2021 Kia Sorento

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
July 9, 2021

Buying tip

Turbo-4 Sorentos win with ample cut-and-thrust power—but we’re intrigued by the coming plug-in edition.

features & specs

21 city / 28 hwy
22 city / 29 hwy
23 city / 25 hwy

The 2021 Kia Sorento crossover SUV strikes out in a new styling direction, and brings hybrid and plug-in models along for the adventure.

What kind of car is the 2021 Kia Sorento? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Kia Sorento is a seven-seat crossover SUV that slots below the big Telluride in the Kia lineup. It’s a rival for vehicles like the Ford Explorer and VW Tiguan, as well as the related Hyundai Santa Fe.

Is the 2021 Kia Sorento a good car?

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It’s good for families who need extra seats on occasion, and for those who want better fuel economy than non-hybrid SUVs. We give it a TCC Rating of 6.7 out of 10, now that crash-test scores are in. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What’s new for the 2021 Kia Sorento?

Almost everything. The shape’s new, and it presents some more challenges than the smooth, anodyne Sorento that it replaces. With the electric-razor grille, metallic flags and fillips, and a cabin with exotically shaped vents, the 2021 Sorento reaches for new inspiration—and we don’t think it’s grasped it yet.

The driving experience is better in some ways, with more lively steering and braking than in the past. A trio of powertrain choices starts with a 191-hp inline-4, turbocharges that engine for 281 hp, or veers off into hybrid territory with a smaller turbo engine strapped with batteries and an electric motor. The non-hybrid turbo-4’s the best and brightest performer, but the coming plug-in hybrid intrigues us. All Sorentos have admirable ride quality, but there’s more powertrain noise and more suspension noise than in the past, and some interior trim dazzles in looks and disappoints in feel.

With slightly more interior space than before the Sorento can comfortably seat four adults, with a fifth in the middle bench seat position for short trips. We like Kia’s second-row captain’s chairs and their sliding seat tracks—more leg room or cargo room, your call. But the third-row seat has one of the lowest bottom cushions we’ve sampled. Better to fold it down and open up more than 75 cubic feet of cargo room.

Kia fits every Sorento with automatic emergency braking and automatic high beam LED headlights; adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and a surround-view camera system can be fitted to upmarket versions.

How much does the 2021 Kia Sorento cost?

Prices start at $30,565 for the Sorento LX and its LED headlights, cloth seats, and 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We like the $36,165 Sorento EX for its turbo engine (or hybrid), second-row captain’s chairs, adaptive cruise control, and wireless smartphone charging. The $43,765 X-Line gets digital gauges, leather upholstery, 12-speaker Bose audio, and a surround-view camera system.

Where is the 2021 Kia Sorento made?

In West Point, Georgia.


2021 Kia Sorento


We’re confused by some of the new Sorento’s details.

Is the 2021 Kia Sorento a good-looking car?

It’s better from the outside than inside, we think. The new Sorento knits together a creased hood, thin LED headlights, and sharper nose. It’s ditched the pseudo-M-Class look and feel of its recent past for a face that’s full of right angles and creases, a jutting chin, and an electric-razor grille that together present a conventionally handsome face. 

From there, and especially inside, the Sorento loses the trail. The matte plastic trim bits on the fenders aren’t vents; they’re visual Band-Aids. The roofline’s conventional—but the fin-like tab near the rear window isn’t. Is it visual interest or designer boredom? At the back, the Sorento’s taillights pivot 90 degrees, peeling back twin bands of LED lights that bracket a wide badge and big rear window. It’s gimmicky and doesn’t need to be.

The cabin strikes out boldly in a new direction; if it were on GPS, we’d ask for a reroute. It’s gone overboard with game controller-shaped batwing air vents that have limited motion, and with a touchscreen interface that wears an MP3-player-style skin of kitschy radio tubes for radio presents. Among the textured metallic panels and seamed synthetic or real leather, some models have a shift lever and some have a rotary shift control. It’s more bewildering than serene; it’s no face-plant, but it’s a stumble for a brand that’s homered with the Telluride and Stinger, even the new K5 sedan.

