2021 Kia Sorento Review | What's new, price, hybrid fuel economy, pictures

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The Kia Sorento has always gone its own way. We'll spare you a history lesson, but in short, Kia's midsize crossover has never fit neatly into a same-sized competitive set. That continues for the all-new, fourth-generation 2021 Kia Sorento. It's still a midsize crossover, it still has three rows of seats, but it's still not as big as other three-row family crossovers, including Kia's own Telluride. Not everyone needs that much space. At the same time, though, perhaps you might need more than the Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV4s of the world provide — plus a few extra seats. For many, the Sorento should make a lot of sense.

The biggest change for 2021, then, is the amount of variety the Sorento now offers. The new X-Line trim model is basically Kia's answer to the Subaru Outback or perhaps a Toyota RAV4 Adventure. It gets an extra inch of ground clearance for a lofty 8.3 inches total, standard all-wheel drive with a locking center differential, more functional roof racks and different styling. It's no rock crawler, but for weekend adventures, it should do the job nicely. All other trims get revised styling as well, with the SX in particular slathered in glossy black trim and wheels. It's the interior that sees the bigger visual overhaul, plus an injection of the latest technology, plus a slight improvement to the Sorento's already above-average interior quality.

There are huge changes under the hood. The base four-cylinder is bigger and a bit more powerful, while the old V6 engine upgrade gives way to a 2.5-liter turbo inline-four good for 281 horsepower and a robust 311 pound-feet of torque that smokes all those bigger three-row crossovers — including the Telluride. From there, things get green. The Sorento joins the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer as the only three-row hybrids, and betters them both with an estimated 37 miles per gallon combined. Then there's the new Sorento Plug-In Hybrid, which is the only three-row plug-in hybrid SUV from a non-luxury brand. It can go an estimated 32 miles on a charge, which should be more than enough to run the day’s chores without the turbocharged gas engine firing up.

All of this makes for a compelling, diverse lineup. Whether you're considering one of the larger compact SUVs, a two-row midsize SUV or a bigger three-row family crossover, the new Sorento is a smart alternative to consider and one of our top recommended midsize SUVs.

What's new for 2021?

The Sorento is all-new for 2021.

What are the Sorento interior and in-car technology like?

The Sorento's interior was already a pretty nice place to spend time, so don't expect a big uptick in materials quality. Instead, it looks more distinctive for 2021 without being a carbon copy of the Telluride (in general, we appreciate that Kia doesn't subscribe to Russian Nesting Doll car design). The main difference between trim levels, besides features, is the strip of dash trim in front of the passenger and the fanciness of upholstery. Besides cloth or leather, the latter gets quilted leather on the SX. The hybrid models also get a rotary transmission selector (pictured above) instead of the traditional PRND stick.

Not surprisingly, technology is increased and upgraded for 2021. Upper trim levels get the most, of course, including a new 12.3-inch all-digital instrument panel and the same 10.25-inch touchscreen found in the Telluride. It's incredibly user-friendly, feature-packed and one of our favorite interfaces on the market (though admittedly, some things on the right side of the screen are a bit of a reach). The kids should appreciate that there are eight USB ports in all but the LX, which only has six.

How big is the Sorento?

The Sorento has three rows of seats and is considered a midsize crossover, but it's considerably smaller than other vehicles described as such. It's 8 inches shorter in length than the Telluride and 4 inches narrower, which is significant. It also has nearly 2 fewer inches of third-row legroom and 3.1 fewer inches of middle-row shoulder room, two dimensions most likely to make a difference when loading up with people. All that said, the Telluride is one of the biggest vehicles in the segment, and the Sorento isn't that far off the pace. It even has more third-row space than the Toyota Highlander. It's also important to note the Sorento has basically the same exterior dimensions as two-row midsize crossovers like the Honda Passport and Hyundai Santa Fe -- in that way, the third row can basically be thought of as a bonus feature for occasional use.

One thing to keep in mind: a second-row bench seat is optional on most trims, meaning there is frequently only six seats aboard with the second-row captain's chairs and two-person third row. Most three-row crossovers these days have seatbelts for seven or eight depending on the middle seating row.

Cargo space with the third-row lowered (38.4 cubic-feet) and all seats lowered (75.5) is better than what you'll get in most two-row midsize SUVs (and roughly what you get in a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4). Where it really seems to suffer relative other three-row crossovers is cargo space behind the raised third row. Its mere 12.6 cubic feet trails all those bigger three-rows considerably, and in terms of actual luggage, should only accommodate two medium-sized bags like this Cadillac XT6.

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What are the Sorento’s performance and fuel economy?

