2020 Kia Sorento review: sharp styling and hybrid power make this one of the best big SUVs out there

Alex Robbins
·13 min read
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

If there’s one thing you don’t usually expect to find in a big, sensible, seven-seat SUV, it’s a sense of humour. Yet tune the Kia Sorento’s radio to the AM band, and you’ll find just such a thing, as the screen lights up with a simulation of four old-fashioned radio tubes, each displaying an individual number that, together, read out the frequency. 

They call this sort of thing “surprise-and-delight” in the industry, and given so many of these big SUVs are remarkably po-faced – the previous-generation Sorento among them – it does indeed come as both a surprise and a delight to find such things here. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

Nice though they are, however, these touches are hardly the making of an SUV like this one. No, to succeed, this all-new, fourth-generation Sorento will have to cut it in matters of substance, rather than just superficial style. More to the point, it’ll have to fight off tough competition from the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008 – cars which, at the moment, are probably the best of their kind.

To the party, however, the Sorento brings a new full hybrid petrol engine that promises gutsy power as well as reasonably parsimonious fuel consumption. There is, of course, Kia’s trademark seven-year warranty too. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

On paper, then, the Sorento knows how to get serious when it needs to. But is it any good in the flesh? Read on to find out – and don’t forget to register or login to see our decisive verdict.

Pros Spacious interior; Properly usable third row of seats; Smart dashboard

Cons Not that sporty to drive; Engines a little noisy; Expensive to buy

Under the skin

The Sorento range is mercifully limited, so it’s easy to work out which one you want. You get the choice of two engines – one petrol hybrid, one diesel. The latter is a 2.2-litre – the same capacity as you’d have found in the old Sorento, but it is in fact a completely new engine; on a brief drive, we found it to be gutsy, responsive and reasonably smooth, if a little boomy when accelerating. 

It’s the hybrid engine fitted to our test car in which we’re most interested. It’s based around a 1.6-litre turbo, which is again a new engine and unrelated to the 1.6 turbo you’ll find in the Kia Ceed GT

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

To this has been added a 1.49kWh battery and an electric motor good for a fairly thumping 59bhp on its own, and that’s enough to bring the total capacity of the whole shebang to a very healthy 227bhp. 

There are three versions to choose from, simply called 2, 3 and 4 – we didn’t ask what had happened to the 1, but presumably it’s too basic for UK tastes. 

The 2 is pretty well equipped for an entry-level model, mind you, with heated seats, LED headlights, a reversing camera and an eight-inch touchscreen all coming as standard. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too, though there’s no native sat-nav function, so if you’re not au fait with using a sat nav app on your phone (or you don’t want to pay extra for all the data one will use) you might want to upgrade to the 3, which gets sat nav as standard.

This also brings a lovely widescreen central display, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, a powered bootlid and ambient lighting. Top-of-the-range 4, meanwhile, is positively dripping with extras – ventilated front seats, a Bose sound system, and a panoramic roof all come as standard, for example. 

Ease-of-use

That entertainment system, by the way, is one of the best out there, 3 and 4 spec cars get vivid blue-purple icons, fancy graphics and that whimsical AM radio display; the 2 spec car we’re testing here has a smaller screen that’s less snazzy, but it still works very well, with quick responses, easy to understand menus and clear labeling. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

The rest of the dashboard is just as easy to use. Big, clearly labelled buttons adjust the climate control – rather than the de rigeur touchscreens, which is a blessed relief. 

Meanwhile, the standard virtual dials are, for the most part, clear and easy to read; the central information display does feel a little cramped at times, as it struggles to display all the information you need at the same time. But key information like your speed and energy use is all there at a glance. You can opt for a variety of different skins, too, one of which shows clear digital readouts backed by a rather fetching vista of fields and blue skies. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

What about the rest of the car? Well, the Sorento is a relatively easy thing to drive, with light controls and an automatic gearbox as standard. It is a fairly sizable car, mind you, and visibility isn’t quite as good as the best rivals. 

