Kia has certainly been proving itself as the brand to buy in recent times. The South Korean manufacturer has had a busy few years enhancing its reputation for quality, design and reliability. And the sales numbers prove it. During 2019 and 2020, it was the sixth best-selling brand in Australia. And that was with one of its most important models on the end of its model lifecycle up until late 2020.
Now, the all-new 2021 Kia Sorento brings with it a major design overhaul that catapults it to the tip of the large SUV heap in terms of styling, comfort, space, and on-road performance. The Sorento has a lot to offer, and there are four spec levels and two engines to pick from.
The lineup runs from S, Sport, Sport+, and at the top, the GT-Line (review here). In all variants you have a choice of a front-wheel drive 3.5-litre petrol V6 with a conventional eight-speed auto transmission, or a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder that powers all fours with a new eight-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox.
Here, we’re testing the Sport (Steel Grey) and Sport+ (Mineral Blue) models fitted with the diesel engine. Prices kick off from $47,290 for the cheapest S in petrol, and increase to $65,290 for the GT-Line diesel. As tested here, the Sport diesel starts from $54,290, and the Sport+ diesel starts from $58,690 (excluding on-road costs).
2021 Kia Sorento Sport+ – THE SPECS
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder
Output: 148kW@3800rpm / 440Nm@1750-2750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 19×7.5, 235/55
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1908kg
Power-to-weight: 12.89:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 6.1L/100km
Economy during test: 7.2L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 67L/Diesel
Power efficiency: 24.26kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.95 seconds*
0-100km/h: 8.54 seconds*
60-110km/h: 6.21 seconds*
1/4 mile: 16.40 seconds at 137.5km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.729g
100-0km/h braking: 2.88 seconds at 36.55 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.294g
Decibel at idle: 48*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 76*
Priced from: $58,690
* Figures based on Sport+ as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different
2021 Kia Sorento Sport & Sport+ – THE PACKAGE
The most striking aspect of the new Sorento has got to be its exterior design. It introduces a new direction for the Korean brand, and it doesn’t look anything like other boring SUVs on the road today. It moves the air with a bold nose, large dark grille that Kia calls a “tiger nose”, and beautifully crafted LED lights. It looks tough. There are subtle bulges through the bonnet and sides to add flair and strength.
The rear exhibits completely new elements with two narrower and taller taillights and a countersunk midsection that casts a sharp shadow. There are some elegant hexagonal chrome touches that bridge together under the bold ‘Sorento’ name written across the back. It almost looks dangerous – something the bad guys could drive in a thriller movie.
If your biggest need in an SUV is space, the Sorento will not disappoint. It’s huge. There is heaps of space in the front row and second row for full-sized adults. Usually, the third row is designed to provide enough space for kids only, but the Sorento provides more. Adults can find comfort back here, even for extended periods. To help, you get multi-zone climate control (in Sport model onwards), and the second row can slide back and forth on rails to give you more space where you need it most.
Even with the third row in place, the boot provides a commendable 187L. With the third row folded down, the volume increases to 616L. And if that’s not enough, you can play with 2011L with both the second and third rows folded down.
Still on practicality, there are many holes and cup/bottle holders to stash your essentials, including a large centre console that will fit more than a tissue box. There are three USB ports in the front row, and the Sport+ and up scores another three in the second row behind the centre console and in the back of the front seats, and two more in the third row. That’s eight all together! Of course, there is still a 12-volt outlet in the first row and in the boot.
Interior presentation is right on the money in our opinion. Materials look and feel strong and modern. We love the snakeskin pattern dash inlays and the brushed metal accents around the air vents and knobs. The Sport gets a well-presented cloth trim, and the Sport+ gains leather-accented seats. Both options are comfortable and supportive for long holiday trips.
Visual appeal flows with an elegant and neat instrument cluster, with a three-theme 4.2-inch digital screen in the centre. At the top, the GT-Line adds a stunning fully digital screen. All models except the base model are also rewarded with a brilliant 10.25-inch infotainment screen. The menu layout is intuitive to use, and colours look vivid and contemporary. We love the look of the pink and purple neon font on top of the black background.
Although the price has increased slightly over the previous generation, the Sorento still delivers good value for money. All variants get seven seats by default and a huge listing of standard features. The Sport (pictured below) and Sport+ (above) present the ideal balance, offering the complete spectrum of necessities and plenty of feel-good luxury supplements.
Right from the base model you get the full suite of active safety features, such as lane-keeping aid with lane departure warning, blind-spot sensors, forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, front and rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, side door exit warning, distance-controlled cruise control, driver attention detection, and front and rear LED fog lamps with auto dipping high beam.
