2021 KIA Sorento SX – Much Improved

2021 KIA Sorento SX

2021 KIA Sorento SX – New Kia Sorento may seem like just another big SUV, but actually it is much more than that. The delta between the old and new generation is huge, in terms of build quality, and design. The new Sorento is not a boring rental car alternative anymore. Inside and outside, it is a huge improvement over the last generation, and you understand the difference even from a distance.

Exterior and Interior

It is one of the best-looking entries in this segment 

Our tester is the SX trim, which is the highest trim available. That also means it is the best-looking Sorento, as it comes with special rims, LED headlights and much more sporty design language. The blue colour also does not hide its body lines, which makes the car look very modern and sporty. KIA’s new design language is completely different and looks upscale, dynamic and muscular looking.

Everything is well laid out, and all essential features have dedicated physical buttons

Unlike a decade ago, Korean cars are not copycats, they have their unique design and the new Sorento is no exception. When we get inside the new Sorento, it feels unique. Unlike some brands, KIA Sorento’s interior does not look like it’s taken from another model. There are some common parts that are used in other KIA models though, but it is very minimal. It is a very well laid out interior, all essential features have dedicated buttons, though some of them are not physical and it may be harder to find them while you are driving.

All essential features have physical buttons

We love how it has a unique interior design, however, there is a missed opportunity on the material choice. Compared to the previous generation, there is a night and day difference in terms of interior quality and design. However, there is glossy black all around the console. It looks perfect in the showroom, but after a certain period of time, it looks very dirty. It comes with two big cupholders in the front, and also a small cubby for your smartphone, or wallet. SX trim also comes with wireless charging which makes your life very easy.

Blind View Monitor, the most innovative feature of modern KIA/Hyundai vehicles is available with the Sorento

One of KIA’s strong selling points is its technology department. Especially in the last few years, they have been ahead of the competition. The Sorento is no exception and there are uniquely KIA features available in it. For instance, Blind Spot Camera was exclusively available in Telluride and Hyundai Palisade last year, now it is also available in the new Sorento, which is one of the best and most innovative features of the KIA/Hyundai group in the last few years. Aside from the camera, the digital gauge cluster works perfectly fine, it is customizable yet there is no lag.

Like the gauge cluster, it has an excellent infotainment system without a lag

Like the digital gauge cluster, it also comes with a high resolution 10.25″ infotainment screen which is exclusively available in higher trims. Like the rest of the modern KIA model lineup, this has great screen quality and the infotainment system is easy to navigate around. It comes with a 360 camera which helps a lot maneuvering a big vehicle like this, the resolution is also great, so you don’t have to look closer to the screen to see what’s going on around you. Also, KIA’s adaptive cruise control is one of the best in the industry, it is almost semi-autonomous driving level especially when you are on the highway. The technology department gets 10/10 with the newest Sorento, well done!

Mid and higher trims get captain chairs in the second row

Everything is fine when you go to the rear seats, you have plenty of spaces and it comes with captain chairs. The seats are very comfortable and you have tons of legroom as well as headroom. Higher trims get heated rear seats, which is a nice feature if you are driving in colder climates. It also comes with manual rear door sunshades, which are essential features for families with small kids or babies.

Need to haul more than 5 adults? KIA got you covered

Having captain chairs in the second row means you can either fold down the second-row seats to access the third row, or you can use the middle floor area. The third row is not the best place for bigger adults, but it is the perfect addition to the Sorento. The new Sorento is not the biggest entry in this segment, yet it still comes with 3-row seats. Also, it comes with its cubbies, cupholders, air conditioning system, and USB ports like the second row. The only difference between the third and second row is that third-row floor is slightly higher and the seat bottom is slightly closer to the ground, which means less comfortable rides on long distance trips.

Though the third row has plenty of legroom, cargo space is significantly smaller compared to the bigger KIA Telluride

From the exterior, the new Sorento is one of the smaller 3-row entries in this segment. However, it has a surprisingly larger interior space. It is slightly behind compared to KIA Telluride and Hyundai Palisade which is expected, but still ahead of many other 3-row competitors. The cargo space is an important consideration when cross-shopping this with the larger KIA (Telluride) as you can only put two carry-on luggage behind the third row of Sorento.

The new Sorento has 45 cubic feet (1275 L) of cargo space, which is plenty enough for most families

As with most of the 3-row SUVs, 3rd-row seats would most likely spend most of their lives folded flat, as it is more for emergency situations. When the third rows are down, it has plenty of cargo space, but since it is one of the smaller entries, it is not class-leading in terms of cargo space. KIA decided to put the spare tire under the car, and you have additional storage space under the trunk floor.

