Kia’s compact SUV entered its fourth generation in 2021 with a complete exterior makeover, increased legroom and cargo space, and a raft of driver-assistance systems that have been made standard equipment. Four engine choices are offered in the all-new Sorento, including a new turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder hybrid. A plug-in hybrid version of the turbocharged four is being introduced in Europe but there’s no confirmation if this will be coming here to the U.S.
The 2021 Sorento is built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, which is lighter but also stronger than the outgoing version. This increases the SUV’s wheelbase by nearly 1.4 inches, improves noise/vibration/harshness characteristics, and driving dynamics. It’s also versatile enough to accommodate the Sorento’s electrified drivetrain.
Conventional Sorento powertrains utilize Kia’s 2.5-liter GDI four-cylinder engines. In naturally aspirated form the 2.5 GDI produces 191 horsepower, while a new turbocharged 2.5 GDI makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft torque. The hybrid pairs a 1.6-liter version of the GDI turbo with a 60 horsepower electric motor fed by a 1.5 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery. The engine/motor combination produces a total of 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque, which is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. EPA fuel economy estimates rate the Sorento turbo hybrid’s efficiency at 39 city and 35 highway mpg, and 37 mpg combined.
Kia offers the 2021 Sorento in five trim levels, though the hybrid is available in the mid-range S and EX trims only. Many of the Sorento’s standard features are shared between the two, but the EX has a higher level of content, with equipment that includes LED fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, and wireless phone charger. Both the S and EX models are fitted with standard 17-inch alloy wheels and P235 tires.
There are a total of 16 standard and optional ‘Drive Wise’ advanced driver-assistance systems available for the Sorento. Standard ADAS systems on the hybrid model include blind-spot and rear-traffic collision avoidance, parking distance warning (rear-facing only on S, front and rear on EX), intelligent speed limit assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, driver attention warning, and lane-keep and lane-departure-warning systems.
The cost of entry for the new Sorrento is $29,390. Pricing starts at $33,590 for the Sorrento Hybrid S, with the uplevel Hybrid EX variant commanding three grand more at $36,590.
Today there are certainly more SUVs around than ever before, but the vast majority are mid-size, compact, and subcompact models that continue to offer the functionality of an SUV, but with the improved fuel efficiency and driving dynamics of a crossover vehicle built on a very un-truck-like unibody platform. Kia’s all-new 2021 Seltos compact SUV is the latest from this automaker to join in on this competitive market.
Appealing Design, Off-road Capable
The Seltos enters Kia’s lineup positioned between the Soul and Sportage models. It offers a handsome design that blends hard angles with flowing contours, featuring a long hood, wrap-around LED headlamps, a chiseled lower front bumper design, and Kia’s signature grille. Seltos rides on either 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels to reinforce its upscale and somewhat aggressive look. While drivers may rarely, if ever, venture off-pavement, the Seltos clearly hints at its off-road capability with integrated front and rear skid plates and black wheel arch cladding. Those wishing to further distinguish their ride can opt for an available two-tone roof treatment.
Fuel-efficient power choices include a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that brings 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft torque, and connects to a constantly variable transmission. Also available is a turbocharged 1.6-liter GDI engine offering 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. torque, which delivers power to the road through a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
Tailoring the Driving Experience
All-wheel drive is available that pairs torque vectoring control to optimize traction at each wheel, along with differential lock control that splits power equally between front and rear wheels for driving in severe weather. Normal, Eco, and Sport driving modes can be selected to tailor the driving experience by adjusting engine, transmission, and steering characteristics as desired.
Inside, driver and passengers find a surprisingly roomy cabin with an array of thoughtful touches that enhance the drive. A leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and leather shift boot speak to a driver’s sensibilities, as does an asymmetrical OLED instrument cluster that angles slightly left for a driver-centric cockpit feel. A 7-inch center display is standard with a 10.25-inch touchscreen display available. Passengers enjoy a two-step reclining rear seat, rear air vents, and USB ports for comfort and convenience.
An array of Kia Drive Wise driver-assistance systems are available including blind spot collision warning and collision avoidance assist, forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, smart cruise control with stop-and-go, and more. A rear occupant alert feature reminds a driver to check the rear seats for young passengers if the driver door is opened and a passenger door had been opened and closed. Seltos will offer a base price of about $22,000 when it arrives in dealerships after the first of the year.
