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First Look: New 2021 Kia Sorento Gets Turbo Power, Dual-Clutch Gearbox

A plug-in hybrid version will arrive later as the Sorento ups its game.

2021 Sorento SX
Rory JurneckaWriterManufacturerPhotographer

Here in the land of No Boring Cars, we've always appreciated the Kia Sorento for what it is: a well thought-out, smartly packaged, and value-packed three-row crossover SUV. A design standout? Not really. Exciting to drive? Maybe your aging aunt would think so. But today, Kia announced its fourth-generation 2021 Sorento in the U.S. (it's already on sale in Europe), and hopes to add a little bit of zest to a fairly mundane market segment, and to stick it to competitors like the successful Volkswagen Atlas, venerable Honda Pilot, and available-with-a-Hemi Dodge Durango.

2021 Kia Sorento: Chassis and Powertrains

The new 2021 Kia Sorento gets a new platform, dubbed "N3," which Kia said can easily accommodate the four different powertrains the company plans to eventually offer, and it's also stronger and lighter than the outgoing chassis. Wheelbase is up by 1.4 inches, weight for the bare-bones unibody is down nearly 6 percent, and stiffness is increased by 4 percent. All of this is part of Sorento design goals which aim to improve noise, vibration, and harshness levels while also making the Sorento a little more engaging from behind the wheel.

When the 2021 Kia Sorento hits showrooms later this year, three engines and transmissions will be available. The base engine is the familial 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder (as found in the new Kia K5 sedan), producing 191 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque, and replacing the outgoing 2.4-liter version with a 2-mpg economy bump to a combined 27 mpg. A turbocharged, 2.5-liter four is the upgrade engine, replacing the previous 290-hp, 3.3-liter V-6, and making a healthy 281 hp and 311 lb-ft, while offering 25 mpg combined. Both engines can be paired with front- or all-wheel drive. While the base engine continues with Kia's eight-speed automatic gearbox, the turbo mill gets a new eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission. The third launch engine is the Kia/Hyundai 1.6-liter turbo-four paired with a 44kW electric motor, a six-speed automatic, and front-drive only. This setup delivers 227 hp, while also giving 37 mpg combined. At some point in the near future, a 1.6-liter, turbo-four plug-in hybrid will produce 261 hp and all-wheel drive, while boasting a 30-mile electric-only range, enough distance for most commutes.

2021 Kia Sorento: Fresh interior and Exterior Design and Equipment

We won't be able to tell you if the 2021 Kia Sorento is more exciting to drive for awhile yet, but at least its designers tried to make their three-row people-hauler look more exciting. An updated Kia "tiger nose," larger front grille, and LED lighting have helped spruce-up the crossover, while chrome accent bits where the front fenders meet the doors have an upscale feel. We like the creased hood and more chiseled appearance overall, even if the overall profile isn't a dramatic departure from the current model.

The interior, often a strong point in Kia's model range, presents as more upscale as well, especially in upper trim levels with optional diamond-quilted leather upholstery, a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument panel, and a 10.25-inch center display that includes haptic feedback controls and accepts two simultaneous Bluetooth device pairings.

Base models make do with an 8.0-inch display atop the center stack, and a more traditional, analog driver interface. More luxury features trickle down to the Sorento this time around, with eight USB ports in all models but the base LX, an available Blind View Monitor system which gives a live view of neighboring lanes on the instrument panel, and a four-camera Surround View Monitor for easier parking. Kia says a UVO link system offers several connected vehicle features such as accurate real-time navigation route planning, weather conditions, and more. A 12-speaker Bose stereo, wireless smartphone charging, and Rear Occupant Alert are also available options.

Kia also offers captain's chairs in the Sorento's second row in lieu of a bench seat, if desired, and says the 2021 Sorento will have best-in-class front and rear legroom, as well as overall interior passenger room.

2021 Kia Sorento: Trim Levels and Driver-Assistance Systems

The 2021 Kia Sorento will be available in five trim levels at launch, including LX, S, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige. The latter is the one all your neighbors will talk about, and it aims to give the Sorento a hip new vibe with younger buyers and outdoorsy types. It follows a classic formula, with a 1.0-inch suspension lift, a rugged looking roof rack, sturdy looking bumpers, and off-road-ready features like a center-locking differential and downhill-descent control (though the 20-inch alloy wheels on this model hint that few will see more challenging terrain than the occasional parking curb).

Kia says there are no fewer than 16 of its "Kia Drive Wise" safety features available on 2021 Sorentos, passive and active, including forward-collision avoidance, pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic avoidance, parking-distance warning, lane-following assist, and smart cruise control, which is able to lower speed for upcoming curves. Safe Exit Assist even alerts passengers when it's safe to get out of the car when street parked.

2021 Kia Sorento: Pricing and Availability

Kia is vague about when the 2021 Kia Sorento will be available, simply stating the vehicle "is expected to go on sale later this year," with pricing to be announced closer to that time. Today's 2020 Kia Sorento base prices range from around $28,000 for the base Sorrento L-spec model up to more than $40,000 for the top-trim Sorento SX. Kia says it has sold nearly 1.5 million Sorentos since the model arrived back in 2002.

2021 Kia Sorento Highlights

  • New styling inside and out, plus rugged-looking SX-Prestige trim level
  • Three engines available at launch, with 2.5-liter turbo/non-turbo inline-fours and a 1.6-liter turbo-four hybrid option. Plug-in hybrid variant coming later
  • New eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox paired with 2.5 turbo engine
  • Available options include second-row captain's chairs, fully digital instrument panel, 10.25-inch center display, and visual blind-spot monitoring display
  • To launch later in 2021 with pricing not yet announced
2021 Sorento HEV Hybrid