2021 Kia Sorento

2021 Kia Sorento Test Drive Review: Putting The 'Sport' Back Into SUV

First introduced to the United States back in 2002, the Kia Sorento is now entering its fourth-generation with an all-new model for 2021. For the first time since the Borrego bowed out of the market, the Sorento now has another SUV model - the Telluride - positioned above it in size. With its place in Kia's lineup changed, the 2021 Sorento arrives sporting a different value proposition than before. Kia positions this new model as a smaller midsize SUV with a small third row for occasional use, making it a 7-seater in a segment dominated by mostly-two-row competitors such as the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and the Hyundai Santa Fe with which it shares an engine and platform. The new Kia Sorento is offered with either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 191 horsepower or a turbocharged option with 281 hp. A hybrid and plug-in hybrid will be available too, giving the new Sorento a breadth of appeal few can match. Kia sent us two Sorento trims to review, the SX-Prestige with and without the X-Line Package.

Read in this review:

2021 Kia Sorento Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Sorento?

The 2021 Kia Sorento is all-new, with more dramatic styling that puts it truly in line with the rest of the contemporary range. It's now bigger and more comfortable, and there's a hybrid powertrain offered for the first time. A plug-in hybrid with more power is also on the way, although this may arrive as a 2022 model. This is the first time Kia has ever offered a turbocharged engine in a US-market Sorento, and it's the first time this model has ever boasted a dual-clutch transmission.

Pros and Cons

  • Sporty K5-inspired styling
  • Potent engine option
  • Hybrid is seriously economical
  • Plenty of safety equipment
  • Spacious cabin
  • Non-turbo engine is a little weak
  • Off-road capability is over-advertised
  • Cargo with seats up is limited
  • Third row is tight
  • Missing features found in the Telluride

Best Deals on Sorento

2021 Kia Sorento Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
LX
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$29,390
S
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$31,890
EX
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$34,990
SX
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$37,990
SX Prestige
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$40,590

Sorento SUV Exterior

There's no denying that this is a good-looking vehicle, and even from afar, the exterior looks fresh and modern. Kia resisted the urge to make this a baby Telluride, instead opting to style the Sorento like the K5 sedan. Up front, there are LED headlights on either end of a blocky Tiger Nose grille, with top trims gaining DRLs and LED taillights too. 17-inch wheels are standard, but you can get 18s or even 20s depending on which trim you choose. At the back, there's also a roof spoiler and a faux diffuser with fake exhaust tips, while the roof bears rails and, in some cases, a panoramic sunroof. The top SX-Prestige offers an X-Line Package that includes unique bumpers, a roof rack, grey wheels, special fender badging, and a one-inch ride height increase.

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Dimensions

Interestingly, the styling of the base LX version of the Sorento results in dimensions that are a little shorter than the rest, with a length measuring 189 inches on the dot. On all other models, it's 189.4 while the 110.8-inch wheelbase is common to all trims. Width on all models measures 74.8 inches while height on front-wheel-drive models is rated at 66.7 inches. AWD versions are rated at 70.3 inches in height. Approach and departure angles have a rating of 16.8 and 22.1 degrees respectively. Ground clearance for FWD models is 6.9 inches while AWD can manage 8.2 inches. Curb weights vary greatly based on engine and drivetrain, starting at 3,715 lbs and topping out at 4,065 lbs, the latter on 1.6T hybrid models.

  • Length 188.9 in
  • Wheelbase 110.8 in
  • Height 66.7 in
  • Max Width 74.8 in
  • Curb Weight 3,794.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

A wide variety of paint colors is offered with the Sorento. The base model has access to attractive hues like Passion Red, Sparkling Silver, Gravity Gray, Ebony Black, Crystal Beige, Everlasting Silver, and Glacial White Pearl. The white and red shades cost $445 extra. The S trim adds the availability of Sapphire Blue with the same $445 surcharge. Exclusive to the SX-Prestige X-Line Package is Aruba Green, which looks great and gives it a militant presence, particularly with the aggressive X-Line styling.

