So you want a five-seat SUV. Well, actually, something that seats seven would be helpful. But it shouldn’t be too big. And it must be comfortable, with amenities for everyone. Quick enough, too—who likes going slow? Plus, sometimes you take that dirt shortcut, so it needs off-road capability. Just make sure it’s also practical, safe, and a good value. Is that too much to ask for? The 2021 Kia Sorento has been redesigned this year, and seeks to do all that and do it better than before. We brought in a Sorento SX X-Line AWD—at $43,765 to start, the most upscale, powerful, and off-road(ish) model in the lineup—for track testing and real-world evaluation to find out if this everything-for-everyone strategy works.
Take a moment to check out the new styling. It’s a far cry from previous models; just look at it next to the puffy, anonymous last-generation car. Opinions may be divided on the design, but it’s safe to say that now more than ever, style is a Sorento selling point.
That notion continues inside. Unlike before, it seems as if Kia’s design team actually tried to bring visual interest to the Sorento’s cabin. Details such as the geometric air vents, the chunky door handles, and the binnacle housing the gauges and infotainment all stand out. And the elements appear to be exceptionally well-assembled.
Although it’s a midsize SUV, the Sorento seats seven as standard, or six with the available second-row captain’s chairs. This in-between packaging mostly works. The big rear doors make climbing in easy. There’s good headroom in each row, enough for adults in the rearmost seat. The third row’s low seat cushion and high floor force a knees-up seating position, however, and legroom is limited. Also, the cargo area is small when the third row is in use.
For more on the Sorento’s cabin, check out our in-depth interior review.
Ultimately, Kia’s larger and award-winning Telluride functions better as a three-row SUV. And it’s not much more expensive than the Sorento tested here. Yet even if the Sorento isn’t as outright practical, it has another calling card: lively performance.
Pretty Quick—And a Little Clumsy
Gone is the previous range-topping V-6. It’s been replaced by a 2.5-liter turbocharged I-4 producing 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, paired to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, but, as we found in our 2021 Sorento First Drive, insufficient to contain that bountiful torque—all-wheel drive, as fitted to this test car, is essential.
At the track, 0-60 mph acceleration took 6.3 seconds, making the Sorento about as quick as V-6-equipped competitors such as the Honda Passport or Ford Edge. It’s much quicker than the Telluride AWD, which, with 10 more horsepower but 49 fewer lb-ft from its V-6, needs 7.2 seconds to hit 60 mph.
Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana noted that the engine “pulls strongly once it’s going, but seems to roll into the power—turbo lag?” There’s some of that, or it could’ve been slow clutch engagement, one of the dual-clutch transmission’s foibles. Although we felt none of the shuddering that early production vehicles exhibited in our first drive, the dual-clutch automatic again made low-speed maneuvers tricky. When combined with the engine’s start/stop system, there was a delay between letting off the brake and moving forward. Transitions from braking to acceleration could catch it between gears, too. The transmission’s quick shifts can’t excuse its clumsiness. Note that the base Sorento engine and the hybrids use conventional planetary-type automatics that should behave more normally.
The Sorento 2.5T X-Line’s EPA fuel economy rating of 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined is respectable, if not outstanding. Greater efficiency can be had with the Sorento hybrid—with EPA estimates of 37/39/35 mpg—and the upcoming plug-in hybrid.
Stopping from 60 mph took 115 feet, tying the 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander and inspiring more confidence than the Volkswagen Tiguan, , which needed 124 feet. Ayapana commented on the amount of dive under braking, which could be due in part to this X-Line model’s higher ground clearance compared to other versions. Yet throughout testing it stopped straight and faded little.
On the street, the Sorento isn’t particularly sporty, becoming a bit floaty over undulating pavement and not offering much in the way of steering feel. But the fundamentals are strong. “There’s amazing balance on the skidpad,” said road test editor Chris Walton after measuring an 0.85-g average result. Walton appreciated how the AWD system helps the car “come off a corner very well,” part of what let the Sorento hit a 26.5-second, 0.67-g average figure-eight lap—just behind Kia’s K5 GT sedan.
Lots of Features
What does the Sorento have besides three rows and solid performance? Features—lots of features. Every Sorento includes cupholders, storage spaces, and air vents in each row. Both front seatbacks have pockets, and the second row folds with one-touch functionality.
There’s technology galore. With up to eight USB ports, two 12-volt outlets, and a wireless charger, there’s no excuse to run out of juice. Our Sorento SX Prestige trim test car’s snazzy 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster was joined by a 10.3-inch touchscreen running Kia’s intuitive user interface. Curbing the 20-inch wheels wasn’t a concern thanks to a sharp, 360-degree-view camera system. A voice amplifier helps rear passengers hear those in the front seats.
Niceties on the SX Prestige trim include heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. Its quilted and perforated upholstery looks great, and there’s a huge panoramic sunroof above. Details such as brake auto-hold, three-level automatic climate control, and LED cabin lighting seem minor but help the Sorento experience feel premium.
Every Sorento has driver-assist and active-safety features including automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, a rear-seat occupant reminder, and speed limit adaptation. High-end models have video blind-spot monitoring, rear and side cross traffic alert, and rear automatic braking. Adaptive cruise control is part of the available highway driving assist system, which delivers on its name by making open-road cruising as simple as keeping a light grip on the wheel.
Everything For Everyone?
Amidst the dozens of SUVs available for 2021, it’s easy to find options that have most of what you’re looking for. Finding one that has everything is tough. The Sorento’s all-of-the above approach comes with some compromises. It’s not as roomy for passengers as a larger three-row, and midsizers that don’t squeeze in extra seats have more cargo space. Its awkward transmission detracts from the turbo engine’s solid performance numbers. Still, the Sorento’s styling and abundant features help it stand out. That it’s able to do so nestled between two crowded segments is commendable.
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