Before the chip shortage and coronavirus pandemic upended the global economy, the Kia Telluride was a hard vehicle to find. With the world still feeling the effects of those crises, Kia’s largest crossover is now an even tougher ticket to score, with dealers regularly marking up examples to take advantage of eager customers.
The 2021 Kia Sorento is the much-needed complement to the Telluride, capturing most of that vehicle’s appeal in a more manageable, affordable, and (hopefully) easier-to-find package. Alongside the award-winning crossover and the heavily revised K5 sedan, the heart of Kia’s family-focused lineup is more competitive than ever.
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Automotive design ebbs and flows, and in the case of crossovers, it’s swinging away from softer, more car-like designs in favor of tougher, more upright language. Like the brutal Telluride, the Sorento arrives at the right moment then, wearing chiseled sheetmetal and its upright stance well. Kia neatly married the hard lines of its largest CUV with the more refined and premium-looking elements of the K5. The result, particularly with our tester’s Aruba Green paint, is a handsome and modern take on the mid-size crossover.
The Sorento is something of a departure from its siblings in the cabin, retaining the same attractive and high-quality materials, but presenting them in a manner that feels more consistent with an SUV. The upright climate vents, which flank the HVAC controls and sit just below the optional 10.3-inch touchscreen, present a more rugged-looking center stack. A thick strip of matte wood trim joins the passenger and driver side, contrasting well with the silver-painted plastic, black leather, and piano-black trim.
Finally, our tester adds the poorly named Rust Color package, a $200 option that fits dark tan leather to the seats and door panels. It’s a good color and certainly feels rich, but we’re loath to willingly associate anything on a car with the word “rust.”
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Colorful upholstery aside, the first-row chairs are impressively comfortable, with ample adjustability and plenty of space for the folks up front. Ten-way adjustability is respectable for the class, while three-stage heating and ventilation keep occupants comfy regardless of the temperature. You’ll only find the butt chillers on the SX Prestige X-Line, though.
In back, Kia offers standard second-row captain’s chairs on all but the low-end LX and S trims. Accessing the second row is easy, with an ample footwell. And once settled, those chairs offer adequate long-haul support. Accessing the standard third row is surprisingly easy too, with the bottom of the buckets sliding and the seatbacks tilting forward, opening up a sizable aperture.
We’d hesitate to regularly cram adults into those third-row seats, as there’s just 29.6 inches of legroom and no real ventilation available (there are only two vents for the two rear rows). We made it back there, but our knees were in our chest. Still, competitors like the Ford Edge and Honda Passport lack a third row altogether, so we’ll count that as a win for the Kia – the flipside is that with the third row up, there’s just 6.6 cubic feet of space. Even with the last row stowed, the Sorento only offers 29.0 cubes, 10 less than an Edge and down substantially on the Passport (up to 50.5 cubes).
Seating aside, the Sorento has a quiet and impressively refined ride, snuffing out wind noise and minimizing the sounds of the road. Larger potholes present little threat to the Sorento’s overall comfort, with this crossover exhibiting impressive poise. High-speed stability trails some competitors, though, as the steering is light enough that it requires too many small corrections on the highway.
Technology & Connectivity
Hyundai and Kia (and to a lesser extent, Genesis) all share the same basic infotainment system, and while that’s kind of boring for reviewers like us, it’s good news for consumers who have access to excellent technology regardless of the segment they’re shopping in. Like so many other products from the South Korean outfit, the Sorento features an available 10.3-inch display (an 8.0-inch unit is standard), which the SX Prestige complements with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. We won’t go into too much detail here, but that’s only because we’ve covered this tech suite so extensively in the past.
That said, we will reiterate that the Kia has hit a homerun with this pretty and easy to learn suite. But it’s the small details that make us appreciate this pairing. The nature sounds, for example, are a fine way to decompress after a long day as the Bose audio system successfully mimics the gentle crashing of waves on a beach or the crackling of a fire on a winter’s day. The nixie-tube look of the radio display is delightful, and we like how the reconfigurable cluster has a minimalist setting that matches the weather and time of day.
