Kia looks to continue its streak of crossover success.
The 2021 Kia Sorento is the latest in the South Korean brand’s crossover renaissance, coming on the heels of the compact Seltos and a bit adrift of the hugely popular Telluride. But the latest Sorento, the fourth generation of the nameplate, is a far bigger leap forward in its segment than the two well-received models that came before it.
Where the Telluride and Seltos resonated with customers without fundamentally changing the game, the Sorento arrives in a hotly contested segment with a number of innovative features and compelling pieces of tech. The hybrid model, for example, is turbocharged. And if you want a plug-in, a Sorento with 30 miles of all-electric range and standard all-wheel drive will arrive late next year. In the cabin, the standard three-row layout introduces captain’s chairs for the first time, while fans of the outdoors will appreciate the new, rugged X-Line trim. And of course, the Sorento is smarter and safer than ever before. Read on to find out more.
Exterior Design: Do The Wave
The 2021 Sorento eschews the harder lines of the Telluride in favor of a mix of the design featured on the Seltos and the new K5 sedan. The traditional “Tiger Nose” grille is on hand, flanked by angular headlights reminiscent of the Seltos – the strong LED running light isn’t as aggressive as the K5, but it rounds out a clean, stylish fascia for Kia’s middle-child crossover.
The profile has a number of flashy touches, from the subtle side grille to the wave-like motif on the C-pillar – available in gloss black or polished silver finishes depending on the trim. A strong character line at the bottom of the doors complements the black cladding below it, giving the Sorento a slightly rugged look. The greenhouse, though, is a contrast, boasting a sleek roofline and a skinny D-pillar.
The 2021 Sorento eschews the harder lines of the Telluride in favor of a mix of the design featured on the Seltos and the new K5 sedan.
Our favorite touch, though, comes at the rear, where the Sorento builds on the taillight design Kia introduced on the Telluride. There’s depth to these twin vertical lamps, with the outer portion integrated into the rear fenders while the inner lights are part of the tailgate. That element features strong styling, from the creasing at the bottom just above the prominent “SORENTO” badging to the sharp lines around the license plate housing. The bumper, meanwhile, takes an Audi-like approach to its styling, with silver elements meant to mimic exhaust housings.
Interior Design: Oh Captain, My Captain
Thankfully, the Sorento takes inspiration from the K5 for its interior design. That sedan features one of the nicest interiors in its class, after all. Prominent silver brightwork on the climate vents can extend to include elements of the dash or the doors, although a pleasant matte wood – inspired by the Telluride, no doubt – is also available for customers seeking a more luxurious finish. And like the K5, the available 10.3-inch touchscreen sits in a neat housing that merges with the instrument cluster. Below that are a pair of vertical climate vents and a high center console.
For the first time, the Sorento will offer captain’s chairs in the second row.
Depending on trim, there’s quilted leather upholstery on the seat outers and nicely padded leather door inserts. The front perches appear plush, but it may be the second row that represents the best seat in the house. While a seven-passenger layout comes standard, Kia is offering captain’s chairs in the second row for the first time.
This isn’t an unusual option among bigger crossovers, like the Telluride, but the Sorento is kind of an inbetweener, splitting the difference between compact crossovers and full-sizers, while its third row is distinct among similarly sized vehicles. The captain’s chairs make it all the more interesting as a rival to the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano.
Technology: You Want It All?
Like any new vehicle, the Sorento offers a comprehensive tech suite. The touchscreen infotainment system, like the K5, is available in either 8.0 or 10.3-inch sizes, with the latter offering haptic feedback buttons on both sides of the screen. The larger display offers split-screen functionality too, so when using Apple CarPlay, drivers still have access to the native infotainment on the right side of the screen.
Complementing the larger display is an available 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, also likely plucked from the higher-end K5 trims. It’s a first for Kia’s crossover line, and if the K5 is any indication, will make for a clean and attractive way to relay vehicle information.
Options include a 10.3-inch touchscreen and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
There are a total of eight USB ports in all but the base Sorento (the LX gets six), although we’re not sure whether they’re older USB-A or newer USB-C outlets. On the audio front, Kia is promising an available 12-speaker Bose audio system.
