2021 Kia Sorento – A Hybrid with High Mileage, and High Praise

A Winter Story, a Runway Red 2021 Kia Sorento EX HEV

A few days before the 2020 Christmas holidays, of the year everyone wants to forget, the local fleet management company dropped off a special present. A 2021 Kia Sorento EX HEV, for a two day drive experience.  Even in those two days, this vehicle became a present that put a smile on my face for a long time to come.  As 2020 had become a year where in person automotive experiences for us had been put on hold, Kia dreamed up a way for folks like myself to experience the all-new Sorento, which included a nice take-out dinner from a restaurant.

The Sorento nameplate is not new, it has been an SUV in the Kia line up since 2002.  Now it is all new build as a mid-sized 3-row SUV and with a hybrid option, it gets 37 mpg. I topped out just under that, as I did not get to really put too many miles on it in a day of driving.

Engine and Performance

Four different GDI Gasoline powertrains on the all-new Kia Sorento,
Four different GDI Gasoline powertrains on the all-new Kia Sorento,

The all-new Sorento has 4 separate power train options:

  • 2.5 Liter GDI Gasoline engine with an 8-speed transmission.
  • 2.5 Liter Turbocharged GDI Gasoline engine with a wet-clutch transmission.
  • 1.6 Liter Turbocharged GDI Gasoline powered Hybrid with a 6-speed transmission.
  • 1.6 Liter Turbocharged GDI Plug-in hybrid, with a 6-speed transmission.
2021 Kia Sorento 1.6- liter Turbocharged Hybrid Engine
2021 Kia Sorento 1.6- liter Turbocharged Hybrid Engine

The 1.6-L turbo hybrid model I was driving was the I had concerns that with the small engine, and the added weight of the batteries that it would become winded quickly. That was a very wrong assumption, as the turbo made power a breeze. and the real transmission, not a CVT provided a fluid flow of power.  On the highway, or when driving city streets or local roads, this hybrid reacted quickly with smooth delivery of power without intrusion of noise or jerkiness that one might expect.  – The nice thing about this hybrid is that it runs on pure EV power when it needs to, which is nice in slow environments like parking lots and city streets.

What I did not Expect

Was the number of standard safety features, one, the rear cross traffic alert, which kicked in when backing out of several busy holiday shopping parking lots. The Sorento was aware of traffic coming from beside me, and not only beeped, but provided a haptic feedback on the wheel, and I am sure my seat.  And not just a gentle one, but not harsh either. Very helpful in today’s busy parking lots, it also applies the brakes. Looking at the Rear Camera there it was another car rolling behind me.

2021 Kia Sorento second-row captains chairs with fold-down armrests
2021 Kia Sorento second-row captains chairs with fold-down armrests

Second-row captain’s chairs or basically an additional set of bucket seats for the back seat passengers.  With fold down armrests are quite comfortable.  Most mid-size SUV’s have a bench rear seat, which is fine, though basic. If you are on a road trip, it is nice to have that extra space in the middle for the dog to lie down, a cooler, or in some cases for someone with long legs in the 3-row to stretch out.  Yes, a third ROW seat in a mid-sized SUV.  And there is still a bit of cargo space left behind that third row.


The driver’s cockpit and front seat passenger area have a clean tailored look, largely because the unified driver gauge cluster and the center display are one long continuous unit. Though it does look as if it was just pushed in under the driver’s display visor.

2021 Kia Sorento Cockpit
The driver’s gauge screen and the center entertainment screen are one – stretched across half of the cockpit.

while I am not a fan of the rugged looking textured accent trim on the passenger side that then continues into the door trim, it is not a deal breaker. The open pore wood grain trim, not real wood but graphics, are a design element that will stand the test of time. Large openings within the interior door releases will be useful if you are wearing gloves on or want to use more than just two fingers to grab it. It was something that stood out to me from other door handles, even within Kia’s other models. 


2021 Kia Sorento front seats
The front seats are large and comfortable in the all-new Sorento.

All seating surfaces are covered by their SynTex seat trim, Kia’s high quality perforated vinyl covering, that has a modern look, and the actual seats provided the firmness and support you would want for a longer drive.  The SynTex relates nicely to the Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel and Gear Shift knob. The driver’s seat has 10-way power-adjustability and 2-way power lumbar support, while the passenger seat is 4-way adjustable. Both seats have a heating function, but do not have a cooling option.

