As Kia’s best-selling SUV, the 2021 Sonata enters its fourth generation with a hybrid vehicle that is lighter, stronger, bigger and flush with new technology features. The hybrid versions can claim the prize for gettingthe industry’s best mileage for a three-row SUV.
The hybrid upgrade combines luxury, space and fuel economy as it battles the big hybrid rivals like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota Venza. None of these rivals offer a third row but all have all-wheel-drive, unavailable in the front-wheel-only Sonata hybrid.
Our test drive was the Sorento Hybrid EX, top trim with features not in the base E hybrid. We added one option – which was $445 for Runway Red Paint.
With unique five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, a large wraparound grille above a protruding air dam, a steady beltline with chrome window surround, roof rails and rear window spoiler, Sorento has head-turning appeal.
Handling for the hybrid model for the test drive was improved, helped by a 4% increase in tensile strength and weight reduction of 3%, and a smooth ride over road imperfections with front McPherson strut and multilink rear suspension.
While not peppy (zero to 60 mph in about 8 seconds), manual steering wheel mounted paddles help boost speed when needed in Sport, Smart or Eco drive mode.
Kia cites 16 standard and typical driver-assistance systems, including driver attention warning, surround parking sensors and safe exit alert if it detects traffic coming when a door is opened.
Our cabin showcased an upscale vibe with three rows of dual, comfortable, SkynTex covered captain chairs with easy folding second and third rows for access to create ample cargo area for heavy-duty home projects.
The headliner and glove compartment are felt-lined, and chrome accents, some quilt stamped, meshed with our gray and white color theme. Front seats for the test model were heated.
The 8-inch color touchscreen in the center of the dash is easy to use and underneath is a tray with USB outlets (available in all three rows) and wireless phone charging.
We did not have a navigation system but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and can be accessed for maps and directions with a smartphone. Towing is rated at 2,000 pounds, less than the 3,500 capability in most competitors. Sorento has 6.9 inches of ground clearance and is not an off-roader. There is a spare tire; visors fully extend.
A plug-in hybrid is scheduled for 2022. Those eschewing the hybrids can choose from LX, S, EX, SX and SX-Prestige with FWD or AWD.
At a Glance
LIKES: Looks, mileage, standard technology, safety aids, ride, handling, price
DISLIKES: No AWD option, no standard navigation
BOTTOM LINE: Popularity will increase among those who don’t need towing power or all-wheel drive
Fact File: 2021 Sorento Hybrid Ex
1.6-liter, 4-cylinder, turbo w/GDI Hybrid powertrain
227 hp at 5,500 rpm (combined)
258 ft.-lbs. at 1,500-4,500 rpm (combined)
6-speed automatic w/paddles
39 mpg city/35 mpg highway
17.7-gallon, regular fuel
0 to 60 in just under 8 seconds
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Tom Crosby has written more than 1,000 automotive reviews and is a retired Vice President of Communications for AAA Carolinas. He has seen dramatic changes in the automotive industry over the past 25 years and ponders the advent of self-driving vehicles, electric-only vehicles, sophisticated in-car telematics, and the financial challenges facing automotive manufacturers in an increasingly congested worldwide market.