2021 Kia Sorento Preview

Jack R. Nerad | Mar 19, 2020
  • Complete redesign with new, more expressive exterior styling
  • Based on a new platform that accommodates hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains
  • Added size compared to previous-generation Sorento, with more interior space
  • New "Terrain Mode" enhances all-wheel-drive capability
  • Multiple powertrain choices including conventional, hybrid and plug-in hybrid
  • Completely revamped infotainment and driver-information systems
  • Full collection of Kia’s advanced driving assistance systems
  • On sale in U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2020


The redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento represents a complete remake of the popular midsize 3-row crossover SUV. Built on an entirely new, larger platform that promises more interior space, the 2021 Sorento will be Kia’s most high-tech vehicle ever, says the automaker.

Hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrains will be available in Europe, but it remains to be seen if they will also be offered in North America. The U.S.-specification Sorento will, however, have a long list of advanced connectivity, driver-assistance, and infotainment technologies. For example, available twin digital widescreen displays highlight the completely revamped interior, which Kia says was partially influenced by spacecraft in science fiction movies.

2021 Kia Sorento front view in white

Since the new Sorento arrives first in Europe, Kia’s livestream introduction of the SUV discussed that version of the vehicle. However, much of what global markets receive will make its way to North America, where the all-new Sorento will go on sale before the end of the year. The base price is likely to be about $28,500.

Exterior Features

The 2021 Sorento's exterior design gives the crossover a more confident and mature presence, emphasizing its added length and increased sophistication. Its bodywork is more dramatic than the previous version of the Sorento, which was attractive but largely nondescript. The new Sorento incorporates sharp lines and deep creases, and new vertical taillights resemble those of its Telluride sibling. Ten paint colors are available.

Less than an inch longer and wider than the previous edition, the 2021 Sorento looks larger because of shorter front and rear overhangs and a 1.3-inch wheelbase stretch. The hood is longer too, giving more emphasis to Kia’s signature "tiger nose" grille. The grille is wider and features integrated headlights, and the lights have a new "tiger eyeline" LED daytime running light signature, virtually assuring that owners will include Survivor’s "Eye of the Tiger" on the audio system's playlist. Turn signal indicators are integrated with the running lights.

Despite the changes, the new SUV still resembles the current version of the Sorento. Among the similarities are the wide, slanted rear roof pillar and the gray cladding over the wheel arches. The new Sorento also follows other recent Kia models, such as the Telluride, by displaying the model name in bold letters across the liftgate.

Interior Features

Kia says the 2021 Sorento’s 7-passenger interior represents a sea change in quality and design, and from the looks of it, they're right.

Blending metallic trim, optional leather upholstery, and embossed satin-like surfaces, the cabin looks neither busy nor over-designed. The seats are particularly striking with an imaginative and appealing combination of materials and textures, and European buyers can choose between black cloth, monotone and duotone leather, and black quilted Nappa leather. We expect similar choices for North American buyers.

Second-row legroom improves by 3.6 inches, and the seats slide forward to add third-row legroom or extra cargo space. Kia says new LATCH anchors in the third-row seat enhance the Sorento’s people-carrying capabilities.

Much as the seats command attention, the biggest draw inside the Sorento is the available twin digital display setup that dominates the dashboard. A 12.3-inch-wide digital instrument cluster is paired with a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment and navigation system in the center of the dash. The instrument screen and the high-mounted infotainment screen display their information within the driver's line of sight, and haptic-feedback buttons on either side of the infotainment screen control the system's multiple functions.

Cargo volume remains tight behind the third-row seat, though Kia didn’t share a specific measurement. Fold the third row flat, and the Sorento holds approximately 24.7 cu.-ft. of cargo (24.3 for the PHEV), while maximum volume measures as much as 74.2 cu.-ft.

Optional Features

Since information for the U.S.-spec 2021 Kia Sorento has not been released, it is impossible to say for certain which features will be standard and which will be optional. That said, we can make some educated guesses based on current Kia products and what’s confirmed for the European version.

Expect multiple wheel designs, with the top trim level offering the largest 20-inch size and fanciest look. Inside, the Sorento is likely to offer a choice between cloth, Sofino simulated leather, and genuine leather upholstery. Heated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel are also good bets, as well as ventilated front seats.

A head-up display is also likely to land on the options list, along with a hands-free rear liftgate. The Sorento offers Kia’s smart tailgate feature, which detects the proximity of the key fob and automatically opens after a few seconds.