Around town, the Sorento will be running on electric the majority of the time, so there’s no engine noise whatsoever. You can tell when the petrol engine kicks in, though, and if you accelerate hard enough that the gearbox has to change down, you’ll hear the engine raise its voice, at which point it becomes a little coarse, though thankfully not to the point of irritation. 

Size and space

The Sorento is a big car – larger than the Kodiaq and 5008, as well as similar rivals like the Toyota RAV4 and Land Rover Discovery Sport; about the same size as a Ford Edge, but smaller than a BMW X5 or Audi Q7.

It’s to its credit, then, that it feels as big inside as either of those latter two cars. That makes it more manageable around town and easier to park, though quid pro quo, you might find it a touch more cumbersome than some of its smaller rivals.

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

You get seven seats as standard, and all of them are commendably usable. The middle row splits, folds, reclines and slides back and forth in 60/40 formation, making it a touch less flexible than the three individual seats you get in a Peugeot 5008, but still extremely versatile.

There’s loads of space in the middle row, too; enough that you can still use them even when they’re slid forward to improve space in the rearmost seats. As a result, you can set the interior up to provide enough space to seat seven full-grown adults. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

Those in the third row will feel a little cramped, but far less so than they will in most rivals. They even get separate air conditioning controls and face vents – a luxury not afforded to the rearmost passengers in most seven-seaters. 

What’s more, there are USB plugs everywhere – even in that third row – so nobody will feel short-changed because they can’t charge up their phone or tablet.

Up front, as you’d expect, there’s plenty of space too; what’s more, there are cubbies everywhere, all well designed for storing your odds and ends securely. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

Pounds and pence

Even this entry-level Sorento is pretty expensive to buy – and it’s the only model that falls below the £40,000 threshold for 'premium' car tax in years 2-6. 

That said, compare it like-for-like with its mainstream rivals, and it isn’t quite as extortionate as it might at first seem. For example, to spec a Skoda Kodiaq up to a similar level of equipment, with four-wheel drive, an automatic gearbox and seven seats, you’d have to pay almost as much; even then, you don’t get as powerful an engine or quite as much space.

To put it another way, the Sorento looks expensive only because it lacks a more affordable version that does away with four-wheel drive, or loses some of the toys. What’s more, compare it with premium-badged rivals like the Land Rover Discovery Sport, and it starts to look a bit of a bargain.

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

The combined WLTP figure of 40.9mpg is considerably better than most petrol rivals, and almost as good as most four-wheel-drive diesel options, although - of course - two-wheel-drive diesel rivals get much better fuel efficiency. 

The Sorento’s projected resale values are good, too, which should mean you’ll see a decent chunk of money back when the time comes to trade it in. And Kia’s whopping warranty and good reliability record mean the Sorento shouldn’t let you down. You get a proper space saver spare wheel as standard, too, rather than the can of tyre gunk you’d usually find. 

What’s more, its low CO2 emissions make it look like a smart choice as a company car, especially when you consider how much you’re getting. Again, though, if two-wheel drive works for you, there are other options out there that’ll cost you even less.

Out and about

Let’s start with the bad stuff. For all the press pack’s blurb about the sportier styling, this is not a car you expect to be particularly agile, and so it goes out on the road. Trying to hustle the Sorento along like a sports car is a fool’s errand. Granted, it’ll change direction when you ask it to, but it does so grudgingly, with the big, heavy body leaning over and trying to push on ahead, straining at the grip of the front tyres.

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

That said, driven more calmly, the Sorento feels absolutely fine, for there is plenty of grip and, up to a point, the body stays pretty stable and composed. For sure, there’s not much feel from the steering, and it’s a bit on the light side, but not excessively so. When you really need it to be – for example, in an emergency manoeuvre – the Sorento is more than competent enough.

It rides pretty well, too. If you were really being picky, you might single out the way it clunks a bit over the sharpest bumps, but unless you’ve got a really sensitive backside, you probably won’t notice. The majority of the time, the Sorento does a good job of smoothing out bumps without resorting to the sort of queasy waft you get with some softly-sprung SUVs.

