By on March 4, 2021

2021 Kia Sorento

Kia’s slogan of the moment is “give it everything.” Problem is, the brand only gave the 2021 most of the things, not everything.

The result is a solid crossover choice that doesn’t feel quite as well finished as the company’s larger Telluride or its K5 mid-size sedan.

I was loaned a Sorento for a very short time, but I still managed to take it out on my preferred driving loop, and my quick take based on the short drive is that the overall package here is quite good, but there are more nitpicks around the margins than I’ve had with any Kia vehicle in recent times.

For example, the dashboard material atop the digital gauge cluster looks soft touch, but isn’t. There was also a bit too much wind noise during a freeway jaunt. And finally, the rear seats appeared to vibrate at speed.

I say “appeared” since it’s physically impossible to drive a car from the second-row seats, but when I looked in the rearview to make sure a lane change was clear, I saw the second-row chairs shaking like a Polaroid picture. Hey ya, indeed.

To be fair, this could be a one-off build quality issue. The sample size of one always makes it tricky to talk about build-quality problems based on a loan. Either way, quality issues are very un-Kia-like, these days. Imagine saying that two decades ago.

2021 Kia Sorento

Odd behavior from the rear seat – I swear I was driving alone – aside, the rest of the Sorento experience is generally better. Kia has finally figured out how to dial in steering that offers nice heft and accuracy – the steering feel on offer here is quite good, and not just for a three-row crossover.

So, too, is the reasonably responsive handling, though body roll unsurprisingly shows up. A Sport mode works its magic to make the Sorento feel more responsive.

The 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder underhood promises 281 ponies and 311 lb-ft of torque, and that’s enough to give the Sorento appropriate grunt for most urban and suburban driving. The eight-speed automatic is nicely behaved.

2021 Kia Sorento

I must admit, the Sorento perplexes me a bit. It’s a likable overall package, and it strikes the right note when it comes to ride/handling/power. I’d be happy to own one. I even appreciate that the Sorento feels like a tall wagon, despite an 8.3-inch ride height (an inch over standard in SX Prestige X-Line trim).

And yet, there’s something missing from the formula – some intangible piece of the puzzle that Kia nailed with the Telluride and the K5.

Maybe it’s the boxy design, which works for the larger Telluride but despite some sporty touches reads as a bit anonymous here? Maybe it’s just the fact the Sorento is one of the many vehicles that is highly competent yet completely unremarkable?

I don’t know. I do know the interior design is well-done. The cabin is laid out logically and everything is within easy reach, yet the aesthetics are also pleasing. The infotainment screen is well integrated into the dash and intuitive to use, and the digital gauge cluster is sharp-looking and easy to read. It also changes based on what drive mode you’ve picked.

2021 Kia Sorento

Speaking of drive modes, if you aren’t feeling a wild hair, Smart mode is the best choice. Eco might gain you a few MPGs on a long trip, and Comfort does soften things up a tad for highway cruising, but I found Smart to give the best balance for most urban motoring. Sport was fine for the curviest roads.

Features certainly aren’t lacking, though, as per usual, I was sent an upper trim for evaluation. Allow me to detour into a pet peeve for a second – I wish OEMs would send us scribes more of the mid-level trims that people actually buy, as opposed to vehicles loaded to the gills with features. I get it – the automakers are trying to impress you, the reader, via our reviews – but this practice doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.

2021 Kia Sorento

Stepping off the soapbox and returning to the review, the SX Prestige I was loaned, complete with X-Line appearance package, is what the brand calls its “hero model.” Translated from marketing speak, that means top-line trim. In addition to the extra inch of ride height, this trim adds all-wheel-drive with torque on demand, a center-locking differential, downhill-descent control, different bumper treatment, 20-inch wheels, and a roof rack

Other standard features include forward-collision assist/cyclist, forward-collision assist/turning, blind-spot collision avoidance assist rear, rear cross-traffic avoidance assist, safe-exit assist, smart cruise control with stop and go, lane-keep assist, lane-following assist, highway driving assist, park-distance warning (reverse), rear occupant alert, navigation, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, Bluetooth, wireless phone charger, second-row captain’s chairs, USB chargers for all rows, heated front seats, slide/fold second-row seats, keyless entry and starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, hands-free power liftgate, LED headlights and taillights, and LED fog lights.

