If we say large Kia SUV, what do you say?
You’d probably say “Telluride”. And we can’t blame you, the rugged 3-row SUV has been a huge hit, and right now, many are commanding impressive amounts above sticker on the showroom floor.
But there’s another 3-row Kia that should be on your radar as well – the all-new 2021 Kia Sorento. Does the Telly’s little brother live up to the family image? Let’s look.
This is the 4th generation Sorento, and like the Telluride and Carnival minivan, it is modern, crisp, and sporty. Designed by Kia’s California design studio, it takes a step more towards rugged SUV and away from crossover.
The front-end features Kia’s familiar “Tiger Nose” grille, now widened to fill the entire width of the front, with a sporty mesh design, while new “eyeline” Daytime Running Lamps, and LED headlights and position lights give a rugged presence.
The profile is sporty, with a deeply cut character line in the doors, and a wave shape at the bottom of the C pillar to give some visual width. Kia says there are six available alloy wheels from 17 to 20 inches. We liked the “throwing star” 17’s on our tester.
The rear reminds us most of the Telluride, with a broad-shouldered look, tall vertical LED taillights, sharp-edged cut in around the license plate, and SORENTO spelled out in bold block letters. The finishing touch on tester was the bold Runway Red paint – you will not miss this Sorento coming down the street!
Inside, the Sorento reminds of the simple elegance of the Carnivale, with nice contrasting accent trim and open-pore wood graphics for a tasteful effect.
Like the Telluride you have three rows of seats – although in the Sorento, that 3rd row is for kids only. And with that row up, cargo space is snug. We left it folded down for the time we had our Sorento. If you need more space, there’s always the Telluride. Those in the 2nd row will have no complaints, with standard captain’s chairs for stretch-out comfort. And they also fold easily and create a flat floor if you need to make a big haul. The standard height-adjustable power tailgate helps make loading a snap.
The front buckets are comfy, and the SynTex (vinyl) does an excellent imitation of leather. We’d still probably avoid the light interior color, as SUV’s can live a hard life. Our tester’s massive Panoramic Sunroof gave great outside views, and the dual-zone climate control kept us nice and cool.
Kia and its parent company Hyundai are known for giving lots of goodies for the buck, and you get that feeling here, with handsome analog gauges (digital are offered on other Sorento models), a 10.25-inch touchscreen display plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and Wireless charger. No more cords! If you do have a chord, you’ll find USB chargers for all three rows, which should help keep everyone happy.
The Kia UVO telematics works exceptionally well, and the hookup is quick and painless. You’ve even got Amazon-Alexa or Google-Assistant enabled device connection. Cool. We like the overall set up of switch gear, which is simple and well laid out, our only hiccups were the oddly shaped vents – they do provide plenty of air, though – and the circular shift lever knob which is placed where many manufacturers put the info-tainment controls. You do get used to it, and we may be old-school, but we still like a shift lever. At least Kia gives you paddle shifters on the steering wheel when you want to have some fun.
Turbo Hybrid Fun!
Yep, our tester featured a 1.6-liter, turbo 4-cylinder with hybrid powertrain – and that’s just one of four choices. There’s also an available 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder – with or without turbo – and a 1.6-liter, turbo plug-in hybrid model.
We think our Sorento’s setup might be the hot ticket. Combining the 4-cylinder with turbo and a 44kW electric motor, the result is a strong 227 horsepower and impressive 258 lb.-ft. of torque. And since that electric motor gives instant torque, you’ve got a bunch of low-end power. Hooked up to a 6-speed automatic, and available only in front wheel drive, the Sorento motors away smoothly and strongly.
Put it in Sport mode and use the paddle shifters, and it is amazingly quick for a 3-row SUV with only a 1.6-liter engine.
It even sounds good when you rev it hard. No, it’s not a sports car, but then you realize all the fun you’re having also comes with an EPA combined estimate of 37 mpg. And the system can shift over to EV-only driving up to speeds of 80 mph. Wow! With the cost of gas going up, here you are having fun, driving a good-sized SUV, and sipping fuel. Win-win-win!
While it is fun, it’s really not designed for sport driving. All that power can break the front wheels loose, and the handling is light and confident, but this is a tall vehicle not a sport sedan. It wins the daily commute with a smooth and quiet ride, loads of comfort and easy maneuverability.
Kia also likes to load up on the safety gear, and the new Sorento is admirably equipped, with 16 standard or available “Drive Wise” Advanced Driver Systems, including Forward Collision Warning with Pedestrian Detection/Cyclist Detection and Junction Warning, Blind Spot Collison Avoidance, Rear Cross Traffic Avoidance, Lane Keep Assist and Safe Exit Assist.
If you weren’t already impressed, the Kia will bowl you over with smart pricing. You can get into a Sorento Hybrid S at $33,990. Step up to our luxurious EX, and you’re looking at $36,590. Add $445 for Runway Red Paint, $1,170 for destination, and we rang the bell at $38,205.
Competitors would include the Toyota Highlander Hybrid which is even more luxurious, but our last tester was over $52,000. A huge step up. Going for a smaller RAV4 hybrid will still run you $41,610. While you will get all-wheel-drive with the RAV, you are a paying a premium for a smaller vehicle – and we think the Sorento is more fun to drive.
The all-new 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid is a great vehicle, with plenty of power, amazing efficiency, sharp style, and loads of safety and convenience features. Add in the great price, and the Telluride’s little brother is a big deal!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.