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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace. Value, simple functionality and good looks are always key components on Savage’s evaluation checklist. The Sunday column aims to give an honest account of a vehicle’s merits after a week’s test drive during which gas mileage is measured for a real-world report.

2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD Review

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Mark Savage
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The 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD combines a handsome redesign with good handling and a more powerful engine.

Choices are rife in the mid-size crossover/SUV market and Kia is not making it any easier.

The fourth generation Sorento is another fine offering from the South Korean car maker, this one offering a third row seat to tempt buyers away from its kissin’ cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe, reviewed here recently.

READ: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy Review

Sorento and Santa Fe are nearly identical in size, ride on the same platform and offer identical power choices, two internal combustion engines (ICE), one hybrid with a supporting ICE, and a soon-to-appear plug-in hybrid. I tested a gorgeous Aruba Green (grayish metallic green) X-Line model. That’s top shelf.

If you’re a family with enough regular passengers to fill a Santa Fe, but often car-pool for school or to kids’ athletic events and need more space, well, Sorento has you covered. It sneaks in a third-row seat that would allow six to seven passengers, depending on the second row configuration. This test unit had captain’s chairs, so would coddle only six. Go with a second row bench and Sorento will lug seven, but at least a couple need to be pre-teen.

The third row is snug, as are most third rows. If the second row riders can be convinced to slide their seats somewhat forward then knee and legroom isn’t bad, but the third row seats are low-riders (close to the floor) so a person’s knees rest up near the chest. Yet for short hops to the soccer field, etc., kids can manage. My 12-year-old grandson had no problem sitting in row three. Sort of enjoyed it!

Aside from that, there are just minor dash and accessory differences between Sorento and Santa Fe.

Sorento is handsome with a good-looking nose featuring a hexagonal grille pattern and in back are snazzy two-bar vertical LED taillights, one shy of looking an awful lot like Mustang’s taillights.

To accommodate that rear seat the wheelbase also grows 1.4 inches from the Santa Fe, and the X-Line also comes standard with AWD, a wintertime winner in Wisconsin.

Handling is good and the Sorento is easy to park. Go around fast bends on the highway and it’s well planted, no body lean to be concerned with. Power is up from the previous model too with a turbocharged 2.5-liter I4 in this model. It creates 281 horses while the non-turbo version in lower trim levels makes 191, certainly adequate.

Five drive modes allow the driver to dial up Sport to firm steering and goose the acceleration, but at highway speeds it was fine to rotate the console knob back to Comfort to ease the ride and steering effort, while lowering engine RPM.

Ride is fine on the highway too, but sharp bumps in town are felt and there’s a little more rock and roll on uneven pavement, but nothing concerning. Road noise is a bit more noticeable than I found in the Santa Fe, but wind noise and engine noise are well controlled.

Kia adds a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission to help its efficiency too. I found it mostly shifted smoothly, with just a little early acceleration lag. Plus gas mileage is good, so the transmission appears to help. I got 25.7 mpg in about 80% highway driving, about the same as the Santa Fe that I drove roundtrip to Indianapolis. The EPA estimates 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Sorento also touts plenty of safety gadgets, like Santa Fe. All the usual goodies are standard such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision avoidance and assist with cycle recognition, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane-keeping, and parking sensors. Better yet, the lane-keeping can be turned off to avoid odd steering patterns in town when there’s construction and debris to dodge.

Kia also includes turn signals that engage side-view cameras and project those images on either side of the driver’s instrument cluster. Bravo! Santa Fe also has this.

Inside the test crossover/SUV is attractive and well arranged. First, the dash and doors use fake open-pore wood trim to give the X-Line a luxury look. It works. Other trim on air ducts and the instrument pod and door releases is satin chrome while around the screen and by the gauges and atop the console is black gloss trim.

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Mark Savage
Inside the Sorento X-Line, the dash and doors use fake open-pore wood trim to give the X-Line a luxury look.

Seats are a caramel brown leather-like material that’s perforated, plus heated and cooled. Sorento’s dash is black as are the door panel tops that feature caramel leather inserts. The leather steering wheel also is heated in X-Line.

Mid-dash is a 10-inch screen that’s easy to see and simple to use while the buttons and knobs are well arranged and labeled. I also like the dual level air vents that adjust to aim air where you need it. Visuals are nice and simple to adjust on the wide instrument cluster, oh, and also change appearance depending on what drive mode Sorento is in.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof with power shade, an SOS system and a power hatch in the rear. Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger that’s easy to slip a phone in and out of. I liked it better than the Santa Fe’s arrangement. Just remember your phone when you get out of the vehicle. I forgot mine several times. Some vehicles warn you if a phone is in the charger, but not Sorento.

Note too that if you’re hauling a lot of kids to games and school you’ll only have room for groceries behind that split third row seat. Fold it down though and there’s plenty of space, and a little hidden under the cargo floor. For folks carrying longer items there are buttons inside the hatch to release the second-row seats for a flat loading surface.

Two quirks continue to concern me on Sorento and Santa Fe. First, the seats seem hard to me and my tailbone began to ache after about an hour in the driver’s seat. There needs to be more hip support and a softer seat surface may help too. The lesser concern is that rear door child-proof locks are activated by rear seat window locks. So if a driver wants to prevent kids fiddling with windows they also will be locking the kids in. You must remember to turn that off when you stop the SUV or the kids won’t be able to get out without your help.

On the plus side if you’re planning to tow a small boat or trailer, Sorento, like its cousin, will tow 3,500 lbs.

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Mark Savage
A base front-drive Sorento LX starts at $30,560, the X-Line starts at $43,760 with this test vehicle priced at $44,285 after three minor additions.

Pricing for the Kia is a smidge higher than for Hyundai’s Santa Fe, but just. A base front-drive Sorento LX starts at $30,560 and there are a variety of trims up to the top-level X-Line that was tested. It lists at $43,760 including delivery and the test unit nudged to $44,285 with three minor options.

That’s on the low end for a three-row well-equipped SUV, so value remains a Kia (and Hyundai) strong point. Note that Kia’s next model up, the Telluride, has been winning a lot of awards and is just a few inches longer in wheelbase and length, so is another strong choice, but costs several thousand more.

There’s also the hybrid Sorento that costs a bit more, but delivers better fuel economy and the plug-in version that should be out later in 2021. So choices are many and Sorento remains a strong candidate for families who need seating for four or five regularly, but desire the flexibility to carry a few more kids on occasion. Consider it a tweener in the mid-size SUV market.

Overview: 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD

Hits: Handsome redesign, good handling and more powerful engine, plus AWD. Decent ride, panoramic sunroof, third row seats, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement, turn-signal activates side-view cameras, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel, large cargo area if rear seat down, roomy interior, wireless charger, and stout safety device lineup.

Misses: Interior could be a bit quieter, lower seat cushion is hard and stirs some tailbone burn on longer drives. Rear door locks are activated by rear window child-proof locks and not intuitive. Santa Fe was similar.

Made In: West Point, Ga.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 4,120 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.8 in.

Length: 188.9 in.

Cargo: 12.6-75.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28, 25.7 (tested)

Base Price: $43,760 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,844

Major Options: X-Line rust interior package, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $210

Carpeted cargo mat w/seat back protection, $115

Test Vehicle: $44,285

Sources: Kia, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's Note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

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