Behind the Wheel

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid Review: The Dodge Journey of three-row hybrid crossovers

The Kia Sorento Hybrid offers a lot to like for families looking to save on fuel.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The redesigned Kia Sorento looks good. Kia has given the three-row SUV new life, not as a substitute for the Telluride SUV but instead as its own crossover, with plenty of differences to give them their own identity.

The 2021 Sorento comes in two variants, the Sorento and Sorento Hybrid. Each is offered in its own set of trim levels. The Sorento base model is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine that delivers 191 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. Higher grades get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated at 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque.

Sorento Hybrid comes in two trim leaves, S and EX. Both are powered by the company's turbocharged 1.6-liter hybrid powertrain that offers up 177 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV prioritizes fuel efficiency over performance, an important distinction that sets the Sorento Hybrid apart from other hybrid variants, including the Toyota RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid that delivers an energetic boost to the RAV4 lineup.

2021 Kia Sorento HybridThe Sorento Hybrid is the type of vehicle that can get you to a trailhead, but isn't built to go beyond that.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The power output is fine if you plan on sticking to in-town driving and aren't looking to load up the Sorento Hybrid for a long road trip. In the default Eco drive mode, the car responds to the throttle the most comfortably. Under traditional and harder acceleration, the Sorento Hyrbid's powertrain is noisy and ill-mannered. It's almost like the SUV is telling you, "I'm built for efficiency, not speed". Message received.

Kia's done a good job making the Sorento agile and it drives nicely and makes for a pleasant daily runaround. Unlike what Toyota has done with the Highlander, all-wheel drive is not available on the Sorento Hybrid.

The 2021 Sorento Hybrid comes standard as a six-seater with captain's chairs in the second row. The seats, leatherette in the upmarket trim level, are comfortable enough. There's a decent amount of cargo space with the third row erect or stowed.

2021 Kia Sorento HybridThe cabin of the Sorento Hybrid is plush enough for its price point.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The well-thought out cabin design delvers exactly what customers need and in the EX trim level, the car's appointments are near-premium. The SUV has the usual list of standard and available features, but nothing is too fancy: Bluetooth, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice recognition, satellite radio, push button start, keyless entry, a rearview camera, wireless smartphone charger. Nothing looks, feels, or operates like it's cutting edge, but it doesn't have to - this isn't a luxury vehicle.

There is one very nice design touch in the cabin. On either side of the infotainment touch screen are vents that service the front row of the auto. Their output is divided into two each with the bottom vent able to serve the midsection of front passengers' bodies while the upper part goes higher. More automakers should design vents this way.

The Hybrid EX model that was delivered for testing had its lane keeping and centering system not as honed in on lane lines as is optimal, which resulted in crossing over the lines without any alert going off or corrective action being taken by the vehicle's computer.

2021 Kia Sorento HybridCargo space is always tight in three-row SUVs, but Kia has given the Sorento a good balance between cargo space and third-row legroom.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid starts at $33,590. That's a thousand-and-a-half over the starting price of the Telluride and $4,000 more than the traditional 2021 Sorento.

There are currently only two other three-row hybrid SUVs on the market, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the Ford Expedition Hybrid. The three models and their varied price tags and third-row layouts service very different customers but they generally all get lumped together. The Sorento Hybrid is, by far, the lowest priced model of the three, and it feels like it when you're inside. There's nothing wrong with that. Dodge sold a lot of Journeys despite the fact that it wasn't the best or most expensive SUV out there.

Think of the Kia Sorento Hybrid as the Dodge Journey of three-row hybrid crossovers and you won't be disappointed.

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The Hyundai Palisade got a mild refresh for 2023.

Hyundai

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced changes to the Palisade for 2023. The list includes a new front fascia, an updated grille with new headlights and daytime running lights, a 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more. A new XRT trim joined the lineup as well, bringing brawny off-road styling and dar exterior trim. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the SUV, which starts at a little more than $32,000.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeA new XRT trim adds rugged styling. Hyundai

The Palisade's powertrain carries over from 2022, which includes a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. Inside, the SUV got several new and updated technology features, including a more powerful wireless device charging pad, an updated digital key system, and a larger infotainment display.

As Hyundai's flagship SUV, the Palisade edges on luxury territory, with plush leather upholstery and a serene cabin that offers excellent noise cancellation and comfort. Captain's chairs and seven-passenger seating are available, but a second-row bench comes standard and brings eight-passenger capacity to the SUV.

Muscular SUVs are more popular than ever before, so Hyundai gave the posh Palisade an outdoorsy treatment with its XRT trim. The new Palisade XRT builds on the SEL trim with 20-inch wheels, a more rugged bumper and lower body cladding, a sunroof, and leatherette upholstery. To be clear, XRT is an appearance package that does not improve off-road capability to a large degree.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeTop trims border on the quality and design of some luxury brands. Hyundai

Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes forward collision warnings with avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Pricing for the base Palisade SE starts at $36,245, which includes a $1,295 destination charge. The top Calligraphy AWD model starts at $52,095 after destination. All-wheel drive is available for all trims as an added-cost option.

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The N Line forms a midpoint between the standard Kona and the Kona N.

Hyundai

Hyundai has a lot going on, with new EVs hitting the market, but the brand has been on a surprising run with performance models lately. The Veloster N is an excellent, rowdy hot hatch, and the brand followed that act with the Kona N and Elantra N. Hyundai’s Kona N takes the hot hatch formula to the next level with an incredible powertrain and useful space, but it’s too much for many people. The mid-point is Hyundai’s N Line, which borrows styling cues from the hottest N variants but lacks the all-out grunt of those vehicles.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe N Line gets aggressive styling cues from its sportier N counterpart. Hyundai

The styling works for the Kona N Line, as it does with the Kona N, but the powertrains couldn’t be more different. Where the Kona N gets a 286-horsepower four-cylinder, the N Line comes with a milder turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 195 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which adds a layer of engagement not found in the continuously variable transmission that standard Kona models get.

That modest output lends the Kona N Line modest performance, with more noise generated than expected. In motion, the powertrain feels decently responsive, but it lacks the razor sharp nerves of steel that the Kona N brings. Shifting into sport mode changes the gauge cluster to a bright red and hastens the vehicle's responses, but again, it's important to temper expectations for a milder experience here.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe digital gauge cluster responds to drive mode changes. Hyundai

Styling is more aggressive than the standard SUV, with 18-inch wheels and mean-looking exhaust tips. The Kona’s front-end design is still busy and will still be polarizing, but the dark trim and sporty aero bodywork help the situation. The N Line’s all-black interior gets red stitching and accents that help break up the otherwise monotonous color scheme. The seats are supportive and comfortable, but could be deeper for better body-holding during spirited driving sessions. There’s plenty of room up front and a surprising amount of space in back, aided by the Kona’s large-ish rear door openings. Parents will find an easy time loading kids, and older children can ride in relative luxury with plenty of legroom.

A 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is standard, which offers configurable colors and legible information. It’s paired with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, but a 102.5-inch screen with navigation is available. Hyundai’s excellent infotainment software runs flawlessly on both units, and offers an intuitive and straightforward way to interact with the vehicle. A Harman Kardon eight-speaker stereo also comes standard.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineRed accents liven what is otherwise a dark, monotone interior.Hyundai

The Kona N Line, while not as hot as the Kona N, offers a reasonable styling upgrade for people wanting a small SUV with sporty looks. Enthusiasts should look at the full-on N model for thrills, though, because the N Line should be viewed as more of an appearance package than a performance model.

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