The 2021 Sorento LX and S trim levels come standard with a 2.5-liter inline-four that produces 191 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. This is comparable to what you'd find under the hoods of compact SUVs like the CR-V and RAV4. A traditional eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive are standard, with all-wheel drive an option. Kia says this engine will get the Sorento from 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 9.5 seconds, which is slower than the CR-V and RAV4, and indicative of the Sorento's greater weight. Fuel economy is estimated to be 24 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with FWD and 23/25/24 with AWD.

Opting for the EX or SX is therefore a good idea as they bring with them a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four good 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque — which exceeds bigger three-row SUVs. Its 0-62 time is 7.4 seconds, which is more competitive but hardly eye-popping given the available power. Front-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is optional on the EX and SX, not available on the SX Prestige and standard on SX X-Line. An eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is also standard. Fuel economy is 22/29/25 with FWD and 21/28/24 with AWD. That's also better than those bigger three-row SUVs.

The Sorento Hybrid (pictured in the above gallery) pairs a 1.6-liter turbo inline-four with an electric motor for a total system output of 227 hp in the Hybrid S and 228 hp in Hybrid EX. Front-wheel drive is standard, and unlike the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, you can't get all-wheel drive. Fuel economy estimates are exceptional at 39 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 37 mpg combined.

The Sorento Plug-In Hybrid, pictured below, adds a bigger battery and electric motor to the same turbo engine, increasing output to 261 hp and providing an estimated all-electric range of 32 miles. That should easily make it the most efficient three-row SUV. It is eligible for a $6,587 federal tax credit.

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What's the Sorento like to drive?

The new Sorento improves upon the previous version with better handling. It feels more connected, with less squishy ride (even a bit on the stiff side with these testers’ 20-inch wheels) that improves cornering and body roll without letting every road imperfection jar the occupants. The steering has a decent heft to it, again feeling more connected, weighting up with steering angle and reacting to the road beneath it. For a three-row crossover, the new Sorento can actually hold up to those more spirited errand runs without punishing the driver with either sloppy response or a crashy experience.

We have not had the opportunity to drive a 2021 Sorento with the base engine or the hybrids, so we can only comment on the new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine option. In short, it has serious guts. Its 281 hp and 311 lb-ft is an awful lot to feed through the front wheels alone, and not surprisingly, the front-wheel-drive Sorento EX we tested demonstrated plenty of torque steer when accelerating hard from a stop or powering out of a corner. You'll also end up interacting with the stability control system more often, especially on slippery surfaces. The available all-wheel-drive system results in the turbo Sorento feeling less spastic off the line and significantly more confident in the snow. We found no issues with the transmissions, despite the dual-clutch automated manual being an atypical choice for family SUVs.

What other Kia Sorento reviews can I read?

2021 Kia Sorento First Drive Review

Our first review of the Sorento, including driving impressions of the EX and SX Prestige, both with the turbo engine.

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line Road Test

We review the X-Line version of the range-topping SX Prestige. Though pricey, it's nevertheless a good value compared to similarly small three-row crossovers.

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line
2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line

What features are available and what's the price?

Pricing for the 2021 Sorento LX (base trim) starts at $30,560, including the $1,170 destination charge. If you want all-wheel-drive, add $1,800 to the price.

There are six trim levels for the non-hybrid models. The LX 2.5, S 2.5, EX 2.5T, SX 2.5T, SX Prestige 2.5T and SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T. The latter is distinctive for having an extra inch of ground clearance, more functional roof rails, more rugged styling and standard all-wheel drive. It is pictured below.

Standard equipment on the LX includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, rear privacy glass, a manual height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, third-row seats, a second-row bench, six USB ports, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a six-speaker sound system.

The S and EX seem like the more appealing choices. They add 18-inch wheels, gloss-black exterior trim, roof rails, proximity entry, dual-zone climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather upholstery, in-car Wi-Fi, satellite radio, and eight USB ports. The EX really only differs by adding the turbo engine and second-row captain's chairs that reduce their seating capacity to six. The SX trims have those, too, but slather on additional luxury niceties.

The Hybrid is only available in S and EX trim levels, and comes standard with the captain's chairs. It doesn't seem like the SX's added luxuries are available. We don't yet know the plug-in hybrid's feature content.

A full breakdown of pricing by trim level follows, and you can get even more detailed specifications and information here on Autoblog.

  • LX 2.5: $30,560

  • S 2.5: $33,060

  • EX 2.5T: $36,160

  • SX 2.5T: $39,160

  • SX Prestige 2.5T: $41,760

  • SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T: $43,760

What are Sorento's safety equipment and crash ratings?

Every 2021 Kia Sorento comes standard with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, a driver inattention warning system and a rear occupant alert system. All but the LX also gets blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, rear parking sensors and Safe Exit Assist (warns rear seat occupants of incoming traffic from behind). The forward collision warning system in the EX and SX trims can detect cyclists and forward cross traffic. Those trims also get adaptive cruise control.

The 2021 Sorento has yet to be crash tested by a third party.

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