The Surprisingly Upscale Kia Sorento

The Kia Sorento is all-new for 2021. It is the slightly smaller complement to the Telluride.

2021 Kia Sorento Front
The 2021 Kia Sorento in SX Premium X-Line trim.

When Kia brought out the Telluride in 2020, the thought was that it would replace the Sorento. After all, both vehicles are midsize, three-row crossovers. Instead of discontinuing the Sorento, Kia updated this model for 2021 and now offers it alongside the Telluride. And it is a good thing too: demand for the Telluride is far outstripping supply and that’s putting upward pressure on prices. On the other hand, the Sorento is more attainable and a strong alternative to the newcomer.

Kia offers the 2021 Sorento in LX ($29,390), S ($31,890), EX 2.5T ($34,990), SX 2.5T ($37,990), SX Prestige ($40,590), and SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T ($42,590) trims. Add $1,175 for the destination charge. All but the top-trim model comes with standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive, the latter a $1,800 upgrade. The X-Line comes with standard all-wheel drive and is the best choice for off-roading.

Exterior Highlights

The Sorento presents a modern and sophisticated look with its bold grille, sporty lower lip, and beveled hood setting the tone. Its sweeping profile with elegant lines and beautiful sculpting lend much character. We do not understand the reasons for the fins jutting up from the beltline behind the rear seats, but there you have it. The rear with its rectangular lighting hints of all things Telluride. The overall look is a sharp improvement over the previous generation.

2021 Kia Sorento profile

Kia delivers a variety of equipment choices ranging from alloy wheels to a power liftgate and a panoramic sunroof. The available power-folding and fold-up heated side mirrors are usually found on luxury models only.

Our X-Line trim is much more suitable for off-road adventuring thanks to its higher ground clearance, 20-inch wheels, and the center locking differential. Matte black trim pieces and special badging may be eye-candy to some, but they match well with this model’s mission.

Interior Highlights

The Sorento seats seven, although our test model had room for six. The middle row on some trims can be swapped out for comfortable captain’s chairs. They are almost as enjoyable as the front bucket seats, making them the ones your family members will battle over. The extra 1.5 inches between the wheels this year makes the cabin seem roomier…and it is.

We also noticed an improvement in the materials used, including soft-touch surfaces, available leather, and real wood inlays with the top trim. The cabin is quiet, the controls are sensibly placed, and the overall cargo space rivals its competitors.

Safety & Technology

Kia generously equips the Sorento with driver-assist technologies, including automatic emergency braking. Also, active lane control and adaptive cruise control are included. Blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera system, and parking sensors are available.

2021 Kia Sorento tech

The list of standard tech includes an 8-inch touchscreen display and a six-speaker audio system. Bluetooth, USB ports, wireless smartphone compatibility, and HD Radio are standard. The upgrades include a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless charging. Navigation and a rear entertainment system are available.

Sorento Performance

Powering every 2021 Sorento is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is what Kia does with the engine that sets it apart. For instance, some trims have a naturally aspirated version of the engine. This one delivers 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Certainly, respectable numbers, but not strong when a full contingent of passengers and cargo are on board.

The better choice is this same engine with a large turbocharger added. Here, 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque await, rivaling some of the strongest V6 engines on the market. In both cases, an 8-speed automatic transmission shuttles power to the wheels (it is a faster shifting dual-clutch arrangement with the turbo).

We would be remiss if we left out the third choice. In this case, a Sorento Hybrid is marketed separately. This one comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a 6-speed automatic transmission.

2021 Kia Sorento front seats

Available as a conventional or plug-in hybrid, this model makes 37 mpg or 11 mpg better than the most efficient gas version. Choose the plug-in version and a federal tax credit awaits – see your Kia dealer for all the details.

Our test X-Line trim came with the turbo engine and all-wheel drive. Where last year’s model had a V6 engine, we did not miss it with this one. Indeed, the turbo spools quickly and delivers robust power at a moment’s notice. It is not loud nor is it particularly whiny, but it is strong and that counts for a lot.

We like the kick this engine gives when picking up speed on the highway. Also, we found the direct steering and weighted handling among its better attributes. A comfortable ride and firm braking are other hallmarks of this SUV. When properly equipped the 2021 Sorento can pull up to 3,500 pounds.

2021 Kia Sorento rear

Our Recommendation

So, you cannot find the Kia Telluride. And that is a shame. But the Sorento is hardly a distant second choice, thanks to its new exterior, roomy cabin, and better powertrain choices. We would skip the base engine and go right for the turbo. A quick scan of the options list and the EX 2.5T trim is a decent place to start. Add in a package or two and all-wheel drive and your final cost comes in near $40,000, a pricing threshold we like for a well-equipped, three-row crossover.

See Also — Good-Bye, Kia Optima; Hello K5!

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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