2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid First Drive Review | Happy medium

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid First Drive Review | Happy medium

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Various versions of the Kia Sorento have come through the Autoblog fleet a few times now, and while they haven't been mind-blowing in any particular way, they offer an appealing blend of generally good features and pricing to make it a "just right" SUV for a lot of people. It's an SUV with a lot of variety not just in trim levels, but in powertrains. So is there a "just right" version of the "just right" SUV? Yes, there is, and it's the 2021 Kia Sorento HEV (and the just-arriving 2022 model), which finds a happy medium in the lineup, and even the broader SUV market in regards to pricing, driving experience and fuel economy that make it a must-see for buyers.


A quick note, this review will focus primarily on the Sorento hybrid's powertrain and how it relates to the driving experience. For additional information on all the other aspects, check out our comprehensive 2022 Kia Sorento review.

What mainly differentiates the Sorento HEV is, of course, its hybrid powertrain. It combines a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor. Combined output comes to 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission and your choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Those numbers put it smack dab between the 191-horsepower base Sorento, and the 281-horsepower turbo inline-four fitted to all the previous Sorentos we've tested. The HEV is also more powerful than any of the smaller two-row hybrids such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota's RAV4 and Venza, though a bit less than the larger three-row Toyota Highlander Hybrid. There's also the Ford Explorer Hybrid, but it's exclusive to pricey upper trim levels and oddly prioritizes performance at the expense of fuel economy.

Though the Sorento hybrid is in the middle of its non-electrified siblings for power, its fuel economy is unquestionably superior. The front-wheel-drive version is the most frugal with 37 mpg combined, and all-wheel drive drops the rating to 35 mpg. That's a roughly 10 mpg improvement over any of the other Sorento models, and could save you as much as $650 per year on fuel, according to the EPA. It is slightly behind the smaller hybrid competition, which range from 38 to 41 mpg (CR-V and Ford Escape), but is right on par with the Highlander Hybrid, and about 10 mpg ahead of the Ford Explorer.

As for the actual driving experience, the turbo hybrid engine is lovely in just about all daily driving situations. When setting off from a light, you'll find that the hybrid system eliminates the usual delay that results from an auto start/stop system restarting the engine. The electric motor gets you going the moment you press the throttle pedal and when the engine does kick in, it does so extremely quietly and smoothly.

Around town, the Sorento hybrid is relaxed and happy. You barely have to use any revs to zip around thanks to the one-two torque punch of electric motor and turbo engine. It's also very quiet and the electric assistance helps with responsiveness. We also appreciate Kia's use of a traditional six-speed automatic in its hybrid powertrains since it results in more "normal" acceleration featuring a build up of revs followed by gear changes. This avoids the droning and unusual revving of the usual hybrid e-CVT.