2021 Kia Sorento Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Feb 17, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Kia deals!

With more than 20 midsize SUVs available from mainstream automakers vying for the consumer’s dollar, it can be hard to stand out. The 2021 Kia Sorento offers a unique product position, presenting a 3-row SUV that can still easily fit in the average garage.

For 2021, Kia helps the Sorento differentiate itself from the midsize SUV mélange with a new square-jawed, rough-and-tumble exterior design that harks back to the first sport-utilities of the 1990s. Back then, SUVs were built on truck frames and reinforced to handle the worst abuse off-road exploration could divvy out. And they looked the part.

Decades later, midsize SUVs have become the default transportation choice for millions of families seeking slightly elevated seating and cargo space for God knows what, but it’s the look of adventure that counts. Otherwise, they’d be driving minivans.

Undoubtedly, the new 2021 Sorento has that look of adventure.

That’s especially true of the new, taller-riding Sorento X-Line model. Plus, Kia offers a fun-to-drive turbocharged 4-cylinder with 49 more lb.-ft. of torque than in the larger Kia Telluride. And the new 2021 Sorento Hybrid is the first of its kind for this model.

Don’t worry. Kia’s smaller midsize 3-row SUV can still seat six or seven passengers and is available with front- or all-wheel drive. It just brings a little more attitude than the previous one for those errands to the grocery store or escapes to the great unknown.

What Owners Say About the Kia Sorento - Find the best Kia deals!

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T Green Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 52% of previous-generation Kia Sorento owners were male (vs. 56% for the segment), and the median age of a Sorento owner was 57 years (vs. 55).

Owners say their favorite things about the outgoing Sorento were (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Driving comfort and Powertrain in a tie

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the outgoing Sorento were (in descending order) the: 

  • Setting up and starting
  • Infotainment system
  • Getting in and out
  • Fuel economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the previous-generation Sorento ranked number 13 out of 13 upper midsize SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Kia Sorento - Find the best Kia deals!

In the following sections, our independent expert gives an analysis of a range-topping 2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T equipped with the following options:

  • Carpeted floor mats
  • Carpeted cargo mat with seat back protection
  • X-Line Rust Interior Package

The price of the vehicle came to $44,285, including the $1,170 destination charge.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T Front Seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with its beefy-looking exterior, the 2021 Kia Sorento’s cabin exudes a ready-for-adventure look that mixes craftsmanship with sturdy design. But this isn’t one of those tall SUVs you have to climb up into, so you can skip the accessory side rails. 

Once you’re settled in, eight large air vents on the dashboard ensure front seat occupants get the most from the air conditioning system that upgrades to dual-zone, set-and-forget automatic climate control in all but the base LX 2.5 trim.

The Sorento comes with one of two available driver instrumentation displays. On all but SX Prestige models, it’s a 4.2-inch screen for fuel economy and other driver information flanked by traditional analog gauges. A configurable 10.25-inch digital display that changes color and appearance according to the selected driving mode is standard in the SX Prestige.

As you would want in an SUV, there’s plenty of storage available for all the stuff we need to take with us. Stash space includes:

  • Dual cup holders
  • A large glovebox
  • A second covered bin under the center console armrest
  • A small bin for keyfobs, coins and other trip detritus
  • A bin ahead of the shifter with USB ports and power plugs for small mobile electronica
  • Open bins in each door
  • A handy, dimpled shelf atop the passenger side of the dashboard

Comfortable front bucket seats get cloth coverings in the base LX 2.5, transition to simulated leather for S 2.5, EX 2.5T, and SX 2.5T, and upgrade to quilted-pattern full leather with the SX Prestige 2.5T. All but the base LX 2.5 have a 10-way power driver’s seat. Sorento SX 2.5T and higher trims add an 8-way power passenger’s seat as well. All trims but the base LX 2.5 have standard heated front buckets and SX Prestige adds ventilation for front seat comfort as well. A panoramic sunroof cheers occupants with natural light, and is standard in SX 2.5T and higher trims and optional in the S 2.5 and EX 2.5T.

Moving aft, the middle-row seats are a 3-person 60/40-split bench in the Sorento LX 2.5 and S 2.5 or a pair of captain’s chairs in higher trims. Middle-row head- and legroom are appropriate for passengers six feet tall, and the seats slide fore and aft a considerable amount to both accommodate different-size passengers and allow access to the third-row seating area. A lift of a well-designed single handle dumps the second-row seatbacks and slides the seat forward. 

