Well-rounded SUV sets the bar high
THE GOOD
  • Capable powertrain
  • Very user-friendly
  • Stylish
THE BAD
  • Fuel economy could be better
  • Very cramped third row
  • Wiper speeds

Kia has been going wild revamping its lineup, making standout styling part of its repertoire in addition to the strong value it’s already well known for.

Already a fantastic choice in a very competitive segment, the 2021 Kia Sorento gives drivers even more reason to look in its direction with a drastically new design and a ton of features.

Styling: 9/10

“I thought this was a BMW from far away,” a family member who drives a Mercedes-Benz told me after spotting the SUV. While driving the Kia Stinger when it first came out, a passerby told me it looked like a Maserati from the back, and I thought, “I think Kia is on to something.”

While I don’t think Kia is trying to jack designs from other automakers, it appears the attempts to move its designs upmarket have paid off. The result here is a handsome SUV with great proportions, thoughtful details, and creases in all the right places. The lighting looks upscale, the blacked-out details on my tester look posh, and I’d argue the new Sorento is one of the best-looking SUVs in its class, mostly because it doesn’t have an anonymously bland design.

If you stare at it for too long, however, there might be a few design elements – the fake exhaust tips, for example – that sour an otherwise excellent first visual impression. But overall, it’s an attractive SUV that I, dare say, felt kind of cool driving.

Inside, the design isn’t as wild, but the textured plastic panels used on the doors and dashboard help mix it up. There’s too much piano black used, but the brushed aluminum, contrast stitching, and quilted leather seats in my top-of-the-line tester class up the cabin.

Power: 9/10

While many of its slightly larger competitors still have V6 engines under their hoods, the Sorento has two four-cylinder options. [Those wanting V6 power in a three-row package from Kia have the Telluride across the showroom. – Ed.] The base version is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5L, which sends power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. This motor cranks out 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque, but an available upgraded engine adds a turbocharger, which bumps output to a stout 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, and is paired to a quicker-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The engine has an automatic stop–start system, which worked smoothly and could barely be felt. My tester had four driving modes: comfort, eco, sport, and smart, while other models add snow, mud, and sand settings.

Driving Feel: 9/10

My tester had the turbo engine, which helped the Sorento feel lively for its size, providing ample passing power and ensuring that getting up to highway speeds happened in decent time. Applying throttle was met with a quick response and barely any turbo lag, with the transmission snappily gearing down for optimal torque delivery. The dual-clutch unit worked smoothly and intuitively, and only a couple times had minor hiccups where it felt like a gear was slipping before it hooked up and started to roll forward and in the transition from first to second.

During two snowstorms, the Sorento, which was equipped with proper winter tires, felt sure-footed, its all-wheel drive (AWD) system never struggling to find traction in slippery conditions. The Sorento’s steering is unusually good for its class and felt both responsive and weighty, all without requiring too much effort. The SUV drives smaller than it actually is; it’s easy to manoeuvre and feels more agile than some of its competitors. It all combined to make the Sorento feel confident and composed in pretty much every situation I put it through.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

The upgraded turbo engine is rated at 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 L/100 km on the highway for a combined 9.9 L/100 km, while the base engine gets ratings of 10.1 L/100 km in the city and 9.2 L/100 km on the highway for a combined 9.7 L/100 km. After about 1,700 km of mostly highway driving with a few city jaunts thrown in, my turbo tester was consuming 10.2 L/100 km, which is much higher than I expected considering all the highway driving but also forgivable because of the terrible weather and winter tires. Luckily the turbo model can run on regular-grade fuel, which helps soften the blow slightly.

For comparison’s sake, the Mazda CX-9 and its turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder is rated at a combined 10.5 L/100 km, while the V6-powered Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander get 11.3 and 10.3 L/100 km combined, respectively. For those seeking more efficiency, hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models will join the Sorento lineup soon.

Features: 9/10

The Kia Sorento uses tech and features to give it a big leg up on much of its competition. One of the best features is the head-up display (HUD), which is excellent. It’s bright, clear, and shows a lot of information including speed limits, if there is another vehicle in either blind spot, and all the information for the adaptive cruise control system. If you’re using the native navigation system, it also projects directions, but it doesn’t work with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The speedometer on the HUD also warns you if you’re speeding, changing from the normal white to an orange colour if you’re over the limit, and then to a darker orange if you’re speeding by more than the generally accepted 10 km/h over the limit. It packs a lot of information into a small area but makes it easy to decipher.

Other available highlights include a huge panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, motion-activated power tailgate, 12V plug in the second row along with a three-prong household outlet and three USB ports, and rear window sunshades.

There’s also a wireless phone charger that warns you if you’re about to exit the car without taking your phone. A feature many will appreciate is that the Sorento warns you if the vehicle in front has moved and you haven’t responded because you were otherwise distracted. Now you’ll never be the person to blame for missing the advanced green.

Safety: 9/10

Every Sorento comes standard with lane-keeping assist with lane-centring, forward automatic emergency braking, and automatic high-beams. Moving up a trim adds blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert and assist. Moving up to the EX+ trim adds adaptive cruise control with lane-centring and steering assist, and expands the forward collision avoidance to work with pedestrians and cyclists. Finally, the topline SX trim adds reverse automatic emergency braking.

