Kia's latest mid-size SUV is another winner.
It doesn't seem to matter if they are small, large, or somewhere in the middle, Kia keeps releasing stellar new products. The company's latest model is the 2021 Kia Sorento, which was revealed for the United States back in September and slots above the Sportage but below the Telluride. Positioned as a midsize crossover, the Sorento splits the difference between most midsize two-row models and three-row models that might be too large for some families.
Kia is hoping that the new Sorento's unique size will attract buyers who are split between smaller crossovers like a Toyota RAV4 or larger ones like the Highlander and Telluride. CarBuzz was sent two Sorento models to drive, an SX Prestige and an SX Prestige with the X-Line package, and we quickly found plenty to love about them. Here are seven of the best features.
After so much positive reception with the Telluride, Kia could have just hit "copy-paste" to create the Sorento. Instead, it gave this vehicle a unique look that feels more "K5 gone SUV" than a "mini-Telluride." The top SX Prestige trim level looks premium while the X-Line package adds more rugged styling elements such as grey wheels, tougher front and rear fascias, roof racks, and cool X-Line badging on the fenders.
Sorento models with all-wheel-drive also sit an inch higher while the X-Line features a center locking differential with downhill descent control. Buyers who opt for the X-Line package also gain access to a stunning Aruba Green color, which is unavailable on any other Sorento model.
Categorized as a "tweener" in the midsize crossover segment, models that directly compete with the Sorento - namely the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, and Volkswagen Atlas CrossSport - only have two rows of seating. While the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, and Volkswagen Atlas are all larger, but they also cost more.
The Sorento's third row isn't massive, but it comes in handy in a pinch. Kia included sliding second-row seats, which allow for up to 41.6 inches of legroom. With the second row slid up, the third row is livable with 29.6 inches of legroom. Kia offers the Sorento with captain's chairs or a second-row bench, so it can be a six- or seven-seater.
The SX Prestige trim comes exclusively with the Sorento's larger engine, a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This is the same turbo four-put found in models like the K5 GT, but in this application produces a healthy 281 horsepower and 311-lb-ft going mated to an improved eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. There is so much torque on tap, the engine can roast its tires on front-wheel-drive models, so we suggest opting for AWD.
Kia says this combination averages 25 mpg combined, which is 3 mpg better than the outgoing V6 model. For even better fuel economy, the new Sorento Hybrid delivers 37 mpg combined from a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine paired with an electric motor to produce 227 hp. A plug-in hybrid model will soon join the lineup with 261 hp.
Inside, the Sorento continues the trend of Kia offering impressive technology at a reasonable price. The SX trim comes decked out with cool tech options, including a 12.3-inch gauge cluster, 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, 12-speaker Bose audio system, a surround-view monitor, and a cool blind-spot camera system that appears in the gauge cluster. All of these features work flawlessly and are intuitive to use.
The Sorento wasn't built with performance in mind, but Kia's engineers haven't let that stop them from making it a pleasurable driving experience. Everything from the suspension to the steering feel is calibrated better than most midsize crossovers. In fact, there are a number of German luxury automakers that could learn a thing or two from how the Sorento handles around a corner.
With the optional turbocharged engine, it's quick too. The FWD model is comical with its torque steer and wheel-spin, although drivers might have fun doing the occasional burnout. With AWD, the torque steer is mostly eliminated and the Sorento's excellent chassis balance can shine through.
Whether downsizing from a larger SUV or upgrading from a sedan or smaller crossover, buyers will feel like the Sorento is the perfect size. Behind the third row, it only offers room for a small grocery run with 12.6 cubic feet. Fold down those seats, and the Sorento opens to 45 cubic feet. With both rear rows folded, the Sorento packs up to 75.5 cubic feet of space, which should be adequate for most families.
In its top SX Prestige trim level, the Kia Sorento makes us wonder why some luxury automakers charge more than twice as much for their products. Before destination and handling, the SX X-Line trim tops out at just $42,590. For reference, a less powerful Mercedes-Benz GLE with fewer options and a smaller second row starts at $54,750. A BMW X5 has more power than the Sorento, but it costs $59,400 to start. With options, those two vehicles can easily exceed $80,000.
We'd be daft to say that the Kia matches these brands' level of luxury, but the gap is much smaller than those prices would imply. The SX Prestige has everything luxury shoppers could want in an SUV, including heated and ventilated front seats, a panoramic roof, diamond-quilted leather, and much more. If it were our money, we'd take the Kia Sorento plus an expensive vacation over the vast majority of similarly-sized crossovers.