2021 Kia Sorento: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Kia Sorento: All New
Midsize crossovers — vehicles with the looks of an SUV and the underpinnings of a passenger car — make up one of the most competitive auto segments in America. Kia has great success in this family friendly segment, and seeks more satisfied customers with the introduction of the all-new 2021 Kia Sorento. The fourth generation of this three-row SUV gets all-new styling, a roomier interior, a range of powerful engines and — for the first time — a fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSetting the Bar
“Sorento has always been one of Kia’s premier products,” said President and CEO of Kia Motors North America Sean Yoon. “Its combination of style, utility, safety and comfort have made it a perennial customer favorite. This stunning new Sorento sets the bar in the compact SUV class even higher and represents the pinnacle of Kia design and engineering. We’re extremely proud to add it to our line-up of incredible automobiles,” Soon noted.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceStyling
Kia designers gave the 2021 Sorento much bolder styling than the outgoing version, with clear ties to the automaker’s larger Telluride SUV. The new Sorento features a modern take on Kia’s tiger nose design with a wider grille that extends into the headlights and sculpted hood. New LED daytime running lights underline the headlights and drop down to frame the grille shape — a striking look, especially at night.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceClassic SUV Look
The 2021 Kia Sorento sports a more squared-off front and rear, giving it a classic SUV look. At the same time, bold fender flares and sculpted doors add character to the overall styling. The roofline slopes rearward, ending in a rear spoiler.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear View
At the rear of the 2021 Sorento, the sculpted tailgate features vertical taillights — again, similar to the Telluride. Sorento’s shoulder line flows from the rear fenders into the tailgate to create a midgate spoiler that plays off the upper spoiler positioned above the rear glass. The tailgate also has SORENTO spelled out in large letters, so there’s no mistaking this crossover for any other.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Platform
In addition to its fresh styling, the 2021 Kia Sorento is all new under the skin as well. Built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform — both lighter and stronger than the previous underpinnings — the 2021 Sorento has a longer wheelbase as well. These elements combine to create a more spacious cabin as well as better drivability. The new platform can handle alternative powertrains — which will include hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModel Lineup
The 2021 Kia Sorento is available in a variety of configurations with three powertrains and five trim levels ranging from LX to SX-Prestige. The front-drive Sorento is also available with all-wheel drive, which adds $1,800 to the base price. The Korean automaker will add a plug-in hybrid variant to the lineup next year.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSafety
Standard safety equipment on all Kia Sorentos includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, high-beam headlight assist and rear-occupant alert.

© Kia Motor AmericaSorento LX
The 2021 Kia Sorento LX starts at $29,390 and comes well equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen display, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, split-folding second and third rows, a rearview camera and rear-occupant alert. A black grille, LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels are also standard.

© Kia Motor AmericaSorento S
With a starting price of $31,890, the Sorento S upgrades the LX with dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette seat trim, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and pushbutton start with remote start. The S also gets a rugged bumper design; molded-in skidplates; gloss black trim on the grille, mirrors and roof rails; and 18-inch alloy wheels. Also standard are blind-spot collision avoidances, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and safe exit assist, which alerts passengers before opening the door if approaching traffic is detected.

© Kia Motor AmericaSorento EX
The Sorento EX bumps up $34,990 and includes a more powerful turbocharged engine. Also included are second-row captain’s chairs, a wireless phone charger, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, forward collision avoidances with cyclist detection and junction assist, and LED fog lights.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSorento SX
Priced at $37,990, the Sorento SX upgrades the EX with a large 10.25-inch touchscreen display with navigation, satellite radio and UVO telematics; panoramic sunroof; power passenger seat; satin-chrome door handles; and wired Android Auto / Apple CarPlay – the upgraded display is not yet setup to use wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The SX also gets LED projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail lights and 20-inch alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSorento SX-Prestige
The SX-Prestige resides at the top of the Sorento lineup with a base retail price of $40,590. Features above and beyond the SX include perforated leather seat trim, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a 12.3-inch digital driver display, an electrochromic rearview mirror, and a Bose surround sound audio system with 12 speakers. Additional safety features include park distance warning, rear collision avoidance, a surround-view monitor and a blind-spot monitor.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSorento SX-Prestige X-Line
Reflecting its top-line status, the SX-Prestige with all-wheel drive gets X-Line badging and a distinctive look that includes a dark hyper silver grille, matte-black exterior trim, a bridge-type roof rack and unique 20-inch alloy wheels. The SX-Prestige X-Line is priced at $42,590.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
Powering the LX and S trims of the 2021 Kia Sorento is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Those looking for more power should opt for the EX, SX or SX-Prestige trims — all are equipped with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that produces 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharged engine gets paired with a quicker-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

© Kia Motor AmericaHybrid
Available in S and EX trim levels, the Sorento Hybrid is exclusively front-wheel drive. A 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine powers the Hybrid, teamed with an electric motor for a combined output of 227 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque. While many hybrids on the market use a continuously variable transmission, the Sorento employs a more responsive 6-speed automatic transmission.