Drivetrain and Driving Impressions

The new Sorento comes with two different engine options

2021 KIA Sorento comes with two different engine and transmission options. Base and lower trims come with a 2.5L naturally aspirated engine that produces 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. If you choose X-Line and higher trims, it comes with KIA’s new 2.5L turbocharged engine that pumps out 281 horsepower and a whopping 311 lb-ft of torque. The good thing about having a turbocharged engine is the flexibility and flatness of the torque curve. It offers 311 lb-ft of torque from 1700 rpm all the way up to 4000.

We loved how torquey the engine is, and it is very easy to drive on a daily basis. The fuel consumption was around 12.5L, which was not breaking any records, but not too bad for a 3-row SUV. What we didn’t like about this engine is that it can be loud at higher rpm, and when it’s cold you constantly hear injector noise like a diesel engine. This is not only specific for this engine, but that’s pretty much the case for almost all modern KIA/Hyundai Direct Injection engines. This is not a deal-breaker, but something to keep in mind if you are looking for a silky smooth platform.

We love the overall design of the new Sorento, except fake exhaust tips

Transmission choice with the turbo engine is also an interesting choice. KIA has been using 8-speed torque converted automatic transmission for the last few years, in their luxury/performance-oriented vehicles with no problem. However, KIA has decided to switch to a wet dual-clutch system with the turbocharged Sorento. Base trim with naturally aspirated engine comes with regular automatic transmission, which is perfectly suitable for an SUV.

According to KIA/Hyundai, the new wet clutch DCT is 3% more fuel-efficient, and it gives 9% better 0-100 acceleration time. It is perfectly fine for daily driving but it doesn’t feel like regular torque converted automatic transmission in terms of driving comfort and smoothness. Dual Clutch Transmissions (DCT) are more fragile and less suitable for harsh conditions, compared to torque-converted automatics. DCTs were mostly used in performance vehicles for better efficiency, faster shifting times at an expense of less smooth shifting in daily driving. They can be clunky and not the best choice for stop-and-go traffic.

Though DCT transmission works great, we believe regular torque converted automatic would be a better fit for a family SUV

KIA is using the wet clutch system to eliminate these issues, which is more durable and smoother compared to the dry clutch. However, this is a heavy 3-row family crossover and as an all-wheel-drive vehicle, you expect potential buyers may take it to lightweight off road, do towing, or driving in stop-and-go traffic constantly. So even though “wet” type DCT would solve most of the problems, at the end of the day, it is still a dual-clutch transmission and prone to overheating. Most manufacturers decided to ditch the dual-clutch transmissions in favour of torque converted automatic as they offer a more durable, smoother driving experience.

The new Sorento comes with a standard AWD system that sends power according to road conditions

The new Sorento comes standard with an all-wheel-drive system. The engine is placed horizontally and as a result, it is a front biased AWD system. You can choose different driving modes and it sends the power to the rear wheels accordingly. Different driving modes may change the amount of power that goes to the rear wheel. However, in comfort mode, it always sends power to the rear when you accelerate, and at higher speeds, it sends power only to the front wheels for fuel economy.

As this is a smaller 3-row entry – or called mid-size 3-row SUV – it actually feels smaller than the overall size. It almost feels like a Sportage, which is a great feature. The steering feels numb, but the suspension tuning is very well balanced. There is no excessive body roll, yet the suspension is not harsh over big bumps, despite having big 20″ rims. The driving position feels more like a car than a truck.  Due to the front biased AWD system and torquey engine, you may get some torque steer as it sends power to the front wheels initially, but other than that, it is a perfect daily driver.

“Sorento” badge is placed in the middle, showing that it’s a premium SUV

Pricing and the Verdict

2021 KIA Sorento is not a boring option anymore, as it has a completely new platform inside and outside. Like most other modern KIA vehicles, its strongest selling point is safety and technology features. However, unlike the older generation, where it shines is the overall design and how it looks. It looks much more upscale and it is a great option if you are looking for a 3-row SUV that doesn’t look boring. The new 2.5L turbo engine is a great addition that moves a big 3-row SUV like a hot hatch.

New vs Old: There are a night and day difference, probably the biggest delta of two generations we have ever seen

As KIA has several SUVs and crossovers in its model lineup, there is a pricing overlap between the models. Our tester (SX Trim) is priced at $47.500, which you can get base trim Telluride for $500 cheaper. The new Sorento is one of our favourite 3-row SUVs if you are looking for the best adaptive cruise control, tech features, great digital gauge cluster and infotainment system. We would recommend the Telluride if you need more cargo space and a slightly larger 3rd row. Other than that, Sorento would be as good as bigger 3-rows in terms of daily driving and family hauling.

For pricing and equipment details of our tester, see the spec sheet below:


For more details, please visit www.kia.ca

Article: Dan Gunay

Photos: Dan Gunay & Burak McKars