We recently tested the 2021 Kia Telluride, and noted how for the past years, the Korean manufacturer has been on a roll, creating many exciting, desirable and affordable vehicles. Now we have an all-new, 3-row Sorento, which competes in one of the hottest SUV segments. Can Kia hit another one out of the park? Let’s see.
Well if first impressions are the most important, the 2021 Sorento is off to a great start. The front end is recognizably Kia with the familiar “Tiger Nose” grill, although now the shape is more subtle, as it is framed by LED headlamps and LED signature lighting that wraparound the corners to give an aggressive look. A nice power bulge in the hood and prominent lower grille finish off the look. Clean and modern.
The profile reminds us of the Telluride but is a little less blocky and a little sleeker in the window area, giving it a chunky, capable look. Our tester’s 17-inch alloy wheels looked well-proportioned, but with a choice of 6-different alloys, including a 20-incher – the largest on any Sorento! – you can up the toughness quotient at will.
The rear again reminds of the Telly, with squared-off lines, SORENTO spelled out in bold block letters, and a lower chrome fascia that looks off-roady and blingy at the same time. If we were going to make a bold impression, we might opt for the Sorento X-line, which features unique front and rear fascia, and blacked-out 18-inch rims. It’s a tough looking vehicle. Back to our Hybrid EX tester, we especially liked the extra-cost Runway Red color – bright and friendly, it stood out in the world of black, white and gray SUV’s. Hey, live a little!
Live It Up a Little!
Inside feels like a scaled-down Telluride – and that’s no bad thing. While top of the line Sorento’s get Kia’s full digital dash and 10.25-inch media display, the hybrid does with more traditional analog gauges that are large and legible, and a more than ample 8-inch info-tainment display. Add in standard wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Wireless Charging plus Kia’s excellent UVO interface, and your thirst for tech will be well-quenched.
The climate control system is well laid-out, and we loved the tall square vents with lower smaller vents that frame the system – plenty of fresh air, just as we like it! A large rotary dial lets you choose gears, while a smaller drive mode knob sits beneath. While we would still prefer a traditional shift lever, the setup is still much better than the pushbutton affair in the new Acura TLX.. And if you are feeling extra sporty, the Sorento does give you paddle shifters.
You’ll certainly feel comfortable. The front seats are large and supportive, and our tester’s 2nd row captain’s chairs were luxurious as well. The third row seats are similar to most others in this class – really best for kids. Attractive and hard-wearing SynTex seating trim looks leather-like and gives a nice polish. We did think the quality of the metal-texture effect trim looked a little cheap, though.
With loads of cubbies, plenty of elbow room, squared off lines the Sorento gives you the well thought-out, comfy and rugged vibe you want from an SUV.
Happy Hybrid or Ho-hum?
The Sorento line up gives an interesting array of powertrain choices. Base models feature a stout 191-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, while higher trims have a tempting 281 hp/311 lb.-ft. of torque turbocharged version.
Our Hybrid gets a completely different powertrain – a turbo 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder with 44kW electric motor that kicks out 227 horsepower, mated to a 6-speed automatic. While a 1.6-liter may seem small for such a large vehicle, this is a familiar powerhouse in the Kia/Hyundai family and it punches well above its weight.
The hybrid model is only offered in front wheel drive, which we guess is how those most concerned with fuel efficiency would want it. In ECO and Smart mode, power is smooth and accessible, and the Sorento is happy to go into EV mode as soon as it senses you can get by without the gas engine. And that returns some impressive numbers: 39 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 37 mpg combined – making it the most efficient 3-row SUV on the market.
We personally liked putting it in Sport Mode and using the paddle shifters to squeeze out every horse. Probably not the best way to go for fuel economy, but this is a very responsive powertrain, and a joy to push hard. Wish there was a tachometer, though.
While the big Kia supports being a bit of a hooligan, it really scores as an everyday driver, with a supple ride, nicely-weighted steering, and like the Telluride, it drives much smaller than it physically is. We especially liked the Sorento’s Smart Cruise Control with stop & go, doing an excellent job of keeping up with traffic without the lag we’ve found in other vehicles with adaptive cruise.
Kia likes to load up their vehicles with safety features, and our tester was no exception, enjoying Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian and Bicycle Detection, Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic Avoidance, Lane Keep Assist, and the very cool Safe Exit Assist, to help passengers from stepping out in front of a nearby moving vehicle.
How Much for All-New?
This is another place where Kia stomps the competition – great value. The non-hybrid Sorento S starts at just $29,320, and for a rugged and spacious 3-row SUV, that’s a bargain. Stepping up to a Sorento Hybrid starts at $33,590, and is also excellent value, for the size/capability/efficiency combo it brings.
Our tester was the very nicely-equipped EX trim, which would be our choice in the Hybrid, enjoying loads of luxury and features for $36,590. With the only option being Runway Red paint ($445) and Destination ($1,170) we rang the bell at $38,205.
Competition really shows the value. A much-smaller RAV4 Hybrid, comparably equipped is $35,925, while the Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes in at a eye-watering $44,175. And if you’re thinking about stepping up to the Kia Telluride (sorry, no hybrid) you’ll be nudging $40k.
So, Kia continues on a roll, with exciting product and great value.
The all-new 2021 Kia Sorento is a strong player in the 3-row SUV market. Stylish, roomy, well-equipped and amazingly efficient in Hybrid form, it’s a home run!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.