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2021 Kia Sorento Review: The True Challenge Begins

2021 Kia Sorento
Photo: D.Rufiange
Will the Sorento be able to maintain its good reputation, or even build on it? Reaching the top is one thing; staying there is another Automotive expert , Updated:

Auto123 reviews the next-generation 2021 Kia Sorento.

Kia launched the fourth-generation 2021 Sorento SUV over the holiday period. The realities imposed by the pandemic meant that the procedure for test-driving the model was different and unique; the automaker delivered a vehicle to us and left it in our care for two weeks - which gave me ample time to discover its finer details and inner workings.

Major transformation
The first striking thing about this new Sorento is the extent of the transformation it has undergone. That included a completely rethought design, a new platform, two new powertrains, a stiffer structure and a fully revised interior. Basically, only the name has remained the same.

All of these changes translate, not surprisingly, into a greatly improved product. I’d even venture to say this is one very solid offering.

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2021 Kia Sorento, profile
2021 Kia Sorento, profile
Photo: Kia

Eye-catching styling
The style adopted by a vehicle is always a matter of taste. We won't dwell on that, but not before mentioning that the new Sorento is undeniably recognizable and distinct, both front and rear. That, in itself, is refreshing.

The integration of the rear window wiper in the upper part of the tailgate, sheltered from the elements, is a nice touch. The snag is that the way it deploys, the surface it cleans doesn't provide maximum visibility. Nothing is perfect.

Platform and mechanics
The new platform, dubbed the N3, is lighter and stiffer than what it’s replacing. The wheelbase has been increased by 35 mm, which mainly benefits the second row of seats, to which 93 mm of clearance have been added. The benefits of the change are also noticeable on the road, but I'll come back to that later.

Mechanically, two new engines serve the 2021 Sorento. With the first two versions (LX and LX Premium), a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine replaces the 2.4L unit of old. Its 191 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque represent gains over the old engine, as does its fuel economy rating of 9.7L/100 km (previously 10.2L/100 km).

Installed in the four other versions (X-Line, EX, EX+ and SX) is a 2.5L, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine good for 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. More details on that unit further down, but know that while this engine isn't the kind to fall short of breath, It also consumes less fuel than the 3.3L V6 it replaces (9.9L vs 11.1L/100 km).

2021 Kia Sorento, rear
2021 Kia Sorento, rear
Photo: D.Rufiange

The downside is that the towing capacity it allows is only 3,500 lb, down from 5,000 with the old V6. Kia is clearly banking on the fact that the Telluride is there for those who want that capacity. It's a risky bet, as some won't want a bigger model, especially since the Sorento isn't exactly a small SUV. Kia can expect to lose a few customers here.

Every 2021 Sorento comes with all-wheel drive, three rows of seats and an 8-speed automatic transmission.

2021 Kia Sorento, interior
2021 Kia Sorento, interior
Photo: D.Rufiange

The interior
Inside, Kia has taken a bold route, giving the model a different design, marked notably by distinct air vents that set the tone for the presentation. The visual signature is strong, and while some will like it more than others, personally, I like the change.

Our tester was the SX, which sits at the top of the hierarchy and so of course came with everything but a kitchen sink. It features an all-digital instrument cluster on a 12.3-inch screen, a second 10.25-inch screen for the multimedia system, and a blind-spot monitor that shows the images captured by the side cameras in real time when the turn signals are activated.

Up to eight USB ports can be found inside. As for the multimedia system screen, its size is 8 or 10.25 inches, depending on the version or option selected. The UVO system is also included with all its features and a three-year subscription. Heated and ventilated seats, second-row sun screens, heated steering wheel, and frankly unnecessary ambient sounds delivered via the multimedia system are also part of the package. The list of equipment included here is comprehensive, let’s say.

2021 Kia Sorento, second row of seats
2021 Kia Sorento, second row of seats
Photo: D.Rufiange

The level of quality overall is generally good in terms of the materials, though you still come across some hard plastics that seem incongruent in a vehicle costing $50,000 or so (full pricing can be found below). I’m comfortable calling the quality of assembly decent but no more than that, having come across a few cracks between components here and there.

As for safety features, two pages of the press release are devoted to them. We won't dwell on them, other than to say that the offer is comprehensive, especially with a semi-autonomous driving function that allows you to leave the steering wheel to itself for long stretches on the highway.

Behind the wheel
Speaking of the steering wheel: The styling of the interior, or even that environment as whole, is, like the exterior, a matter of taste. But if you’re seduced by the interior of the new Sorento, chances are it will be your experience with the steering wheel that sealed the deal.

Why? Because as soon as you drive this SUV, you can feel the increased rigidity and lightness of the chassis. It feels like the Sorento is smaller than it actually is. And the turbo engine does the job, with purpose. The vehicle comes out of the blocks quickly, and acceleration, whether from 30, 50 or 80 km/h, is brisk. The feedback from the steering is also great. All in all, this vehicle is fun to drive.

And all this in a very comfortable environment with good soundproofing. In truth, looking for faults in the Sorento's handling is an exercise that quickly becomes futile. Kia has come up with a product that, when it comes to the driving experience, raises the bar in this category.

2021 Kia Sorento, front
2021 Kia Sorento, front
Photo: D.Rufiange

The challenge
The Sorento is currently the Korean automaker’s best-selling vehicle in Canada. The new version is improved in every way, which bodes well for the future. That said, its position in the company hierarchy may be challenged: Kia has high hopes for its new Seltos in 2021. We’ll see if it can outpace the Sorento.  

But that’s not the challenge I’m referring to. Rather, I mean that over the past 10 years, the progress made by Kia has been frankly remarkable; personally, I've not hesitated to underline and praise that progress, which is apparent both in terms of quality and reliability.

However, over the last few years, a series of recalls have cast a certain pall on all that. As recently as this past December, some 300,000 vehicles were recalled for fire hazards, including second-generation Sorentos.

Now the automaker is debuting two new powertrains. It can’t help but make one pause and think. And honestly, it would be unwise of me not to urge caution. In fact, for this new model, I would recommend consumers consider leasing before buying.

2021 Kia Sorento, tailgate
2021 Kia Sorento, tailgate
Photo: D.Rufiange

The Sorento has just taken several obvious steps forward, though it also takes at least one step backward due to the model’s lower towing capacity. At the same time, it’s coming equipped with two new powertrains that will have to prove themselves. It’s also worth keeping in mind that there are hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions on the way; they should be with us by this summer.

The model's reputation is solid right now. The challenge will be to maintain it, if not to burnish it further. It’s a real test for Kia, and it's only just beginning, because the automaker surely understands that reaching the top is one thing, staying there is another.

Pricing for 2021 Kia Sorento

LX+:             $33,995
LX Premium: $36,495
X-Line:         $39,495
EX:              $40,995
EX+:            $43,995
SX:              $47,495

2021 Kia Sorento, on the snow
2021 Kia Sorento, on the snow
Photo: D.Rufiange

We like

Very solid driving experience
Eye-catching styling (exterior and interior)
Convincing turbo engine

We like less

Reduced towing capacity
Some hard plastics on board the SX version
Some security features are very intrusive (e.g. adaptive cruise control)

The competition

Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Toyota Highlander
Volkwagen Atlas

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