A Week Of Driving the Terrific 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD

kia logo new 2021Go to the Kia Motors Web site, check out the Sorento lineup and you’ll find that there are a lot of trim levels, ranging from LX, to S, EX, SX and SX Prestige, but the one trim level that isn’t listed is the “X-Line”. It’s the top of the line for every component on the vehicle, from bumpers to mirrors, pedals to roof rails. It’s also semi-mythical at this point because of how incredibly popular this trim level is with Kia fans; the local Colorado Kia dealer just told me that there isn’t a single X-Line unit for sale in the entire state and that the dealership has only ever seen one. That X-Line had been pre-ordered months earlier. Why? Because the X-Line package takes a very nice SUV and makes it a category winner, a fast, fun, and very comfortable drive with more smarts and safety features than just about any other car on the market.

I drove a Kia Sorento a few weeks ago, the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid SX, and really liked it. My assessment was that “there’s a lot to like with this six-passenger hybrid SUV… definitely one to add to your shortlist if you’re in the market for a family SUV or just like the idea of being in a bigger vehicle while still getting very good fuel efficiency, all at a reasonable price.” While there’s no question that fuel efficiency dropped precipitously with the jump from Hybrid to X-Line, the X-Line Sorento really is a solid SUV option that demonstrates how Kia has mastered the art of a luxury performance vehicle in the last few years. Let’s start with the exterior of the 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD in “Aruba Green”:

2021 kia sorento x-line - front exterior

Most of the external details are upgraded for the X-Line, as I mentioned, including the wheels, bumpers, roof rack, mirrors and lots of other elements that you can only see inside the vehicle. Also note the “X” just below the side mirror; that’s how you can tell it’s an X-Line model (though you aren’t likely to see too many on the road). There’s also a medallion on the very back of the vehicle too, as you’ll see in a later photo.

The X-Line is powered by a 2.5L turbo engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. If you want to use the padel shifters, you can too, of course, though I suspect almost no-one does in anything other than a true sports car. This is a surprisingly peppy drive too, and I was impressed by its performance from a stop after having driven a number of cars that were sluggish getting up to speed. Generally speaking, the Sorento will surprise drivers who are expecting an underpowered Kia experience. The cost is that fuel efficiency for this model is pretty poor, barely 22mpg in my experience, though it’s rated 21/28. The Hybrid? I saw 38.4mpg, a much more pleasant number when gas prices are going up.

The other facet of the X-Line is the additional level of luxury for the interior, and you can see it in this dash photo:

2021 kia sorento x-line - front dashboard

The interior seat and trim color is a lovely contrast to the black and silver of the trim, even if the front is a bit busy with its design. And am I the only one who sees a Tie fighter in the climate controls design? Maybe the team at Kia are secretly Star Wars fans? This shot also gives you a chance to see the upgraded X-Line aluminum sport pedals and the big, if awkwardly designed, 10.25″ navigation touchscreen. See the time display on the right side? Whatever mode you get into, you can’t actually utilize that space otherwise, which was disappointing when I had CarPlay on the other 75% of the screen. I want it all!

While we’re focused on that screen, I will say that when it is fully utilized for Kia settings, it’s pretty impressive. Definitely a lot more than just 16:9, as you can see:

2021 kia sorento x-line - infotainment navigation modes settings

I also appreciate the combination of physical buttons and controls combined with the big touch screen. Coupled with the redundant controls on the steering wheel cross-bar there are a lot of ways to control your audio and navigational experience, which is good when you really don’t want to be taking your eyes off the road while driving. The X-Line also includes a Bose Premium Audio upgrade too.

Moving just a bit to the left, the main gauge display of the 2021 Kisa Sorento is entirely functional, albeit a bit utilitarian:

2021 kia sorento x-line awd - main gauge

What isn’t obvious is that the two circular gauges have a lot of other purposes too. For example, flip on a turn indicator and you’ll get a live stream video of that side of your car to ensure you’re safe (in addition to the blind-spot indication on the respective side mirror):

2021 kia sorento x-line awd - turn indicator video stream on dash

Honestly, the first few times you have this little video screen pop up, you’ll be mesmerized by the view. It’s pretty fascinating and doubly so on the highway. But the array of sensors surrounding the vehicle have other purposes too, including recognizing when you’re in traffic and the vehicle in front of you has started to pull away. In fact, the Sorento beeps and displays “Leading vehicle is driving away”. Very cool.

Indeed, there’s a terrific attention to detail that shows Kia really is trying harder than a lot of more bespoke brands (not mentioning BMW here. I’m not). The AUTO button on the climate control has three fan settings, for example, and the driver and passenger seats each have a little USB-3 charging port tucked onto the side for the convenience of rear passengers. Heck, there’s a blue light filter you can enable on your info display so it doesn’t mess out your brain during night driving. Very nice.

The Sorento also has a fairly busy center console:

2021 kia sorento x-line awd - center console controls

Lots of features are accessible from this spot, including five drive modes, all easily chosen from the dial just behind the gearshift. In the dark well area is a wireless charger, coupled with three USB-3 plugs and an AUX-in for older devices. Very compatible. Note also the car seat heater switches on the front left and right. Easy to find, easy to remember when it’s a super cold morning and you’re otherwise freezing your $#%@%$# off.

Stepping outside, the rear legroom is good as long as the driver isn’t too tall:

2021 kia sorento x-line awd - rear leg room

You can also see why the USB plugs are located on the driver’s and front passenger’s seats: The rear portion of the center console is entirely devoted to big climate control fan vents, something appreciated by rear passengers on hot and cold days. Stepping back just a bit, isn’t it a nice, luxurious finish with the premium seats?

This is a three-row SUV so the Kia Sorento X-Line is very family friendly. That third row does eat up cargo space, however, and you can see that I just barely got three bags of groceries into the very back:

2021 kia sorento x-line awd - rear cargo space shopping bags

Not much else to share. The 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line is worthy of the hype. It’s fast, fun, has a surprisingly responsive drive experience and oodles of luxuries and safety features and technologies. If I was in the market for a larger SUV this would definitely be on my list, though as I am always concerned with fuel efficiency, the extra 15mpg of the Hybrid might just be a win over this sportier model. Either way, there’s a lot to like with this Sorento.

Here’s the rear view:

2021 kia sorento x-line awd - exterior rear

A very handsome profile for a very well configured vehicle. Now you’ll just need some patience if you order one; the local Kia dealer said it’s a 3-4 month wait for an X-Line to be made to order and received from its Korean point of manufacture.

CONFIGURATION: 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD in Aruba Green. 2,5L Turbo engine with 8-speed automatic transmission and X-Line feature upgrades. MSRP: $42,590. Additions were very modest: X-Line Rust Interior Package, Carpeted floor mats and carpeted cargo mat. AS DRIVEN: $44,285.00.

Disclosure: Kia Motors loaned me the Sorento X-Line for a week of driving so I could write up this review. Thanks, Kia!

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