  • Passion Red Tintcoat
  • Glacier White Pearl
  • Sapphire Blue
  • Everlasting Silver
  • Sparkling Silver
  • Crystal Beige
  • Gravity Grey
  • Ebony Black
  • Aruba Green

Sorento Performance

The 2021 Kia Sorento is offered - for the time being - with three engine choices. The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque. This is directed to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, but you can have AWD if you prefer. There's also a turbocharged 2.5-liter available on the EX and higher trims. This mill generates an impressive 281 hp and 311 lb-ft, but instead of a traditional automatic, you get an eight-speed dual-clutch. Alternatively, you can have a hybrid. It, too, comes with a four-cylinder, but it's a 1.6-liter engine. On its own, it produces 177 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, but with the aid of an electric motor, total output is rated at 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. A plug-in hybrid is coming soon too, promising 261 hp. Both hybrids eschew the eight-speed in favor of a six-speed auto.

So how does the Sorento perform? Well, the base model can tow up to 2,000 lbs, while the turbocharged variants can manage 3,500 lbs. Towing capacities for the hybrid models have not yet been released. Kia lists a sub-7.4-second 0 to 60 mph time for the turbocharged Sorento with front-wheel-drive, but the base model is considerably slower at between 9.5 and 10 seconds. As for top speed, this is not the sort of car to be chasing V-max in.

2021 Kia Sorento Rear Angle View CarBuzz
2021 Kia Sorento Gear Shifter CarBuzz
2021 Kia Sorento Engine Bay CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-pot with 191 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque, while the 2.5-liter turbo produces 281 horses with 311 lb-ft of twist. The only hybrid model available at the moment comes with a 1.6-liter turbo-four that makes a total of 227 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. We only had a chance to sample the Sorento with its most potent engine option, which felt adequate if not overpowered in this application. The front-drive model is easily capable of torching the tires, while the all-wheel-drive model puts down its power more modestly.

Having sampled Kia's eight-speed automatic transmission in the K5, we can safely assume that it operates smoothly and without drama in the Sorento. The eight-speed DCT in the turbo model is much improved over the old seven-speed unit, thanks in part to a new wet clutch design. This transmission delivers imperceptible shifts and quick changes when required. Some DCT 'boxes suffer from lurchiness in stop-and-go-traffic, but we didn't notice any of that here.

  • Engines
    2.5L Inline-4 Gas, 2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

Based on Kia's latest successes with the K5, Seltos, and Telluride, we expected the new Sorento to offer stellar performance. It didn't disappoint, and overall, the Sorento behaves like a car. The steering feels tight, especially in Sport Mode, while the chassis delivers well-balanced body control and a compliant ride. Kia offers Comfort and Eco Modes, though Smart Mode is our favorite because it can swap profiles based on how the car is being driven. Opting for the all-wheel-drive X-Line adds a Snow Mode, but we didn't have a chance to use it as conditions were warm for the duration of our test drive. It's not the quietest vehicle in its segment, but the Sorento's excellent driving dynamics belong up there with much pricier offerings. The Sorento may be a mid-size vehicle, but excellent tuning helps it feel smaller out on the road, almost like a compact crossover.

If we had only one fault with the Sorento, it's the massive torque steer found on front-wheel-drive models with the turbocharged engine. 311 pound-feet is a lot of torque to send only towards the front wheels, and the Sorento's tires are simply not up to the task. Right through to third gear, aggressive acceleration will see the tires chirping. Adding AWD solves the problem, but the extra weight slows things down marginally.

