No segment has gotten as much attention from manufacturers as midsized utility vehicles, which has made it intensely competitive. The competition certainly has made for better vehicles since companies need to offer their very best if they are ever going to earn a slice of what is a very lucrative market that is continuing to expand.
So it really is not a surprise that Kia, which is invariably described as a challenger brand, brought a top-notch vehicle into the competition. The Kia Sorento X-Line AWD model I drove for a week recently was fully equipped with the latest in technology, including connectivity.
It also came with a full range of comfort and convenience features usually found in more upscale brands. It’s also quite capable of carrying passengers, baggage and cargo for adventures as well as the mundane tasks that come with everyday living in the 21st century.
Kia’s stylists didn’t stray from the standard utility vehicles shape when setting out to design the exterior of the Sorento, which fits nicely into that traditional envelope into which carmakers squeeze these vehicles. But it does have its own unique front face with a broad grille that is balanced off with the opening for airflow vents that help frame the front of the vehicle. It also features nicely shaped fixtures for the headlamps and daytime running lights.
The rear lift gate is nicely laid out and set off by the roofline, which slopes downward toward the rear. Kia also dressed up the exterior of the X-Line models by adding 1 inch to the ute’s ride height as well as black roof rails to to accentuate the idea that the Sorento is capable of traveling off the pavement. The unique style of the wheels also serve to re-enforce the vehicle’s character.
The interior of the 2021 Kia Sorento is nicely laid out and puts critical controls close at hand. The new technology in the vehicle also is well integrated into the design of the controls and the cockpit. Controls for both the entertainment system and the cruise control were also built in to the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
That steering wheel also as served something of an accent to the well-furnished appearance of the cabin, which was set off by the smart, two-tone color combination and the quality of the materials used throughout. The driver’s seat in the Kia Sorento is adjustable and comfortable and the center stack screen is easy to read but does not serve as a distraction. The overall view from the driver’s seat is excellent and on longer drives the cabin can seem spacious and comfortable.
The 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line I drove was built around a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection and turbocharging plus an 8-speed, dual-clutch. automatic transmission that was capable of producing 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. It was also equipped with an all-wheel-drive system. Despite the extra power from the turbocharging and direct injection, the engine’s combined fuel-economy rating from the Environmental Protection Agency was a 25 miles per gallon for a vehicle that weights almost two tons.
Safety and Technology
The 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line carries a full load of technology and safety features. The model I drove had a 12.3-in. full digital cluster that utilizes four cameras to provide a 360-degree perspective around the vehicle enhancing driver confidence in tight parking situations as well as well as a “Blind View Monitor” that projects live video view of adjacent lanes in the instrument cluster and activated via the turn signal.
It also has USB, a 10.25-inch high-resolution color touchscreen and SiriusXM satellite radio. The Sorento also is equipped with multi-connection Bluetooth connectivity, allowing use of two phones simultaneously as well as voice recognition and UVO-linked telematics.
The UVO system offers advanced features, such as “Connected Routing,” a cloud-based route calculation system that uses the UVO cloud to calculate the optimal route using real-time maps, predicted upcoming traffic info based on historical information and AI to learn the preferred routes and Connected Weather, which provides. The Sorento also is equipped with multiple airbags, lane departure warnings and blind spot detection as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
I found to the 2021 Kia Sorento delivered a nicely balanced ride. The suspension was well tuned and offered a nice compromise between firmness and comfort. The column-mounted electric power steering gave the vehicle provided a nice amount of feedback whether you were driving on a dirt and gravel or on a level highway.
With 281 horsepower, the Sorento had more than enough punch for passing and hill climbing, and while I would not necessarily consider it an off-road vehicle, it did well on dirt and gravel even when the conditions were slick. There also was no sign of turbo lag and the all-wheel-drive system came on instantly while the four-wheel disc brakes also had ample stopping power.
The 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line was a vehicle that was hard not like. Though I had nothing to tow, it handled a diverse set of chores well, though I am sure I would not volunteer to sit in the third row of seats even on a short trip let alone on a long one. I realize, though, manufacturers market the third row for families with children, particularly small children and the Sorento, a rival for vehicles such as the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer, comes with a long list of features for a vehicle that costs less than $45,000. It’s also a pleasant vehicle to drive, which still ought to count for something when you’re sitting behind the wheel.