The Toyota Highlander family-size, three row SUV is a new, fourth generation model based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA-K). It's available in both gasoline and hybrid versions. The highly-efficient hybrid edition is available in front- or all-wheel-drive and in LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels.
Highlander Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder DOHC engine and a pair of electric motors to deliver a total system output of 240 horsepower. The rear-mounted electric motor distributes torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected, while the all-wheel version uses this same motor to drive the rear axle. Normal, Sport, and Eco drive modes can be selected.
A sequential shifting switch controls regenerative braking to allow ‘downshifting’ in steps to maximize regen efficiency. Information from the navigation system anticipate traffic conditions ahead, enabling the Highlander Hybrid to coast longer distances when the driver’s foot is off the throttle.
New computer integration and a smaller, lighter power stack installed directly above the transaxle reduces energy transmission losses. The battery pack is installed under the rear seats without compromising cargo or passenger space. Highlander Hybrid's Predictive Efficient Drive system analyzes a driver’s habits, routes, and road conditions, then uses this data to charge and discharge the battery most efficiently.
Toyota expects the Highlander Hybrid to deliver a combined EPA fuel efficiency rating in the mid-30s, a significant efficiency bump up from the 29 combined mpg rating for the previous generation’s AWD version.
The Highlander Hybrid's standard Safety Sense 2.0 suite of active safety systems includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, and pre-collision with pedestrian detection. Two new features are lane-tracing assist and road sign assist. Lane-tracing assist recognizes lane strips to keep the SUV centered in its lane, while road sign assist recognizes road signs and notifies the driver to pay attention via visual or audible alerts. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automated parking with brake assistance are available depending on the trim level.
All trim levels get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa, along with Waze, Wi-Fi, and Sirius XM. Infotainment is controlled on a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen, while the Platinum trim has a 12.3-inch screen. Starting price for the Highlander Hybrid is just over $38,000.
Range Rover’ stylish Evoque enters its second generation with a complete redesign that features the automaker’s Premium Transverse Architecture and little in common with the outgoing version. Conventionally-powered and mild hybrid (MHEV) versions will be sold in the U.S., with the hybrid coming at a base cost of $46,600. A plug-in hybrid variant is planned for offshore markets but it’s not yet clear if it will make it to the States.
The model’s extended, 105.6-inch wheelbase is identical to that of the Jaguar E-Pace, bringing with it more interior space and extra rear knee room. Evoque also gets a version of the E-Pace 's Integral Link rear suspension. The new Evoque platform uses more high-strength steel as well aluminum to save weight. The Evoque also contains about 70 pounds of recycled material.
A 48-volt, lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor in the MHEV variant connects to a belt-driven motor-generator mounted at the side of the SUV’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter Ingenium engine. The engine turns off while coasting with the system recovering and storing energy normally lost during deceleration. The engine will also shut off while braking at speeds below 11 mph to increase efficiency, restarting as soon as it is needed. This reduces fuel consumption by about 6 percent.
The battery stores up to 200 watt-hours of electrical energy that can be used to generate up to 103 lb-ft torque to assist during acceleration. The MHEV system delivers a combined 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft torque. This compares to 246 horsepower and 269 lb-ft for the conventional Evoque. A sprint from 0 to 60 mph is quicker in the hybrid at 6.3 seconds, down from 7.0 seconds.
Gear transitions are handled by a 9-speed automatic transmission with paddles in the AWD Evoque. Driveline Disconnect allows running in front-wheel drive to reduce transmission losses when four-wheel drive is not needed, with this system automatically detecting surfaces and adjusting settings accordingly. Terrain Response offers six drive modes – General, Eco, Sand, Grass-Gravel-Snow, Mud-Ruts, and Auto – with the latter automatically selecting the most appropriate mode for road conditions and adjusting suspension and electronic systems as needed. Evoque also includes hill-descent control and all-terrain progress control capabilities that enable the vehicle to handle throttle and braking automatically when driving tricky off-road trails, allowing the driver to focus on steering and watching for obstacles.
