2021 Kia Sorento Review

2021 Kia Sorento - Stepping out from the shadows as a true mid-size contender


The Kia Sorento came to market in 2002 as a body-on-frame SUV as either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. It was their first foray into the mid-size category and one of their first non-sedans period. Fast forward to 2021 and Kia now has a range of crossovers and SUVs that the Sorento seemingly helped paved the way for. All-new for 2021, the Sorento has received a full makeover outside, inside, and under the hood. The Sorento is available as either a six or seven-passenger vehicle. Five trims are available known as LX, S, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige and all models are available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.  Three powertrains are currently available (including a new hybrid) and a fourth (PHEV) is on the way for 2022. Despite fresh looks and more features, Sorento prices remain attainable. Prices start at $29,390 for the base LX model and can climb as high as $42,590 to start for an SX-Prestige with the AWD X-Line package.  Competition is heated in this segment as it competes with vehicles such as the Ford Edge, GMC Acadia, Honda Passport, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

With the recent success of the Kia Telluride, a larger mid-size three-row crossover, the Sorento had big footsteps to follow.  The new Sorento features sharper lines, new LED lighting, and a color scheme that impresses. Up front is a more modern interpretation of Kia's "tiger nose" grille that is flanked by rectangular headlights that feature an optional boomerang shaped LED daytime running light. These LED running lights play double duty as the turn signal/ hazard lights, and turn amber when activated. The side profile features a prominent character line with larger wheel arches that are trimmed in plastic cladding to give it a more muscular, rugged look. The third-row window features a unique c-pillar design with a shark fin shape at the base. Around back the Sorento borrows a few styling cues from the Telluride such as having its name, Sorento, stretched across the tailgate and vertical taillight shapes. The fresh styling is further complemented by new alloy wheel designs that range in size from 17 to 20-inches, the largest ever for Sorento.

In addition to the universal design updates, Kia has also introduced a new X-line model for the Sorento. The X-Line appearance package could be best described as a "trail" or "off-road" version of the Sorento. Visually, the X-Line offers an increased ride height to 8.3 inches (one inch higher), exclusive bumpers in front and back, unique 20-inch alloy wheels, and a bridge-type roof rack. Also exclusive to this trim is the Aruba Green paint color which looks so good in person, it's a nice blend of green and gray that is a refreshing option. Available inside is a rust colored leather that works well with Aruba Green. Kia also adjusted the mechanicals to offer standard torque-on-demand AWD with center locking differential and downhill descent control. The Sorento X-Line is more for looks and light trails, it is not intended for extreme off-roading as there is no low range within the AWD system.

The Sorento offers a variety of powertrain configurations that are outlined below. Both standard gasoline versions are available in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive while the hybrid is only front-wheel drive and the plug-in hybrid will be exclusively all-wheel drive.

* 2.5L GDI 4-Cylinder that nets 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque.
* 2.5L GDI 4-Cylinder Turbo nets 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft. of torque mated to a wet-clutch DCT for more responsive driving.
* 1.6L GDI 4-Cylinder Turbo Hybrid with a 44 kW electric motor nets 227 horsepower mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
* 1.6L GDI 4-Cylinder Turbo Plug-in Hybrid with 666.9 kW electric motor nets 261 horsepower with estimated all electric range of 30 miles (Not yet available, but expected in late 2021).
One thing you may notice that is missing from the mix is Sorento's previous V6 option. It is replaced with the 2.5L Turbo that offers slightly less overall horsepower (down 10 hp) but increases torque from 252 to 311 while increasing its estimated combined fuel economy to 25 MPG (3 MPG increase).  My test vehicle was equipped with this new powertrain and I found it to be rather engaging and comfortable to drive.  The increased torque is noticeable with its quick acceleration. It feels grounded to the road and steering was smooth. The Sorento proved to be quite responsive with quick merges and offered minimal body-roll during increased speeds around the on/off ramps to the highway. Similar to the Telluride, the overall ride was very quiet and the suspension absorbed road imperfections with a smooth ride.

There are a variety of driving modes that can also impact the driving dynamics.  Options include Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport, or Custom. Naturally, the enthusiast in me found the Sport mode to be the most engaging and fun (at least as fun as the Sorento can get).  In Sport mode, the ride feels the most dramatically different from the rest as it tightens the throttle response and maximizes the power in lower gears before shifting. The digital cluster also changes appearances with each mode; however, it always defaults back to the standard comfort mode when the vehicle is turned off which is a slight nuisance if you prefer to always be in one of the other modes.

