There’s more to the 2021 Kia Sorento’s interior than just enormous screens. Kia’s least expensive three-row vehicle is new for 2021, and like pretty much every other redesigned vehicle, the new Sorento welcomes an increase in digital real estate. Great! But if you’re looking for a three-row SUV (or even a two-row midsize SUV), could the 2021 Sorento work, or should you stick with the full-size but excellent Telluride SUV? Check out our full review and then keep reading for interior highlights on two variants of the Sorento SUV we recently spent time with: the 2021 Sorento SX Prestige and the 2021 Sorento X-Line.
We won’t make you wait. If the Sorento attracts your attention because it offers three rows of seating at a two-row midsize SUV price, here’s what you should know. Models with the base engine have a three-across second row and seven total seats. Go for the higher trims (or the hybrid), and you’ll get second-row captain’s chairs and six seats overall.
Both models we drove featured the latter layout, and we appreciate the convenience of those easily adjustable captain’s chairs (complete with tiny netted phone holders). The backrest angle adjusts via a big lever below your thigh, and the seat moves forward and backward by lifting a bar under the front of the seat. We also appreciate the second-row USB ports helpfully located halfway up the back of the front seats.
You’ll want to move those second-row seats forward if you actually plan to use the way-back seats for hauling people. The issue isn’t legroom, which is cramped but not unusable in the third row. It’s more about how high the floor is getting back there—these details are where a minivan, and some larger three-row SUVs, standout.
The other issue is with the rearmost row’s small side windows. The Telluride’s boxy styling pays dividends here, as it doesn’t share this problem with the smaller and sleeker Sorento. Even on a drive across town, third-row occupants are less likely to feel claustrophobic in the Telluride thanks to its larger window openings.
On the positive side, all Sorentos have second rows that move forward and fold the backrest forward at the touch of a button. Hitting the seat-folding button on the outer edges of the second-row seats makes the most of the small opening. Even with fairly wide-opening rear doors and a longer wheelbase than the outgoing model, however, the 2021 Sorento is still limited by its 189.0-inch overall length—that’s shorter than other full-size three-row crossovers.
Again, the 2021 Sorento’s more maneuverable size limits its cargo measurements. At least if you’re comparing it to bigger three-row crossovers. In the Sorento you get a cozy third row or cargo space, but not both at the same time. There are 12.6 cubic feet of space behind the third row and 38.5 cubic feet if you fold down those seats. When you’ve got more to carry—in our case, the box for a 58-inch TV—fold down the second-row seats, too, for 75.5 cubic feet of space. Those figures are only a little more cavernous than those of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, a two-row entry that offers 36.4 and 72.1 cubic feet, respectively. As for the 2021 Kia Telluride, that award-winning three-row SUV is rated at 21.0, 46.0, and 87.0 cubic feet of space.
In other words, you get what you pay for, in terms of schlepping space. One cool feature on the Sorento is that on the left side of the cargo area, behind the third row, is an underfloor storage area that’s four or five inches deep.
The most delightful feature on our loaded 2021 Sorento SX Prestige and X-Line test SUVs were its 12.3-inch digital instrument clusters. Although I still wish Hyundai/Kia/Genesis digital gauges would show the speedometer on the right side of the screen for optimal visibility, the screen’s fourth design theme really impressed me. Changing the speedometer and tachometer from analog to digital displays, the background shows blue skies and a couple of clouds, as well as a few mountains and a cityscape in the distance. Wait until twilight and you’ll see the blue skies replaced by a more fitting (and subtly depicted) sunset. We counted at least three variations based on the time of day.
Other design highlights include the Telluride-like location of the heated and ventilated seat controls. On the raised edges of the center console—just below where it meets the bottom of the dashboard—are the toggle switches. The chunky door handles also give the interior a more extroverted character than the previous-gen SUV’s softer, rounded approach inside and out.
The SX and SX Prestige trims upgrade from an 8.0- to a 10.3-inch touchscreen. It’s worth noting that the smaller display of the Sorento LX, S, and EX trims uses the same screen frame on the top of the dash as the larger unit. This means that, as with the Toyota Venza, owners of lower-trim models will need to get used to a generous supply of shiny black plastic trim on either side of the display.
Skip the base LX if you want a hands-free keyless access system. Moving from the second trim, S, to EX means accepting the good with the bad. On one hand, you’ll get a power liftgate and electric parking brake, but you’ll also be forced to upgrade to the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. It’s hard to argue with nearly 100 additional horses over the base engine, but that turbocharged four-cylinder pairs with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that isn’t refined enough for duty in a family SUV.
As for safety, every 2021 Sorento has automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist tech. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic braking are included on the S trim, while the EX adds a new forward collision avoidance assist system.
The redesigned 2021 Sorento boasts an interior that’s more spacious than before, with more interesting design details, too. The second row has a convenient one-touch folding mechanism, and I’m obsessed with the one digital instrument cluster design theme that changes based on the time of day. Most buyers will never see that top-trim feature, however. That’s no problem, though, as I’d avoid the dual-clutch transmission on that trim (SX Prestige), as well as the EX and SX.
If you can live without one or two features, the lower trims still offer an occasional-use third-row that could prove useful, all accompanied by an updated interior and exterior design. That’s a thin slice of buyers, but it’s just another example of the refreshingly wide array of choices consumers face today.
The 2021 Sorento isn’t a game-changing midsize SUV, but its unique positioning and updates should help it find “tweener” customers seeking a little more than a midsize two-row SUV without the bulk of a big three-row.