2021 Sorento Gas Mileage

As you'd expect, the hybrid model delivers the most efficient mileage. The EPA gives the Kia Sorento hybrid a rating of 39/35/37 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, and with a 17.7-gallon gas tank, it should achieve a whopping 655 miles of range with mixed driving. FWD versions of the non-turbo 2.5-liter engine return lower figures of 24/29/26 mpg on the same cycles while the turbo motor promises 22/29/25 mpg. Opt for AWD and the N/A engine will manage 23/25/24 mpg while the turbocharged version is rated at 21/28/24 mpg. Kia says that when the plug-in hybrid version arrives, it will be able to do 30 miles of pure electric driving.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    18.8 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 24/29 mpg
* 2021 Kia Sorento LX FWD

Sorento Interior

The interior of the Kia Sorento is splendidly laid out, with good use of attractive materials and beautiful design. Depending on which model you get, you will have different interior trim elements, but everything seems very well built. The base model gets cloth upholstery while the top trim is dressed in leather. All the models in between get SynTex faux leather. As standard, there's an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display and a 4.2-inch driver info display, but further up the range, you can get a 10.25-inch touchscreen display and a 12.3-inch driver info display, a first for the Sorento. Standard features include a six-speaker sound system, but you can get luxury features like heated and ventilated front seats, a Bose audio setup, and a surround-view camera.

2021 Kia Sorento Dashboard CarBuzz
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Seating and Interior Space

Kia describes the Sorento as a vehicle with either four-plus-two or five-plus-two seating configurations. This description basically admits that it's not a full three-row vehicle like the Telluride, despite the Kia Sorento having 7 seats; the rear accommodations are designed for occasional use or small children only. Kia includes sliding second-row seats that offer up to 41.7 inches of legroom, which is exceptional for a vehicle of this size in comparison to the competition. That second row can be configured with captain's chairs or as a bench. If second-row occupants are willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort by sliding their seats up, the third row provides up to 29.6 inches of legroom, but we wouldn't want to sit in the 3rd-row of the Kia Sorento for a long road trip. They aren't terrible on shorter journeys, though, especially for shorter passengers.

  • Seating capacity
    7-seater
  • Front Leg Room 41.4 in
  • Front Head Room 40.3 in
  • Rear Leg Room 41.7 in
  • Rear Head Room 39.1 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The base Sorento LX only comes with black cloth seating with metal paint accent trim. Stepping up to the S trim adds SynTex seat trim in black or grey, and this material carries over to the EX and SX trim levels, with the EX adding open-pore wood trim. Only the top SX-Prestige offers genuine leather in grey or black while the optional rust color only comes with the X-Line Package, replacing the metallic trim with wood. Both of our SX-Prestige testers boasted excellent materials that wouldn't seem out of place in a more expensive luxury vehicle.

Sorento Trunk and Cargo Space

Since the Sorento isn't described as a full six- or seven-seater, there's not much space when all three rows are upright. In this configuration, you get 12.6 cubic feet of volume. Fold the third row down and you get a maximum of 45 cubes. Leave only the first row in place and you open up a whopping 75.5 cubes. That's enough to take a couple of mountain bikes to the trail and still have space for camping equipment, if that's your thing.

In the cabin, first-row passengers get decently sized door pockets, a large glovebox, center console storage, a pair of cupholders, and center armrest storage. But don't worry, passengers in the other rows get door pockets too, albeit small ones, and cupholders too.

2021 Kia Sorento Third Row Seats CarBuzz
2021 Kia Sorento Trunk Space CarBuzz
2021 Kia Sorento Maximum Trunk Space CarBuzz

Sorento Infotainment and Features

Features

As standard, the base Sorento gets automatic LED headlights, remote keyless entry, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, a 4.2-inch driver info display, hill start assist, heated wing mirrors, and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. Available upgrades include push-button ignition, remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and vehicle exit warning, a 10-way power driver's seat, rear parking sensors, and heated and ventilated front seats. Also available are things like wireless charging, radar-based cruise control, full adaptive cruise control, a hands-free power tailgate, a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, cyclist detection and front cross-traffic alert, an eight-way power-adjustable passenger seat, a surround-view camera, reverse automatic braking, a heated steering wheel, and a blind-spot camera with a display in a 12.3-inch driver info cluster.