In terms of functional equipment, our only complaint is the lack of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We’ve remarked on this before, but there’s no good reason for Hyundai/Kia to limit this wireless connectivity to the base display.
Performance & Handling
Our Sorento SX Prestige X-Line, the top-end trim, is only available with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. You’ll find a stout 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque with this setup, which is more powerful than just about everything else in the class (although the Sorento’s main competitors – the four-cylinder Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and outgoing Jeep Grand Cherokee – are all older than time itself). There’s even more torque than the larger Telluride.
Unsurprisingly, the Sorento has some real straight-line punch, with peak torque available from just 1,700 to 4,000 rpm. Even at 4,120 pounds, the Sorento pulls strongly off the line and has an impressive amount of staying power as the speedometer climbs. Highway passes are a breeze, and while there is some notable lag, the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission makes up for it once the turbo spools with quick and predictable upshifts.
But like its counterparts in this class, the Sorento is an uninspiring handler. That two-ton mass comes back to haunt it through the bends, presenting a vehicle that feels more substantial and cumbersome than rivals like the Edge. The steering is light and lacks feel, too, so there’s really little to recommend about this Kia when it comes to handling. Then again, we could make similar arguments about the rest of the class.
Kia’s active safety suite is one of the best in the business, full stop. Lane-keep assist with lane tracing, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, driver attention warning, and automatic high beams are standard on every Sorento trim, while adaptive cruise control is standard on most. The top three trims – SX, SX Prestige, and our SX Prestige X-Line – offer Kia’s Highway Driving Assist as standard.
HDA is technically a Level II driving aid, although it lacks the hands-free usability found with General Motors’ SuperCruise or Ford’s BlueCruise. Still, it reduces the strain of high-speed, long-distance driving substantially, responding well to surrounding traffic and handling high-speed curves safely and predictably. The only complaint we have is the small corrections the steering makes, which can feel disconcerting until you acclimate.
The EPA rates the 2021 Sorento with the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine and all-wheel drive at 21 miles per gallon city, 28 highway, and 24 combined. Our real-world experience was quite disappointing, though, as we recorded 21 mpg over nearly 300 miles of mixed driving. Blame the overzealous turbocharged engine.
Thankfully for the Sorento, the competition isn’t exactly thrifty either. The 2021 Ford Edge with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and all-wheel drive nets identical city and highway ratings, but is a point lower on the combined scale. The ancient Nissan Murano and its V6 holds up better than expected at 20 city, 28 highway, and 23 combined. The Honda Passport struggles at 19 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined, and it shares bottom-of-the-class numbers with the outgoing Jeep Grand Cherokee, which returns 18 city, 25 highway, and 21 combined with the V6 engine.
Prices for the 2021 Sorento start at $30,565 (including an $1,175 destination charge), while all-wheel drive adds $1,800 to every trim except this SX Prestige ($41,765), where it costs $2,000. That’s thanks to the X-Line package, which is only available on the top-end model. This aesthetic package gives the Sorento a slightly tougher exterior appearance, but it’d take a certified Kia-phile to pick an X-Line out from the crowd. All told, our test model demanded $44,290 – the lone factory option was the $200 Rust Interior pack. There were also dealer-installed floor mats and a cargo mat that we don’t factor into our Price score.
On the low end, the Sorento undercuts the $34,640 Edge (price includes a $1,245 destination charge and a $645 acquisition fee), the $34,015 Passport ($1,225), and $32,385 Murano ($1,095). Switch to the SX Prestige X-Line, and the sub-$45,000 out-the-door price of our test model is more palatable than the Murano Platinum ($46,625), Passport Elite ($45,405), and loaded Edge Titanium Elite ($47,170).
But the price differential is only a small part of what makes the Sorento such a strong value. It’s more powerful than all its competitors and while we dig both Co-Pilot 360 and Honda Sensing, neither can hold a candle to the Sorento’s safety suite. The standard third-row seat means extra versatility, too. Combine that with an attractive cabin, the smart technology, and the fact that all the competitors are at the end of their life cycles, and it’s hard to argue against the Sorento.