There are certain things in life you’ll always remember, like a fun vacation or a night out at a particular restaurant (sometime prior to last March). But if asked to recall a trip to the supermarket last month in any detail, odds are you would draw a blank. Why should you remember such an unremarkable moment in your life?
Cars can be like that too: so boring, humdrum and unmemorable that driving them is as thrilling as buying a new box of dryer softener sheets. That has long been true of the Kia Sorento, a vehicle that I have test driven since its inception. But for the life of me, I can’t recall any of them. The all-new, fully redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento will change that.
It’s an exceptional entry in the compact crossover world, and one that ably competes with the best in its class, particularly its Japanese competition. It’s also the first one I can remember after having returned the test vehicle.
Admittedly, that was not because of the styling. While the Sorento lacks the clean impactful styling of the pricier Telluride, it does share a few of its design details, and adds some unique styling cues of its own, such as the large, chunky tail lamps and the wave-like insert on the side rear window, a shape the mimics the line above it in the window. It’s modern and handsome, but not the stunning, class-above-styling statement of the Telluride.
So far, I thought I knew what I was in for: a forgettable experience like that of every Sorento I’ve sampled. But I was mistaken.
The Sorento is at the small end of the midsize crossover utility vehicle segment. It’s sold in base LX and step-up S trims powered by normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission rated at 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Tonier EX, SX, SX Prestige and SX Prestige X-line models are blessed with a more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that generates 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, more torque than is offered in the Telluride. If you prefer better fuel economy, keep in mind that Kia plans to produce the Sorento as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid as well. Both front-wheel and all-wheel drive models are available.
Kia provided an SX Prestige X-Line with all-wheel drive for a week-long evaluation.
You could be forgiven for thinking the Sorento is little more than a junior Telluride. But its driveline imbues it with a different character. The turbocharged four propels the Sorento with muscular authority, so if you want the turbo motor, you might want to opt for all-wheel drive, as front-wheel-drive models are bound to have torque steer. Once the turbo is spooled up, you’ll find the driveline to be responsive and authoritative. The dual clutch transmission shifts very quickly and comfortably. If it’s not quick enough, you can use the shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. But the biggest surprise came from the Sorento’s ride and handling, which is far better than any previous model. Yes, it’s a very firm ride, but it never feels harsh or uncomfortable, a feeling reinforced by the shockingly quiet cabin.
Like the exterior, the interior design has a very loud visual vocabulary, as evidenced by the test vehicle’s diamond-quilted leather seats. The matte-finish wood trim felt chic and upscale, however, and fit and finish were very good. The cabin is spacious and features three rows, although the third row is best for the smallest of children or people you detest. Otherwise, leave it folded and expand the 12.6 cubic-foot cargo hold to 38.5 cubic feet. Folding the second row nearly doubles that. Speaking of second rows, there are captain’s chairs in the EX trim and above.
The tech package proves impressive. Most models get an 8-inch touchscreen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, while SX, SX Prestige 2.5T and SX Prestige X-Line come with a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment screen with navigation, AM/FM Audio system with Satellite Radio, UVO telematics, but wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, not wireless. But Sorentos come with eight USB ports, so everyone can stay connected. A wireless smartphone charging pad and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster are optional.
Standard driver-assistance gear impresses as well, with forward collision warning, forward collision-avoidance assist, pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, lane-departure alert, lane centering, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and high beam assist. Optional systems include cyclist detection, blind-spot-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic assist, parking distance warning, parking collision-avoidance assist, navigation-based smart cruise control curve control, highway driving assist, and safe exist assist.
It makes for a compelling value, one that’s more appealing due to the Sorento’s agility and sizeable interior. It’s a crossover that reminds you that choosing it was the right decision by comfortably and competently handling your every whim, day after day.
And that makes it memorable.
2021 Kia Sorento SX Prestige X-Line
Base price: $42,500
Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC turbocharged four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 21/28 mpg
Observed fuel economy: 22 mpg
Fuel required: Regular
Length/Width/Height: 189/74.8/70.3 inches
Ground clearance: 6.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 12.6-75.5 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,654-3,500 pounds