The X-Line package adds the 20-inch wheels, different front and rear bumper fascias, matte accents, unique roof rails, leather seats, cooled front seats, Bose audio, blind-spot monitor, digital gauges, heated steering wheel, parking collision-avoidance assist (reverse), park-distance warning (forward/reverse), and aluminum pedals.

An X-Line rust interior package ($200), carpeted floor mats ($210), and carpeted cargo mat ($115) got tacked on. All told the sticker was $44,285 with fees.

For the fuel-conscious buyer, the EPA rating for mpg is 21/28/24.

Kia’s cooked up a pretty good package here. The Sorento is a tall wagon that’s relatively fun to drive, quick enough for the urban cut-and-thrust, and well-equipped. It offers plenty of utility and a user-friendly cabin. Outside of the some materials that feel cheaper than they look and the vibration issue, which is possibly a one-off (as an FYI, my tester was a regular production unit, not pre-production), it’s hard to find much fault with this vehicle.

Yet both myself and contributor Chris, who coincidentally was tramping around Ohio in a Sorento at the same time I was bouncing around Chicagoland in one, felt a bit left cold by the Sorento.

Maybe we’re spoiled auto journalists who spend too much time in cars with more personality. I did swap out of an AMG Mercedes before the Kia arrived, so that could be the case. Certainly the average buyer, the one who is going to making payments on this thing for 3-5 years, probably doesn’t care about some intangible pizazz factor.

The Sorento is a solid crossover choice, and should you sign on the dotted line, you’ll likely be happier than not. Just don’t expect to stand out.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

33 Comments on “2021 Kia Sorento SX First Drive – Competent Crossover Seeking Spark...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Competent is good. I’m not sure if it is enough to be worth $44k though. Especially if the interior materials in this trim aren’t especially great.
    An EX with AWD comes with the turbo engine and comes in at $36.8K. That still feels a touch spicy. An “S” turbo AWD for $35K flat might be the sweet spot but that combination doesn’t exist.

    • 0 avatar
      DOHC 106

      I agree with you ajla. I think this version and at least one generation back have been very much over priced. They are simply pricing it for the segment not for the build quality. I saw one at a grocery store recently in blue and yes, I thought it was nice and the interior is ok as well, but still pricey. Telluride fits the bill better in this price range imo.

  • avatar

    I don’t like the interior or exterior styling on this. It looks less like a van than it used to, but the Sorento has continually missed the styling mark for me.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s that dull gray color and dark wheels – they’d soak the pizzazz out of anything.

  • avatar
    bogardus

    Agreed, Tim, it would be really great if there were more reviews of base or mid-level trims, i.e., the vehicles most people will actually buy. I get why the makers send top trims, but it makes it hard to compare apples to apples without surveying the dealer lots in person. When I was shopping a couple years ago I was trying to find some info on the non-touchscreen radio in the Insight LX and there was literally no information about it online anywhere.

    When I need to start shopping for a three-row for my expanding family, the new Sorento Hybrid is near the top of my test-drive list. I love the utility of minivans, but it seems crazy that they’ve all become 17-foot, 4600lb monsters that get 22mpg. The Sorento seems to fall into a pretty unique niche have a third row suitable for occasional use, returning good mileage (especially in hybrid form), and not being too big on the outside (even several inches shorter than most mid-size sedans). I really wish Mazda had kept making some version of the 5, as that’s the exact form factor I’d want.

    Did you have any thoughts on passenger comfort in the Sorento?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Well, since I was all by myself for the whole loan, and I can’t drive a car from the passenger seat, I don’t have a ton of insight here.

      I did sit in the back briefly, and the room seemed acceptable (I’m 6’1″ and have a bit of a beer gut grafted onto a formerly skinny body). I didn’t attempt the third row, as I thought I might not return.

      I intended to make mention of the second-row seat in the review and that was an editing oversight.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      As hard as it was to imagine a simpler radio in place of the fancy one, the reverse, trying to imagine a fancier radio in place of a simple one, would be even harder.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I don’t mind this Sorrento at all. But, while I realize Wall Street wants to see higher average transaction prices, there is no way I am paying north of $40K for this vehcile. In fact, I’m not paying north of $35K. Even with this trim level.