The third-row seats are what Kia calls +2 seating, meaning they are only suitable for children or small adults willing to climb back there. Split 50/50 to allow expanded cargo space when needed, the third-row seats have passable headroom but super tight leg- and knee room.

2021 Kia Sorento Infotainment System Review

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T Interior Dashboard and Infotainment System

Photo: Ron Sessions

There are two new Kia UVO infotainment systems available in the 2021 Sorento, depending on trim. In the LX 2.5, S 2.5, and EX 2.5T, system highlights include:

  • 8-inch high-definition touchscreen display
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Dual charge ports (up to 8, depending on trim)
  • UVO Link connected services (S 2.5 and higher)
  • SiriusXM satellite radio (S 2.5 and higher)
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones (EX 2.5T only)

The big advantage of the system with the smaller 8-inch screen is standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This helps eliminate the tangle of USB cords on the console and means that smartphones can remain safely ensconced wherever you typically store it. Pairing your phone for mirroring is a simple click on an onscreen widget. 

As with all Sorento infotainment systems, the smaller screen is flanked by easy-to-use analog knobs for volume and tuning. There are also physical shortcut hard buttons for quick access to major on-screen functions. Users can also interact with the system via Bluetooth voice prompts and redundant volume and tuning toggles on the steering wheel. The base audio system has six speakers and S 2.5 and higher trims add SiriusXM satellite radio to the basic AM/FM/HD fare.

The premium infotainment system is standard and only available with SX 2.5 and higher trims. Its highlights include features from the top 8-inch setup plus:

  • 10.25 high-definition touchscreen display
  • Wired (via USB cable) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Navigation

The wider touchscreen display also comes with redundant analog knobs for volume and tuning as well as virtual shortcut buttons with haptic feedback flanking the screen. A new Bluetooth feature with the 10.25-inch system allows you to connect two devices simultaneously.

On SX 2.5 Prestige models, Kia replaces the basic 6-speaker audio setup with an immersive and crystal-clear Bose Centerpoint 12-speaker surround sound system that makes the interior occupants feel like they are on stage with the band. Kia says that wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a related reduction of USB cable clutter will be available with the larger screen soon. 

In radio mode, the on-screen graphics are less than optimal, with odd-looking station tuning numbers that emulate old radio vacuum tubes. Lots of black space and smallish type do not help the user experience, either.

A neat feature in media mode might just be salve for a hyper-busy world. Called “Sounds of Nature,” it helps interior occupants chill to the sounds of boots trudging through freshly fallen snow, the idle banter of a beloved coffee shop, bird calls in the rain forest, a crackling fireplace, and more. It’s particularly addictive when enjoyed in Sorentos with the top-tier Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system.

All 2021 Sorentos come with voice recognition for simple commands. With the UVO Link connected services technology included on higher trim levels, the system has enhanced voice assist capability that enables voice control of the audio system, climate control, and seat and steering-wheel heating functions. It can provide cloud-based routing, provide real-time traffic updates, and even update you on the latest weather in more than 25,000 cities around the globe.

The system had no problem finding the nearest Starbucks and even navigated successfully to a little known nature preserve over more than 10 miles of primitive dirt road. 

The 2021 Sorento’s feature set also includes Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as a UVO smartphone app that allows users to remote start or stop the engine and to lock or unlock the doors. A Find My Car function uses the Sorento’s available surround-view camera to capture and share images of the Sorento’s immediate surroundings, while Last Mile Navigation can provide walking directions to your destination and then back to the Sorento if the SUV is parked less than 1.1 miles away.

There is no Wi-Fi hotpot service available for the Sorento, however.

What It’s Like to Drive the 2021 Kia Sorento

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T Green Side View

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2021 Sorento’s powertrain lineup is all-new, including a pair of new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engines and two new 8-speed transmissions. As mentioned previously, you can also get a Sorento with a hybrid powertrain (with a 6-speed automatic). The propulsion bits are bolted to a new vehicle platform that’s both stiffer for improved handling response and lighter, aiding fuel efficiency.

A naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard with LX 2.5 and S 2.5 trims, rated at 191 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a slight improvement over the 2020 model’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder offering. It’s mated to a conventional 8-speed automatic transmission. Kia says the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine will accelerate from rest to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds. A Sorento so equipped can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

Hybrids pair a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 270-volt lithium-polymer battery pack, an electric motor, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Together, these components produce 227 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Sorento Hybrids come only with front-wheel drive, and match the standard 2.5-liter gas engine for towing capacity.

