2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid Review:Driving Impressions

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Oct 15, 2021

Effortlessly quick and efficient, comfortable for long periods of time, quiet on the highway, equipped with roomy second-row seats and handy storage solutions, and offering style, safety, and utility in equal measure, the Kia Sorento Hybrid is a potentially overlooked gem.

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For the 2021 model year, Kia introduced a hybrid version of its popular Sorento SUV. The only other Kia hybrid SUV for the 2021 model year is the Niro, but since that model does not offer an all-wheel-drive (AWD) option, one could rightly question whether it’s an SUV at all.

In addition to adding a hybrid powertrain, the completely redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento adopted an angular new appearance, a more upscale interior, and next-generation technology. For more background and details about the new Sorento, read our full review of the SUV.

For 2022, the Kia Sorento Hybrid is available with AWD and new 19-inch wheels. The infotainment system graduates from an 8-inch touchscreen display to a bigger 10.25-inch touchscreen. A Sorento Plug-in Hybrid version of the SUV also debuts for 2022, offering an estimated 32 miles of driving range purely on electricity before it switches to gas-electric operation for a total projected range of 460 miles.

Our test vehicle for this Kia Sorento Hybrid review, shown in the accompanying photos, was a 2021 model-year vehicle with EX trim. It lacked the standard AWD, larger wheels, and bigger touchscreen infotainment system that all come standard for 2022. In all other respects, however, it matches 2022 specification.

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Kia offers the Sorento Hybrid in S and EX trim. The EX adds fog lights, a hands-free power rear liftgate, and wireless smartphone charging. It also comes with the complete collection of Kia Drive Wise advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

When it first went on sale during the first quarter of 2021, the Kia Sorento Hybrid price range was $33,590 for the S trim to $36,590 for the EX trim, not including the destination charge of $1,175. Be sure to check JDPower.com for a Kia Sorento Hybrid for sale near you.

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2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Kia is wise to add larger and more appealing 19-inch wheels to the 2022 Sorento Hybrid EX. The test vehicle’s comparatively plain 17-inch wheels might be great for fuel efficiency, but they don’t help to elevate the Sorento’s looks.

The SUV’s angular styling certainly is a departure from the previous-generation Sorento’s rounded but upscale forms. The new SUV looks angrier somehow, like somebody cut it off in traffic. A chrome shark-fin applied to the rear door pillar interrupts the clean appeal of the Sorento’s greenhouse but helps to distinguish and identify the vehicle from a distance. Vertical taillights remind me of the Ford Mustang, but without the sequential turn signals. They also look a lot like those on the 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

Inside, the new Sorento Hybrid reflects a flair for style with textured dashboard trim, perforated and patterned simulated leather upholstery, and bold air vent designs. The new-for-2022 widescreen infotainment system looks more sophisticated than the test vehicle had, but it also loses the 2021 Sorento Hybrid’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

I drove the Sorento Hybrid from the suburbs of Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona, and back. Triple-digit heat blanketed the desert, but the Sorento Hybrid remained cool inside despite a lack of ventilated seat cushions. The 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat also ensured proper comfort and support for hours of driving at a time. Unfortunately, the shape and hard plastic of the center console causes discomfort to your right leg as it rests there during longer journeys.

The test vehicle had second-row captain’s chairs, and they offered good space and support for my legs. Storage netting on the front seatbacks and the sides of each chair comes in handy, along with the cupholders molded into each door panel and located within reach of children. Air conditioning vents and airline-style smartphone charging ports are much appreciated. Also, the EX’s panoramic glass sunroof (now optional for 2022) extends to a point above the second-row passengers’ heads.

To enter the third row, you can squeeze between the second-row chairs or use a button that quickly tips and slides the captain’s chair out of the way for more clearance. Larger adults may struggle to get in, but the Sorento offers unexpected third-row passenger space as long as second-row occupants are willing to slide forward a bit. However, the third-row cushion is utterly flat, and the head restraints are mighty close to the rear window glass, so this is a short-term solution at best.