Infotainment

The base Sorento LX ships with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included alongside other features such as Bluetooth. AM, FM, and HD Radio go out through a six-speaker stereo on the LX. The S trim adds SiriusXM satellite radio while the EX adds a wireless phone charger. Stepping up to the SX adds Navigation and increases the touchscreen size to 10.25 inches but eliminates the wireless compatibility for Android and Apple. The SX-Prestige comes decked out with a 12.3-inch Supervision Meter Cluster and a 12-speaker Bose audio system with a Sounds of Nature feature.

Sorento Problems and Reliability

Reliability is an important part of making a car good, and the Sorento has been brilliant. The last recalls only occurred with the 2018 model, so there should be nothing to worry about with the new generation when ratings are finally in.

Warranty coverage is pretty good too, with a limited warranty covering the first five years or 60,000 miles of ownership. Included is a powertrain warranty for the first 10 years or 100,000 miles, but unlike over at Hyundai, no complimentary scheduled maintenance is offered.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    10 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles

Sorento Safety Rating

At the time of writing, there are no safety reviews of the 2021 Kia Sorento, but the 2020 version did well with a maximum of five stars overall from the NHTSA. The IIHS scored this model similarly, awarding it a 2020 Top Safety Pick award. We doubt that the 2021 model will deteriorate in terms of safety, so buyers should have peace of mind.

Key Safety Features

As standard, every Sorento is equipped with dual frontal, side-impact, rear side-impact, full-length curtain, and driver's knee airbags. You'll find a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, along with lane keep assist, a driver attention warning system, hill start assist, and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection. Available options include blind-spot monitoring with vehicle exit warning and rear cross-traffic alert, cyclist detection for the forward collision system, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, front cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic emergency braking, a surround-view camera, and a blind-spot camera.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Kia Sorento a good SUV?

Learning from the success of the Telluride, Kia has built another stellar SUV. The 2021 Kia Sorento enters to fill a void in the market left by smaller mid-size SUVs that do not offer an optional third row. Though it's not as practical as the Telluride, we think buyers who prefer a smaller vehicle footprint will appreciate the Sorento and its third row that comes in handy in a pinch. Combined with sporty styling, a well-arranged interior, and stellar driving performance, and the Sorento shapes up as a compelling package.

The similarly-size Hyundai Santa Fe offers the same engines bundled in a differently-styled package, but without an option for a third row. Likewise, the Kia Telluride offers more available features and more passenger/cargo space, but it's more expensive and thirstier than the Sorento. Think of the Sorento as a Goldilocks vehicle positioned between the two-row compact crossovers and the three-row midsize SUVs, and it makes perfect sense.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Kia Sorento?

The base LX version of the Sorento carries an MSRP of $29,390 before a $1,175 destination charge. Next up in the regular range is the S trim which carries a base price of $31,890, followed by the EX which starts at $34,990. The SX is three grand dearer while the top SX-Prestige model costs $40,590. There's not much to add to this trim, but with additions like the rear-seat entertainment system, you'll spend around $48,000 for a fully loaded version. On all models bar the top trim, AWD costs $1,800. On the SX-Prestige, it's two grand. The hybrid model, called HEV, costs $33,590 for the S version and $36,590 for the EX. Overall, the price of the Kia Sorento is appropriate for its segment and shows it's a high value-for-money proposition.

New Kia Sorento Models

The Sorento is sold in seven trims: LX, S, HEV S, HEV EX, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige. All models get FWD as standard with AWD as an option.

The LX kicks things off with a 2.5-liter four-banger that generates 191 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed auto controls shifts for this model. The cheapest SUV in the Kia Sorento range gets LED headlights, an eight-inch infotainment display, a six-speaker sound system, remote keyless entry, six USB charging ports, and heated wing mirrors.

Next is the S trim which upgrades from 17-inch alloys to 18s. It gains synthetic leather in place of fabric upholstery, two more USB ports, a power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, and a sportier body. Dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-lever, blind-spot monitoring, and remote start are added.

