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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 a syndicated automotive writer. Jill also manages the “Drive, She Said” blog for ChicagoNow and posts reviews to DriveChicago. She is the president emeritus of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. She also serves as a judge for the Automotive Heritage Foundation Journalism Awards. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and Pioneer Press Newspapers.

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