The Evoque is the first vehicle that can be equipped with Land Rover’s ClearSight ground camera system. Cameras in the radiator grille and side mirrors project images in the infotainment display that allow viewing what‘s in front, under, and to the sides of the front wheels. Through the optional ClearSight rear view mirror, a driver also gets a crystal-clear, unobstructed wide-angle view to the rear for backing up and parking. Cameras are covered with a hydrophobic coating that repels water and mud, a handy feature since the Evoque can wade through water up to 23.6 inches deep.
Plug-in hybrid power combines a 197-horsepower, 1.5-liter three-cylinder Ingenium engine driving the front wheels with a 107-horsepower electric motor powering the rear. There is no mechanical connection between the front and rear axles. The Evoque PHEV is capable of operating as a front-wheel drive vehicle, rear-wheel drive electric vehicle, or as an AWD hybrid with both power sources combined.
Subaru’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle, the 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid, uses the Subaru Global Platform designed for hybrid and electric powertrains. It features new Subaru StarDrive Technology that integrates two electric motors, a 2.0-liter direct-injection SUBARU BOXER engine, Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and a new Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. With the series-parallel StarDrive Technology, one motor functions as an engine starter and as a generator powered by the engine to charge the lithium-ion hybrid battery. The second motor powers the vehicle in hybrid and electric driving modes. It also charges the hybrid battery during regenerative braking.
The plug-in SUV can reach speeds up to 65 mph in full electric mode and achieve 90 MPGe. It drives up to 17 miles exclusively on lithium-ion battery power and features a total range of 480 miles when using both gas and electric power.
The Crosstrek Hybrid features a Linerartronic CVT plus X-MODE and Hill Descent Control for enhanced performance in low-friction and off-road conditions. SI-DRIVE powertrain performance management allows tailoring throttle characteristics by choosing between Intelligent and Sport modes. Active Torque Vectoring applies light brake pressure to the inside front wheel while cornering for improved handling.
Crosstrek is well-equipped with the latest advanced driver assist technologies. Subaru EyeSight includes Pre-Collision Braking and Throttle Management, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Lane Keep Assist. Reverse Automatic Braking can apply the vehicle’s brakes if an obstacle is detected while reversing. Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Cross Traffic Alert is standard. Pedestrian Alert provides an audible warning to pedestrians within the proximity of the vehicle while traveling below 20 mph.
The model’s STARLINK Multimedia Plus offers an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, Rear Vision Camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming connectivity, AM/FM stereo, and smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Aha, and Pandora as standard equipment. Multimedia Plus includes a single-disc CD player and voice activated controls for phone and Near Field Communication. Multimedia with Navigation adds navigation powered by TomTom, voice activated navigation, and over-the-air updates.
Remote Battery Charging Timer manages the Crosstrek Hybrid’s charging schedule and monitors its status. A STARLINK Safety and Security Plus package includes Remote Climate Control and Remote Battery Charging Timer, SOS emergency assistance, and automatic collision notification.
The 2019 Lexus UX, an urban crossover SUV with an edgy design, is available as the conventionally-powered UX 200 or the UX 250h, a series-parallel hybrid with two electric motor-generators. The UX is the first Lexus model to use the automaker’s new Global Architecture Compact platform, resulting in a lightweight yet super-rigid structure. The UX features extensive use of high-tensile steel and high-strength adhesives, a composite tailgate, and aluminum side doors, fenders, and hood.
Powering the UX 200 is a high-efficiency, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to a 10-speed direct shift continuously variable transmission. This is expected to deliver a combined 33 mpg. This same 2.0-liter engine is used in the next-generation Lexus Hybrid Drive that powers the UX 250h, along with a pair of electric motor/generators integrated into a hybrid transaxle.
The new transaxle mounts the electric motor-generators coaxially rather than in-line to create a smaller and lighter package that reduces frictional losses by 25 percent. In addition, the second motor-generator in the new Lexus Hybrid Drive is a higher-speed motor, yielding better performance and efficiency. Lexus expects this powertrain to deliver a combined 38 mpg.
The UX 250h model offers all-wheel drive using a separate, dedicated electric motor-generator integrated into the rear differential. Power distribution between the front and rear axles is automatically optimized by the vehicle stability control system when accelerating, cornering, or driving on slippery surfaces. All-wheel drive provides stable driving on uphill slopes or snow-covered roads with lower fuel consumption than a conventional AWD system.