The EX changes things up a little more with a turbocharged engine that produces a healthy 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. A dual-clutch transmission is fitted with this engine, and you get second-row captain's chairs, wireless charging, a hands-free tailgate, and radar-guided cruise control.

Hybrid versions of the Sorento are based on the S and EX and have these as sub-trims, but the HEV S gets 17-inch alloys instead of 18s. Power is derived from a 1.6-liter turbo unit that combines with an electric motor to make 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The HEV EX version uses the same powertrain and has many of the same features as the regular, gasoline-powered EX, but gets front and rear parking sensors.

Getting back to the gas models in the Kia Sorento lineup, the SX builds on the EX with 20-inch wheels, full-LED projector headlights, a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display, LED taillights, navigation, a power-adjustable passenger seat, and adaptive cruise control.

Finally, we have the SX-Prestige. This model features heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, genuine leather upholstery, a surround-view camera, power-folding wing mirrors, and a 12-speaker Bose sound system.

See All 2021 Kia Sorento Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

The Kia Sorento range is curated to provide you with the specs you need from one trim. As such, bulk packages with multiple options aren't offered in the USA. However, you can get a rear-seat entertainment system for $1,500, illuminated scuff plates for $310, and crossbars for X-Line roof rails for $360. Bear in mind, however, that this is only available on the range-topping SX-Prestige model. If you want all-wheel-drive, it'll cost you $1,800 extra on every model bar the range-topper, which adds $2,000 to your build price.

🚗What Kia Sorento Model Should I Buy?

The 2021 Kia Sorento is an affordable entry into the world of three-row SUVs, but we think it is best enjoyed with the turbocharged engine. The EX trim is the cheapest way to get the turbo starting at $34,990, but we'd add all-wheel-drive for $1,800 to eliminate the insane torque steer. We'd go ahead and add the panoramic roof for $1,300, bringing the price to a reasonable $38,535. If you are willing to go all-out, the fully-loaded SX-Prestige trim with the X-Line Package for $42,590 makes a compelling option against similarly-sized luxury vehicles that costs tens of thousands more.

Check out other Kia Sorento Styles

2021 Kia Sorento Comparisons

Hyundai Santa Fe Hyundai
Kia Sportage Kia
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Kia Sorento191 hp24/29 mpg$29,390
Hyundai Santa Fe 185 hp22/29 mpg$26,275
Kia Sportage 181 hp23/30 mpg$24,090

2021 Kia Sorento vs Hyundai Santa Fe

The Hyundai Santa Fe shares its underpinnings with the Kia Sorento, and like the Sorento, has been redesigned for 2021. However, this is a five-seater with plenty of space for all occupants, instead of a seven-seater with a cramped third row. Like the Sorento, a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display and a 12.3-inch digital driver display are new, and like the Sorento, a hybrid version is available too. The other engine offerings offered with the Sorento also do duty in the Santa Fe, and pricing is very similar, so which should you buy? We like the exciting and unique styling of the new Santa Fe and feel that this car looks and feels more premium. But ultimately, this is a simple choice: if you need seven seats, get the Sorento. If you don't, get the Santa Fe.

See Hyundai Santa Fe Review

2021 Kia Sorento vs Kia Sportage

The Sportage is basically a smaller version of the Sorento, but you wouldn't say so by looking at it. It has styling that is reminiscent of Kia's past design language, but that doesn't make it a bad vehicle in any way. What does put it behind the Sorento is its towing capacity of only 2,000 lbs, while the Sorento can manage up to 3,500. This is because the Sportage comes with either an older 2.4-liter four-pot with 181 hp or a 2.0-liter turbo with a maximum of 240 horses. Still, you do get the option of AWD, but the six-speed auto is a little frantic when you have the weaker engine. Overall, the Sorento is a more capable car, but with a smaller footprint that makes parking easier and a base price that is more than $6k cheaper than that of the Sorento, the Sportage is still an attractive offering.

See Kia Sportage Review

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2021 Kia Sorento Video Reviews

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