2021 Kia Sorento 2nd and 3rd row seats
The 50/50 third-row seat folds down, and the second-row captain’s seat folds up to access the back row.

The second-row captain’s chairs are something you will not find in midsize SUVs and remarkably similar to those in the front. Elimination of the bench seat which brings the vehicle up to 6-passenger seating. Two in the front, two middle, and 2 in the third row. The second row has arm rests and a recline function, as well as having one touch slide and fold, providing plenty of interior passenger room for the rear with the elimination of the bench (or center seat.) providing a perfect spot for a pet to ride in, or for someone in the third row to stretch their legs out. Third row is a 50/50 flip up bucket like seat that is easily put down for cargo when needed.


2021 Sorento HEV Hybrid center dash display and hide-away storage including wireless charging dock. Photo by Kia Media
2021 Sorento HEV Hybrid center dash display and hide-away storage including wireless charging dock. Photo by Kia Media
USB outlets on both sides of the 3rd row as well as a 12V outlet for the cargo area when needed.
USB outlets on both sides of the 3rd row as well as a 12V outlet for the cargo area when needed.

The Sorento has plenty of USB outlets throughout the cabin, with two located on the back of the front seats as well as the back of the center console, and one on each side of the rear third row seating area. Upfront and center is a conveniently located wireless phone charging nook. Which if you are like me, prefer it over having to remember to bring a cord to plug in. Something that is just now beginning to take hold on a variety of vehicles, but is not that commonly found is wireless connectivity. This eliminates again having the right wire to connect your various devices in connecting them to Sorento’s standard Android Auto and Apple Car Play.


There are 16 “Kia Drive Wise” Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) that are either standard or available. Depending on the trim level depends on the “available.” Though on the lowest level Sorento you get a lot on the list of standard safety features.

  • Standard Intelligent Speed Limit Assist (ISLA): Automatically changes set speed of Smart Cruise Control by using the speed limit information detected through the front camera or GPS navigation information (when activated)
  • Standard Forward Collision Warning (FCW): Designed to detect a vehicle ahead in the lane and in certain conditions, calculates distance and closing speed to issue an alert to the driver if it senses a potential frontal collision
  • Standard Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA): Builds on FCW by assisting the driver when braking to help prevent a collision or lessen the effects in certain conditions if a vehicle or object is detected in front
  • Standard FCA-Pedestrian: Builds upon FCW functionality and helps detect pedestrians in front of the vehicle and uses automatic braking to avoid or mitigate an impact
  • Standard Driver Attention Warning (DAW)13: Senses inattentive driving patterns and sends an audible/visual warning to alert the driver
  • Leading Vehicle Departure Alert (LVDA): Alerts driver with a chime when the leading vehicle begins to move forward from a standing position
  • Standard Lane Following Assist (LFA): Follows lane markings that the system detects and provides steering inputs to help maintain the vehicle in the center of the lane


  • Available new Blind Spot Collision Avoidance (BCCA) – Parallel Exit: Uses the rear-corner radar to detect a collision risk with parallel traffic when leaving a parking spot. The system applies emergency braking and cautions the driver through the cluster and an audible alarm
  • Available FCA-Cyclist: Builds on FCW functionality and helps detect cyclists in front of the vehicle and uses automatic braking to avoid or mitigate an impact
  • Available Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist (BCA): Under certain conditions, can detect vehicles traveling in the next lane. When a vehicle is “seen” in the blind spot, the vehicle brakes the outer wheel under certain conditions to help return the vehicle to its lane
  • Available Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCCA): Helps detect most approaching cross traffic when in reverse. When approaching cross traffic is detected, the system alerts the driver and applies brakes
  • Available Parking Distance Warning-Reverse (PDW-R): Detects certain objects behind the vehicle, issuing an audible warning when an obstruction is detected. The warning tone chimes faster as the vehicle gets closer to the detected object
  • Available Parking Collision Avoidance Assist (PCA-R): Uses rear view camera and rear ultrasonic sensors to help detect most pedestrians or nearby obstacles when the vehicle backs out of a parking spot, warning drivers with a chime and can engage brakes to prevent a collision
  • Available Navigation Based Smart Cruise Control-Curve (NSCC-C): leverages the navigation system to lower the vehicle’s speed proactively before upcoming curves
  • Available Highway Driving Assist (HDA)14: Uses federal highway speed limit information from the navigation system and, under certain conditions, will automatically adjust speed to be within the posted speed limit and maintain distance with the vehicle detected in front
  • Available Safe Exist Assist (SEA)15: Can alert the driver or passengers opening their door not to exit the vehicle when the system detects approaching traffic. When detected, a chime sounds. The system can intervene to lock the rear doors when the vehicle is equipped with available Power Child Lock

