First Drive: Not All Changes on the Redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento Are Improvements

Midsized three-row SUV looks to be more efficient, but low-speed drivability and ride comfort have regressed

2021 Kia Sorento front driving

The redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento has rugged new styling and offers buyers a choice of three powertrains, including a turbo hybrid version. The Sorento could be a good option for buyers who can’t quite swing the extra cost of the larger Kia Telluride or who would prefer a more maneuverable vehicle that’s a bit smaller than most three-row midsized SUVs. But while the new Sorento is still a capable and mostly pleasant vehicle, we believe it has lost some of the charm of the previous model, which did almost everything well.

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The fourth-generation Sorento is built on an all-new platform that Kia says is lighter, yet it has a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase to bring more interior room. The styling quotient has been ramped up with sharper lines that give it a bolder, more rectangular look. Lower trims come with a 191-hp, four-cylinder engine, and higher trims get a new 281-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder. There’s also the first-ever Sorento Hybrid, which combines an electric motor with a turbo four-cylinder and gets a thrifty EPA rating of 37 mpg combined. The non-hybrid Sorento models range between 24 mpg and 26 mpg combined, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, depending on the engine choice and whether front- or all-wheel drive. Kia says a plug-in hybrid version is coming for the 2022 model year. 

Prices for the Sorento start at $29,390 (before the $1,170 destination charge) for the base front-wheel-drive LX and top out at $42,590 for the SX Prestige X-Line 2.5T with all-wheel drive. Pricing for the Sorento Hybrid, which comes with only front-wheel drive, begins at $33,590. We bought a 2021 Sorento EX AWD priced at $38,725 for our test program and rented a Sorento Hybrid from Kia to add to our first impressions. 

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, our initial expert assessment of the Sorento EX AWD we purchased for our test program is available to you below. After we log more than 2,000 break-in miles on our Sorento, we’ll put it through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls. CR members will get access to the full road-test results as soon as they’re available.

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What we bought: 2021 Kia Sorento EX AWD
Powertrain: 281-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $36,790
Total options: $765. Sapphire blue paint ($445), carpeted floor mats ($210), cargo net ($50), wheel locks ($60).
Destination fee: $1,170
Total cost: $38,725

CR’s Take

We quite liked the previous generation Sorento, with its smooth V6 engine, intuitive controls, comfortable ride, and quiet cabin among its virtues. The all-new model remains uniquely sized and could be a good option for buyers who are on the fence between a small or midsized SUV, because the Sorento is more of a “tweener.” We’re also happy that even with an updated infotainment system, we found most controls to still be pretty easy to figure out and use, which isn’t always the case these days. 

But in some ways the new Sorento has taken steps backward. It no longer delivers the comfortable and composed ride that the outgoing model was known for, and both our non-hybrid test model and the Hybrid version we rented from Kia suffer from some low-speed drivability issues that could be annoying for buyers to deal with on a daily basis.   

We’ll know much more about the new Sorento once it cycles through our test program, and we'll have a clearer understanding of how it stacks up against its competitors. In the meantime, here are our first impressions.

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