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2021 Kia Sorento revisited: Is it better or worse the second time around?

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I previously had the 2021 Kia Sorento in a brief “first drive” loan, and I tested the hybrid version. The verdict was mostly favorable, but I didn’t love the third row or the hybrid powertrain.

This time around, I was able to test the X Line trim with the 2.5-liter turbo. So, I had a new powertrain and different styling cues, so I figured I’d revisit my original review and see if I liked this version better than that one.

Let’s start with the engine

The pep of this 2.5-liter turbo is immediately noticeable, with quick acceleration of the line and excellent passing speeds. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise as this engine delivers 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. That’s 54 more horsepower and 53 more pound-feet of torque than the hybrid.

While this generally comes off as fleet footed, there are two small things I noticed.

First, when the auto stop/start engine system is engaged, there is a little turbo lag in addition to hesitation as the engine switches back on after you lift your foot off the brake. If you aren’t familiar with the stop/start systems (which I hate), the gist is this: They shut the engine down when you come to a complete stop so that you can save a pin drop worth a fuel each year. In case you missed it, I hate this feature and find it fairly pointless. Yet, most cars have it in 2021, and most cars also have a button you can push to turn it off. I recommend you exercise that button a lot on the Sorento.

Second, I noticed a bit of torque steer under hard acceleration. And that’s a bit odd because the test vehicle was an all-wheel drive model. But there was a distinct tug at the wheel when I mashed the pedal to, say, merge with traffic on the highway. It’s not egregious, but for me, it was noticeable.

The verdict: I really like this powertrain. It has the right amount of pep, and still manages to maintain decent fuel economy for a three-row SUV. I did a lot of highway driving (about 300 miles worth) with some city driving and idling thrown in and still managed to average 24.3 mpg. EPA estimates 24 MPG in combined driving. I rarely hit that number, so this is a huge win in my book.2021 Kia Sorento

X-Line styling is > than EX

I generally like the styling of the new Sorento. Kia has been killing it with recent design direction – and from the Tiger Nose grille to the vertical taillights, the Sorento has a strong and handsome profile.

But the X-Line styling takes it up a notch. With more ground clearance, torque-on-demand AWD, front and rear skid plates, hill descent control, center locking differential and better off-road specs, this version is meant to get a little dirty. Plus the bridge-type roof rack, matte black lower body cladding and 20-inch alloy wheels complete the look. Add to that the test vehicle’s Aruba Green paint, and the exterior has a solid, rugged look.

Because the test vehicle was the top-tier SX Prestige X-Line, it came with all the whistles and bells I didn’t get from the previous EX tester, including the digital cluster, blind-view monitoring, up-level 10.25-inch infotainment screen, wireless charging and around-view monitor. It also had the rust-colored quilted leather seats, heated-and-cooled front seats, dual automatic climate control, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel. What it didn’t have: Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The verdict: I love the X-Line styling and all the amenities you get with the SX Prestige trim for less than $45K. What you miss out on (read: wireless CarPlay/Auto) you gain in spades with other tech (read: blind-view monitor).

A second look at the third row

No, I still don’t like the third row. But I’m trying to be a bit more objective. The biggest problem is the one I pointed out in my previous review: the raised floor. Since Sorento will have gas, hybrid and plug-in electric powertrains, the floor pan design necessitated a raised third-row floor to accommodate for the technology. So, even though I was in the gas-only model, the floor was still raised.

I went out in tennis shoes this time (no heels or knee boots), and it all still felt a bit awkward. My knees push toward my chest and I felt like a giant back there – and that’s saying something since I’m about 5-feet-tall. I also noticed there aren’t any air vents in the ceiling or D-Pillars.

On the plus side: There were USB-A ports back there, and the seats bottoms themselves seamed cushier than the last time I sat back there.

The verdict: This is an acceptable occasional third row for kids, perfect for carpools or trips to a restaurant when the grandparents are in town. But anything longer than a half hour back there might be tough.

2021 Kia Sorento

The bottom line on the Kia Sorento revisited

I like the Kia Sorento, and with a second go-round, I like it even more.

And compared to third rows of other SUVs I’ve been in since driving this the first time – namely the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Nissan Pathfinder – I’ll say this third row doesn’t suck as much as I initially thought.

But I’d still only call it occasional – especially since you won’t be able to fit a lot of gear or cargo in the rear if the third rows are up. I put a roller board, backpack, helmet and tripod back there, and the liftgate just barely closed. Then everything fell out when I opened the hatch. So, that was fun.

I’ve not driven the base powertrain yet, but of the hybrid and turbo, my pick would be the turbo – but I still can’t wait to check out the plug-in electric version. I have a feeling that will be my final pick.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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