This may be the best 3-row SUV ever.
So let me just start here: The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid SUV comes in at $38,000 nicely loaded. Panoramic sunroof? Yes. Center-row captains chairs? Yup. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Yes! Potential fuel economy of 37 MPG? That’s icing on the cake.
Then, add in beautiful leatherette interior, heated and cooled seats, USB ports for every seat, a wireless phone charger, smart lift gate, all the driver assist and safety features you need in a new car, and a nicely designed front console, and the Kia Sorento Hybrid is a pure winner.
I spent a week tooling around town in the Sorento Hybrid and have to say, I really, really liked it. I’m an unabashed fan of 3-row hybrid SUVs. These SUVs do it all and when you’re by yourself you don’t feel guilty for all the fuel you’re burning or the space your car takes up.
Adding to the feel-good aspect is a beautiful interior and the Sorento is a home run. The cream-colored leatherette (the company calls this gray, but either way, it’s light and delightful) is vision-board worthy. Yes, it’s great to sit in white leatherette seats, but it’s even better to look in the rear view mirror and see them. They are eye candy.
Also making you feel great in this car is an interior that gets glamour lighting from the panoramic sun roof. This is a feature that Kia has been on the forefront of, offering it in most of its vehicles at most prices. In the Sorento, it’s a standard feature in all but the two least expensive models. From there, the Sorento adds new interior and exterior design to upgrade the look and appeal of this workhorse SUV.
A New, More Adventurous Design Inspired by the Kia Telluride
The Kia Sorento was redesigned for 2021, taking cues from the very popular Telluride full size SUV. These details—the wider front grille, inverted L-shape tail lights and the model name spelled out across the lift gate—are all Telluride signatures and give the Sorento a more adventurous look but still let the Sorento rock its ow style rather than it becoming a mini-me version of the Telluride.
Taking another cue from Telluride, Kia will roll out the X Line, an even more adventurous model with blacked out details, a larger gas engine and features that make it ideal for getting off the grid and back to adventure. More details on that soon.
Related: For 2021, the Kia Sorento 3-Row SUV Gives You the Choice of Electric, Hybrid Or Turbo Driving
Pick Your Power and Source: Gas, Hybrid or Electric
Then, the company added a variety of engine types so you can get the fuel economy you want while you haul a carful of screaming rascals around town. Buyers can chose from a 4-cylinder 191 horsepower engine averaging 27 MPG, a turbo 4-cylinder with 281 HP averaging 25MPG, a hybrid with 227 HP averaging 37MPG and, coming this summer, a plug-in electric hybrid, or PHEV, with 261 HP, an all-electric driving range of 30 miles, and hybrid fuel economy that should land in the mid-30 MPG range. Those are some nice choices and for those of us who LOVE the opportunity to plug in at home and skip the gas station, the PHEV is a great option.
Would You Compare This to the Telluride?
The company sees the buyer’s conundrum as Sorento vs. Telluride, but I’m not so sure. They are different animals. The Telluride is a full-size SUV, large and designed to carry 5 or more passengers all the time. The Sorento is a more comfortable mid-size SUV; great for 3 or 4 passengers but capable of 6 or 7 in a pinch. The Telluride is for larger families that really live in their car—skiing, boating, camping families that need all that space and tow capability. The Sorento is for families whose adventures are more urban and daily, for dog families and for drivers who don’t want or need the full size Telluride.
But more than all of that, the Sorento’s sweet spot is the driver who needs capability and great fuel economy. If I were buying a fuel-efficient SUV with a third row I’d look at the Toyota Highlander hybrid and the Lexus RX 450 L, a luxury SUV with a third row. Beyond that, there are plug in hybrids from luxury SUVs including Lincoln and Volvo, but at double the price (or more) of the Sorento.
Interior Details That Add to the “Ahhhhh”
For this redesign, which was led by Kia’s design studio in Irvine, CA, the team added more refined touches so you can feel relaxed and elegant while your kiddos are working off their energy at lacrosse practice. It’s all anchored by the dashboard and center console, a neatly organized space that has all you need but isn’t overwhelming with lots of details.