    The Sorrento starts at about $30K – which is about all I would pay for it regardless of trim level. Yes, it’s a decent, reliable SUV. But automakers need to wake up and realize some of their products are not luxury – nor even near-luxury – vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      As you know, the mfrs make their profits on the options. In addition, dealers never stock the base trim levels. And, many buyers like to tell their friends that they bought the loaded version.

      So, many SX trims will be sold at $40k, and buyers will feel they got a great deal.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Well, that’s not how new car buyers are seeing things these days.

      For example, the most in demand trim for the Telluride is the highest SX trim with the Premium package, costing around $50k.

      In markets like the Bay Area, there are still buyers willing to pay upwards of an $8k premium for the SXP.

      Along the same lines, the most in-demand GV80 is the top 3.5T Prestige, which is also going for a premium in certain markets.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    They send you high trim levels because it is easier to have those items and imagine them missing than to not have them at all and try to imagine having them.

    Think of a babe in a red dress.

  • avatar
    EX35

    $45k for this? That’s the exact same price I paid for my new ‘19 C7 7M. I know it’s a completely different class of car, but still hard for me to fathom paying that much for this.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    These crossovers have literally taken the fun out of cars for me, even before we as a society get to the even more forgettable pure EV versions bound to turn up in the next few years. Boring as hell. Almost interchangeable lowest common denominator hunks of uselessness. I couldn’t, for example, give a single darn about any of GM’s multiple variations on the crossover theme, not even bothering to remember their names any more. I mean, is there any reason to care? Same with the multiplicity of H/K ankle biters, and useless Nissans by the freightcar load.

    I suppose this Sorento is a Hyundai Tucson in disguise. Or is it the Santa Fe? Don’t bother looking it up, I couldn’t care less, but it goes to show the multiplicity of mediocrities available for perusal and purchase by a bewildered public.

    Six decades of being a car nut and what do I see on offer today, in general? Completely uninteresting two-box blob underachievers with a stupid high price, and ground clearance creeping back down to normal hatchback levels. That’s not progress. Saw some ratty little two-box BMW today with such a cut down roofline, I’d bet you couldn’t wear a ballcap in it. Must have been an X1 or X2, the MINI in disguise. Save my eyesight from such industrial blight! Please! Of course, if you want a BMW car, then it comes with an alien twin piggy snout, so no visual relief there. Their chief designer Adrian van Hooydonk says his cars have to be polarizing to stand out. Well, they offend me, so I won’t blight BNW’s showroom with my presence — I can see it would be a waste of my time just from the pics. Well done, Hooydonk, you made the choice clear. Apparently lithe form and elegant design is out and pig-ugly is in. Good Lord, the Tesla cars are paragons of good taste by comparison, except for the low-flying blimp Model Y, which I guess is Musk’s idea of a crossover, and no better than anything else to look at because it’s awkward as hell.

    Thank you for reading my rant.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      You pretty much hit it on the head. Too much money for a much-too-ordinary vehicle. These look just like many other SUVs (or whatever lifted wagons are called by their marketing guy) on the road. And that’s WAY too many simoleans. For 45 large, you have many other options out there.
      Who will buy it? The ladies, of course. No guy would want one of these, unless his future ex-wife nags him into buying it for her.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Have to keep in mind that much of the price premium for the higher trims is all the tech (which many buyers want these days).

      A Forte equipped with similar level of kit would be pretty pricey.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    You mention the difference between mid-line volume trims and loaded top trims. I have a feeling this is very dependent on market. I’ve noticed over the years, as Seattle has gotten steadily richer, that I see steadily fewer mid-line vehicles on the road and in dealerships, and that more and more of the non-luxury-brand vehicles are the top trims. Around here, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Telluride that wasn’t the SX version. I’d be curious to see the breakdown of trim levels in different markets.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Within my area it looks like about 50% of the Tellurides and Sorentos for sale are SX trims, about 10% are base and the other trims equally fill in from there.

      About 80% are also front wheel drive on both models.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Kia has slanted production heavily to the highest trims, which is why the Telluride’s ATP is several thousand higher than that for Acura.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Tim,
    One of the monthly car magazines said the transmission in the turbo model was quirky at low speeds and was a big flaw. Was this a pre-production issue? Did you notice any thing with the transmission?