© Kia Motor AmericaPHEV
The first plug-in hybrid version of Sorento will arrive later in 2021. It will employ the same 1.6-liter engine as the Hybrid; however, the electric motor is more powerful (66.9 kW vs. 44 kW) for a total output of 261 horsepower. The PHEV will be all-wheel drive and should achieve 30 miles of electric-only driving.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFuel Economy
The 2021 Kia Sorento performs reasonably well when it comes to fuel economy. Models with the 2.5 (non-turbo) engine achieve 24 mpg city / 29 mpg hwy / 26 mpg combined – AWD knocks those figures down to 23 / 25 / 24, respectively. The more powerful turbocharged engine delivers a similar 22 mpg city / 29 mpg hwy / 25 mpg combined, with AWD getting 21 / 28 / 24, respectively. Although Kia has not released fuel economy numbers for the PHEV, the standard Sorento Hybrid is impressive with EPA ratings of 39 mpg city / 25 mpg hwy / 37 mpg combined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-Wheel Drive
Kia offers all non-hybrid trims with optional all-wheel drive. This updated system features a locking center differential, torque vectoring, hill-descent control and available Snow mode. Ground clearance on the 2021 Kia Sorento increases to 8.3 inches —an inch higher than front-drive variants.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
Even though Kia is not typically considered a premium brand, the 2021 Sorento certainly exudes a premium tone. The dashboard features a clean design with textured inlays and stylish dual-outlet vertical air vents. With either the 8-inch or optional 10.25-inch display, the interior has a high-tech feel. The larger display with automatic climate controls certainly gives the Sorento a more advanced look; however, this high-tech display does not allow for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — this feature is only available with the smaller display.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAttractive and Comfortable
We spent some quality drive time in the top-level Sorento SX-Premium and discovered leather-trimmed seats to be both stylish and comfortable. Embossed seat bolsters add a level of luxury, as well as stitching throughout the cabin.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePersonal Storage
The Sorento offers plenty of personal storage thanks to large cupholders, bottle holders in the doors, a spacious center console and an available wireless charging pad up front. In addition to wireless charging, the new Sorento has three USB ports up front with easy access. With a total of eight charging ports throughout the cabin, Kia definitely wins the charge wars.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSecond Row
As mentioned previously, we spent most drive time in the Sorento SX-Premium, which features bucket seats in the second row. The seats offer plenty of room, and with bucket or bench they slide forward or back to provide additional space for cargo or third-row passengers. Three USB ports offer plenty of charging capability for all the devices.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThird Row
The 2021 Kia Sorento is larger than its predecessor, but it still comes up a bit short in the third row. There’s no issue with headroom or hip room, and the cupholders and two available USB ports are certainly welcome. However, the seat is simply so low it feels like sitting on the floor. Most adults relegated to the final row will have their knees in their chests, which would be uncomfortable even for short trips. That said, the third row will work fine for those of smaller stature.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePanoramic Sunroof
The already roomy cabin of the 2021 Kia Sorento feels even more spacious with the available panoramic sunroof.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Area
With the third row of the 2021 Kia Sorento in use, space is somewhat limited in the cargo area. This gets further hampered by cargo-floor carpeting that rolls up at the base of the third-row seatback, which can cause uneven loading for larger items. The third row easily folds flat, which greatly increases the available space and eliminates the carpet issue.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
For testing purposes during the pandemic, Kia provided two cars — a Sorento SX-Premium front-wheel drive and SX-Premium X-Line AWD, both equipped with the turbocharged engine. With more than 300 lb-ft of torque delivered at a low 1700 rpm, the front-drive Sorento presented difficulties with power management. On wet roads the front wheels spun often — a bit disconcerting when accelerating out of a curve. Buyers in locations that receive lots of precipitation should consider upgrading to AWD, especially when Sorento gets paired with the powerful turbo engine.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAWD
During our testing, switching to the all-wheel drive X-Line immediately solved Sorento’s traction issue. With no wheelspin on acceleration, Sorento is quick off the line. Unlike some other vehicles in this class, there is no delay getting power to the rear wheels when needed, which provides a much more confident driving experience.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceComfortable Ride
Overall both vehicles provide a solid ride with little road noise either at highway speeds or cruising through town. Visibility is good, and the surround-view camera makes parking easy. Although the front-driving Sorento at times made it difficult to put the power down, there is never a lack of motivation. The 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox provides quick, smooth shifts — much more responsive than CVTs often found in the midsize crossover class.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road
On a typical rainy fall day, we took the SX-Premium X-Line off pavement to properly experience the Pacific Northwest. Even with traction control off the AWD system provides great stability and grip on slick, muddy roads.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBump Handler
During our time behind the wheel of the 2021 Kia Sorento, we were pleasantly surprised how comfortable the crossover drives on rough terrain. With loose gravel, mud and potholes all thrown in for good measure, the ride remains comfortable with no jarring or excessive bouncing — even when taking roads at a good clip.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight For You?
The three-row crossover field is full of fine players, although the competition should be keeping a close eye on the 2021 Kia Sorento. With attractive styling and a premium, high-tech interior, the Sorento makes a great option for small or growing families. Add in a powerful turbocharged engine, a fuel-efficient hybrid as well as a full range of trim levels and some might say Kia makes a Sorento for practically any customer.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Attractive styling; powerful and efficient engines; excellent drivability.
Cons: Hard to manage turbo power in FWD; limited cargo space; third row uncomfortable for adults.
Bottom Line: The 2021 Kia Sorento offers great utility in a stylish and efficient package, making it a strong competitor in the three-row crossover segment.

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