Fuel economy will vary depending on the powertrain you opt for. Currently the most efficient is the hybrid with and estimated 39 MPG city/ 35 highway / 37 combined. The 2.5L Turbo estimates 24 MPG combined while the 2.5L 4-Cylinder base is 27 MPG combined. During my week of routine suburban driving with the 2.5L Turbo AWD I averaged closer to 21 MPG with a heavier focus in sport mode and more city driving than highway. These estimates are average, if not better than many class competitors and it does take regular grade fuel. On a full 17.7 gallon tank, you can expect a range of around 430 miles. The Sorento does come with an idle, stop & go (ISG) system that will automatically shut off the engine to help fuel economy numbers. This system has notably more lag than some competitors, but it can easily be turned off with the touch of a button.

Hopping in the driver's seat you'll face a 12.3-inch full digital instrument cluster that can be customized and also changes with drive mode selections. The graphics and animations are unique to Kia and appropriately match the driving mode.  Within this cluster, the available Blind View Monitor system will project live video of adjacent lanes which is activated via the turn signal. This feature is quite useful and neat trick to show off. The top of the cluster stretches over the main infotainment screen giving the illusion that they are nearly one long screen. Standard touch screens are 8-inches, but a 10.25-inch option is available with higher trims. The screen features a split screen functionality in which its divided in half or thirds depending on your chosen display function. For example, one third may showcase the local weather, while the rest of the screen highlights your audio.

Kia's UVO infotainment system is user friendly and integrates with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. Additional features of the UVO system include connected weather, an enhanced voice assist feature, rear-occupancy alert, smart speaker integration, and 911 Connect with roadside assistance. Additional technology features built into the touchscreen include a surround view monitor that utilizes four cameras to provide a 360-degree perspective and an available Bose Premium sound system. Within that Bose Sound System is a calming Sounds of Nature option in which you can select various nature-scape sounds that are paired with calming images on the display.

The overall vibe in the Sorento is modern with better than average materials and accents. Below the infotainment screen are more traditional climate controls with large air vents on either side.  Dual climate control, heated/ventilated seats, and a heated steering wheel are all available options. The center stack utilizes a traditional gear shifter with adjacent cup holders. Bright satin finishes combined with available metal textured or open-pore wood inlays provide upscale accents to a mainstream vehicle.  An available panoramic moonroof provides plenty of light and is one option that upstages the Telluride's moonroof option.

With an increased wheelbase for 2021, the Sorento offers additional interior space. Second rows can be fitted with a standard bench seat or if you opt for the EX or higher trims, can be configured with captains' chairs. Given the Sorento's overall size, I found the captains' chairs to be an unexpected surprise, but very useful if you utilize the third row regularly. And while I find the size of the Sorento to be better suited as a two-row crossover, many people who saw this version with the captains' chairs found this to be a very appealing option for the smaller end of the segment. Sorentos come standard with a third row, but that third row is tight even for kids. With that third row up, there is barely any additional cargo room. Overall, the seats (except row 3) are comfortable and when optioned with the 3D-embossed genuine leather look very premium. Head and leg room is also suitable for most adults in the first two rows. Overall cargo capacity is 75.5 cu.ft. with 45 cu.ft. behind the second row and a mere 12.6 cu.ft. behind the third row. Depending on its competition, these numbers could be good or bad.

Kia continues to make safety an important aspect in its new vehicles with a long list of standard 'Kia Drive Wise' advanced driver-assistance systems.  Among those standard features are intelligent speed limit assist, forward collision warning, forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, and lane follow assist. Lead vehicle departure alert is also a standard feature that alerts the driver when the vehicle in front of the Sorento pulls away; this is one that admittedly kicked in a few times while waiting in line for a morning coffee run. Other available features include blind spot assist (the aforementioned cameras in the digital cluster), park assist, navigation-based cruise control, highway driving assist, safe exit assist and more. For families with kids, the safe exit assist is a great feature in which an alert will sound to the driver and passengers who try to open a door when the system detects approaching traffic. The system can intervene to lock the rear doors to prevent children from ever opening the doors.

The completely redesigned Sorento is another win for Kia. It emerges from the shadows of the Telluride as a feisty little brother ready to roll with the big kids.  The exterior styling has just the right amount of character without going overboard while the interior blends upscale materials with a functional and comfortable space. A variety of powertrain options means there's a Sorento for everyone. And with prices starting under $30k it remains competitively priced and well-equipped with both technology and safety. If you've dismissed this one in the past, it's time to take a second look at the Sorento, this isn't just a basic people mover.

Test Vehicle:  2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD
Exterior Color: Aruba GreenInterior Color: Rust
Notable Options: X-Line Rust Interior Package ($200), Carpeted Floor Mats ($210)
MSRP as tested: $44,285

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.