With the third-row seat in use, the Sorento Hybrid holds 12.6 cubic feet of cargo. Keep it folded down, and the minimum available space amounts to 38.5 cubic feet. The maximum volume behind the front seats is 75.5 cubic feet.

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2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX Red Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Our 2021 Sorento Hybrid EX had an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with power/volume and tuning knobs, as well as menu shortcut buttons flanking the display. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a wireless smartphone charging pad, meant the trip across the desert was cord-free.

The infotainment system worked well, and the standard stereo speakers proved more than adequate as I streamed internet radio. I did have some trouble with the wireless Apple CarPlay, though. Since the test vehicle lacked an embedded navigation system, I relied on the smartphone-mirroring technology for directions to my Arizona destination. Three times, connection interruptions between my device and the system occurred, the last one happening during the “last mile” when navigation directions are crucial.

Otherwise, the Sorento Hybrid EX was refreshingly simple and analog. But, when it comes to driving-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, this SUV offers an exhaustive list of technologies. Learn more about Kia Drive Wise.

Suffice it to say that the Sorento’s Highway Driving Assist technology was helpful during our long trip. It pairs adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance for hands-on semi-autonomous driving. During this driving experience, Highway Driving Assist was best used in light traffic. The more vehicles that were sharing Interstate 10 with me, the more the system proved a source of irritation to me and my fellow motorists.

Another driving aid that’s standard on the Sorento is “leading vehicle alert.” Basically, this is Kia’s acknowledgment that whenever Americans are sitting at a stoplight, or in traffic, or a drive-thru line, they’re probably looking at their smartphone. If the vehicle ahead moves, but the Sorento does not, it alerts you that it’s time to pay attention and get moving.

Independent Expert Opinion: Driving the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid - Find the best Kia deals!

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX Red Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The common opinion of hybrid vehicles is that they’re slow. That’s because early hybrid cars were slow, and even today, if there’s a traffic back-up of some kind, it’s a good bet that a Toyota Prius is responsible.

Kia uses a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine as the basis for the Sorento Hybrid’s powertrain. It pairs with a 1.5-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery and a 44-kW electric motor to produce a combined 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A traditional 6-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to the front wheels (all four wheels in the 2022 Sorento Hybrid EX).

Thanks to the immediate thrust from the electric motor, the Sorento Hybrid feels quick away from a stop. However, what surprised me more, and perhaps some of my fellow Interstate travelers on the round-trip to Arizona, was the Sorento Hybrid’s robust passing power. The mid-range response is downright impressive, allowing you to take advantage of holes in traffic and pick a path past that silly Prius doing 70 mph in the far-left lane.

Furthermore, because Kia doesn’t use a droning continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the Sorento Hybrid, you really don’t even notice that this SUV has a hybrid powertrain. Instead, it sounds and feels like a strong and responsive turbocharged 4-cylinder is supplying the motive force.

Then, when you look down at the trip computer to see you’ve averaged 33.6 mpg over the course of more than 1,000, mostly highway miles, you remember that this SUV is electrified. (The official 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid mpg rating is 35 mpg on the highway.)

And with no apparent dynamic downside.

Independent Expert Opinion of the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid - Find the best Kia deals!

After taking the new Kia Sorento Hybrid on a long road trip, I’m a fan. Effortlessly quick and efficient, comfortable for long periods of time, quiet on the highway, equipped with roomy second-row seats and handy storage solutions, and offering style, safety, and utility in equal measure, this SUV is a potentially overlooked gem.

Changes to the 2022 Kia Sorento Hybrid make the SUV even better. With EX trim, you’ll give up a little bit of efficiency for the standard AWD and bigger 19-inch wheels, and the upgraded infotainment system requires a wired connection to run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but that might be for the best.

Moreover, I’d gone to Arizona to drive the redesigned Lexus NX. Getting back into the Sorento Hybrid for the drive home to L.A., and within minutes of exiting the Lexus, the Kia felt bigger, sounded quieter, and drove in a more refined manner. Not a bad impression for a midsize 3-row SUV that costs about 40 grand with everything on it to make.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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