Review update: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX delivers value and nearly 40 mpg

Kia claims the Sorento Hybrid fits into “a segment of one,” While that’s a stretch, this model makes a compelling value and efficiency sales pitch for itself versus any alternatives.

Driving it only serves to bolster that sales pitch.

With a fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain, great outward visibility, comfortable ride, and easy-to-use technology, the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX seems to pack nearly everything one could want from a crossover SUV in 2021. But the hybrid powertrain doesn’t completely fix the Sorento’s foibles. Questionable design choices, disappointing NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness), cheap plastics, and a barely usable third row all add up to keep the Sorento Hybrid from being the fuel-efficient baby Telluride it could’ve been.

I spent a week with the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX hauling the kids to activities, running errands, and putting the hybrid crossover SUV through the daily perils of family life to determine where it hits and misses. Here’s what I learned.

 

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hit: Smooth operator

The Sorento Hybrid’s 1.6-liter turbo-4, making 177 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, plus a 59 hp (44 kw) electric motor, sum to a combined output of 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. A 1.5-kwh battery pack stores energy for the system. It’s the same powertrain found in the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid, but in the Sorento the 8-speed automatic transmission doles out power to only the front wheels, whereas the Hyundai has all-wheel drive. This might be the best implementation of Hyundai and Kia’s hybrid powertrain to date. It feels lighter without the Santa Fe’s all-wheel drive system, yet it’s just as smooth during the power transitions. There’s no rubber-band behavior from the transmission as one will find in the Toyota Highlander hybrid.

 

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Miss: Hint of torque steer

With 258 lb-ft of torque, some of which comes online instantly thanks to the electric motor, and only the front wheels getting power there’s a whiff of torque steer. If the accelerator is pinned to the floor from a dead stop the steering wheel can tug for a second.

 

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hit: Delivers EPA-rated fuel economy

The Sorento Hybrid EX carries EPA fuel economy ratings of 39 mpg city, 35 highway, and 37 combined. In my experience, it delivers those numbers in the real world. Over the course of 174 miles of mixed driving my Sorento Hybrid tester averaged 35.8 mpg according to the onboard trip computer. That lines up with the EPA ratings, and I wasn’t driving with the aim of eking out every last mile per gallon from the tank.

 

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Miss: Third row for ants

The Sorento is an outlier in that it’s sized like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Honda Passport, but it has a third row like the larger Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. Except, outside of existing, the third row isn’t really useful for much. A kid’s car seat certainly won’t fit back there behind the second row, and no adult will be comfortable in the way-back, with barely any legroom and a seating position that puts one’s knees near one’s eyeballs. Headroom’s also at a premium and I’m only five-foot-10.

 

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hit: Comfortable ride

My Sorento Hybrid EX tester rode on cheap Nexen Roadian GTX 235/65R17 tires. It was a surprise and delight to find 17-inch wheels in the wells with so much tire sidewall in the year 2021. The tall tire sidewalls combined with a well-tuned suspension delivered a controlled, yet comfortable ride.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Miss: The awkward bits

The powertrain in the Sorento Hybrid is the high point. While overall the design is a winner with European flair with a bit of Jeep thrown into the mix, there are some weird and boring bits to the Sorento that come along regardless of what’s under the hood. The split LED taillights look like an afterthought or like they belong on a knockoff prototype with a weird strip of body color between the lighting elements. There’s also the odd design flourish by the C-pillar that editorial director Marty Padgett has dubbed “the door tooth.” Why is this a thing? It shouldn’t be a thing. The Sorento’s best angle is the front end. Inside it looks nice with lots of hard buttons and switches, but there’s an abundance of hard plastics or thinly-padded soft-touch materials.

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2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Base price: $34,560, including destination
Price as tested: $35,160
Powertrain: 227 hp hybrid, 8-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 39/35/37 mpg
The hits: Efficient powertrain, European design flair, comfortable ride
The misses: Tiny third row, smidge of torque steer, no all-wheel-drive option, few awkward and cheap design elements

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