2021 Kia Sorento Review

2021 Kia Sorento - Kia debuts all-new hybrid-electric Sorento


The 2021 model year ushers in a fourth-generation of Kia's popular Sorento crossover, one of the South Korean automaker's most popular sellers.  Just about every automaker sports a five-door, mid-size, uni-body crossover with convenient rear hatchback and all remain an easy sell at franchised dealerships delivering versatility, decent fuel economy and garage-ability.

A new off-road version debuts; an off-road specific Sorento X-Line sporting an extra-inch of ground clearance, standard all-wheel drive and a locking center differential. The 2021 trims include LX, S, EX and SX. The $2,800 X-Line appearance package is available as a sub option of the SX trim.

This fourth-generation effort follows a long-established Sorento pattern; it's a tweener.  While Kia crowns Sorento a mid-size, it veers towards the smaller edge of the scale.  Consider it a large compact or diminutive mid-size. Either way, it includes three rows of seating standard.

 This Gen 4 effort matures with a wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) growing by approximately 1.5 inches while overall length and width tuck in about a half inch all while shedding 119 of unwanted weight from 2020. Kia also markets a larger three-row mid-sizer introduced in the 2020 model year, the popular Telluride with a wheelbase measuring 3.4-inches longer.

In 2021, Sorento builds upon this spanking-new platform with the model's first hybrid-electric powertrain opportunity in addition to two upgraded conventionally gas engine variants. This review highlights the hybrid.

As automakers debut a new generation of gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and pure electric vehicles (EVs), distinguishing between and among these burgeoning and emerging technologies is paramount for consumers to grasp when making informed purchasing decisions.

Our tester, the 2021 Sorento HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) includes an onboard, self-charging 1.5-liter-kilowatt high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack assisting the gas engine. At no time does this system operate exclusively in an 'all electric' mode.  Piloting this HEV requires the same muscle memory as a traditional Sorento with a conventional internal combustion engine. No additional instruction or plug-ins required.

The battery helps power an electric motor delivering additional low-end torque.  Teamed with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo four cylinder engine, the Sorento HEV reaches zero-to-60 time in 7.7 seconds according to Kia's stopwatch. Combined horsepower reaches a spunky and respectable 227. The estimated 37 miles per gallon estimate of combined city/highway driving gets aided by regenerative braking, capturing and returning energy to the lithium-ion battery for later reuse. By comparison, Kia's upgraded 2.5-liter four-cylinder 191 horsepower base gas-exclusive engine generates 27 mpg in combined driving.

When fueled up, Sorento's HEV drive range reaches about 600 miles between fill ups, pleasantly substantial for a vehicle this size while delivering almost 50 percent better fuel economy than Sorento's outgoing 2020 base four cylinder. All 2021 Sorentos accept regular, 87-ocatne fuel.

The Sorento HEV supports front-wheel drive exclusively, while the conventional Sorento offers all-wheel drive as an option.

Later in this calendar year, Kia plans on adding a plug-in hybrid electric variant (PHEV) one necessitating a nightly plug-in and promising 30 miles of pure electric range along with an internal combustion engine delivering hundreds of additional miles.

In 2019, Sorento introduced three-row of seating standard.  In prior years, Sorento offered a two-row, five-seat version as well.  The all-new 2021 Sorento stands alone as one of a few mid-sizers with standard three-row seating aided by rear side doors that swing out wide enough for proper leg hustle.  

Two well-equipped HEV trims include a base S ($33,590 starting price) and our up-skewed, fully-loaded EX tester with just 2,400 odometer miles and $36,590 starting price. The only available factory extras include two available premium exterior paints each adding $445; Runway Red or Snow White Pearl.  

Our tester included Runway Red hue bringing the bottom line to $38,205 including a $1,170 destination charge; competitive when stacked against competitors including Toyota's mid-size Highlander crossover HEV. The lowest-priced gas-exclusive 2021 Sorento checks in at $29,390.

For the extra three grand, EX shoppers enjoy a front grille and rear spoiler adorned in glossy black mesh, upgraded cruise control with variable stop-and-go settings, forward and reverse parking distance audio bings and the advanced version of Kia's forward collision warning system.  

The engine combination teams with an electronic, six-speed automatic transmission located between front buckets.  Don't look for an old-school vertically-shifting mechanical version as Sorento employs an electronic circular dial one twists to select reverse, neutral and drive.  Park gets summoned when pushing a button atop the circle.  

Another smaller dial aft-ward and adjacent to dual beverage holders summons one of three available drive modes: Smart, Sport or Eco. During a majority of testing, Eco was the mode of choice providing more than enough get-up and go throughout the Chicago suburbs.

Overall, the IP and HVAC commands easily interpret without an overwhelming presence. The easy-glance, gratefully simplistic instrument panel includes two circular analog gauges with a multi-paneled digital window in between.  The left orb includes hybrid specifics rather than a traditional tachometer. Center panel selections toggle via an iconned button gracing the three-spoke steering wheel.

Gently chiseled features intersect with round wheel wheels protected via black composite compounds also extending under side doors.  Sorento's nicely updated, crisp exterior with a creased hood now resembles a muscle-bound crossover rather than the tired minivan theme of Gen. Three. The hexagonal grille cinched in the middle, still resembling a bow-tie outline (what Kia describes as a 'tiger nose') flanked by inline, eye-lined be-jeweled LED headlights.

Third row tryouts in any sized crossover inspire a bit of hesitancy as many remain kid friendly at best. Mid-sized crossovers with Sorento's smaller footprint conjure up their own specific dreed. Much to my six-foot, one-inch frame's  surprise (and delight), Sorento's two-person  third row delivered manageable head and knee space when friendly negotiations take place with row two riders.  Both hybrid trims include third row USB plug ports built into side frames. Second-row riders access ports located on back sides of front buckets (eight total throughout the vehicle).

Both HEV trims include second row captain chairs standard for a total rider count reaching six. Lower trim levels in the gasoline-exclusive Sorento feature a second-row bench, accommodating three riders. Tolerable access to row three benefits from second-row buckets with seatbacks that easily tilt down as the cushion moves forward with the press of a top-side button.

In addition, both Apple and Android Smartphones benefit from a wireless charging pad standard in EX HEVs but not available in S.  Sorento hybrids include a mid-sized 8.0-inch swipe-able, in-dash touchscreen.  A larger 10.3-inch version is available in top-trim gas-exclusive SX models.  The wireless charging pad cove up front also houses three USB plug ports and resides below the push-button heavy ventilation system.  

Row three seatbacks sport an even 50/50 split, manually folding forward and retracting back up with a pull of a built-in convenience strap from the opened hatchback area. When prone, a tight 12.6 cubic feet of space is ready behind row three for small plastic bags of groceries, but not much more.

Assembly of gas-powered versions takes place in West Point Georgia along with the larger, Telluride crossover and newly minted K5 sedan (once known as the mid-size Optima).  Hybrid Sorentos assemble in South Korea.

A Kia value-added extra includes a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty applying to the original owner, one of the longest coverages in the business.

2021 Kia Sorento HEV

Price as tested:  $38,205

Wheelbase:  110.8 inches

Length:  189.4 inches

Width:   74.8 inches

Height:  66.7 inches

Curb weight: 4,065 pounds

Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo hybrid

Combined Horsepower:  227

Powertrain   warranty:  10 years/100,000 miles

City/Highway economy:  39 mpg city 35 mpg highway

Assembly:  Hwasung, South Korea

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.