The Sorento’s other gas engine, and the one in the SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T test vehicle, is a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. It’s standard in EX 2.5T, SX 2.5T and SX Prestige 2.5T trims and brings 281 hp and 311 lb.-ft. of torque to the party. A slightly different version of this engine also powers the 4-cylinder versions of the Genesis G80 luxury sedan and GV80 luxury SUV.

Key to the turbo’s performance is where is develops its maximum torque, from just 1,700 rpm up to 4,000 rpm. This is the engine speed range most drivers experience in daily driving, the end result being eager response at throttle tip-in, even when easing into the gas. Paired with a new, quick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), the Sorento 2.5T can sprint from zero to 60 mph in about 7 seconds. The engine has an equally eager sound as well, not brash or in your face but pleasingly enthusiastic. The 2.5 turbo-equipped Sorento has a maximum towing rating of 3,500 lbs.

The Sorento X-Line test vehicle didn’t feel like a lumbering 3-row SUV on or off the road. On the highway, the new quicker-ratio steering was pleasingly responsive with effort that was neither too darty nor heavy. Brake response was also positive with firm top-of-pedal feel and reassuring stopping power. Ride quality proved firm but not jarring, even over potholes and speed bumps. Lower Sorento trims have less aggressive 17- or 18-inch tires, but the X-line’s 20-inch tires with their smaller air cushions didn’t translate to unpleasant impact harshness.

In the dirt, the X-Line’s all-season tread didn’t have the bite a more aggressive, off-road tire might provide for serious unpaved excursions, but the Sorento, even in X-Line trim, isn’t that kind of SUV. The X-Line’s extra inch of ride height provides ample clearance for most rocks and ruts one would encounter on a dirt road.

As for the Sorento’s available all-wheel drive, it’s an on-demand system that operates in fuel-saving front-wheel drive mode unless it detects reduced traction. Then, it can deliver as much as 50% of the engine’s drive torque to the rear wheels.

A locking center differential, standard with the Sorento X-Line, sends equal amounts of drive torque to the front and rear wheels when the driver activates it using a button on the console.

All Sorentos come equipped with a console-mounted drive mode selector with Comfort, Sport, Eco and Smart modes that allow the driver to custom-tailor throttle response and transmission shifting for different driving situations. AWD models add a Snow mode for driving in slippery conditions. 

Kia Drive Wise Review

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T Blind Spot Warning Light

Photo: Ron Sessions

Kia Drive Wise is an extensive roster of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) for the 2021 Sorento. This group of technologies expands for 2021 and offers improved functionality. 

Standard features on all models include:

  • Forward-collision warning
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Lane-centering assistance
  • Automatic high-beam assistance
  • Driver-attention warning
  • Backup camera with dynamic guidelines
  • Rear Occupant Alert

Rear Occupant Alert is a new standard feature all Sorentos this year, and it can be a real life-saver. General Motors, Nissan, and others have offered a rear-seat reminder system for several years, but Kia’s Rear Occupant Alert takes this feature one step further. It uses ultrasonic sensors that can detect movement within the SUV for up to 24 hours after you’ve locked the doors and left the vehicle. If a small pet or a child is left behind, when the sensors detect movement the Sorento will flash the lights and sound the horn to alert passersby. The owner will also get an alert via the UVO Link smartphone app.

The Sorento SX 2.5 and higher trims add more Drive Wise features, including:

  • Blind-spot warning with collision-avoidance assistance (can attempt to prevent unsafe lane changes)
  • Rear cross-traffic warning with collision-avoidance assistance (automatically brakes if necessary to avoid a collision)
  • Safe exit warning (tells vehicle occupants when it is not safe to open a door)
  • Rear parking sensors

Upgrade to the turbocharged 2.5T and higher trims, and Kia Drive Wise adds standard:

  • Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and speed-sign recognition
  • Enhanced forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking with cyclist and junction-turning detection

The Sorento SX 2.5T and higher trims include standard:

  • Highway Driving Assist (combines adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance to reduce stress during highway drives)

Lastly, the Sorento SX Prestige 2.5T and X-Line add standard:

  • Reverse parking collision-avoidance assistance (automatically brakes to avoid a collision when backing into a parking space)
  • Front and rear parking sensors that beep faster the closer you get to obstacles
  • Surround-view camera (gives an overhead 360-degree view of the Sorento and its immediate surroundings)
  • Blind-view monitor (when using the turn signal, displays a camera view of what’s in the driver’s blind spot)

Kia is among several mainstream automakers leading the charge to equip all of their vehicles, even less expensive ones, with ADAS. Much of it was unavailable or exclusive to luxury vehicles just a few years ago.

