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GETTING MORE THAN JUST A CROSSOVER: 2021 KIA SORENTO HYBRID

Remember when hybrid technology was sought as a despaired impression? It’s amazing what 20 years of advancements has brought us. However, even still, some automotive brands still can’t quite pin down the inimitable technique hybrid systems required to extract both a pleasant driving experience with fuel saving consumption.

Kia on the other hand, is not one of those brands.

With the Kia Sorento being completely new for 2021 from the ground up, Kia felt their mid-size crossover was over-due for a dip into the hybrid waters. Already competing in an abnormal segment, the Sorento isn’t quite big enough to take on the larger three-row family haulers like the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer or Chevrolet Traverse. And as such sits more in the competitive eyes of the Chevrolet Blazer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. This is where the Sorento sort of plays an upper-ish hand – none of those mid-size crossovers offer a third-row seat or a hybrid option, granted there’s a reason why. And for hybrid alternatives of similar size, the Toyota Venza Hybrid is the closet in comparison – but the Venza should see the Sorento Hybrid as a threat… a huge threat.

Focusing our attentions towards the hybrid variations of the all-new Sorento, we’ll try and stay on topic since a more powerful, gasoline version is coming down our review pipeline in the coming weeks. Or should you be reading this beyond a few weeks, we’re sure a hyperlink will be added to guide you in that direction. As for the hybrid, it is offered in only two trims, S and EX – both are front-wheel drive only paired with a 1.6-turbocharged gas engine, a suite of electric motors and a 6-speed automatic transmission. A bit unconventional from the usual CVT’s hybrids, but that’s a very good thing.

The Sorento feels like a first of sorts, it feels as if it’s the first to get this whole hybrid thing right. Which is odd considering they really didn’t do anything too different from other brands. With a handsomely sized 1.5-kWh lithium battery on board, there is some clever engineering behind its can-do attitude. Like most hybrids, the battery isn’t large enough to drive the Sorento more than half a mile on a charge unless it’s at low speeds; under 25-mph. Acknowledging that kind of foresight, Kia nicked the option for the driver to manually put the hybrid system into EV mode.

Most importantly, what Kid did to the Sorento was give it a powerful gift… a 227-horsepower kind of gift. Now that may not sound like a whole lot of power from a three-rower, but combining forces from the 177-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo-four engine, 60-horsepower from the electric motor generator and 195 lbs-ft of torque from both applications makes this ute quite the energizer bunny. Granted, taking 8.0-second to 60-mph isn’t exactly the go-go-gadget, but their combined forces is rather intriguing. Where most hybrids work side-by-side together, the Sorento deviates the job to where each provider works best. With electric torque giving the initial boost, the turbocharged engine picks up where the electric weens off. Continuing to pick up the slack however, the electric motor chimes in quite often when the demand of the turbo-engine isn’t necessary – that’s when, cruising at 80-mph, we notice the Sorento will enter EV mode.

Drivability, like most crossovers is about as entertaining as watching a washing machine through the glass lid – then again we’re not driving a Porsche either. The steering is subjective to a lively encounter and the suspension is about as smooth as you can get that makes the road awareness forgettable. But when it comes to the 38-mpg’s of fuel economy, that at least continues to leave an everlasting impression.

With the hybrid being only available in two trims, the Sorento Hybrid S starts at $33,590 and for that you get all the comfort creatures one expects from a mid-thirties’ suburban crossover. The EX Hybrid on the other hand, with its $3000 premium features upgraded comfort and tech to include options like the panoramic sunroof, blind spot monitoring with active lane change emergency assist, a power lift tailgate, power driver seat, wireless phone charger and the advance smart cruise control that is full adaptive with stop and go traffic.

Inside, the Sorento is a nice place to be. The interior is handsome with a rugged persona – the extra little details of rigid indents add a nice 3D touch to the dash and door panels. Everything has a place and that place has a purpose – all the features are well within reach of the driver and passenger and the 8-inch touch screen infotainment system doesn’t reflect the feeling that we didn’t upgrade for the more expensive model. The Sorento brings in added tech as well with wireless Apple CarPlay and integrated USB ports into the front seats for rear passengers. Even the third row is easy to access with a spring action second-row seat that make quite access a breeze.

Now with Kia being new to this three-row hybrid crossover territory, there is a small drawback that needs a little tweaking. For instance, the hybrid system doesn’t do rolling stops very well – when coming to a stop the electric motor engages into EV mode; however, when the accelerator gets pushed as if we’re in a hurry, the turbo-engine takes its sweet time coming back to life, as if we caught it on its coffee break.

Sitting at an odd place in the crossover segment, the Sorento is a unique breed. The targeted consumers of similarly sized crossovers like the Honda Passport, Ford Edge and Chevrolet Blazer are for those that don’t necessarily need a third-row. But as we also think, its nice to have a back-up, just in case. With the Sorento Hybrid, we applaud the idea that a automaker managed to nail the execution of a hybrid system allows a three-row crossover to achieve nearly 40-mpg’s.

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: 2021 Kia Sorento EX Hybrid
Base Price: $33,590
As-Tested Price: $38,205

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 1.6-liter Turbocharged Four-Cylinder Hybrid
HP | Torque: 227-HP |258 lb-ft of Torque
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
MPG: 39 | 35| 37 (City | Highway | Combined)
As-Tested MPG: 38.0-MPG City (Highway MPG testing is currently suspended due to high fuel prices)
Fuel Range: 550 miles
0-60 MPH: ±8.0 seconds

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