2021 Kia Sorento front driving

Kia has redesigned its three-row Sorento SUV for 2021, improving fuel economy, adding high-tech features, and expanding safety equipment.

Fuel-economy numbers are up with the four-cylinder engines, and they soar with the hybrid and future plug-in hybrid versions, which are the standout changes for this new generation.

The latest infotainment system and lengthy roster of available advance safety and driver assist features bring welcome upgrades.

Kia has expanded the number of trim levels as well. Combined, these changes promise to improve on a well-liked model and provide more variations to choose from.

Here’s what we know so far.

What it competes with: Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander.
What it looks like: A sharper-edged evolution of the outgoing model.
Powertrains: 191-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission; 281-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; 227-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo with hybrid drive and six-speed automatic transmission; 261-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo plug-in hybrid engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front- and all-wheel drive.
Price: $28,000 to $45,000 (estimated).
On sale: Late 2020. 

CR’s Take

The Sorento was always a bit of a tweener, being a bit smaller than other three-row SUVs. It has grown slightly with this redesign—a move that will probably add to its appeal—without encroaching on the roomy Telluride that squares off with the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander rather favorably.

The Sorento’s hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains are certain to attract new buyers who want the versatility and size of an SUV but don’t want to pay a penalty at the pump. We are glad to see customers will soon have many new, efficient options.

We quite liked the outgoing Sorento, noting its smooth V6 engine, intuitive controls, good ride, and quiet cabin among its virtues. But the market moves forward, led these days by the Telluride. We’re looking forward to seeing how this redesigned model performs.  

2021 Kia Sorento side driving

Outside

The redesigned SUV is immediately recognizable as both a Kia and a Sorento, with the familiar corporate grille design, general silhouette, and distinct D-pillar shape.

It is built on a new, lighter-weight platform that uses a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase that Kia says aids interior space. The exterior dimensions are otherwise similar to the 2020 model’s.

The body sharpens the lines from the outgoing model, making it look a bit more rectangular and refined. The change to the LED headlamps, with dramatic hockey-stick daytime running lights underneath, contributes to the fresh look. These lamps blend into the larger grille, further distinguishing the new model.

A new X-Line trim level grants the Sorento more off-road capability, with a 1-inch-higher ground clearance and a more advanced all-wheel-drive system with snow mode. It can be spotted with its unique 20-inch wheels, more robust roof rack, and contrasting shield under the rear bumper.  

2021 Kia Sorento interior

Inside

This Sorento is a three-row vehicle, which Kia says will have a hint more interior space.

The dash is modernized with an available 12.3-inch instrument panel—a first for the brand. There is a standard 8-inch infotainment screen and an available 10.25-inch touch screen. Both have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability.

The Uvo telematics system, operated through that screen, offers features such as an AI- and traffic-informed navigation ability, weather reports, multiple driver profiles, and a digital assistant that can communicate with Amazon Alexa and Google. Two phones can connect via Bluetooth, and a wireless charging pad is available.

There is an available audio upgrade to a 12-speaker Bose system with surround sound. Higher-trim models are dressed up with quilted leather and open-pore wood inlays.  

What Drives It

The Sorento will be launched with three engine choices: four-cylinder, turbo four-cylinder, and hybrid four-cylinder. A plug-in hybrid will join for the 2022 model year.

The base engine is a 191-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an eight-speed automatic transmission—a combination much like the standard powertrain on the redesigned, and smaller, Hyundai Tucson. Kia estimates that fuel economy will be 27 mpg combined, marking a 2-mpg increase from the previous generation.

The next step up is a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine with 281 hp. This is matched with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Kia projects that the fuel economy for this combination will be 25 mpg—a 3-mpg increase over the previous Sorento V6. (Consumer Reports recorded 22 mpg overall with that V6.) This engine is available in front- and all-wheel drive, and its tow capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds. The previous 290-hp V6 could tow 5,000 pounds.

For buyers seeking even greater fuel economy, there is a 1.6-liter hybrid powertrain with a 44-kilowatt electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission, rather than a form of continuously variable transmission, as is common with hybrids. A traditional automatic promises a more natural driving experience, with regular shifts, compared with an electronic continuously variable transmission, which can sound busy and rev higher as it manages gear ratios. The hybrid will be offered only in front-drive configuration. The fuel-economy estimate is 37 mpg combined.

The 261 hp plug-in hybrid available next year will have a 30-mile electric-only range. It uses a 13.8-kilowatt-hour battery and a 66.9-kW electric motor, and will be available with all-wheel drive.  

Safety and Driver Assist Systems

The Sorento comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning, driver attention warning, and rear occupant alert, a feature to avoid mistakenly leaving a child or pet in the vehicle. Blind spot warning is optional.

There’s quite a number of available assist features, including the ability to warn if the SUV senses a vehicle or bicycle approaching as a passenger attempts to open a door and exit into traffic. Likewise, the Sorento can watch for vehicles in the adjacent lane while traveling, and resist moving into an occupied lane. There is also the ability to add cyclist detection to the automatic braking function.

To help in parking lots, optional rear cross traffic warning and rear automatic braking can alert to a car moving perpendicular to the Sorento when backing up and activate the brakes to avoid a collision. Parking can be aided by ultrasonic sensors that can detect pedestrians and obstacles.

For highway driving, there is an available navigation-based cruise control system that can adjust speed to be within the posted speed limit and to account for upcoming curves.  

2021 Kia Sorento rear
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2020 Kia Sorento

Price Range: $26,990 - $41,890

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