With the 2021 Kia Sorento, Kia has decided to reimagine is popular mid-sized crossover, making it stand out from its predecessor. Which is not a bad idea. Kia had a banner 2020, having posted solid market gains and strong vehicle sales in Canada in a time when everything seemed to have been thrown sideways with the on-going pandemic. So, it only seems natural that 2021 should see the automaker take one of its most popular vehicles and give it a refresh for a crossover market that is the fastest growing vehicle segment in Canada.
This new 2021 Sorento is more than just a cosmetic refresh. First off, the look is a lot different from its predecessor. Where the previous Sorento had a softer and something of a rounder look, this new Sorento goes for an appearance that is more assertive. Not overly showy, but one that is sleeker and, in my tester – the Kia Sorento SX – one that is refined with a more modern-looking ‘tiger face’ with a wider front grille and LED headlamps and forward lightings giving this Sorento an eye-grabbing look. The hood design now wraps around the side of the Sorento and integrates nicely with the rear shoulder that enhances the length.
The new 2021 Sorento comes in six different trim levels: LX+, LX Premium, first ever X-Line, EX, EX+ and SX. All come with standard all-wheel drive and third-row seating. Four different alloy wheels, from 17- to 20-inches are now offered as well. Owners also get to choose from two available powertrains: a 2.5-litre GDI 4-cylinder with 8-speed automatic transmission that can put out some 191 horsepower and182 lb-ft of torque; and a 2.5-liter GDI 4-cylinder Turbo with an 8-speed wet dual clutch automatic transmission that can deliver some 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque.
Because I got to drive the SX with the 2.5-litre Turbo, I found I had plenty of acceleration and power when I needed it. The 8-speed wet dual clutch performed wonderfully, allowing for fast shift changes without any loss of power. While the acceleration was certainly not racecar fast, it was faster than what one would expect for a vehicle of this size. Suspension and handling were uniformly solid even in tight high-speed turns, keeping the Sorento firmly planted to the road, and luxuriously supple when taking winding country back roads as when the family and I took the Sorento into wine country; and even with the winter tires supplied the interior noise was mercifully quiet, even on the highway. You also get several driving modes to decide upon, such as Eco and Smart modes, Comfort mode and even Sport mode. I honestly kept the Sorento is Eco most times. Comfort mode was certainly nice, but I never really got to try out Sport. I did appreciate the terrain modes, such as Snow mud and sand. Being winter, Snow was the most useful as it provided the needed engine, transmission and all-wheel drive changes needed to improve grip and handling.
Because of the increased wheelbase the interior of the 2021 Kia Sorento feels a lot roomier, with plenty of legroom for the driver and passenger, and for two people in the second-row seats. The third-row, which can be dropped for extra trunk capacity, were fine; but be warned, if you are anywhere over six feet or long of leg, you might find it cramped. If you are a family of three or four, best to leave those seats down and use the space for groceries.
What most impressed me was the excellence of Sorento’s cockpit layout and connected display. Everything in my opinion is logically laid out to make finding what you need easy and with minimal distraction. At a quick glance I could find the controls for heating and cooling and adjust the temperatures accordingly. Top marks to Kia’s design team who worked hard to keep things simple. The Drive Mode/Terrain Mode selector made the choice between the modes simple, and the switches for the front seating heating and ventilation were clearly marked and simple to operate. No desperate searching about for where they might be.
My tester’s 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster changed appearance depending on the driving mode chosen, but what I most appreciated was the live camera view given when a turn signal is engaged. Some might think this is superfluous, but it is not. When making a turn in urban settings my greatest concern is with cyclists. In a moment a cyclist can appear beside you sending your hard pounding and your foot slamming onto the brake. This camera view allowed me to quickly see if someone was coming up beside me when making a turn. More vehicle makers should adopt this, and I even think it should be mandatory now. So high marks for Kia once again.
The 10.5-inch infotainment display was sharp and worked well, and comes with all the usual features one expects such, navigation support, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. Apple CarPlay was a bit buggy, but that is not the fault of Kia. Apple has been having problems with CarPlay across several vehicle makers. I did manage to get it to work eventually, but Apple really needs to fix this problem. And being something of an audio geek, I did like the vacuum tube display for radio stations, as well as the 12-speaker Bose sound system.
Like all vehicles today, the 2021 Kia Sorento comes with an array of safety features such as blind-spot collision avoidance, parking collision avoidance assistance, rear cross-traffic monitoring and avoidance, to name a few, and a head-up display that provides more than just vehicle speed, but information about what is always happening around the vehicle.
But the highlight in the new Sorento is the smart cruise control.
I have driven plenty of vehicles now with such systems, but this one by Kia is one of the best I have had the pleasure of using. It was simple to activate and married to Kia’s lane following assist and navigation-based SCC highway drive assist, it not only adjusted the Sorento’s speed and driving distance from vehicles in front in real time, but it also kept the Sorento firmly centred to its lane, even when the highway turned. You might think that with such a system you can let go of the wheel. If you do, the system will firmly remind you to put your hands back onto the steering wheel. Just because the Sorento is doing a lot of work for you does not mean you can take a break from keeping an eye on the road and needing to take charge if an emergency arises.
My only regret was giving the vehicle back. While 2021 has only just begun, the 2021 Kia Sorento is certainly going to be on my list of one of the best vehicles in its category for this year.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.