2021 Kia Sorento: A Comprehensive Review of Features and Performance

2021 Kia Sorento: A Comprehensive Review of Features and Performance

Written by Sophie Robertson, In Cars, Published On
May 28, 2024

When I drove over 23,000 miles in our long-term test fleet of 2021 Kia Sorentos month after month, I knew this midsize SUV was something special. At first glance, the Sorento seemed to be somewhere in the middle between bigger SUVs with three rows of seats and smaller cars with two rows of seats. Would a more clear-cut car like Kia’s smaller Sportage or bigger Telluride be better, or would its tweener size be best? My doubts quickly went away as Sorento’s many useful features and pleasant personality kept winning me over.

2021 Kia Sorento Specifications

Model Year2021
Vehicle TypeMidsize SUV
Seating CapacityThree rows, variable seating arrangements
Engine Type2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged
GearboxDual-clutch: issues at low speeds but manageable
Fuel EconomyAverage of 22.8 mpg over 23,033 miles, slightly below the EPA rate of 24 mpg
Maintenance CostHigher than average; two service stops at $354.18 each
Interior FeaturesUser-friendly controls, physical knobs, touch-capacitive buttons
Infotainment Screen SizeStandard 4.2-inch, optional 10.3-inch in top models
Cargo SpaceFlexible, with easy access for bulky items
Driving DynamicsPrecise handling feels like a smaller crossover
Safety FeaturesAdaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist
DesignChiseled, angular style with modern aesthetics
Special FeaturesPanoramic sunroof, captain’s chairs, USB ports in third row
PriceTested model (SX) priced at $42,190

Problems with gearbox Don’t Need to Make Things Bad

At first, I mostly didn’t like how awkward the dual-clutch gearbox was when it came to low speeds. It would stutter and jerk hesitantly when moving forward or pulling away from a stop, especially when going up or down hills. There are two gears in the Sorento, which will take some getting used to for people who are used to the smoothness of a regular automatic. Those sudden, rough breaks will be felt. That being said, I wouldn’t call it a deal-breaker per se. The roughness of the gear changes is hard to notice once the wheel starts to move.

Review of Gas Mileage and Maintenance Costs

My fix was to turn off the engine stop/start system, which I did so often that it became second nature. With the gearbox issues and slow restarts, letting the stop/start do its job made it hard to make smooth escapes. I thought that a little less gas mileage was worth it for better handling.

When it comes to gas mileage, I got an average of 22.8 mpg over those 23,033 miles, which is still very good but not quite the EPA’s combined rate of 24 mpg. Especially since I tend to be slow on my feet, and my rooftop tent made it harder for the wind to blow for more than 4,000 miles. I actually drove more than the EPA’s 425-mile limit on several tanks, going as far as 471 miles on a single fill-up.

It turned out that the Sorento cost a bit more to keep than other SUVs I’ve had for long tests. Two planned service stops cost $354.18 each. On the second trip, the seller really tried to scam me by trying to sell me an “advanced fuel system cleaning” for $300 that I didn’t need. Maintenance on a 2017 Mazda CX-5 and CX-9, on the other hand, cost less than $350 each. The 2020 Kia Telluride, which I’ve also driven a lot, was also a good deal at only $120 over the same number of miles.

Style changes the standard for design

2021 Kia Sorento

Throughout my year-long test, the Sorento showed to be completely reliable, even though it cost more to maintain. It was about 20,000 miles ago that the headliner made a small but annoying noise. What was wrong was only that. Still a flaw in the quality, but nothing major.

The Sorento’s beautiful, eye-catching appearance more than made up for any flaws. The sharp, chiselled, angular style struck a home run for Kia’s designers, making the new model look light years better than the dowdy old one. The Sorento was one of the sharpest-looking cars in its class, especially in the deep Crystal Beige colour of my test car. Its design was both bold and stylish.

Impressive Inside

Thank goodness the cabin’s beautiful design stretched to how well it worked and how easy it was to use the controls. In comparison to touch controls that are too complicated, Kia kept things really simple with simple physical knobs and buttons. The few touch-capacitive buttons also worked perfectly. The Sorento was easy to live with because the door handles were easy to pull, and there were useful storage bins on the centre console. The stylish geometric patterning on the air vents was the chef’s kiss on a generally great interior design job.

I only need a bigger driving information screen than the 4.2-inch one that I have now. But my top-of-the-line SX model, which tested at $42,190, had a great 10.3-inch tablet for entertainment, and I had no problems with it.

The flexible cabin can be changed to fit your needs

The Sorento could handle the job, no matter how I set up the inside. The back doors opened wide so it was easy to get to the back rows. The captain’s chairs in the second row were easy to fold up. The third row was great for shorter trips because it had air flow, cupholders, and USB ports to keep those poor people comfortable, even though it was tight for adults. The panoramic sunroof made the room feel light and open, which everyone liked.

If you folded down the back seats of the Sorento, you could access a fairly large trunk. When I used the low, wide liftover, it was never a problem to put my mountain bike or any other heavy gear back there. Even though it wasn’t a huge three-row haulier, the Sorento had just the right amount of space and flexibility for my busy lifestyle.

Having fun with driving dynamics

2021 Kia Sorento

Of course, no study of an SUV would be complete without talking about how it drives. That’s probably my best thing about the Sorento, and I was blown away by it. Even though the Sorento is a midsize crossover, its makers made sure it handles and steers like a much smaller crossover would. It’s precise, and you can throw it around easily. One judge at our annual SUV of the Year competition called it “the feel-good hit” when it came to how satisfying it was to drive. That was a great praise that held up on my test.

In the end, I liked driving the Sorento because of its quick reactions and lively style, even though the suspension would sometimes get bumpy on roads that went up and down. When it stood up, it just looked lighter and smaller than it was. A lot of new SUVs and crossovers have the same drivetrain as big cars these days. It’s nice to see that Kia has made the Sorento a real pleasure to drive.

Strong turbo power is more important than gearbox problems

One of my biggest problems with driving is that the gearbox flare-ups happen at low speeds. But I could deal with it even there because the 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine sped up so quickly and smoothly once it got going. After testing a few different Sorento powertrain setups, I can say that this turbo combination was my favourite. It wasn’t the most advanced or fuel-efficient, but it was the most fun to drive. The all-wheel-drive system’s grip never let me down, even when the road was muddy, which was another plus.

A useful driver helps you keep track of the miles

The Sorento had a great selection of active driving aids that made highway rides more fun. The adaptive cruise control technology was a good example of how to change the distance between your car and other cars smoothly. The lane-keeping assist was one of the best I’ve ever used; it took over driving with ease, even on small roads that curve.

Struck by ignorance More than just a pretty SUV

When the 2021 Sorento first came into our test fleet, I thought it would be a fun thing to spend a year with Kia’s famous midsize crossover. Earlier models didn’t spark my love for cars, and I didn’t give them much thought beyond being boring, cheap transportation how things had changed! By the time this last Sorento left, I was really attached to it.

This Sorento was not only the most beautiful and well-made model to date, but it had also become a truly remarkable all-around package, complete with head-turning good looks, a high-end interior, thrilling driving dynamics, amazing practicality, and the ability to go on long road trips. A real all-around car that can compete with both bigger three-row SUVs and smaller two-row SUVs. There may not be another car in our long-term test fleet that is as well-made as this 2021 Kia Sorento for a while, but it has set a higher standard for other famous SUVs to follow.

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