An all-new Kia Sorento brings class and distinction to the midsize crossover segment.
Let us come to this conclusion: the Kia Telluride is one hot commodity. Indeed, since it rolled out in 2019 for the 2020 model year, Kia has been unable to keep up with demand. This means dealerships are having a hard time stocking the Telluride. And when they are available, they are retailing for thousands of dollars above MSRP. Such is the law of supply and demand.
When the Telluride came along, it could have replaced the Sorento, the brand’s previous three-row crossover. That model straddled the compact and midsize range and was Kia’s largest utility vehicle for a time (the Kia Borrego, offered for just one year in 2009, was larger). But Kia surveyed the market, realized the Sorento was still useful, then restyled it for 2021.
As a result, Kia has a strong 1-2 punch in the midsize, three-row utility vehicle market. Moreover, where the previous-generation Sorento compromised on interior room with a very tight third row, the new model is much more useful. Even still, Kia markets the Sorento as a 5+2 model. This means the emphasis is on the first two rows with the third row a bonus.
We think this was a smart move on Kia’s part because the Sorento is best compared to two-row models such as the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and the Chevrolet Blazer. Drop down the third-row seat and you will quickly understand why.
2021 Kia Sorento Overview
For 2021, Kia offers the Sorento in five trims: LX ($29,390), S ($31,890), EX 2.5T ($34,990), SX 2.5T ($37,990), and SX Prestige ($40,590). An SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T model is also available ($42,590). It can be considered a trim or a $2,000 upgrade to the SX Prestige model. Add $1,175 for the destination fee for all Sorento models.
All trims except the X-Line come with standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive, the latter representing a $1,800 upgrade. The X-Line comes with standard all-wheel drive and is arguably the choice for hitting the trails.
A Newly Designed Sorento
With a new canvas, Kia got to work creating a fresh Sorento. First, Kia’s designers resized the vehicle. For 2020, the Sorento sat on a 109.4-inch wheelbase and was 189 inches long. This year, the Sorento rides on a 110.8-inch wheelbase and is 188.9 inches long. It is also slightly wider, measuring 74.8 inches to 74.4 inches last year. Therefore, the interior benefits from slightly more room.
Second, the design is moved up a notch and this is where the Sorento reminds us of the Telluride. Not that the two models look alike, but much of the design flair of the Telluride seeps down to the Sorento.
Upfront, the upper grille is strong and bold. It sits directly in front of the wavy hood and above the sporty lower grille opening. Where the Telluride has a boxy appearance, the Sorento is slightly more relaxed.
Along with the profile, there are sufficient character lines and body sculpting that impart class. The odd fin-like tab fastened to the beltline behind the C-pillar is hard to explain. It is a unique feature, but not easily understood as to why it is there.
From the rear, a wide liftgate is honed in by square taillamps. It isn’t the same design as the Telluride, but it evokes a positive comparison nonetheless.
Higher End Cabin
Inside, the Sorento’s cabin shows much attention to detail. The look is not overwrought. Certainly, it is not plain either. Especially with the upper trims. Kia includes the right blend of quality materials with soft-touch surfaces, leather choices, and even wood inlays present. Cloth seats are standard, but imitation leather and real hides are widely available.
As for the cabin layout, a standard 2+3+2 seating arrangement can be had. Again, the emphasis is on the first two rows as the third-row space is tight. No, it is not unusable, but you will want to assign your youngsters to that space.
Our fully equipped X-Line trim had a different seating arrangement. Instead of a middle-row bench seat, Kia swapped it out for a pair of captain’s chairs. Those chairs were nearly as comfortable as the front seat and better use of the space for the interior. As a result, access to the third row was much easier. Also, if you were assigned to sit in the last row, it is easier to move your legs around behind chairs than it is with a “sofa” in front.
Thus, a six-seat Sorento is our pick. Need seven seats? Go to the Telluride. How about eight seats? The all-new Carnival MPV (the replacement for the Kia Sedona) seats that many. To us, these models offer the optimum seating arrangement for their respective classes.
