By Derek Price
Since its launch in 2002, the Sorento has grown into one of Kia’s most important vehicles, selling 1.5 million copies in less than 20 years.
That means designers had a serious mandate when creating an all-new version for 2021: “Don’t mess it up.”
This year’s fresh-baked, fourth-generation Sorento is better in every appreciable way, as it should be in the hotly competitive market for small crossovers. Any misstep would be financial suicide when there are so many good options for careful shoppers.
How is it improved?
It offers more off-road capability, for one. For the first time ever, Kia is selling a version of the Sorento designed for light off-roading, called the X-Line. It rides an inch higher, has better all-wheel-drive traction control capabilities and a stronger roof rack.
From there, it depends on what the buyer wants.
If you want more performance, a new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine makes 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission shifts with the snappy precision of a sports sedan.
If you want better gas mileage, a new Turbo-Hybrid model gets a whopping 50 percent better fuel economy than the outgoing base Sorento. It also makes 227 horsepower, enough to make it the most powerful hybrid vehicle in its class.
There’s even a plug-in hybrid option with up to 30 miles of electric range.
Basically, the Sorento is available in a wider variety of flavors, all of which taste better than they did last year.
Unfortunately, my tester didn’t offer anything close to the supple highway experience of the Telluride. I was hoping for that soft, comfortable suspension feel, and I suspect part of my disappointment can be blamed on the 20-inch wheels fitted to my test vehicle. Like all huge wheels, they look great in photos but can make the ride feel harsher over bumps. Personally, I’d pick a smaller wheel to prioritize comfort on a family vehicle like this.
The cabin has more space for both cargo and passengers now, and Kia lets you opt for two captain’s chairs in the second row instead of the usual bench seat. That means it would have seating for six instead of the more common seven.
In a nod to modern families, it’s available with up to eight — count ‘em, eight — USB ports for portable devices, too.
In a nod to the new X-Line off-road trim, the new body evokes the spirit of 1990s SUVs with straighter lines and a more upright overall look, eschewing the slightly more jellybean-like shape of the outgoing model.
Still, it commits the same unpardonable sin of nearly every crossover sold today: unoriginality. It strikes me more as derivative and evolutionary than creative in its design.
That said, not every vehicle needs to be a work of art. And when it comes to functionality, I have no complaints about the new Sorento.
Like many of its competitors, there are more standard driver assistance features now, including Lane Keeping Assist and Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, among others. The optional Blind View Monitor feature helps you see cars in your blind spot through a live video view.
Kia’s UVO digital interface is wonderfully designed and fast to respond. It can also use over-the-air data to offer better routing in the navigation system and weather information for more than 25,000 cities, Kia claims.
My tests involved what I use in the real world, Apple CarPlay, and it worked flawlessly on my iPhone 10. It connected to the phone quickly and made using Waze, Google Maps and other smartphone apps simple.
What does it cost?
Pricing starts at $29,380 for the base LX trim. All-wheel drive adds $1,800. The turbocharged engine starts at $34,990 with the EX trim, and pricing tops out at $42,590 for the SX Prestige X-Line.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line SX Prestige AWD ($42,590). Options: Cargo net ($50), carpeted cargo mat ($115), carpeted floor mats ($210), premium paint ($200). Price as tested (including $1,175 destination charge): $44,340
Wheelbase: 110.8 in.
Length: 189 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 66.7 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (281 hp, 311 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 city, 28 highway
Why buy it?
An all-new design makes the Sorento better in nearly every way. It offers more space, technology and refinement, including an off-road version and an efficient hybrid model.