You may have noticed that Kia is on a roll recently. It won over enthusiasts with the Stinger GT. The Niro EV is one of the few electric vehicles to rival Tesla in terms of range efficiency. And its big Telluride SUV has been a runaway success, garnering awards and plaudits as it flies out of the showroom.
Now it’s the turn of Kia’s popular Sorento SUV to get the revamp. It’s a bit smaller and a bit cheaper than the Telluride, but it’s still a three-row SUV. And, unlike the bigger vehicle, it’s available with a 37mpg (6.4L/100km) hybrid powertrain from $33,590.
In fact, that’s probably all anyone needs to read to know that the Sorento is going to be a hit. Over the two days we spent with a 2021 Sorento Hybrid EX—$36,590 plus $445 on some fetching red paint—we had no problem matching that EPA combined fuel number, as well as the 39mpg (6L/100km) city rating. If you want an efficient three-row hybrid SUV for less than $40,000, you can pick this Kia or the slightly more expensive Toyota Highlander, and that’s about it. So even if the Sorento were mediocre in all other respects, its sales success seems inevitable. Happily, it’s not mediocre.
The industry calls this “compact”
This is the fourth generation of vehicle to wear the Sorento badge. The 2021 has a well-proportioned shape, although one that’s busy with detail, whatever the viewing angle. That shape can look fussy, but it also helps the Sorento avoid looking slab-sided. The front is dominated by Kia’s “tiger nose” front grille and some rather intricate LED headlamps, and the only real visual clue that you’re looking at a hybrid—other than the Hybrid badge on the back, obviously—are the aerodynamic 17-inch alloy wheels.
The hybrid system combines a turbocharged 1.6L, four-cylinder, direct-injection gasoline engine that makes 172hp (128kW) and 195lb-ft (264Nm) and a 60hp (45kW), 194lb-ft (263Nm) permanent magnet synchronous electric motor fed by a 1.5kWh battery. Together, they provide a total output of 227hp (169kW) and 258lb-ft (350Nm), all of which is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
The interior features a mix of glossy black and brushed chrome trim, with some elements that we first saw in the Kia Soul. The main instrument display uses a pair of physical analogue dials; the left indicates how much energy you’re using or recovering, while the right is a conventional speedometer. Between them is a small multifunction display, with a larger 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system just to the right of the binnacle.
For the Sorento Hybrid, the only option for the second row is a pair of individual “captain’s chairs” (the not-hybrid Sorento comes with a bench seat for the second row as standard). Legroom for this middle row is a spacious 40.7 inches (1,033mm), and there are some storage nets and cupholders within easy reach, as well as USB ports set into the sides of the front seats.
Life isn’t quite so sweet in the third row. It’s not the 29.6-inch (752mm) legroom so much as the fact that you’re sitting only a couple of inches above the floor and your knees nearly at face level. Using the third row as seating also cuts heavily into cargo capacity—just 12.6 cubic feet (357L). The Sorento becomes much more useful at carrying stuff if you fold down one (38.5 cubic feet/1,090L) or both (45 cubic feet/1,274L) seats in the third row, and the vehicle is a downright roomy 75 cubic feet (2,124L) if you fold both rows of seats flat.
I might need more time with a Sorento to identify problem areas; increased security in the District of Columbia over the past week limited driving opportunities during our 48 hours with the SUV. The only downside that comes to mind immediately is a lack of driver engagement and more body roll than I like during cornering. But this is an efficient six-seater and not a sports car, so I’m not sure it’s much of a problem.
Listing image by Kia