The dashboard is a capped by a single panel framed in piano-gloss black that holds the infotainment screen on the right and the driver information display on the left. There are select buttons on the infotainment screen and a climate control center below it; the driver information display choices are set by using the buttons on the right side of the steering wheel.
The center console is simply laid out; the dial controller, unique to the hybrid model, is flanked by squarish cup holders (hello Fiji Water fans) that will hold a variety of cup shapes. Toward the arm rest are the other command center controls including drive mode selector and buttons for park sensors, downhill descent control, brake hold (called auto hold, a glorious feature that holds the brake for you at a traffic light or in the school pickup line), camera setting options and the electronic parking brake. Next top the command center is a small space to hold a key or change.
Tucked under the dashboard at the front of the center console is a cubby with a wireless charge pad and three USB ports; seat heater buttons are on either side of the cubby and the entire console is outlined by ambient light strips.
And then, it’s all framed by chrome accents and quilted aluminum panels on the dash and door panels, giving an overall clean look and refined feel.
You Can Spend More Money on the Kia Sorento, but Why?
Our test model came pretty nicely equipped, featuring all the things I’ve mentioned so far, for $38K. But buyers can upgrade to the non-hybrid SX ($37K), Prestige (starting at $40K), or X Line (on the way soon) adventure model and upgrade to a 281 HP engine and 20” wheels and to add things like black gloss exterior details, additional paint choices, leather seats and a premium Bose sound system. Even with the added price and features, the Sorento is one of the best priced 3 row SUVs on the market.
Of course, you can spend less on the Sorento Hybrid; we test drove the EX trim, but it also comes in an S trim, which starts at $33,590; add the same Runway Red color ($445) and destination charge of $1,170, and the total comes to $35,205. You’ll still get the center row captains chairs, leatherette seating and panoramic sunroof, but you’ll miss out on the wireless phone charger, adjustable motion activated tail gate, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, a few of the advanced safety features. It’s really still a very good deal.
What We Loved
- All the features for $38,000
- wireless phone charger
- The new look to the front end
- The panoramic sun roof
- White leatherette seating
- Smart trunk, which opens when you stand behind it with the key in your pocket or purse
- Multiple drive modes — I spent a lot of time in sport mode, and my fuel economy showed it
- A USB port for every seat, plus a couple: 3 up front, 3 in the center row ( one under the climate control and one in each seat back) and 2 in the third row
- Square cup holders in the rear door panels designed for oversized water bottles
- Easy to configure center row seats that slide and fold flat; button-controlled from the cargo area
- Hybrid MPG of up to 37 combined — if you stay out of sport mode
- Standard safety and driver assist systems including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assist and collision avoidance
- Surround view camera system
- A rear seat reminder will tell you to look in the back seat before locking the car
- A year of UVO connected services which includes last mile navigation: using the UVO app you can park and get walking directions to your destination
What You Need to Know
- All wheel drive isn’t yet available but will be soon
- Sorento Hybrid has its own array of paint colors which are not the same as the 4-cylinder models, and ironically, green is not one of them
- Regular gas is recommended
- Estimated fuel economy is estimated at 39 MPG city/35 MPG highway for 37 combined; I averaged in the low 30s, but like I said, sport mode is too tempting!
- Space behind the third row is very tight, but split folding seats and roof rails offer more cargo capacity
- The third row is best for smaller passengers; I climbed into the back easily and had plenty of headroom, but legroom is tight
- Captains chairs are standard on all but the two lowest trim level models; if you need a center row bench seat, look at this carefully
I really loved my time in the Sorento Hybrid. I like how quiet it is, how little gas it used, and when I wanted to, sport mode for a little more fun. I also really loved the interior; it has a lot of great style and flexibility at an affordable price. Probably the thing I love most, though, are the standard captains chairs in the Hybrid models. These seats are gold for drivers with kids and dogs who need their own space. And, I really love the price and all you get for it. This one is hard to beat.
What We Listened to in the Kia Sorento Hybrid SUV
A great soundtrack is always in order and this one sounds great in the Kia Sorento Hybrid, whether you’re alone or with a group. And if you need something to drown out the clatter from the back seat, well, all the better.
Disclosure: Kia provided the Sorento Hybrid for this test drive; the fun was all my own.