Power Plant

2021 Kia Sorento 1.6- liter Turbocharged Hybrid Engine
2021 Kia Sorento 1.6- liter Turbocharged Hybrid Engine

This Sorento, an HEV, or Hybrid Electric Vehicle is powered by a 1.6- liter turbocharged gasoline engine connected to a hybrid and six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. With plenty of power, right when you want or need it. With 42 additional horsepower it is the most powerful hybrid in its class, with 227-horsepower with an estimated 37 MPG combined. The upcoming Plug-in Hybrid option will feature 261 horsepower and an estimated 30 miles of pure electric driving range. We experienced 35 mpg in our one day of driving. But did notice an immediate increase from city driving once we were out on the highway, where the MPG’s shot up quickly. Leading me to believe if you are on a long trip, you will experience excellent fuel economy for this mid-size SUV.

My experience was that it was not as jerky or as noisy as many hybrids. I did not hear them sawing up lumber, as you often hear when the hybrid kicks on.  The pedal response was quick quiet and efficient when needed.


Kia Sorento Left Side
Nothing fancy here, just another mid-sized SUV. Notice the chrome accents at the front and C-Pillar.

This is a classic Kia with a similarly designed front end to the rest of the Kia SUV lineup.  From the side, there is really nothing that says this is anything other than a four-door SUV Wagon. Though Kia does like to add on some goo-gahs like the metal trim piece on the front fender and a matching one on the rear window.  Which looks better on the X-Line as it is blacked out. I was not a fan of it in chrome on our vehicle, it stood out and did not have a purpose other than to stop the eye unnecessarily as you looked along the body lines.

2021 Kia Sorento Rear Hatch Filled with a six-foot ladder and tools
You can get a lot in the cargo area of the 2021 Kia Sorento, a six-foot ladder, and a bunch of tools.

Sorento’s exterior is classic slab SUV, large and solid, with good-size door opening making the vehicle easy to get in and out of. The front grill has a Kia signature look, though each of their vehicles carries an independent design, there is a strong family resemblance. The tailgate is large and provides easy access to the cargo area behind or inclusive of the 3-row seating. The vertical dashes of rear lighting right and left, almost have a Ford Mustang feel to them.

Made in Georgia USA

2021 Kia Sorento and its bigger brother the Telluride
The Kia Sorento and its bigger brother the Telluride, both made in West Point Georgia, here in the USA.

The gasoline non-hybrid versions will be made at Kia’s West Point Georgia plant, while the hybrids will be made at Kia’s Korean production facilities and shipped stateside. Availability may be like the Telluride, which is in high demand, and Kia is selling every one of them before they are even built.

Overall Experience

2021 Kia Sorento Right Front
The Kia Sorento offers a lot of value for the money

This is again, another winner from Kia. And I expect it to be the choice of many consumers, from families who need the space and comfort, but not a big payment.  To seniors who are looking for a road trip vehicle, but also want all the modern safety amenities, but not a lot of the fancy do-dads that are coming on many vehicles these days.

Would I buy this vehicle? Yes, but would probably wait for the Plug-in-hybrid version. As you know from my posts here, that I am a big fan of the Kia, Hyundai and Genesis brands of vehicles. With Kia’s reputation for quality, I expect you will see this vehicle around for a few years to come.

No doubt this vehicle will be hot seller at Kia dealers, maybe not the long wait that those who want to buy the Telluride are experiencing.  So don’t expect a lot of discounts off the top.  If you are looking for a deal, using your buying service from your credit union, Costco, or an association you belong to will be your best way to get the best price.

Words and Images by William West Hopper

The 2021 Kia Sorento at Christmas 2020 with William West Hopper.
The 2021 Kia Sorento at Christmas 2020 with William West Hopper.

Mr. Hopper is Past President of the Washington Automotive Press Association. He has been involved in automotive enthusiast groups for a number of years. Writing about cars and the people who enjoy them, producing events that celebrate mobility, as well as promoting the latest technology such as Electric Vehicles and safety technology. He provides VIP Tours at the Washington DC Auto Show each year. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


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