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2021 Kia Sorento: Korean luxury comes of age

Friday, January 08, 2021

The Kia Sorento has always been knocking on the door of the upscale, luxury, sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment. For 2021, it kicks that door wide open and cements itself as a viable contender above its Asian rivals and German contemporaries.

This begins with fresh sheet metal that screams opulence at every angle. There's only so much that can be done with an SUV's boxy practical shape, but Kia makes the Sorento stand out with bold creases and sharp muscular lines. The brand's tiger grille gets a futuristic update flacked by dramatic LED headlights. In the rear the vertical lighting hints at Kia's cat-like design philosophy. Opt for the higher trims and larger 20-inch wheels are available for even more stunning looks.

The drama of the external appearance is only bested by the interior's bravado. It's a modern, clean design that oozes luxury from the second the door is opened via keyless entry. Every surface is styled in some way, but kept clean with the lack of buttons. Glossy piano black hides touch-sensitive controls, while soft-touch materials grace the key contact surfaces. What physical interfaces there are, take the form of toggle switches elegantly knurled for that upscale tactile feedback. Small design element such as the split air vents ratchet up that sense of extravagance.

The passenger space, storage and amenities are abundant from entry. The very comfortable leather power memory seats slide back and forth to aid ingress and egress. They're extra comfortable with heating and cooling that can be automated with the dual climate control system for front row occupants. All three rows can handle full-sized humans complete with their own USB ports, cup holders, and climate controls. The third row has simple one button access, while from inside the trunk area, the second row can be dropped for cavernous cargo space. The front passenger seat can also be operated by the driver to give space for important persons taking advantage of the privacy shades built into the rear doors. For the less shy, the massive panoramic sunroof opens to show of the interior's quality.

From the driver's seat, the leather steering wheel falls comfortably to hand, offering up a view of the all-digital instrument binnacle and matching eight-inch infotainment touchscreen. If that's not enough, a Head-Up display keeps drivers fully informed on everything from warnings, to navigation, to the music track playing. There are plenty of USB ports to go around and there are three changing solutions, including wireless charging, in the centre console meaning not having to sacrifice keeping a phone alive while playing music. Kia's infotainment system has always been fast and intuitive, in the Sorento the audio quality of the stereo system is further enhanced by a near quiet cabin.

All major functions are automated and can be set to operate automatically. How automated, approach the locked Sorento from the rear and the trunk will automatically open. When conditions are right activate the Smart Cruise Control, which will not only works in stop and go traffic, but when combined with the Lane Keep Assist system can steer the vehicle between marked highway lanes for long periods of time making extended journeys a breeze.

However, at the core of the Sorento is a modern interpretation of the old-school SUV, diesel plus four-wheel drive. The Sorento's construction gives it plenty of refinement for a comfortable drive over less than perfect terrain. Body control is tight near sporty helped by a traditional all-wheel drive system and a smooth torque rich turbocharged diesel engine. Throttle response is excellent, never having to fight for the correct gear with the transmission. This also means, despite its size the Sorento is a miser at the fuel pumps.

The 2021 Kia Sorento is packed to its sunroof with the practicality, luxury, technology, and refinement that places it squarely in the luxury suv segment, but still marks it as a value proposition.