2021 Kia Sorento Review

2021 Kia Sorento - Totally redesigned for 2021, Telluride's little brother makes a strong case for family shoppers.


All new for 2021, the Kia Sorento is a midsize crossover that seats up to seven passengers and is available with front- or all-wheel drive. Roughly the same size outside as the outgoing model, the 2021 Sorento boasts more interior room, additional safety and technology features, and, for the first time is offered with a hybrid powertrain. Given its "tweener size" (more about that later), competitors include GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Trim levels include the LX, S, EX, SC, SC Prestige and SC Prestige X-Line. All gas models come standard with front-wheel drive save the SC Prestige X-Line. It comes standard with all-wheel-drive, which is an option on all but the SC Prestige. Hybrid models are only offered with front-wheel drive. Maximum towing capacity ranges between 1,654 and 3,500 pounds depending on model.

Gas-only LX and S get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. Gas-only EX and above get a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. Both gas-only engines get an 8-speed automatic transmission. Hybrid trims include S and EX. Both utilize a turbocharged 1.6-liter four paired with an electric motor and 6-speed automatic that good for a combined output of 227 horsepower.

Prices start as low as $31,000 and climb to more than $45,000 for a fully-loaded Prestige. Standard safety features include forward-collision warning with brake intervention, lane-departure warning and mitigation and driver attention warning system. Blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors are standard on the S and above.

Sorento's attempt to straddle the line between compact and midsize definitely comes across through its array of powertrain options. The base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder's measly 191 horsepower trails midsize competitors and is more on par with offerings in the compact crossover class. Acceleration, as you would expect, is leisurely -- especially given the Sorento's 3,900-pound curb weight. Kia, itself, pegs the 0-60 MPH time at close to 10 seconds.

Thankfully, things pick up quite impressively with the turbocharged 2.5 -- both when pulling away from a stop and in highway passing situations. Kia's 0-60 MPH estimate of just 7.4 seconds seems entirely plausible, in fact, even a bit conservative. The engine punches above its weight in all situations and especially when passing on the highway. Interestingly, though both the naturally aspirated and turbocharged fours come with 8-speed automatic transmissions, they are different. The NA engine uses a conventional automatic with a torque converter while the turbocharged engine gets a more modern dual-clutch automatic. For the most part, both transmissions shift smoothly and unobtrusively, but the dual-clutch transmission seems to hesitate a bit off the line and sometimes cracks off a jerky shift in moderate acceleration.

The hybrid powertrain offers a refreshing combination of thrift and performance. Thanks to its conventional automatic and torquey powerband, the gas-electric combo provides enough motivation to keep pace with traffic and enough reserve power to pull out and pass on the highway. Kia says it will run from 0-60 MPH in 8.6 seconds -- again a bit conservative. In addition, the transmission shifts extremely smoothly and there is no noticeable transition as the engine shifts from gas to electric mode.

The Sorento's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. However, Kia does provide pre-programmed off-road settings for snow, mud and sand. It should be noted that the turbocharged engine makes so much torque that it easily spins the tires and kicks in traction control on front-drive models.

EPA Fuel economy estimates for the gas-only Sorento fall mid-pack amongst competitors with a combined rating for the front-drive being 26 MPG and the all-wheel-drive turbo at 24 MPG. Sorento hybrid models get a combined EPA rating of 37 MPG, which, as you'd expect, is best in class. In routine commuting expect to average close to 24 MPG with either gas-only model and as high as 35 MPG with the hybrid. The 17.7 fuel tank gives gas-only models a highway range of about 475 miles, while hybrid models can stretch that to almost 600 miles.

Dynamically, Sorento can be engaging and fun to drive -- assuming a crossover is ever fun to drive. A combination of well-tuned suspension settings with stiffer spring rates, more ridged platform, lower-profile tires, responsive brakes and sharp steering help Sorento seem nimbler and more athletic than its size suggests. Of course, it's not going to win any parking lots gymkhanas, but it is certainly among the better handling midsize crossovers on the market.

Thanks to careful suspension tuning by Kia, Sorento still proves to be a comfortable cruiser. There's enough travel in the suspension to smother large impacts and the highway ride isn't so busy that it annoys. True, you will notice a bit more harshness over badly broken roads, but that's par for the crossover class.

Interior noise levels are reasonable with just a hint of wind and tire noise on the highway. The base engine is a bit coarse in hard acceleration, but the turbo and hybrid are nicely muted at all times. Hybrid models have high-efficiency tires that are designed to get slightly better fuel economy; however, they do create a bit more road noise on the highway.
Sorento sees a big interior upgrade, much in line with its bigger brother the Telluride. Materials are a clear cut above the class norm and the design is fresh, modern and very functional. Prestige models get a fancy digital instrument cluster that dresses up an already posh interior. Sorento's tweener sizing makes it smaller than midsize crossovers, but larger than compacts.

Drivers face a traditional twin-dial analog setup or programmable digital display, depending on trim. Both are easy to read at a glance and team with an ancillary screen for additional information. Lower trims get an 8-inch infotainment screen while uplevel trims get a 10.25-inch screen. Both support Android Auto and Apple Car Play, but only the smaller screen does it wirelessly. Either way, the infotainment system is one of the easiest to master and provides logical access to the myriad of submenus.

HVAC controls are somewhat jumbled and a mish-mash of capacitive touch and actual buttons and knobs. Thankfully most models get an auto setting that allows you to set-it-and-forget-it most of the time. Additional controls for windows and mirrors are conveniently placed on the door armrests. It should also be noted that Kia has well-designed steering wheel buttons that allow the driver to keep focus on the road.

The front seats are nicely sculpted and provide exceptional support and comfort. Head and leg room are excellent. Step in isn't too bad, but higher than you'd expect. Outward visibility is good forward, but pinched to the rear three quarters thanks to smallish windows and thick pillars. LX and S models get a 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seats while other models get second row captain's chairs. That means passenger capacity is 6 on EX and above. Regardless of seat type, the second row is roomy and comfortable. The seats do slide for and aft to provide extra room for the third-row seat if necessary. Either way, the third row is just kid friendly and not a place you want to ask adults to sit for a long drive.

Cargo space is a mixed bag, thanks to Sorento's tweener status. It's generous for a compact crossover but just so-so for a midsize. All seats in use there's a scant 12.6 cubic feet of space out back -- hardly enough for a row of grocery bags. Fold the rear seats and cargo space jumps to 45 cubic feet, more than some compact crossovers. Putting all seats down nets you a capricious 75.5 cubic feet of space overall. The hatch opening is large and there's some underfloor storage as well. Interior storage is excellent with lots of open and covered bins throughout, huge map pockets and a generous center console storage bin.

Bottom Line --
Sportage transforms for 2021 from an also-ran into a must see. It's unique sizing and standard third row give it a leg up for a lot of shoppers that might need a bit more room than is offered in your typical compact crossover, but not so much that they want to go full midsize. Sorento offers a compelling combination of comfort, athleticism, features and design. Unfortunately, towing ratings drop a bit and there's about a $1300 price hike model to model compared to 2020. Kia has also added the interesting hybrid for those so inclined.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.