These systems are working in the background, at the ready to inform the driver and, in many cases, intervene when necessary to prevent or reduce the severity of a collision or other safety event. Some of them, such as blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning with collision avoidance, represent must-have technology. For that reason, we think that buyers should only consider a Sorento with S 2.5 or higher trim as those features are not available on the base Sorento LX 2.5. 

There are some minor quibbles with Kia Drive Wise, however. The blind-spot warning triangle on the side mirrors is too small and may go unnoticed at first. Also, lane-keeping and lane-centering assistance usually help maintain the car in its lane, but in the absence of well-defined lane markings sometimes allow the vehicle to veer off course.

Remember that this technology is great to have but is no substitute for an alert driver keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

2021 Kia Sorento FAQ - Find the best Kia deals!

2021 Kia Sorento Cargo Space

Photo: Ron Sessions

How much cargo space does the 2021 Kia Sorento have?

With the second- and third-row seats folded flat, the Sorento’s yawning cargo hold can swallow up to 75.5 cubic feet of stuff. Fold just the third row chairs down, and Kia says between 38.5 and 45 cu.-ft. is available depending on the position of the sliding middle-row seats. Cramming three seat rows into the midsize Sorento means, however, that there is just 12.6 cu.-ft. of space behind them, about enough room for a pair of standard-size airport roller bags.

Does the 2021 Kia Sorento get good gas mileage?

According to the EPA, the front-drive 2021 Kia Sorento with the base, non-turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gets 26 mpg in combined city/highway driving with AWD versions achieve 24 mpg. We didn’t drive this version but when multiplied by the SUV’s 17.7-gallon fuel tank, that gives the Sorento’s standard engine a maximum driving range nearing 425 miles.

Not only is the Sorento Hybrid more powerful than the Sorento 2.5, it gets much better gas mileage. According to the EPA, it is rated to deliver an impressive 37 mpg in combined driving. Multiply that by the fuel tank size, and you can go 655 miles on a full tank.

Turbocharged Sorento 2.5T models trade efficiency for performance. The EPA rates these at 25 mpg in combined driving for front-drive models and 24 mpg with AWD, nearly matching the fuel efficiency of the base, non-turbocharged engine. 

During our testing, we averaged 22.5 mpg on 150-mile test route that included interstates, rural highways, residential streets and primitive dirt roads. With the same 17.7-gallon tank, that equates to more than 395 miles of driving range, impressive considering the turbo engine’s robust performance.

Is the 2021 Kia Sorento safe?

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had published crash-test results for the 2021 Kia Sorento as this review was published.

However, the previous-generation 2020 Sorento was an IIHS Top Safety Pick and the NHTSA gave last year’s Sorento five out of five stars for frontal and side impacts and four stars for rollover resistance. 

The 2021 Sorento’s new platform incorporates multiple load paths for improved crash performance and all models are now equipped with automatic high-beam headlights, so it’s likely the new version of the SUV will at least match the scores of the previous model if not improve upon them.

How much is the 2021 Kia Sorento?

Prices for the 2021 Kia Sorento range from $29,390 for the base LX 2.5 to $42,590 for the SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T. All-wheel drive is $1,800 extra for most trims, and the destination charge for all models is $1,170. The SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T includes standard AWD, and Sorento Hybrids come only with front-wheel drive.

What are the 2021 Kia Sorento competitors?

In the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), The previous-generation Kia Sorento was the highest-ranked model in the upper midsize SUV segment. The Dodge Durango and Toyota Highlander were the next highest-ranked models in the segment for overall quality. 

In the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout Study (APEAL), the Kia Telluride was the top-ranked model in the upper midsize SUV segment. The Hyundai Palisade and Dodge Durango were the next highest-rated models in the segment for overall appeal.

Other 3-row upper midsize SUV competitors to the 2021 Sorento include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, and Honda Pilot.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Kia deals!

2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T Green Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Into the highly competitive 3-row midsize SUV segment, the all-new 2021 Kia Sorento brings a solid A-game. The SUV is more rugged-looking, thanks to its square-jawed exterior design. The handsome, durable-goods interior is stylish and technologically advanced. And new powertrains are both more efficient and, at least in the 2.5 turbo’s case, more fun to drive. 

The Sorento continues to offer a compelling sales proposition with seating in three rows without the bulk and garageability concerns of larger 3-row SUVs. Adding to that, the new Sorento’s upgraded infotainment and connected services plans, coupled with its long list of safety and driver-assistive technology, makes Kia’s new-for-2021 midsize SUV worth a serious look.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer web sites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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