Opting for the Sport model gives you 18-inch alloys, tyre pressure sensors, that bigger touch-screen from 8-inches to 10.25-inches, multi-zone climate control, a 10-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, sat-nav with 10-years of free map updates and traffic info, and an excellent auto window defog feature.
Then in the Sport+ you get 19-inch alloys, external door handle puddle lights, heated seats in the first row, heated steering wheel and side mirrors, a hands-free powered tailgate, and push button start with remote engine start.
Kia still offers the best warranty on the market. With seven years and unlimited kilometres, the brand really does back what it produces. You also get 12 months free road-side assistance. Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, and you can pre-purchase a capped-price servicing program.
2021 Kia Sorento Sport & Sport+ – THE DRIVE
The fourth-generation Sorento debuts a new 2.2L turbo-diesel engine. Now with an aluminium block instead of a cast-iron block, the outputs are very similar to the old engine, with 148kW and 440Nm. But it is now 19.5kg lighter. Throttle management has also been updated, and there’s a new eight-speed wet double-clutch auto transmission.
All this translates to a much livelier take-off than the previous engine. Without sticking your foot in, it more effortlessly glides up to speed quickly, which also makes it feel less cumbersome. Then when pushing it harder, it performs brilliantly with an explosion of torque rather than simply screaming with revs. Never does it feel short of breath, especially when tackling steep hills. We timed 0-100km/h 8.54 seconds. Interestingly, that’s a lot quicker than the previous model which did the sprint in 9.76 seconds, according to our tests.
And that new transmission feels more composed when on the go, shifting swiftly into the next gears. Only, now, during take-off, we notice more of a manual-like clutch lifting initial surge that is not as smooth as it used to be. It’s only subtle, but it makes inching forward in a carpark a little trickier as the SUV doesn’t creep forward on its own accord like a conventional auto. Just something minor to get used to.
If you’re specifically in the market for an SUV with a strong towing capacity, the Sorento is not your best option. At 2000kg braked, it falls short of the Isuzu MU-X and Toyota Prado’s 3000kg, but equal to the Toyota Kluger and the Mazda CX-9’s figures.
But taking a light off-road detour is not a problem. There is an off-road mode you can select, which adjusts the power distribution to the wheels to suit rough and loose surfaces. However, you wouldn’t want to take the Sorento to the off-road depths of a MU-X or Prado, as it does not have a full chassis like them, nor suitable tyres. Also, the ground clearance is only 176mm, which instead provides excellent on-road manners.
Dynamics and compliance were never a problem in the previous-gen Sorento. But it’s now slightly tighter, resulting in improved body control and better handling. It’s really quite fun to toss it down a set of bends. There is still a high tolerance and absorption of bumps, but a tweak rigidity has done wonders for handling on faster corners in particular. Stability is also hugely improved over the previous model.
Considering its size, it doesn’t feel as big as it is from behind the wheel. There is plenty of grip from the Continental tyres, and the steering is appropriately weighted for such a big SUV. The steering is also the perfect balance of sharpness for this style of vehicle, allowing you to zip through the city or suburbs with confidence and control.
With the new diesel engine and transmission comes some efficiency improvements too. Our fuel consumption figures averaged a very respectable 7.2L/100km, which included mixed highway and city driving – exactly what the trip computer said in the GT-Line we recently tested. Official figures state 6.1L/100km. Even if you don’t achieve the official figure, our real-world figure is quite remarkable for a large 7-seat SUV. And with a 67-litre fuel tank, you should easily be able to travel 1000km – the theoretical average range is 1098km.
2021 Kia Sorento Sport+ – THE VIDEO
2021 Kia Sorento Sport & Sport+ – THE VERDICT
In a popular and competitive market, the new Sorento has successfully brought itself back to the head of the pack. This is thanks to brilliant external styling, an elegant, spacious and practical interior, and an updated powertrain that brings efficiency and performance bonuses.
And the cost hasn’t been pushed upwards too much. You get a myriad of safety features and mod-cons as standard. And it’s all backed up by an unbeatable warranty. What more could you ask for in a large SUV? Well, PerformanceDrive will always say more oomph, but that is just our prejudice for performance leaching out. This is as perfect as it gets for the current market standard.
– Head-turning new exterior design, and stylish interior
– Powertrain revamp brings improved performance and efficiency
– Loads of important safety features are standard
– Decent fuel efficiency for a large SUV
– Practical and spacious inside; loads of storage, charging points for all passengers
– New wet dual-clutch auto still tricky during slow parking and inching forward
– Anecdotally, Kia re-sale values are still not as good as some rivals
As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.