If you’re in the market for a family-hauling SUV, the 2021 Kia Sorento brings quite a few changes to the table. The updated and upgraded fourth-generation model makes its U.S. debut, and we now have a clear picture showing exactly what to expect when it reaches our shores later this year. Among the headline features are new hybrid variants, a hot turbocharged version and a more adventure-focused X-Line trim.
Among those seismic shifts in the 2021 Kia Sorento lineup, the styling is also front and center here. Compared to all the curves and rounded features of the outgoing model, this one looks downright aggressive by comparison. The new, concave Tiger Nose grille, redesigned front clip with new LED daytime running lights, more angular side profile and the distinctive split taillights around the back are a far cry from the older generations.
Kia has been moving in a sportier direction with their latest models like the K5, and that language translates to the Sorento as well. Like its larger Telluride sibling, this new generation also has its name spelled out in badging across the tailgate — as is fashionable for SUVs these days.
The 2021 Kia Sorento also features a drastically updated interior. It ditches the old design paradigm housing the infotainment display in a tall, curvaceous dashboard. Instead, we now have a larger, updated infotainment screen perched atop the center stack, along with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster available on some models.
Other notable changes include the interior trim accents with ambient lighting, a new steering wheel design and a rotary dial shifter for hybrid models. As before, the 2021 Kia Sorento comes loaded with convenient technology, but it’s kicked up a notch for this generation. Beyond the typical Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and an available 12-speaker Bose stereo system, enhancements also come by way of Kia’s UVO app and its connectivity with the new car.
You can use UVO, for example, to find your car after you’ve parked it. Features like “Find My Car” and “Last Mile Navigation” will use the car’s surround-view camera system (when equipped) to show you its surroundings, and guide you to where you parked. Automatic engine shut-off and rear occupant alert also send notifications to your phone when necessary. 8 USB charging ports (6 on the base LX) come standard, while wireless smartphone charging is an option.
The 2021 Kia Sorento is still a three-row SUV, with available captain’s chairs for the second row. Both legroom and cargo room have been improved over the previous generation.
The 2021 Kia Sorento largely follows the same trim scheme as the old model. There are five available trims — LX, S, EX, SX and SX-Prestige — but the key difference here is the inclusion of four new powertrain options across the lineup.
Both the old 2.4-liter engine and 3.3-liter V6 are gone in this generation. In the old four-banger’s place, a slightly larger 2.5-liter engine steps in on the entry-level side of the Sorento range. Putting out 191 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque, it manages a bit more oomph, as you’d expect. As before, the naturally-aspirated engine pairs up to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Kia estimates the base four-cylinder manages up to 27 mpg combined, or 2 mpg more than the old 2.4-liter.
This time around, though, we get a turbocharged option in place of the V6. Thanks to forced induction, the 2.5-liter engine in this configuration puts out 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. Instead of the standard automatic, this version uses an 8-speed wet dual clutch transmission.
In short, it’s the same engine as we’ll see in the Kia K5 GT. It does produce slightly lower horsepower figures, but a lot more torque to the 252 lb-ft we saw from the old powerplant. Opt for the turbo engine, and fuel economy falls to 25 mpg combined, although that’s still 3 mpg better than the 3.3-liter mill.
Both gasoline variants are available with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive is an option.
Two hybrid variants
If you’re more efficiency-minded, the 2021 Kia Sorento brings new options there too. Two hybrid models are coming — both a conventional hybrid and a plug-in model. Both utilize the same 1.6-liter engine, albeit with differences in the electric motors and battery packs.
The standard 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid manages a combined 227 horsepower. It uses a 44 kW electric motor along with a 1.5-kWh battery for better efficiency. Unlike other hybrids in the class, the Sorento sticks to a 6-speed automatic transmission instead of a CVT. It also replaces the standard gear selector on the gas models with the rotary dial seen in the Niro EV. The standard hybrid is front-wheel drive only, but does achieve up to 37 mpg combined, per Kia’s estimates.
Finally, the 2021 Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid uses a more powerful 66.9 kW electric motor. The combined output here stands at 261 horsepower, paired to a 13.8-kWh battery. The larger capacity allows the Sorento to drive up to 30 miles (estimated) on electricity alone. The plug-in variant is all-wheel drive only, and Kia did not mention specific fuel economy figures yet.
The Plug-in Hybrid model won’t be available until calendar year 2021.
The 2021 Kia Sorento ‘X-Line’ adds some off-road capability
Beyond the SX-Prestige trim at the top of the range, there’s the ‘X-Line’ package. The 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line offers a more rugged look, as well as a bit more off-road capability than the standard models. Ground clearance goes up by an inch to 8.3 inches. That’s notably better than the previous generation, but slightly less than a Subaru Ascent’s 8.7-inch clearance. Kia says the X-Line also gets a more advanced AWD system with a snow mode.
Pricing information for the 2021 Kia Sorento is not available yet. Kia should announce that information closer to launch, and at the base end we don’t expect prices to increase much beyond the outgoing car’s $26,990. As for the higher end, though, we could see some fluctuations with all the changes in play concerning the powertrains.
Check out more of the 2021 Kia Sorento in the video below: