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2021 Kia Sorento Review: First Drive

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[See image gallery at www.autoguide.com] Kia is looking to satisfy every crossover buyer’s needs with its lineup of “just-right” models, the latest of which is this, the 2021 Sorento.

Last year, it was the Seltos‘ time in the spotlight. That little high-rider split the difference between sub-compact and compact SUVs. The Sorento has been pulling off a similar feat a size up, offering three rows of seating in a footprint more compact than the Telluride. It was very much part of the “old Kia” lineup however, lacking the clever details and eye-catching styling of models like the Telluride, Seltos, and (especially) the new K5 sedan.

Not anymore. Kia has given its semi-mid-size crossover a makeover for 2021, with a more assertive look outside, a clever interior, and more modern conveniences. It packs in a whole lot of content for the money, and could be just the right choice for those looking for more space than the two-row crew can provide.

A look all its own

As this Aruba Stone X-Line model landed in front of my building for the holidays, it served as the latest reminder that Kia’s current design language is as great as it is adaptable. The Tiger Nose grille makes it immediately recognizable as part of the Korean brand kin, yet the front-end treatment follows its own path. The LED headlights blend into the grille a la K5, but it’s a taller, more upright nose suitable for a crossover. The grille insert is an angular one, a theme you find mirrored in the somewhat-fussy rear end.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD Review: A Covetable Mainstream Sedan?

There are a lot of competing angles on the tailgate, but overall I’d say it works. The X-Line avoids the big fake exhaust trim of higher models too, which is nice. At least the flanks are clean of slashes and vents. A little shark fin just behind the rear doors is a funky touch, and something the Sorento will share with the 2022 Sedona when it drops later this year. Wheel sizes range from 17s to the 20-inchers you see here. 

Like its big brother, the Sorento comes across as more expensive than it really is.

An interior made for family use

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It’s here that I need to stick a disclaimer: trim levels for the Sorento are quite different between Canada and the US. In America, the X-Line is a $2,000 package in addition to the range-topping SX-Premium trim for a total of $43,765 including destination. The package includes AWD, an additional inch of ground clearance (for 8.3 total), a center-locking differential with hill descent control, and more robust roof racks.

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The Great White North takes a different angle. The X-Line you see here is a mid-level trim on its own: it keeps all the goodies mentioned above, but sticks to cloth seats, and eschews all the fancy tech you’ll find higher up the range. It’s closest to the EX trim in the US. In this case, I’m happy to test what is a lower-spec trim, as it’s likely more representative of most consumers’ experiences. Alright, that’s sorted.

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Kia’s interior designers have given the Sorento a much-needed refresh. Strips of textured metal-effect trim brighten up the dash and doors, and a quartet of vertical air vents look plucked straight out of the Death Star. The big slab of piano black that joins the instrument panel to the infotainment screen lacks the subtle three-dimensional curving of the one in the K5 I tested last month, making it feel less integrated. Plastics are generally of the soft-touch variety, with the brittlest being the door cards and their grab handles. It’s not Ford Escape levels of cheap, though. The front doors feel strangely soft to close too.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid Review: Friendly Fuel-Sipper

The cloth seats are comfortable and come heated as standard on all trims save the base US LX. There’s plenty of room to stretch out in any of the front four seats; space in the way-back is understandably less generous. It isn’t quite what I’d deem claustrophobic, at least from someone around my 5’10” build. The cushions are naturally very low, so you’ll be knees-up as an adult, but kids won’t have an issue. Storage cubbies and cupholders abound everywhere.

With all the seats up, you’re looking at just 12.6 cubic feet (357 liters) of storage space—the price for carrying three rows. Pull the simple straps on the rear seats and space expands up to 45 cubes (1,274 L); fold all but the front and you’ve got an ample 75.5 (2,139) to play with.

Tech game strong

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There are USB chargers in every row, ensuring no device goes without juice—I especially like the ones built into the front seatbacks. Plus there’s a wireless charge pad up front.

An 8.0-inch version of Kia’s UVO system is present here. What it lacks in real estate (a 10.25-inch unit is also available), it makes up for with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. UVO is an intuitive interface, with fast responses and clear graphics.

A comprehensive active safety suite is standard across the range. Every Sorento includes forward collision avoidance, three kinds of lane assist (keep, departure, follow), auto high beams, and rear occupant alert. Rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring join the list from the second trim on up, while Safe Exit Assist, Highway Drive Assist, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, head-up display, and a 360-degree camera are all available depending on trim.

Kia’s adaptive cruise control is a great system, so it’s disappointing that it only appears on the top two trims in Canada. If only the X-Line were available higher up the walk…

Strong performer on road (and off)

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Mid-level Sorento trims gain access to the group’s excellent 2.5-liter turbocharged engine. Under this SUV’s bluff nose, it produces a stout 281 horsepower and—more importantly—311 lb-ft of torque across much of its rev range. It has plenty of power for everyday needs, and there’s little in the way of turbo lag. I found the eight-speed dual-clutch auto to be jerkier around town than the last car I drove with this combo (the Hyundai Sonata N-Line), however. Beyond the first-second swap it was smooth sailing, but it was noticeable nonetheless.

A non-turbo 2.5-liter is also available. You might consider it under the pretence of better fuel efficiency, but don’t: with all-wheel drive, both engines post the same 24 mpg (9.9 L/100 km) average. The base engine works a lot harder to maintain highway speeds, scoring just 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km). As both will happily sip regular fuel, the turbo is the easy choice. My tester was a little thirstier, averaging around 22.5 mpg (10.5 L/100 km) over the week. Admittedly, it did more city work than anything else; normally I’d be pulling mega highway miles over the holiday season, but well, you know.

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There’s also a hybrid, which seems like the best compromise, at least on paper. It promises a 37 mpg average (6.4 L/100 km), with a healthy 227 combined horsepower.

The Sorento rides with the sort of smoothness that would make long-distance trips easy-peasy. It’s well-damped, smothering bumps with no more than a muffled thud from within the cabin. Feedback from the steering wheel is expectedly light, but it is smooth and consistent in its weighting.

X-Line models gain a dedicated snow mode for their drive-select system. While I didn’t get to take the Sorento down any gnarly trails, I did have to navigate a long, twisting, unplowed dirt road, and the Kia didn’t disappoint. Switching over to Snow (and switching out to Mud when things cleared up), the Sorento always felt in control, using hill descent to keep the speeds in check as I’d round another blind downhill corner.

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Verdict: 2021 Kia Sorento First Drive Review

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Kia can’t miss these days, and the Sorento is another win for the team. The assertive new styling distances it from the quasi-minivan look of the last model, but its beauty is more than skin deep. A thoughtfully-designed interior makes it great for hauling families, and those rear-most seats allow for more people to come along for the ride. Crucially, it doesn’t drive that different from the normal compact crossovers out there, either.

My main quibble with the Sorento centers on the limited availability of the X-Line goodies on both sides of the border, and the thirstiness of the turbo engine. Beyond that though, this is a great compact-plus crossover. Regardless of trim, the new Sorento stands out as a genuine deal for SUV shoppers.

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The post 2021 Kia Sorento Review: First Drive appeared first on AutoGuide.com.

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