The Sorento takes blind-spot monitoring to the next level by using the 12.3-inch digital dashboard to display a live video feed of either blind-spot when the turn signal is used, an excellent addition to the shoulder check and side mirrors. I found this extra handy to check for cyclists when driving through the city. A few other safety features I appreciated were a rear-seat reminder, and a feature that warns occupants not to open their doors if there’s a car or cyclist incoming.

The adaptive cruise control, which can also automatically adjust the car’s speed based on speed limits, was easy to use and felt natural. The system worked smoothly, but drivers have to let it do its work and ease up on their grip or else it feels like it’s trying to fight you. When using the combined driver assistance features, it helped ease stress and I found it especially helpful in stop-and-go highway traffic as well as during long, tedious drives.

User Friendliness: 9/10

The top-down 360-degree parking camera made the SUV easy to park and manoeuvre around tight spots. Inside, all the controls were clearly labelled and were located where you expect them to be and there were no mystery buttons to be seen. The dashboard mixes analogue buttons with touch-capacitive controls and toggles and it all worked seamlessly as expected.

The larger 10.25-inch touchscreen’s menus were intuitive, and users should be able to find functions quickly without having to dig too deep into menus (an eight-inch screen is standard). The native navigation system is user-friendly, warns drivers of red-light cameras, and makes it easy to input addresses by having numbers and letters on the same keyboard. Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay makes the system even easier to use, and although the interface doesn’t take up the entire surface area of the widescreen display, the unused section can be used to display other important information like weather, time, or audio information.

One minor issue I experienced was that the sensor for the automatic wipers was wonky. It either wasn’t working or was calibrated terribly so it never triggered. In the many instances during my test where there was light precipitation, it was annoying to have to manually trigger the wipers each time or look like a crazy person with their wipers on full speed as if there was a torrential downpour. This meant I had to pick between no wipers or full-speed wipers and no in-between. There’s likely a quick fix for this, but it’s something you might want to check on a test drive.

Comfort: 8/10

It should be no surprise that the third row is for emergency use only. It was cramped and tough to get in and out of, even for smaller kids, so adults really shouldn’t be forced to stay back there. I was barely able to squeeze back there and once I was seated, my knees were up by my chin and my legs right up against the seatbacks. Even so, third-row passengers get their own climate controls and a USB port each.

Accommodations were much more generous in the second-row captain’s chairs (a seven-passenger configuration is standard), which I prefer over the traditional bench because it keeps kids separate from each other, which can help ease tensions.

A lot of wind noise made its way through to the cabin on the highway, but it wasn’t enough to be a dealbreaker.

Practicality: 8/10

Storage cubbies are everywhere in the Sorento. The centre console bin is large and there are many compartments in the front to put bottles and smaller items like phones and wallets. Second-row passengers have two divided pockets on the front seat backs, one with a net for extra stretch. There is also a smaller netted pocket on each of the second-row captain’s chairs and door pockets all around.

With all three rows of seating in use, there is a tiny 357 L of space left in the trunk, but with the third row folded flat it opens up between 1,090 L and 1,274 L, depending on the position of the second row, which slides fore and aft to either give passengers more room or create more space for cargo. With the second row folded, there’s a large 2,139 L of space available. By comparison, the Toyota Highlander has 453/1,371/2,387 L of cargo space, respectively.

The third row can be tumbled or put back into place via straps on the seatbacks, while the second row uses levers on the trunk wall to tumble them away. I wish the levers also tucked the headrests away so they didn’t get snagged on the front seats, but it shouldn’t be an issue if the second-row captain’s chairs are all the way back on their rails. All seats have to be placed upright manually.

Value: 9/10

The 2021 Kia Sorento’s pricing starts at a very reasonable $33,995 for the LX+ trim, which for the style alone is worth it. It’s a bit disappointing to not see a heated steering wheel included as standard in the base model seeing that it’s standard in the much smaller Rio subcompact car. However, AWD is standard on every Sorento.

Moving up, the LX Premium costs $36,495 and includes a heated steering wheel, while the outdoors-focused X-Line costs $39,495. The EX costs $40,995, the EX+ goes for $43,995, and the topline SX is $47,495. Every trim has some great highlights and provides a lot of value.

The Verdict

The 2021 Kia Sorento is one of the most well-rounded SUVs in its very competitive segment and should appeal to a variety of Canadian drivers. Where many of its competitors do a few things well and stumble in other respects, the fourth-generation Sorento hits hard in all areas with a fantastic combination of style, features and technology, ease of use, driving dynamics, a great powertrain, and a robust suite of safety and driver assistance features. With the addition of the hybrid and PHEV models, it’s bound to be an even stronger lineup that does a lot to impress and raise the bar.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2021 Kia Sorento SX
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $47,495
Peak Horsepower 281 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 311 lb-ft   Destination Fee $1,850
Fuel Economy 11.1 / 8.4 / 9.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $49,695
Cargo Space 357 / 1,090 / 2,139 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row  
Optional Equipment
$250 – Colour, $250