Kia has dominated the crossover game in recent years. First, the ruggedly handsome 3-row Telluride showed up on the scene with a premium interior, endless cargo space, and mild off-road capability. Next came the Seltos, a compact crossover with bold styling, available AWD, and a clean and spacious cabin. With the bar set high, Kia has now redesigned its compact 3-row Sorento for 2021. Thanks to a new platform, upgraded styling, and a top of the line X-Line model, the Sorento is positioned to be yet another home run for the automaker.
A base price under $30,000 makes the 2021 Sorento one of the most affordable 3-row SUVs on the market, and with a wide range of models, it hits a sweet spot at the intersection of value, practicality, and desirability. We got the inside scoop on the 2021 Sorento directly from the Kia team at a meeting hosted by the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Here are the top reasons to consider this new SUV and which buyers should choose it over the mid-size Kia Telluride.
Performance and Safety Improvements
The 2021 Sorento gets an all-new platform, engine options, and driver-assist technology to make the driving experience safer and more engaging. The Sorento rides on Kia's all-new 3rd generation K3 platform shared with the K5 (formerly Optima) sedan. The new platform lightens the Sorento by 120 pounds while increasing the tensile strength by 4%.
Although the Sorento's wheelbase is increased by 1.4 inches to add interior space, the exterior dimensions remain the same for ease of maneuverability. Thanks to the K3 platform, the driving experience is improved with quicker acceleration, better handling, and reduced noise vibration. The new platform also allows for greater flexibility to accommodate the new engines.
The 2021 Sorento lineup offers a choice of 4 new engine options. The base engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder which makes 191 horsepower and 182 lb.-ft. of torque and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a 2.5-liter Turbo mated to an 8-speed wet dual-clutch automatic transmission that increases the horsepower to 281 and torque to 311 lb.-ft. This powertrain gives the Sorento a more responsive driving experience and a generous towing capacity of 3,500 lbs. If we put the Sorento's Turbo engine side-by-side with the Telluride's 3.8-liter V6 with 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft., the Sorento offers competitive performance specs.
Electrified options include a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder Turbo Hybrid with a 44 kW electric motor mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain produces 227 horsepower and gets an impressive combined 37 MPG, making it the most powerful HEV in its class. The Sorento Hybrid will only be paired with FWD so shoppers looking for a hybrid Sorento with AWD will have to go with the Plug-in Hybrid coming later in 2021. The PHEV will have a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder Turbo Plug-in Hybrid with 66.9 kW electric motor for 261 horsepower and an estimated 30 miles of all-electric range and will only be offered with AWD.
To make the new Sorento safer, Kia offers 16 standard and available advanced driver-assist systems. New standard features include Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Warning, and Rear Occupant Alert. New available safety tech includes Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist, Passenger Safe Exit Assist, and Blind View Monitor.
Premium Styling Inside and Out
Gone is the dated styling of the outgoing Sorento, and in its place is a bold, modern exterior that borrows some of the rugged features from its Telluride sibling. The Kia team emphasized that the next generation of SUV design is moving away from the look of "soft crossovers" and towards that of "real SUVs".
Kia's signature tiger-nose radiator grille gets wider and integrates with the headlights for an attractive front fascia. The hood edge wraps around the body side, integrating the rear shoulder for enhanced length and width. The Sorento's rear end sports vertical taillights just like the Telluride. The Sorento will offer one of 6 different alloy wheel designs, from 17" to 20" which is the largest to be offered for this SUV.
The designers of the Sorento aimed to craft an interior that portrayed a 'refined boldness' with 3D patterns that reflects a strong SUV image as well as upgraded materials to create an upscale and high-quality aesthetic. Embossed leather, bright satin, metal texture inlays, and open-pore wood inlays in the EX and X-Line trims work together to create a premium cabin that rivals the Telluride's quality. Tech features include an 8" standard or 10.25" available navigation screen, and a new 12.3" full TFT meter cluster.
A Variety of Models to Choose From
The 2021 Sorento will be offered in 5 trims (LX, S, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige) which fit into one of 4 key offerings: value, style, off-road capability, and efficiency. For families on a budget, the LX provides an excellent value at $29,390 for the FWD model and $31,190 for the AWD model. The EX, SX, and SX-Prestige models add styling elements like a unique bumper design, gloss black accents. SX and SX-Prestige models also get standard 20" black alloy wheels
Shoppers who want a taste of the rugged styling and capability of the Telluride will be drawn to the all-new SX-Prestige X-Line. This top-of-the-line model gets 8.3" of ground clearance (1" higher than other models), a rugged bumper design, a bridge-type roof rack, and 20" Dark Hyper Silver alloy wheels. It also adds some off-road capability with improved approach and departure angles, and advanced AWD with snow-mode.
For families who want a fuel-efficient 3-row SUV with no sacrifices made to performance, the Sorento Hybrid, and future Plug-in Hybrid strike the right balance. The regular hybrid gets a competitive 37 combined MPG and 227 horsepower, while the Plug-in Hybrid will get an estimated 30-mile range and 261 horsepower. The Sorento Hybrid starts at $36,590, and without many segment competitors (much less under $40,000) it's an appealing value.
Who Should Buy It?
According to Mark Savino, Product Strategy Manager for the Kia Sorento, the new SUV will attract a different type of buyer than the Kia Telluride. The Telluride provides a rugged, stylish, and cavernous minivan alternative for large families who need the passenger and cargo space to lug kids to soccer practice.
The 2021 Sorento, on the other hand, offers just the right amount of space to fill a need for younger families as well as empty-nesters who are down-sizing from a large 3-row SUV. Although this second group doesn't need the third-row on a daily basis, they will appreciate the option when they have the grandkids over.
For the budget-conscious shopper, the Sorento provides savings on both the purchase price and cost of ownership thanks to its impressive fuel economy. The Sorento has a starting MSRP under $30,000 for the base trim vs. the Telluride's starting MSRP of $31,990. The combined MPG of the Sorento's base gas engine is 27 MPG, while the hybrid gets 37 MPG. Both options beat the Kia Telluride's 21 MPG for AWD and 23 MPG for FWD.
2021 Kia Sorento Pricing
- LX: $29,390 Starting MSRP
- S: $31,890
- EX: $34, 990
- SX: $37,990
- Prestige: $40,590
- Prestige X-Line: $42,590
- S: $33,590
- EX: $36,590