Kia Sorento — Another Kia winner

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
(April 4, 2021) Kia has discovered the formula for consistently building attractive automobiles. Virtually every new vehicle that has come out of the automaker's stable over the past couple of years has been stylish inside and out, loaded with new user-friendly technology, and competitively fuel efficient. Three recent examples of hitting the ball out of the park are the mid-sized Telluride CUV, sub-compact Seltos crossover and the mid-sized K5 sedan.

Like the Beatles in their heyday, the hits just keep on coming. Latest example — the mid-sized Sorento CUV. It checks all the boxes. But we were a bit surprised that Kia decided to make available its all-new first-ever hybrid version to the press for the Sorento's initial review. While hybrids are the most fuel efficient of any brand's fleet, they are not always the most enjoyable selection in the lineup.

After driving the all-new Sorento hybrid for hundreds of miles we understand why it's in the lead-off spot. Not only is the exterior styling a cut above, the well-appointed cabin is a great place to spend time, and the hybrid system is no slouch when it comes to performance. We couldn't find much to complain about — the third-row seat is for kids, but we think most people will keep it folded and use the space for cargo, and AWD is not available on the hybrid. There are a lot of things to shout about including outstanding gas mileage measured at 39 mpg city, 35 highway and 37 combined.
The hybrid with 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque felt every bit like a healthy gas-engine only model when performance was demanded for passing and merging. We attribute this partly to Kia's decision to pair the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine and the electric motor to a standard six-speed transmission. Why most other brands insist on putting continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) in their hybrid vehicles, is a head scratcher. With the shiftless CVT, hybrids grow annoyingly louder and louder under hard acceleration.
Sorento's 6-speed provides seamless upshifts and downshifts keeping the rev band at just the right spot. For more driver input, Kia provides steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to control gear changes.
The new Sorento also comes in three other configurations. Standard power is provided by a 4-cylinder making 191 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. A 2.5-liter turbo making 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque mated to an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic is the performance champ. And later in the year a plug-in hybrid with a 261-horsepower rating and a 29-mile all-electric range will come to showrooms.
Exterior styling is spot-on with crisp lines, bold fascia and distinctive details exuding a stylish rugged elegance.  And the Kia signature "tiger nose" grille, similar to the larger and very popular Telluride, resides up front. The interior is spacious and well designed. And for the first time captain's chairs are available for the second row. The new crossover is totally an American product designed inside and out at Kia's Irvine, Calif., studio.
Inside, the dashboard can be outfitted with a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The rest of the design blends tall-vertical-shaped air vents, integrated ambient lighting, and intricately stitched surfaces on the door panels and seat inserts. The center console hosts a rotary shift knob as well as a drive-mode selector and other vehicle functions. A variety of storage spots and cupholders are located in the console.
Infotainment and connectivity features are extremely important these days, and the Sorento is at the forefront of new-car technology, supporting loads of desirable content. It comes standard with an 8.0-inch or an optional 10.3-inch touchscreen. Along with a wireless charging pad, there's also an optional 12-speaker Bose sound system for those who prefer an upscale audio experience. And we can attest to its pleasing sound. It didn't come on our test vehicle, but we've experienced the upscale system on the Kia K5.

If you use the third row it will cut into your cargo space leaving only 12.6 cubic feet behind the seat. However, if you choose to keep the rear-most seats folded, cargo space increases to 38.5 cubic feet, and balloons to 75.5 cubic feet with all rear seatbacks folded.

The Sorento comes in six trim levels to meet most needs, and desires — LX, S, EX, SX Prestige and SX Prestige X-Line. The base LX starting at $32,170 is well equipped with the standard 191-horsepower engine, seven-passenger seating, 8-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and such safety features as forward collision mitigation, driver attention warning, lane departure mitigation, lane keep system, and backup camera.

We think the sweet spot is the EX with the larger 281-horsepwer engine starting at $37,025. The lineup tops out at $45,455 for the SX Prestige X-Line.

AWD is available on all trims except the hybrid models.

Our EX hybrid carried a bottom line of $38,205 including destination charge and came well equipped without the need for options.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid


Base price: $33,590; as driven, $38,205
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, 44 kW electric motor
Horsepower: 227
Torque: 258 @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2,3,2
Wheelbase: 110.8 inches
Length: 189 inches
Curb weight: 3,794 pounds
Turning circle: 37.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.6/38.5  cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 75.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.7 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 39 city, 35 highway, 37 combined
0-60: 8.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Toyota RAV4 hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid

The Good
• Excellent gas mileage
• Third row available
• Easy-to-use infotainment system
• 6-speed automatic in place of CVT

The Bad
• Very tight third row

The Ugly
• Small cargo area with third row up