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Kia Sorento at Car of the Year 2021

By Byron Mathioudakis, 02 Mar 2021 COTY

Wheels Car of the Year 2021 contender Kia Sorento feature

Evolution of a milestone SUV in Kia’s relentless growth

Regular readers might recall that the previous Kia Sorento was the brand's 'Datsun 1600’ moment. You know, that instant when a fledgling brand finally comes of age, as Nissan did back with 1968’s iconic 510-series 1600. The opposite of jumping the shark.

Launched in 2015, the last Sorento scored Kia’s first Wheels comparison win, lured loads of new customers and elevated the brand out of the bargain-bin status.

So, how does the all-new fourth-gen version rate then?

Built on a bigger platform, the seven-seater Kia grows in every direction, and also gains a wheelbase stretch for even better family-friendly packaging, as well as greater cargo-lugging capacity. All aboard!

Visually, the cabin packs as big a punch as the striking exterior styling, with its very Mercedes-like touchscreen dash, boasting stylised vents and pleasing attention to detail, to lend a premium ambience from the base S up.

Buying Guide: Which large SUV is right for you?

 2021 Kia Sorento interior

Even the cheapest variant features seven airbags (including a segment-first front-row centre airbag to stop noggins from knocking), AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise, front/rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual Bluetooth connectivity, multiple USBs, a full-sized spare and – of course – a seven-year warranty.

However, while the Kia aced the latest ANCAP crash tests, the rearmost occupants miss out on airbag protection. Back (row) lives matter too, you know!

The lavishly equipped GT-Line, meanwhile, threatens luxury SUVs for opulence. Kia calls this its most “high-tech car ever”, achieving big strides in safety, communications, connectivity and multimedia. Few can come close for useability, intuitiveness and functionality. That all said, away from the showroom glamour, two quite different Sorentos emerge.

The headline act is the AWD-only 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (148kW/440Nm), which is now lighter, slightly gutsier but significantly more efficient than before – chiefly due to the adoption of a dual-clutch rather than torque-converter auto. The latter is carried over in the V6 petrol; both offer eight speeds.

2021 Kia Sorento gearshifter

Though vibey at idle, the diesel’s refinement is impressive and its economy outstanding, yet with sufficient, flexible performance once that slight initial turbo lag is overcome.

In contrast, the front-drive-only 200kW/332Nm 3.5-litre V6 consumes 3.6L/100km more fuel (greater than Mazda’s CX-9 and Toyota Kluger), and that’s probably because it feels breathless until you mash the throttle to the firewall, after which the bigger-engined Kia really does pack a wallop. Although it’s sometimes too much so for the scrabbling front tyres.

So, why no petrol AWD? Other markets score a 2.5-litre four-pot in atmo (no, thanks) and turbo guises (yes, please!), but not Oz. However, turbo hybrids (series and plug-in) are coming.

The Sorento has undergone Australian-road calibration, resulting in a specific local tuning for its strut-front and double wishbone-rear suspension. Particularly over gravel, the levels of security and control deserve credit.

SUV comparison: Sorento v CX-9

But the COTY judges found that the V6 didn’t settle as easily through sudden direction changes as the diesel, with steering rack rattle further blighting the serenity.

Overall, then, the Sorento is a showy, crowd-pleasing evolution of its revolutionary predecessor, but is not as consistent throughout the range as we’d hoped, requiring some compromise. Spend enough, though, and you’ll have a very fine seven-seater AWD diesel SUV.

Richard Ferlazzo on the Kia Sorento's design

2021 Kia Sorento design

“Steps up with a very industrial design, and it’s evident in the cues that it’s focussed on the US market. The car has a solid stance and an imposing presence with the frowning headlights and that distinctive underbite in the front bumper.

The rear lamps have a bit of a Cadillac SUV feel. The interior, especially on the GT-Line, has a retro-space-age flavour about it; a bit fussy at times but it comes across as a competent, well-equipped family hauler.”

Variants Tested: 
- S Diesel AWD ($50,290 as-tested)
- GT-Line 3.5 FWD ($62,685 as-tested)