Inside is a comfortable and well-appointed interior featuring a sweeping instrument panel, intuitive controls, and a standard 7-inch TFT LCD display. An available Lexus Navigation system replaces this with a 10.25-inch screen. Attention to detail expected of a Lexus is evident, with such features as heated and cooled seats, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and luxurious finishes. The UX is designed to support the digital lifestyles of its drivers by enabling them to use their smartwatch to start their engine, lock or unlock doors, and even check fuel level before heading out for the day.
Predictive Eco Drive Control working with the navigation system learns driving habits, predicts the expected roadway ahead, and analyzes real-time traffic reports to optimize charging and discharging of the hybrid battery. Also operating with the navigation system, Predictive Deceleration Support uses knowledge about a driver’s behavior to predict when and where the vehicle is likely to slow down or stop, increasing regenerative braking appropriately to allow more energy to be recovered.
The Lexus UX is EPA rated at 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, efficient for a conventionally-powered crossover SUV. The hybrid UX 250h ups the economy ante with a 43 city mpg rating and 41 mpg in highway driving. The standard UX is priced at $32,000 with the hybrid UX 250h available at $34,000.
The popular Toyota RAV4 was fully-redesigned this model year to meet the requirements of today's ever-expanding SUV market. Now in its 5th generation, the 2019 RAV4 is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K) platform and engineered to be more efficient. Both conventionally-powered and hybrid versions of the RAV4 are offered, with blue accents on the Toyota logo and hybrid badges the only visual cues that set the RAV4 Hybrid apart from its non-hybrid counterpart.
Power in the hybrid is delivered by Toyota’s Hybrid System II, which in this model uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine producing 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft torque. The system’s two electric motors deliver 118 horsepower and 149 lb-ft torque to the front wheels, with 54 horsepower and 89 lb-ft torque to the rear wheels. Combined hybrid system output is 219 horsepower. All-wheel drive is a standard feature on the hybrid, and the RAV4 Hybrid is very capable off-roading as we proved during our time driving off-road trails and in challenging conditions.
The RAV4 Hybrid’s electronically-controlled, continuously variable transmission (ECVT) comes with sequential shift modes. Sport mode changes throttle mapping and the way the transmission operates for a more responsive feel. An Eco mode optimizes fuel economy. EV mode provides an extremely limited all-electric range using light throttle.
The hybrid’s nickel-metal hydride battery pack is located beneath the rear seat so interior space is not compromised. In fact, there is a bit more cargo room compared to the previous generation RAV4 since the battery pack is more compact. An 8.0-inch touchscreen displays the hybrid powertrain’s battery activity.
New to the 2019 RAV4 HV models, Predictive Efficient Drive essentially reads the road and learns driver patterns to help optimize hybrid battery charging and discharging operations, based on actual driving conditions. The system accumulates data as the vehicle is driven and ‘remembers’ features such as hills and stoplights, for example, and adjusts hybrid powertrain operation to maximize efficiency.
The 2019 RAV4 Hybrid is equipped with the second generation of Toyota Safety Sense (TSS 2.0), which includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beam, Lane Tracing Assist, and Road Sign Assist. Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Braking are standard on XLE grade and above, and optional for the LE. Limited grade adds standard Intelligent Clearance Sonar, which is available on XLE and above.
Other available safety technologies include a panoramic backup camera with customizable dynamic grid lines. The Limited grade adds a Bird’s Eye View Camera with perimeter scan, overhead 360-degree view, and curb view. Every model is equipped with Entune 3.0 multimedia, including Wi-Fi Connect powered by Verizon, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant capability, and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
The RAV4 Hybrid achieves an admirable 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the open road, at an entry price of $27,700.
Volvo’s smallest crossover features an aggressive design that’s a bit of a departure for the automaker, even as it retains the fundamental styling cues that say ‘Volvo.’ The first model built on the automaker’s Compact Modular Architecture, the new XC40 is offered as either a T4 front-wheel drive or T5 all-wheel drive and in three trim levels. The XC40 looks deceptively small but has plenty of cargo and passenger capacity for longer trips. A plug-in hybrid and possibly an all-electric model are likely in the future.
