Annapolis Valley Register
Sorento pushes its own envelope
Bigger, bolder and priced to sell, redesigned SUV advances its segment bar
Today, crossovers account for almost 50 per cent of all new vehicle sales, and it’s the compact and mid-size units that make up roughly 60 per cent of that share.
With this in mind, getting the fourth-generation Sorento wrong was not an option for Kia — the outgoing model wasn’t the fanciest or fastest, but it was highly regarded and ticked the right boxes for a lot of buyers.
The all-new, fourth-generation 2021 Kia Sorento takes everything and moves it forward; from the new platform with more space and perkier performance to a swanky cabin and a full suite of active safety aids, it’s a solid contender. It’s also a bit different, as it plays in both the compact and mid-size segments.
The rework sees the rounded look go in favour of a sleeker, squared-off style fronted by expressive LED lighting. This bolder approach is underscored by the X-Line and SX models, but for different reasons. The former jacks up the body to give it a more rugged offroad-like look; the latter is a fully loaded sophisticate with no options other than paint colour.
The SX’s rich aspect is found in the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that changes its look according to the driving mode, and inserts a camera-based view to the left or right of the vehicle into the gauge cluster whenever the turn signal is used.
Next to that is a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display that houses the navigation, 360-degree camera, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto — the use of oldfashioned radio vacuum tube graphics to house the station numbers is a neat effect.
The layout and proximity of the two screens gives the impression of one large panel that brings easy access to all functions through clear icons and hard buttons.
The shift to a more upscale look and feel is supported by the comfortable heated and cooled leather front seats, a proud 12-speaker Bose sound system, and a full-spectrum heads-up display which includes everything from blind-spot warnings to turnby-turn navigation instructions.
Likewise, the array of safety aids now rivals many far more expensive crossovers. The Sorento SX has forward collision mitigation with automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear crosstraffic alert, lane-departure warning with keep assist, drowsy-driver detection, safe exit, and automatic high beams.
It also has a highway driving assist feature that uses the adaptive cruise control and steering to keep itself centred in the lane and at a driveradjustable distance from the car ahead. New is a junction turn function — if the driver begins to make a left in front of an on-coming vehicle the system can apply the brakes to prevent a potential collision.
The Sorento’s new look rides on a wheelbase that’s up 35 millimetres to 2,815. This means the back half of the Sorento has more room — there’s 93 mm more legroom in the middle row than before. The middle captain’s seats also slide, which can maximize legroom or add more cargo space as needed. Three row seating is standard, although the rear pew is, like many others, best left to younger riders.
On the cargo side, there are 357 litres behind the third row and 1,090 with it folded. Dropping the middle row opens up 2,139 litres, but with a nit — the captain’s chairs leave a large hole in the load floor. A simple flap attached to one of the middle row seats that can flip over to cover the gap would be an effective solution.
While the base Sorento LX+ arrives with a 191-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder that works with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the better choice is the 2.5L turbofour. This engine develops a healthy 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, and works with a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters and wet clutches — the wet part means the clutches don’t smell when backing up over a curb. This new gearbox also promotes performance by delivering faster shifts that don’t interrupt the flow of power; a low first gear and the early 1,700 rpm entry of the peak torque brings a solid launch off the line. Testing pegged the run from rest to 100 km/h at 7.6 seconds and the 80-120 km/h passing move at 4.6 seconds. Both are solid numbers that speak to the turbo’s broad torque plateau.
All-wheel-drive is standard. The system sends 95 per cent of the drive to the front wheels and five to the rear under normal driving conditions. The setup is proactive and transfers torque based on throttle position, steering angle, and vehicle speed to prevent unwanted wheelspin and improve stability, regardless of road conditions. During our test, the setup made light work of a significant brush with winter.
The system also changes its operating strategy according to the drive mode selected. The Eco and Smart modes use the normal torque split, while Comfort switches to an 80-20 front/rear split.
In Sport mode, 35 per cent of the drive goes rearward, giving the Sorento a sportier feel when pushed. Rounding things out are the Snow, Mud, and Sand terrain modes — each changes the engine, transmission, and AWD system to maximize grip.
Cabin aside, the area seeing the most significant improvement is the ride quality and overall quietness at highway speeds. The stronger platform gives the suspension a solid base, bringing ride comfort without allowing the body to roll into a fast corner — and this is when wearing the large P255-45R20 tires, where upping the wheel and tire size increases the unsprung weight, which usually has a negative impact on both ride comfort and handling.
This was not the case; the Sorento SX retained its planted feel even when pushed towards the point of understeer. The steering is also nicely weighted when Sport mode is selected, though it’s just a little too aggressive for everyday city driving.
This opens the door for a Custom mode. Selecting Comfort for the transmission and all-wheel-drive would give the Sorento an easy city driving demeanour, and picking Sport for the engine and steering would then give it sharper reflexes and better steering feel. In the end, the ability to mix and match the various settings would allow the drive characteristics to appeal to a broader range of drivers.
As it has done before, the latest Kia Sorento ticks the all-important boxes for a wide range of customers, and moves the bar upwards in terms of expectation.
The 2021 Sorento is arriving at dealers now, starting with the roomy, comfortable, and nicely equipped LX+ at a sensible $33,995. At the top end is the content-rich SX at $47,495, where your only option is what colour you want. Between the two extremes are four other models, including the more rugged $39,495 X-Line.
Cabin aside, the area seeing the most significant improvement is the ride quality and overall quietness at highway speeds.