A Mood Lighting system in 64 different shades of color is available, emitting soft ambient downlighting from beneath the dashboard and door trim, creating a lounge-like feeling. Using a control dial, you can adjust the lighting to fit your mood or change it from mellow to more vibrant. An available panoramic glass roof bathes the cabin in natural light.

Under the Hood

In Europe, the 2021 Sorento comes with a diesel 2.2-liter 4-cylinder and both hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. In fact, Kia expects the hybrid and PHEV to account for the bulk of sales there.

We expect the U.S.-spec Sorento will offer at least one, if not two, conventional gasoline-fueled powertrains. The standard engine might be a direct-injected 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that churns out about 190 horsepower, while the upgrade could be a turbocharged version of that engine good for more than 250 hp.

For the traditional engines, an 8-speed automatic transmission is likely, powering the Sorento’s front wheels. All-wheel-drive should prove a frequently chosen option and will offer a new Terrain Mode traction system adding capabilities in mud, snow, and sand. Kia says Terrain Mode also alters the distribution of torque to all four wheels and adapts transmission shift times to help the SUV find and maintain traction across a range of driving conditions.

When it comes to powertrains, the bold headline is the expected availability of hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The pair of hybrids feature the new "Smartstream" electrified powertrain that pairs a turbocharged direct-injection 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 44.2-kW (59 hp) electric motor. In conventional hybrid form, the electric motor gets its juice from a 1.49-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that's located under the floor, with minimal impact on cabin or luggage space.

Producing a total of 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque, the Sorento's hybrid powertrain should provide performance similar to the current Sorento's 3.3-liter normally aspirated V6. A 6-speed automatic transmission channels power via a transmission-mounted electric motor, allowing parallel transfer of the full power of the engine and electric motor to the wheels with a minimal loss of energy.

Kia did not announce specifications for the Sorento PHEV’s electric motor or battery capacity, except to confirm that it will make about 260 total horsepower. Kia says it is targeting more than 35 miles of electric driving range for this version of the SUV. The automaker also confirmed that the electric motor will power the front wheels, meaning a mechanical all-wheel-drive system remains operational even when the battery is depleted.


Kia will pack the 2021 Sorento with safety equipment. Leading the list are Kia's advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), designed to help to reduce many of the inherent hazards of driving.

Included among them are forward collision warning with pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, active blind-spot assistance, a camera-based blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and a surround-view camera. Additional electronic safety technologies that could find their way onto the 2021 Sorento are intelligent speed limit assistance, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, and a driver monitoring system.

Part of Kia's Level 2 semi-autonomous driving technology, Lane Following Assist adds lane centering assistance to the Sorento’s adaptive cruise control. As a result, the technology controls acceleration, braking, and steering, and it operates between speeds of 0 and 110 mph. The system uses camera and radar sensors to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, while monitoring road markings to keep the Sorento in the center of its lane.

One of the most interesting safety features is Kia's first multi-collision brake system, which enables the Sorento to mitigate the severity of secondary collisions. It automatically applies the SUV’s brakes when the airbags deploy during an initial collision, further protecting occupants from secondary frontal or side impacts. It works like post-collision braking systems offered by other automakers.


With its available 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system and 12.3-inch high-resolution digital instrument cluster, the new Sorento is full of big-screen wonder.

It offers Kia's UVO Connect telematics system, which provides information via the Sorento's touchscreen and to owners' smartphones. The system displays live traffic information, weather forecasts, points of interest, and details regarding potential on- and off-street parking. UVO Connect also enables drivers to send route directions to their car before a journey and to check the location of their vehicle at any time, even when they're in it. A new feature is a smartphone navigation assistant that helps you to find your destination even if you’ve had to park a distance away.

The infotainment system allows Bluetooth pairing of two phones at once, and front passengers can plug their mobile devices into two USB chargers. There are also two USB charging sockets integrated into the backs of the front seats. Third-row passengers have their own charging points as well, so all seven passengers can keep their mobile devices charged and don't have to communicate with one another.

Speaking of communication, drivers can project their voice to rear passengers through the stereo speakers, limiting yelling during family road trips. Parents can also use Quiet Mode to listen to music in front while kids are sleeping in back. All Sorento infotainment systems enable seamless smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a powerful 12-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system is also available.

Expect a remote parking assist option, too. It’s fairly simple, autonomously moving the SUV forward and back in a straight line while the driver stands outside of the vehicle, but could come in handy when parking in garages that double as family storage areas or in cramped parking situations.

Kia Motors is the source of the information in this article, except with regard to speculation about U.S. powertrain choices. It was accurate as of March 18, 2020, but details may have changed since that date.

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