Replete With Technologies
If you think that manufacturers have reached a threshold for technologies, think again. Every year changes are made to include the greatest or most advanced features. With the 2021 Sorento, the changes are evident everywhere.
To begin, the previous 7-inch touchscreen display is replaced by an 8-inch screen. A 6-speaker audio system with HD Radio is standard. Also included are Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility, and six USB ports.
Other available features include satellite radio, a 12-speaker Bose audio system, connected services, and two additional USB ports. Navigation, a 10.25-inch screen, wireless charging, and a configurable 12.3-inch instrument panel are available.
Safety Features and Scores
Under the Kia Wise umbrella, the Sorento comes with several driver-assist features. All trims offer forward collision avoidance assistance with pedestrian detection (cyclist detection and junction turning are available). Lane keep assist, driver attention warning with leading vehicle departure alert, and lane departure warning are also included. But the list does not stop there as Kia includes high beam assist and parking guidance with its rearview monitor.
Among the upgrades are adaptive cruise control with full stop and go, safe exit assist (for the rear seats), and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance. Front and rear parking sonars, front and rear parking distance warning, and a blind-spot view monitor are optional.
In crash testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assigned the Kia Sorento with a 4-star rating. On the other hand, the Sorento garnered a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Under the Hood
Kia offers two engine choices with the 2021 Sorento. Also, there are a pair of hybrid models debuting this year. We will mention what is driving these two electrified models later.
The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Power routes to the wheels utilizing an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The second engine offers the same displacement but adds a turbocharger. And it makes all the difference in the world. Indeed, this one develops 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Power routes to the wheels with an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The hybrids are new and come with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The engine is small, but the power output reaches a combined 227 horsepower. Moreover, this model earns 37 mpg, which is 11 mpg more than the best gas model. Further, choose the plug-in hybrid (available MY2022) and this one can travel 35 miles on electric power only.
One more thought: choose the PHEV and this one comes with a federal tax credit. We do not have the figure yet, but it will not be the full $7,500 available. Still, expect thousands of dollars of tax abatement money to accompany this model. Thus, it should prove a worthwhile upgrade over the conventional hybrid.
On the Road
Our test X-Line model with standard all-wheel-drive came with the turbocharged engine. And that was simply fine with us.
We have driven the Sorento with the previous 3.3-liter V6 engine and found it competent and power-dense. That said, why not deliver a smaller, yet more powerful engine and give customers more of what they want? And that is exactly what Kia did and for that reason we were satisfied.
The turbocharged engine offers strong step-off power and robust acceleration. We had no difficulty scooting down the entrance ramp, climbing hills, or simply passing on the highway. The engine is not especially loud, but it is active. We did not detect turbo lag, but we did sense the transmission shifting rapidly to fire off the right cog.
The X-Line trim is fascinating as it offers a center locking differential. This arrangement ensures a 50-50 power balance between the wheels. Why is this important? Because instead of the front axle engaging and disengaging, it is always active – kind of like a four-wheel-drive system. This is ideal when taking the Sorento off-road – you are getting the maximum grip this system delivers.
We would not consider bringing the X-Line to the more rigorous courses we have traveled, such as Uwharrie National Forest. But, we might feel comfortable with tackling our favorite mud holes and sandy expanses. The bigger tires and raised ground clearance help here. But there is no 4-Lo mode available: you still need to be extra careful when tackling more vigorous terrain.
Kia Sorento Recommendation
Clearly, the all-new Sorento is a slice above the previous model. You are not getting a Telluride light. Nevertheless, it exudes upscale vibes and a more nuanced behavior when trekking off the beaten path.
We think the X-Line will appeal to a narrow sliver of buyers. The rest will look at the Telluride, realize that it is difficult to find, and at an affordable price. Next, they will examine the new Sorento and see that it is a solid alternative to the Telluride.
We just think that any trim with the turbo engine is the way to go. The base engine is capable, but under heavy loads, it will work extra hard. On the other hand, the turbo is set to deliver the goods equaling the power of a large V6. And with 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, it will pull the skiff or camper that will make your family excursion that much more enjoyable.
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