crease running down the middle of the doors connecting the two. The Sorento’s roof takes the tiniest of slants toward the rear, but not as aggressively as some crossovers attempt to do to look like a coupe.

I’m not sure what’s going on with the little winglet just behind the rear doors. I don’t necessarily dislike it, but the Sorento would look just as good without it.

The 17-inch allows look like ninja stars, and do a good job at hiding the eco-focused design of the wheels with most of the wheel cover itself covered.

The rear looks quite handsome, with dual taillights on each side and lots of creases and angles on the deck lid itself. I like the Sorento script across the lift gate, too. I know what they were trying to do with the faux tailpipes, but I’m not sure the fakery is needed.

Overall, this is a solid looking crossover that should appeal a variety of buyers that also want to have some style in what they drive.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid interior

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

As previously mentioned, the Sorento is a 3-row crossover. We’ll start with the rear seats, which have their own power ports for plugging in devices and cup holders. However, it’s more of a part-time 3rd-row, best suited for smaller children or short journeys with older kids or adults.

The rear seats fold down easily enough to form a flat floor. The second-row can also be folded down with a button in the rear cargo area. Unfortunately, if the driver’s seat is back a bit, the seat will catch on the headrest so you’ll still have to push it all the way down manually.

The second-row Captain’s chairs are nice, and there’s power available for kids on both sides. Child seats should be easy to install because the back doors open very wide.

I like how the second-row seat belt latches can be hid in a little pocket and out of the way if you don’t need it.

Smart cupholder placement in the Sorento. Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The doors in the second row also get a special mention. There are cupholders built into the top, just in front of the power window controls. They can hold the largest of water bottles and have little grippy fingers in there to hold smaller items in place. It’s a genuinely smart place to put a cup holder.

Up front there is an 8-inch infotainment screen that comes with the EX Hybrid, and features standard wireless support for both Apple Car Play and Android Auto. A wireless charging pad is just below it in the console, and larger phones fit without difficulty.

Three lighted USB ports also sit up front in case you need more power for other devices.

The stereo itself sounds fine, especially for a midlevel trim, but we’d like a more fuller sound from the system.

While our vehicle was a preproduction model, we did have difficulty with maintaining and reconnecting Apple Car Play wirelessly.

The instrument cluster has a digital screen in the middle flanked by two analog displays. The one on the right is, obviously, the speedometer. The one on the left is a gauge telling you what the hybrid system is doing.

Information is presented logically, and the systems are easy to use.

We wish that the side mirror camera system, available on the gas-powered version was available on the EX Hybrid, but we’re told that’ll be reserved for a future, higher-spec model (think the PHEV version).

A rotary dial is used to select the gear, and a drive mode selector sits just below it in the center console. I like how Sorento is written across the aluminum-look trim.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid safety technology

Our hybrid model comes standard with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane keeping and lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking, advanced collision avoidance for both junctions and cyclists, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring and a decent backup camera.

That’s a lot.

While most of the systems work as advertised, I should specifically mention the LKA (lane keep assist) system. I’m not sure if Kia officially considers it a Level 2 ADAS system when used in conjunction with the cruise control, but it’s one of the better lane centering systems on the market.

After a long drive, you realize how much this system reduces fatigue because you don’t hate your life after spending a few hundred miles in it on the highway.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid driving impressions

The hybrid model has a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The Sorento Hybrid is a front-wheel drive only offering, which is a bit confusing. Kia says it is to maximize fuel efficiency, but it should be mentioned that the upcoming Santa Fe hybrid from Hyundai (Kia’s sister company) is all-wheel drive.

Acceleration is brisk, and it’s easy to overpower the front wheels triggering the traction control system.

In our instrumented testing, the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid made the run from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.90 seconds. It dispatched the trip to 100 kph, for our Canadian and international readers, in 8.32 seconds.

Overtaking from 50 mph to 70 mph took 3.96 seconds. At a speed of 70 mph, it then took the Sorento 164 feet to come to a complete stop.

In the quarter-mile, which we know owners will likely never do, the Sorento completes the trip in a respectable 15.58 seconds at 90.75 mph.

You can click here to read more about our performance testing methodology in how we get these numbers.

The Sorento uses a traditional 6-speed automatic and not a CVT, so shifts feel normal and acceleration feels like what you’d expect in a non-hybrid vehicle.

Overall, the Sorento is nice to drive. It’s about as fun as you’re going to get out of a 3-row family crossover that is also a hybrid.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid fuel economy

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The EPA rates the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid at 39 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, or 37 mpg combined. We took a pretty considerable road trip in the Sorento that involved a lot of highway driving (over 70 mph, in most cases) and we got 30.1 mpg.

Normally I’d say that’s a bit poor compared to the official rating, but the weather, wind, and speed driven isn’t optimal for a vehicle this size. So it’s about on par with what I expected.

I don’t think the hybrid system runs on electricity as much as it could, as I’d often look at the battery meter being about half-full all the time.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid final verdict

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The one thing really holding back the Kia Sorento Hybrid is the lack of all-wheel drive. While I would argue you don’t need it in 90% of the country — winter tires are amazing — customers expect their SUVs and crossovers to have it. Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if the upcoming Santa Fe is more popular just because of that.

But priced at $38,205 with destination, the Sorento Hybrid offers a lot of bang for your buck, a solid drive, and real-world usability. Kia has figured out this making good stuff for not a lot of money thing, and it’s working for them.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Kia
  • Model: Sorento Hybrid
  • Trim: EX
  • Type: 3-row crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 227
  • MPG (city/highway/combined): 39 / 35 / 37
  • Pros: Good ride, lots of space, excellent standard tech
  • Cons: Lack of all-wheel drive, no trim above EX
  • Base price: $34,760
  • Price as tested: $38,205

Updated (11:17 am EST, 12/14/20): Updated performance metrics.


Written by Chad Kirchner
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