Inside, the stylish cabin aims for an uncluttered look while still providing all the amenities SUV buyers desire. Functionality is a top priority, which the XC40 provides in intelligent ways with features like spacious door bins that accommodate a laptop or tablet, easily accessible under-seat drawers for stashing wallets or other necessities, and even a trash bin for cleaning up clutter. The front storage compartment holds a wireless charge pad for smartphones. Other welcome features include a standard 9-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen and an available panoramic sunroof that provides loads of available light.
All XC40s are powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder Drive-E engine. In the T4 this engine is rated at 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque. Engine output increases to 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque in the all-wheel drive T5. Both connect to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Manual gear shifts are possible with the Volvo’s shift lever or, alternatively, via steering wheel shift paddles on the R-Design model.
Standard on all XC40s are Automated Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Forward-Collision Warning, Lane-Keeping Assist with Lane-Departure Warning, Automatic High-Beam Headlamps, Driver-Attention Monitor, and Traffic-Sign Detection. A self-parking feature, front and rear parking sensors, and Blind-Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert can be added as part of the Vision package.
Volvo offers Pilot Assist as a part of a Premium package. This is essentially adaptive cruise control with a semi-autonomous driving mode. It keeps the XC40 within its own lane and maintains a set speed and distance behind the vehicle ahead. Unlike some other near-self-driving systems, Pilot Assist requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times…perhaps not a surprise considering Volvo’s longstanding focus on safety.
The 2019 XC40 serves up 23 city and 33 highway mpg, at a starting cost of $33,700. Another option is Care by Volvo, an innovative subscription service that includes use of a new XC40 Momentum ($600 per month) or R-Design ($700 per month) for a maximum of 15,000 miles per year. Insurance, maintenance, and road-hazard protection are included, plus the opportunity for the lessee to upgrade to a new XC40 each year for the same all-inclusive monthly payment. A subscription lasts for 24 months.
Introduced as an all-new generation early last year, the popular and stylish Mazda CX-5 continues to impress with its overall functionality and notable efficiency achieved with its conventionally-powered SKYACTIV powertrain. The five-door compact crossover vehicle is available with either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive, both connecting to a six-speed automatic transmission. Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels are available. In keeping with the Mazda brand’s sporting image, the CX-5 is aimed at the driving enthusiast a bit more than most of its competitors, at a starting price of $24,150.
The CX-5 design reflects Mazda’s second-generation KODO – Soul of Motion design philosophy that embraces curves and subtlety, creating a handsome crossover that conveys uniqueness without wild design cues. Its mission – being a Mazda – is also to deliver a great driving experience. This is enhanced with Mazda’s exclusive G-Vectoring Control, which influences chassis dynamics through instantaneous changes in engine timing to reduce torque as needed for more accurate steering inputs, front tire contact, and stability.
Power is provided by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder DOHC engine that delivers 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft torque. Unlike most of its competition, the engine is normally-aspirated and not turbocharged, with Mazda eking additional horsepower from this SKYATIV-G powerplant in other ways. One of those ways is the use of higher 14:1 compression, making this 2.5-liter Mazda engine the first mass-production four-cylinder to feature this high of a compression ratio.
At its introduction, this engine featured the first application of cylinder deactivation in a four-cylinder in the U.S., a move that enhances fuel efficiency by shutting down the outer cylinders under low load conditions while at cruising speed. Cylinder deactivation and an array of small improvements that reduce internal friction bring about a 1 to 2 mpg increase in fuel economy in this SKYACTIV engine, depending on driving conditions.
Beyond driving enjoyment, the CX-5 exemplifies what this automaker defines as ‘Mazda Premium,’ a concept the automaker has used to describe its recent new models. This focus is devoted to delivering an extra level of details, from unexpected design elements to high levels of craftsmanship or engineering unexpected in a vehicle’s class. These elements are appreciated in the CX-5, from a center console that’s been raised to lend a cocoon feel for the driver to heated rear seats and fast-charging USB ports for rear passengers.
Driver assistance systems include blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Depending on trim level, Mazda’s i-Activsense package is standard or optional. This active-safety package features adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. There are also rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic headlights. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still in the future, although a CarPlay retrofit will reportedly be offered by Mazda soon for those who need this feature.