    The wife and I have a 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited AWD (3.3-6speed 290ish horsepower). The wife and I looked at one of the new Sorentos in the LX trim (because that’s what the dealer had) and I could not in any way look at that vehicle and say that’s a better vehicle in any respect than what we already own.

  • avatar

    I love Tellarude!

  • avatar
    Bconroy284

    The issue with the new Sorrento and other kias lately is the U.S. packaging. They remove memory seats, heated second row seats , and the ambient lighting that other countries get. Also no 7 seat option on the higher trims is a shame that effectively makes this a 4 +2 .

    Other examples of kia cost cutting is in the soul they removed leather, cooled seats and other niceties. The K5 in the U.S did not get the digital display all other countries get. When your paying over 40k for this you would expect at least memory seats . But I guess that’s an excuse to spring for the telluride.

  • avatar
    EX35

    Around me I can get a new cx-5 carbon turbo for $30K or a new BMW X1 xdrive for $35K (demo unit with a few Ks but factory warranty begins upon purchase). I can’t understand why anyone would spend the same if not more for a damn Kia.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      EX35
      To be fair a CX-5 IS NOT A SEVEN SEATER. So it’s not a apples to apples comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Both have a lot less space than the Sorento, so if one needs the room and an available 3rd row, neither the CX-5 nor X1 would be a viable option.

      Plus going with used or a demo unit doesn’t make much sense, cause one could always go with a lower priced Sorento demo.

      And a good amount of people have been forking somewhere between $50k-60k for Kias.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The great thing about Hyundai and Kia pricing is that once the dust settles and the vehicle has been out for a while, you can easily score a 10-15% discount off MSRP. The exception continues to be the Palisade/Telluride, still selling hotly after 16-18 months.

    The neighbor bought a new Palisade. Had it one whole day before some electrical component went haywire and there was burning involved (these things happen; everyone else I know with a H/K product has had no unusual vehicle defects). Hyundai promised a replacement vehicle, but after 6 weeks could not secure the exact replacement. They gave him a helluva deal on a GV-80 at the dealership. Cost more than his price on the Palisade, but not by much.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I was eagerly anticipating this vehicle as I liked the previous version but just wished for a bit more power and a bit more pizzaz. Well this new Sorento mostly delivers with added power and improved mileage on certain models and configurations but falls short in my eyes on 4 keys things.

    I checked out no less than a row of 20 of these things at my Kia dealer and was left underwhelmed. Every model was represented with base, S, EX and both SX versions. The majority of them were all had dull grey or black wheels, loads of black plastic everywhere even the exterior mirrors and grilles and the overall look didn’t stand out at all. The base and EX had silver alloy wheels which helped a little but were still plagued with too much black plastic everywhere. At least give the EX version some chrome belt-line moldings and make the wheel flares body colored. issue two was the obviously fake exhaust that just look cheap, especially on the top trim 44k versions. Issue 3 was the bizarre was they package these vehicles and color restrictions. Base models only get certain colors, you can’t get an interior color other than black with certain exterior colors and speaking of the exterior paint options they need to be expanded with more flexibility on interior options. The last issue is the MPG. The volume engine on the lots was the base 2.5 with AWD. That is listed as only 25 highway despite a new lighter weight vehicle, a newer designed 2.5 engine that gets better MPG in the K5 and Sonata and it’s even tied to a newer 8 speed transmission. So why is the mileage so poor and worst in class with this volume setup? Even the much higher performing turbo 2.5 is listed for 28 highway with AWD.

    Kia did a decent job with this vehicle but it’s obvious they need to do some refining and better packaging giving the consumer more choice. The fact that the majority of the models has dull dirty looking grey or black finish wheels is not a good idea as the consumer wants choices. The interior on the higher trim levels needs to be tightened up with some added warmth and more flexible color choices and the volume 2.5 should be getting closer to 30 highway.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • slavuta: “I don’t like Maxine Waters. Know what, she isn’t my representative” Then why she goes into a...
  • Tim Healey: @C5 Is Alive — regardless of how Floyd died, your language here is unnecesarily inflammatory....
  • Tim Healey: We focus on Teslas because these types of crashes may or may not involve autonomous tech, which is new to...
  • zerog: As long as GM keeps trying to feed multiple brands while “turning electronic”, most of their...
  • Snooder: While I know everybody is salivating over the idea of Tesla screwing up or whatever, I got a different...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber