2021 Kia Sorento Refuses to Be Taken for a Telluride

Looks like: The Sorento answers the Telluride’s boxy, rugged look with sleeker, more sculpted style

Competes with: Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, Volkswagen Atlas

Powertrain: 191-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (gas); 281-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder (gas); 1.6-liter four-cylinder and electric motor for a total system output of 227 hp (hybrid); six- or eight-speed automatic transmissions; front- or all-wheel drive

Hits dealerships: Late 2020

Kia’s new-for-2020 Telluride SUV wowed us so much that we wondered why the automaker was even keeping its smaller Sorento SUV around. The answer is a redesigned 2021 Sorento that adds hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains to the lineup as well as more standard safety features and a rugged off-road version.

Related: Telluride-or-Die: New Kia SUV So Much Better Than Sorento, It’s Fratricide

Exterior

The 2021 Sorento rides on a new SUV platform and gets a major styling update. Where the Telluride is boxy and rugged, the new Sorento takes a different approach and gets sleeker and more sculpted for 2021, with a wider version of the brand’s signature “tiger nose” grille as well as narrower, eyeliner-like daytime running lights.

Along with a more robust all-wheel-drive system, the new off-road-oriented X-Line SX-Prestige trim has an increased ride height to 8.3-inches (an inch more than the standard ride height) as well as a trim-specific bumper design, roof rack and 20-inch alloy wheels.

Although it still slots below the Telluride in Kia’s lineup, the new Sorento grows a little for 2021 and rides on a 1.4-inch-longer wheelbase than the outgoing model.

Interior

The interior gets a tech revamp with the availability of Kia’s giant 10.25-inch touchscreen that currently resides in the Telluride front and center in the new Sorento; an 8-inch unit is standard. Other new features include a rotary gear selector, available wireless cellphone charging, up to eight USB charging ports and an available 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster — a first in a Kia SUV.

The multimedia system uses the latest version of Kia’s UVO software, and it has enhanced voice control functions that allow for control of the climate, seat and steering-wheel heating and audio system, as well as two new features:

  • The Find My Car feature will use the vehicle’s cameras to snap images of its surroundings and then share them via the Kia Access UVO app.
  • The Last Mile function provides walking directions to the final destination if it senses the car is parked between 0.1 and 1.2 miles away.


In terms of room, the Sorento will again come with three rows, and Kia says the longer wheelbase translates to more occupant and cargo room than the outgoing version. Second-row captain’s chairs will be available, or you can get a bench seat that fits three; the third row has two seats.

Engine and Transmission

The 2021 Sorento will come in LX, S, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige trims; all-wheel drive is available across the lineup. Four powertrains are available this year, and the biggest news is the addition of a hybrid powertrain — a Sorento first.

The hybrid gets power from a version of Kia’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor for a total system output of 227 horsepower; it uses a six-speed automatic transmission. The automaker estimates the front-wheel-drive SUV will get 39/35/37 mpg city/highway/combined. In comparison, a front-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander is EPA rated 36/35/36 mpg. 

A plug-in hybrid that uses a version of the 1.6-liter will launch later in 2021. Kia says it will be good for 30 miles of all-electric range and have all-wheel drive.

Non-hybrid versions use one of two 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines; the V-6 is gone. Base models use a 191-hp 2.5-liter paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 281-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder shared with the new Genesis GV80 SUV is also available and paired with a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Kia says it expects the non-turbo models to have a combined EPA rating of 27 mpg and turbo models a combined rating of 25 mpg.

The new powertrains translate to modest fuel-economy gains across the lineup. Four-cylinder base models of the current Sorento are EPA rated 22/29/25 mpg and V-6 versions at 26/19/22 mpg.

Safety

More standard safety features have been added for 2021, as well as some new options. Standards across the lineup include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a driver attention warning system, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keep assist and automatic lane-centering.

One new standard is a rear seat alert system that uses ultrasonic sensors to detect child or pet movement in the second and third rows after the doors have been locked; if movement is detected, the system sounds the horn and illuminates the hazard lamps.

Available features include blind spot collision avoidance assist, blind view monitor, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, navigation-based adaptive cruise control, and a cyclist component of the forward collision warning system that helps detect cyclists in front of the vehicle and automatically brake to prevent an accident.

Also available is safe exit assistance for the rear seats, which uses the SUV’s rear-facing radar to detect oncoming traffic and can prevent a rear door from opening if an approaching vehicle or bicycle is detected.

Release Date

Kia says the 2021 Sorento will go on sale later  in 2020; pricing will be announced closer to its on-sale date.

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