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

It never feels quite as punchy as its power figures suggest, and the slightly dim-witted automatic gearbox further takes the edge off performance. But for the most part, there’s enough grunt to keep up with traffic, and accelerating up to motorway speeds never feels like a strain. 

Once you’re up to speed, too, the Sorento is pretty good – there’s a bit more tyre noise than you might like, but for the most part it’s a calm, collected and very capable cruiser. 

The feel-good factor

Long gone are the days when Kia SUVs were the automotive equivalents of white goods. This latest Sorento is arguably just as stylish as any of its mainstream rivals – perhaps even more so than some, with some eye-catching details and a rakish silhouette.

It’s handsome inside, too. Granted, some of the materials aren’t quite as upmarket as you’d find in, say, a Land Rover or BMW, but for the most part it looks great, feels good, and has the sort of robust build quality that makes you confident it’ll last. 

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

Is it likeable? Well, whimsical touches like that AM radio display do make the Sorento feel a bit less straight-laced than most SUVs, and its general air of competence and comfort is satisfying too. So while it won’t exactly make you grin with joy like a hot hatch, there’s enough here to make you look back at the Sorento with fondness when you leave it. 

The Telegraph verdict

This new Sorento isn’t the most dynamic SUV out there. But that’s OK, because it doesn’t really need to be. What it does need to get right, however, it gets very right indeed.

Unlike many other seven-seat SUVs, it doesn’t make those in the rearmost row feel like second-class citizens. What’s more, this new hybrid powertrain teams diesel-style fuel economy and CO2 emissions with petrol smoothness, and the suspension is well-judged, keeping the ride quality comfortable without compromising body control too much.

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid
Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

Kia’s reliability reputation and whopping warranty, and that standard spare wheel, bring peace of mind, too. In fact, the only real black mark on the Kia’s card is the lack of a cheaper two-wheel-drive option for buyers or company car drivers who don’t need all four wheels driven.

That said, while you might have to fork out a bit more for a Sorento, you do at least get what you pay for. Indeed, what with those extra surprise-and-delight touches on top, you get a little more besides. It isn’t just big, then, this Sorento; it’s also rather clever – and if you’re after a seven-seat SUV, it should probably be on your shortlist. 

Telegraph Rating: Four out of five

The Facts

On test: Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid 2

How much? £38,845 on the road

How fast? 119mph, 0-62mph in 8.7sec

How economical? 40.9mpg (WLTP Combined)

The oily bits: 1,598cc four-cylinder petrol engine, 227bhp (total combined output), six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

The electric bits: Electric motor with 1.49kWh battery, no plug-in charging

Electric range: n/a miles

CO2 emissions: 158g/km

VED:  £540 first year, then £140/year

Warranty: 7 years / unlimited miles (capped at 100,000 miles after three years)

Boot size: 608 litres

Spare wheel as standard: Yes

The Rivals

Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 150 SE L DSG 4x4: 148bhp, 45.6mpg, £36,225 on the road

It’s a little dull, but if you can live with that, the Kodiaq is incredibly good at what it sets out to do. This diesel version is even more economical than the hybrid Sorento, too, and it also comes with more toys, despite costing less to buy. However, it isn’t as spacious inside, and with only 148bhp to play with, it’s nowhere near as powerful, either. 

Peugeot 5008 2.0 BlueHDI 180 Allure EAT8: 178bhp, 47.3mpg, £38,105 on the road

The 5008 is probably the best mainstream seven-seat SUV out there at the moment, with a slick interior, punchy engines, loads of toys, and the most versatile interior out there. You don’t get four-wheel drive as an option – but if you don’t need it, this is a great alternative. 

Land Rover Discovery Sport D200 MHEV S: 204bhp, 41.3mpg, £40,380 on the road

Its classier interior and beautiful ride might tempt you into the Discovery Sport, but it isn’t cheap, and despite having a new mild hybrid diesel, neither is it any more economical than the petrol hybrid Kia. It’s also less spacious and less versatile, despite costing more – though it’ll also hold its value better.