Finally, Kia’s UVO telematics suite gets some notable improvements. Connected Routing uses cloud computing to provide drivers with the fastest possible route, taking into account predicted traffic info and the driver’s preference. Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integration is also on hand, so drivers can simply ask their virtual assistant to start their Sorento each morning. UVO can also warn drivers, via a smartphone app, when their engine is idling and even automatically shut the car down after a predetermined amount of time. And if there’s any movement inside the vehicle, owners will get a notification to check the backseats.
Performance: Turbo. Hybrid. Turbo Hybrid.
Kia is pushing ahead with four available powertrains for the 2021 Sorento, but two of them are somewhat familiar. Base models feature a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that offers 191 horsepower (142 kilowatts) and 182 pound-feet (247 newton-meters) of torque – it works alongside an eight-speed automatic transmission. The upmarket move is a turbocharged version of the 2.5, which comes with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and packs 281 hp (210 kW) and 311 lb-ft of torque (422 Nm). Front-wheel drive is standard with these powerplants, while all-wheel drive is an option.
Kia is promising healthy fuel economy gains with both of these engines, suggesting the base mill will return 27 miles per gallon combined, a two-mpg improvement over the 2020 model. The turbocharged offering, meanwhile, should return 25 mpg combined, which represents an extra three mpg over the old V6-powered Sorento.
Kia is projecting a total of 261 hp and up to 30 miles of all-electric range for the Sorento Turbo Plug-In Hybrid.
If fuel economy is really important, though, you’ll want a peek at the two electrified Sorentos. The standard hybrid model will be available at launch and pairs a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with a 44-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to generate 227 total horsepower (169 kW). A six-speed automatic sends power to the front-wheels only though, and the estimated 39 city, 35 highway, and 37 combined isn’t super impressive – those figures aren’t far off the larger Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which is also available with all-wheel drive.
The more compelling option, in our mind, is the new Turbo Plug-In Hybrid. You’ll get the same 1.6-liter turbo and six-speed auto, but the electric motor’s strength increases to 66.9 kW, while the lithium-ion battery capacity increases to 13.8 kWh. All-wheel drive is the only way to fly with this model, while Kia is projecting a total of 261 hp (195 kW) and up to 30 miles of all-electric range.
While hardly a model known for off-road performance, the 2021 Sorento will boast an X-Line variant with an 8.3-inch ride height. Meanwhile, a “torque-on-demand” all-wheel drive system, a locking center differential, and standard hill descent control should give this sportier variant respectable ability in the rough stuff.
Regardless of trim, though, the entire Sorento platform benefits from a “lighter, stronger, and more flexible” platform. Kia is promising a 3.1-percent drop in overall weight, which works out to 119 pounds. The N3 platform should result in improved driving dynamics, as well as additional comfort via reductions in noise, vibration, and harshness.
Safety: Comprehensive Protection
The 2021 Sorento promises huge improvements in active safety, with Kia touting a total of 16 different systems to keep its newest crossover unbent and shiny side up. Standard equipment includes typical gear like forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, a driver attention warning system, and lane tracing. Perhaps most innovative is the new Intelligent Speed Limit Assist, which can adjust the speed of the adaptive cruise control via a forward-facing camera or GPS navigation info.
Digging into the options yields smarter, more advanced equipment, though. Kia hasn’t provided a breakdown of where this stuff is available in the Sorento line, though. What we do know is that customers can upgrade the forward collision warning system to detect cyclists and to function at intersections while turning left.
The blind-spot monitoring system can not only detect other vehicles but can apply the brakes to prevent the Sorento from changing lanes into another motorist. And a navigation-based version of adaptive cruise control can slow the Sorento ahead of bends, while Highway Driving Assistant uses federal highway speed limit data to adjust the setting of the ACC.
Pricing And On-Sale Date: Coming Soon
Kia is promising to have all but the Sorento Turbo Plug-In at dealers in late 2020, but the automaker hasn’t announced pricing on any of its five trims (LX, S, EX, SX, and SX Prestige). That said, we aren’t expecting huge increases over the current model.
The 2020 Sorento starts at $26,990 for the base L, which Kia is discontinuing. The LX variant rings up at $28,090, while the S, EX, and SX demand $33,190, $35,490, and $40,090, respectively. Those figures provide some insight to most of the Sorento lineup, but the SX Prestige complicates matters – it should easily crest $40,000 and could possibly reach $45,000 before options. That’s merely an educated guess on our part, though. Look for much more on 2021 Sorento pricing in the coming weeks.
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