Kia Sorento Has Two Things That Competitors Don't

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It occupies a unique spot in the market.

The recently-launched 2021 Kia Sorento is now arriving at dealerships, and hot off of driving it, we were invited to speak with manufacturer representatives to ask questions about the new model. With the Telluride, Kia has already proven itself capable of creating a stellar mid-size three-row SUV to rival the like of the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, but the Sorento's role in the lineup is much less well-defined.

"We are a little bit of a 'tweener,'" acknowledged Mark Savino, Product Strategy Manager at Kia Motors America. "There's not another three-row in that segment. The other [crossovers] that we compare to - e.g. Ford Edge, Chevy Blazer, Volkswagen Atlas CrossSport - all have only two-rows." Kia says the Sorento is positioned squarely below the other three-row mid-size options like the Pilot, Highlander, Atlas, Telluride, and Palisade, but this is a strength, not a weakness.

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"We've had a third row in three out of four Sorento generations and our customers love it," Savino added. "We could have taken it out, but we didn't because customers appreciate having a three-row of this size. It's kind of our little space [in the market]. As a result, we sometimes have trouble comparing ourselves. Sometimes the customer doesn't segment SUVs how we do. In the previous generation, V6 customers would cross-shop Highlander and Explorer. The four-cylinder was shopped against RAV4 and CR-V. In this case, we may see the 2.5 Turbo compete against the upper size [SUVs]."

The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid presents yet another unique selling point. "There are not a lot of three-row hybrid SUVs," Savino says. "The Highlander is the only one, and the Sorento is one mpg better." Kia will only offer the Sorento Hybrid in S and EX trims, keeping the price relatively affordable. Buyers who want the nicer SX trim will need to opt for the upcoming plug-in hybrid model, which increases the power output and offers 30 miles of electric driving range. Savino also pointed out that the Sorento will be the only affordable three-row plug-in hybrid on the market.

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"We see it as a Goldilocks product. It's a global product that fits in," whereas the larger Telluride is only sold in North America and the Middle East, Savino told CarBuzz. "From a customer perspective, we are targeting Telluride for families. It's the big three-row SUV from Kia. The Sorento is a family bookend - for someone just starting out who will grow into the third row. Or on the other end, someone who is downsizing with the kids out of the house, but might have the occasional grandkids visit."

Kia says it is quite bullish on the hybrid take-rate, expecting nearly 15-20% of sales to be electrified. On the gas-only side, Kia expects around a 50-50 split on front-wheel drive versus all-wheel drive, with the X-Line model acting as a halo model of sorts. The company has already shown more rugged concept versions of the Sorento based on the X-Line, but asked about the possibility of a sportier GT model, they opted to leave us wondering.

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