2021 Kia Sorento Long-Term Arrival: A Year in Between
Can’t blame you if the Sorento hasn’t crossed your mind recently. It doesn’t help that Kia’s made forgetting it easy. The smaller Sportage, though old, looks cooler. Then the larger Telluride went and won MotorTrend‘s 2020 SUV of the Year competition. Where’s the Sorento been? Stuck in the middle; we drove the third-generation model only twice since its 2016 launch. Hasn’t much crossed our minds, either.
Bam—enter the fourth-generation Sorento, fully redesigned for 2021. If we didn’t spend much time thinking about the Sorento before, we won’t have that option now. We just got one for a yearlong test.
That’s a Sorento?
The new Sorento etched itself into our memories even before we knew it was joining our long-term fleet. If the outgoing model looked puffy and anonymous, the new one is anything but. Between its angular LED headlights and split taillights, the chiseled, edgy body is packed with details. For the first time, a Sorento is an SUV we actually want to be seen in.
That’s especially true of this particular Sorento, finished in Crystal Beige paint. Terrific color, terrible name. Several people have commented that it makes them think of a washed-up adult entertainer. Among MTers it has gained the nickname “Sorentoro Elios” in tribute to Oro Elios, a lovely Lamborghini paint with a similar golden hue. Whatever it’s called, it’s eye-catching without being excessive, highlighting the body’s edges while contrasting against our car’s blacked-out window trim and wheels.
Those 20-inch rollers are standard on our SX-trim Sorento, which has a 2.5-liter turbocharged I-4 making 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. It’s joined to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and we opted for all-wheel drive (an $1,800 upgrade). In our previous experience, this powertrain didn’t leave a great impression. Quickness isn’t the issue; 60 mph arrives in 6.4 seconds. Rather, the transmission’s bungling low-speed behavior makes pulling away smoothly or maneuvering into parking spaces annoying. We’ll be eager to see if this behavior improves over time, or if we learn to coax the dual-clutch into cooperation with experience.
Trim and Tech
The Sorento is all about its seats and how it fits up to seven of them into a footprint smaller than most three-row SUVs. Our car, done up in third-from-the-top SX trim, is configured with second-row captain’s chairs for a six-seat layout. The fronts are heated but not ventilated, and the passenger’s is power adjustable. All trims have a leather steering wheel and shifter; our car’s seats are leatherette. A humongous moonroof adds airy ambiance, which helps given the three rows’ somewhat compressed positioning.
The 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen is larger than the basic 8.0-inch unit, but the SX trim has a 4.2-inch cluster information display and analog dials instead of the 12.3-inch fully digital cluster found on high-end Prestige trim. Every Sorento has USB charge ports in each row; there are eight total and a wireless device charger in ours. Kia’s Highway Driving Assist (HDA) suite bundles driver assist tech like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring. So far, HDA is living up to its name, inspiring confidence in the roughly 1,000 miles we’ve covered.
At the top of the Sorento range is the X-Line trim, which Kia positions as the off-road-ish Sorento. That seems like more hype than hardware; its faux skidplate-equipped bumpers improve approach and departure angles by about 1.5 degrees compared to our SX car, though they share a 1-inch ride height increase, Snow mode, and lockable center differential. We’re curious how our long-termer will handle dirt, potentially with a tent mounted on its $360 optional rooftop crossbars—Sorentoro Elios will look great after a trail dusting.
Other options include carpeted floor and cargo mats for $325, a $190 retractable cargo cover, and an $350 auto-dimming rearview mirror. Those extras put our Sorento SX at $42,190, comparable to generously equipped Telluride models. But with the Sorento’s new styling, Kia’s plan to free the Sorento from the in-betweener doldrums seems clear—make it a vehicle to choose on its own merits rather than just because it splits differences.
What’s less clear is whether intent alone is enough to get the Sorento back on the minds of three-row SUV intenders. We’ll evaluate Kia’s action and keep you updated over the next year.
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