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2021 Kia Sorento


The Sorento rides well; the power move may be the plug-in hybrid.

Is the 2021 Kia Sorento 4WD?

It’s front-wheel drive, though most models offer all-wheel drive.

How fast is the 2021 Kia Sorento?

With its top engine the Sorento can hustle quickly to highway speeds, but more ordinary base models and Hybrids have average acceleration. We give the Sorento a 6 for performance, with a point above average for its generally admirable ride quality.

So far, the base Sorento with the 191-hp, 2.5-liter inline-4 hasn’t been made available for test drives. We have tested both the hybrid and the turbo-4, and can recommend either of them over the base model, but with mixed impressions. 

The 2.5-liter turbo-4 has an alert feel thanks to its 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, but its drive modes must be dialed out of Normal and into Sport to fully appreciate its ability. In Normal mode, the turbo-4’s companion transmission takes too long to recognize the need for merging or passing speed. Press the throttle and it pauses, thinks, then toggles down a gear or two. In Sport mode it lingers in lower gears longer and responds almost instantly to paddle shifts and moderate pedal pressure; it erases the CVT-like rubberband effect of Normal mode.

Acceleration’s brisk, but the Sorento weighs at least 3,979 pounds, and up to 4,065 pounds in top trims, with the added weight of all-wheel drive with torque-vectoring and center locking differential for optimum traction—coupled with all-season tires on wheels as large as 20 inches.

We like speed, but the Sorento Hybrid suits its mission better. The Hybrid generates middling acceleration and excellent fuel economy from a 1.6-liter turbo-4 paired to hybrid batteries and electric motors that make 227 hp. It’s paired to the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, with similar driving behavior, and a little more grumbling from under the hood while it churns out city fuel economy in the low 40-mpg range.

The coming plug-in hybrid Sorento may be the best choice of all, but we’ll need a test drive to see if its 13.8-kwh battery and 66.9-kw electric motor can deliver on a promised 30 miles of all-electric driving.

Where the Sorento earns unqualified praise is its ride. Whether it’s shod with mild-mannered 17-inch wheels on the Hybrid or 20-inchers on the SX X-Line, the Sorento’s strut and multi-link suspension has been tuned for good compliance, with a fair amount of suspension noise. It’s better at quelling high-speed, long-duration ride motions than it is at smothering low-speed obstacles like potholes, but those are observations, not quibbles. Better steering feel would be nice, but the Sorento’s steering weight and precise response works well enough for the kind of driving for which it’s tailored.

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2021 Kia Sorento

Comfort & Quality

The Sorento seats up to seven, but call it four plus smalls.

Kia has stretched the Sorento to boost interior space and comfort. It’s a seven-seater by the spec sheet, but in the real world it’s comfortable for four adults plus some child-sized passengers, or useful for plenty of cargo. We give it an 8, with points for the front and rear seats and for its storage capacity.

The new Sorento sits on a 110.8-inch wheelbase, is 189.4 inches long, and is 74.8 inches wide. In front, all but the base edition come with synthetic or real leather seats, heating, and power adjustment for the driver. Trimmed out to EX grades in both the Hybrid and gas-only models, the Sorentos we’ve driven have excellent front-seat comfort, with padding that strikes the right balance between soft and firm, ample lumbar support, and a good driving position. 

In front, passengers also can access a deep storage bin below the USB ports, a key-sized bin behind the cupholders, and a usefully sized console bin and door pockets.

Leg room has grown to 41.4 inches in front, and 40.7 inches in the second row—where Kia also fits a sliding bench or a pair of reclining captain’s chairs. It’s spacious enough for 6-footers to sit behind 6-footers, and on some versions Kia slings net pouches on the front seatbacks and molds USB ports in the front seatbacks for long-distance comfort. 

