2021 Kia Sorento Yearlong Review: Test-Track Results

While the outgoing Sorento offered a V-6, the latest generation can be had with a four cylinder or not at all. Our long-term Sorento SX is equipped with the range-topping turbocharged 2.5-liter I-4. Making 281 hp, it’s slightly less powerful than the old 290 hp 3.3-liter V-6. But with 311 lb-ft, the boosted four-pot is far more torquey than the atmospheric six’s 252 lb-ft. Backed by all-wheel drive and an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, our three-row feels quick. A trip to the track produced numbers to back that up.

Acceleration from 0-60 mph took 6.4 seconds, and the quarter mile was covered in 14.8 seconds at 96.5 mph. Those figures are well ahead of the last V-6 Sorento we tested, a 2019 model that turned in figures of 7.6 seconds and 15.8 seconds at 89.8 mph.

Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana said he went with a “slap and go” launch strategy. Simply flooring the throttle from a standstill worked best, as Ayapana found that the “powertrain does not allow pedal overlap or any kind of tricks.” Surprisingly, the quickest result came in Comfort mode; Sport mode was slightly slower.

Stopping from 60 mph took 117 feet, a single foot behind that 2019 Sorento. Odd, considering our 2021 long-termer’s 4,084-pound curb weight is less by some 200 pounds. Other than notable front-end dive, Ayapana found good control and consistency in the Sorento’s brakes.

On the figure-eight handling course, our Sorento posted a 26.6-second time at a 0.66-g average, marginal improvements over the older model. Road test editor Chris Walton appreciated its “remarkably crisp” turn-in and “rather talkative” steering. “Overall,” said Walton, “the redesigned Sorento is much sportier than it needs to be. That’s a good lap time.”

Every result our long-termer posted is within a blink of the off-road-inspired and more expensive Sorento X-Line we tested previously. Yet, as always, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Speedy as this crossover is, how that speed comes on isn’t as refined as it could be.

Much of that has to do with the dual-clutch transmission, which remains a point of contention. At low speeds it can stutter, especially when creeping forward slowly. Although once underway gearshifts are generally smooth, the spacing of the ratios can drop the engine just outside of the turbocharger’s assistance, resulting in waves of boost that last only a moment before the next shift.

Sport mode works to make the Sorento feel much more lively. It sharpens throttle response and holds lower gears, better keeping the engine in its powerband.

We gave the engine stop-start function a chance, but switching it off immediately has become part of our warm-up procedure. It doesn’t react and restart quickly enough. By the time it does, our foot is well into the pedal, and makes the car abruptly leap off the line as the engine fires back up. Plenty of engine stop-start systems operate nearly invisibly. This one stands out like our Sorento’s gold paint—albeit in a less pleasing way.

Ultimately our Sorento is more than quick enough for regular driving. How readily it zips through traffic and executes freeway passes help forgive its powertrain’s clumsiness. As the test numbers prove, it’s an improvement over the previous V-6. Now we’ll have to see if a few thousand more highway miles can bring its fuel economy in line with the EPA rating—stay tuned.

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