The second-row seats also have pushbutton access to the third row, but it’s not a pretty picture. WIth just 29.6 inches of leg room in back, the Sorento’s wayback is among the smallest we’ve tested, with the lowest seat bottom in memory—it’s the only time recently where our legs made zero contact with the bottom cushion.

Better to fold them down and upconvert the Sorento’s 12.6 cubic feet of space behind row three into a much more useful 38.0 to 45.0 cubic feet of space (depending on the sliding-seat position). With all the rear seats tucked away the Sorento has 75.5 cubic feet of stow space.

On the quality front, we notice this Sorento has more hard plastic trim, even on the most expensive versions, and more grumbling from the powertrains. It’s a half-step back from prior versions, which felt more substantial, but we appreciate the effort to lower the amount of glossy trim in the cabin.

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2021 Kia Sorento


The Sorento aims for top safety scores, but they’re not in yet.

How safe is the 2021 Kia Sorento?

The NHTSA gives the Sorento four stars overall, but the IIHS gives the crossover a Top Safety Pick award. Those points offset, but the standard safety equipment nets a point, for a 6 here.

All cars come with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control; blind-spot monitors with braking support, parking sensors, and a surround-view camera system are available—and recommended, since the rear roof pillars cuts into the rearward view. 

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2021 Kia Sorento


The Sorento’s nearly peerless in mid-size crossover features.

The 2021 Sorento will be offered in five trims: LX, S, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige and available with either FWD or AWD. Hybrids come in S and EX trims and are front-drive only. 

We give the lineup a 9 for features. It’s stuffed with great standard equipment and an excellent 5-year/60,000-mile warranty, good infotainment, and excellent value. Options are nearly nonexistent, though; Kia requires a move up into higher trim levels for fancy add-ons.

The $30,565 Sorento LX comes well-equipped with 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, cloth seats, a 6-way adjustable driver seat, a second-row bench seat, a third-row seat, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. All Sorentos have automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and automatic high beams. All-wheel drive costs $1,800.

Step into the $33,065 Sorento S if you want standard 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, 10-way power driver seat, heated front seats, automatic climate control, blind-spot monitors, and rear parking sensors. The $34,765 Hybrid S is slightly different: It has 17-inch wheels and second-row captain’s chairs. 

Which Kia Sorento should I buy?

Our pick is the $36,165 Sorento EX, which comes with the turbo engine, 18-inch wheels, second-row captain’s chairs, wireless smartphone charging, and adaptive cruise control. It’s also sold in $37,765 EX Hybrid form with a rear spoiler, a panoramic sunroof, and front and rear parking sensors. 

How much is a fully loaded Kia Sorento?

The $39,165 Sorento SX comes with 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, an 8-way front passenger power seat, a 10.3-inch touchscreen, and non-wireless CarPlay/Android compatibility. But for the top edition, you’ll want the $41,765 SX Prestige (front-drive only) or the $43,765 X-Line (AWD only), which have a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, perforated leather upholstery, cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, 12-speaker Bose audio, and a surround-view camera system.

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2021 Kia Sorento

Fuel Economy

The Sorento’s new hybrid edition earns an efficiency gold star.

Is the Kia Sorento good on gas?

The hybrid’s the leader, with EPA ratings of 39 mpg city, 35 highway, 37 combined. We saw very close to that in lots of high-speed interstate driving.

But it’s more likely the Sorento you see on the road has a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, and we base the score of 5 on that. The EPA rates the Sorento at 24/29/26 mpg when it’s configured with the inline-4 and front-wheel drive; 23/25/24 mpg with the same engine and all-wheel drive. With the turbo-4 it’s 22/29/25 mpg with front-wheel drive or 21/28/24 mpg with all-wheel drive.

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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 6
Features 9
Fuel Economy 5
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