Kia SUV Comparison: 2021 Kia Sorento vs. 2021 Kia Telluride

Kia SUV Comparison: 2021 Kia Sorento vs. 2021 Kia Telluride

Which three-row Kia SUV should you get?

  • Battle of Kia's three-row SUVs
  • Sorento is more nimble, less expensive
  • Telluride is roomier, more versatile

Starting a band? Transporting rare orchids? Need a vehicle large enough to nap in? There are many reasons to look for a roomy SUV, but the most common is when your family starts expanding, either with more members or little members growing into larger ones. When you need more than four seats and room around them, it's time to look at three-row SUVs.

It just so happens Kia has two three-row SUVs: the Telluride and the redesigned-for-2021 Sorento. It's not really about which is the better SUV because these two aren't in a direct comparison. Plus, many of the Telluride's qualities we've raved about are present in the new Sorento as well. But if you're trying to decide which one would suit your family better, we can help with that.

Styling and price

It's an automotive cliché to call a vehicle handsome, and what do we really mean by that anyway — that it's got a good jawline and pretty eyes? Well, yeah, kinda. The Telluride does have leading-man looks, with a tall square profile, a fashionable grille that has a midcentury modern pattern and wide-set stacked LED headlights.

The new Sorento isn't quite as big, but the redesign tightened up its lines and gave it a similar profile to the Telluride. The front end doesn't have the same intimidating presence, but the side view offers sculpted details and flared fenders.

Both the Kias in our test were top-of-the-line trim levels. That's pretty simple for the Telluride, which only offers four trims, all with the same drivetrain. The one we had was a Telluride SX AWD. Sorento has more to choose from. There are six different trims and a few available engines including an upcoming hybrid. We drove a Sorento SX Prestige X-line in our comparison.

Both SUVs start in the $30,000 range and can be optioned — like our test SUVs — well above $40,000. As makes sense for the larger flagship, the Telluride is a little nicer and a little more expensive than a similarly equipped Sorento.

Curbside presence a priority? Go Telluride. Staying within a smaller budget? You'll want the Sorento.

Power, towing and fuel economy

The Telluride comes standard with a V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. With 291 horses and 262 lb-ft of torque, this V6 makes more horsepower than any of the Sorento's engine options. However, the Telluride is a bigger, heavier vehicle and you can feel the extra weight when driving around turns and slowing down at high speeds. On the plus side, the Telluride has a smoother ride and lets in less wind and road noise on the highway.

The Sorento has a few engine choices; our SX Prestige test vehicle came with the turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 281 horses and 311 lb-ft of torque. It also has an eight-speed automatic. The Sorento feels nimble and quick, and the engine is responsive and properly sporty. Which SUV wins the drag race? Well, it's the lighter, smaller Sorento with the turbo engine that leaves the Telluride in the dust. Y'know, if that stuff matters to you.

If it's towing that matters, however, the Telluride is the superior beast of burden. The Sorento's maximum tow rating is 3,500 pounds, as compared to the Telluride's 5,000-pound potential.

On the other hand, the smaller engine and smaller weight of the Sorento mean better fuel mileage. The EPA says to expect 26 mpg in combined city/highway driving from a Sorento with the four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. An all-wheel-drive Telluride checks in with just 21 mpg.

So, towing and hauling? Telluride. Quickly zipping past the gas pump? Sorento.

Interior comfort and space

Now, it seems like a no-brainer that the Telluride is going to beat out the Sorento in third-row comfort, but we did the research anyway. While the Sorento's third-row space is surprisingly good for its size, the seating position is much less comfortable than the Telluride's. Anyone planning to make regular use of the third row should look at the Telluride first. Still, for occasional full carloads, the Sorento is easy to get in and out of, and it offers a decent, if not spectacular, rear seat ride.

With all three rows dropped, the Sorento offers 75.5 cubic feet of space, which is impressive for a small SUV. The Telluride responds with an "Oh yeah? Watch this!" and reveals a maximum 87 cubic feet of cargo space. Either way, both vehicles are big when the seats are down. When they are all up, the Telluride has more space behind the third row, although neither can carry six people and all the luggage.

Are you a "bigger is better" kind of SUV buyer? Hello, Telluride. But the Sorento isn't too far off.

Edmunds says

So, Telluride or Sorento? Both showcase Kia's greater focus on design and technology. These are good-looking SUVs that would look great in your driveway. In the end, the choice between them comes down to size. How big are your kids? How big is your garage? How big is your checkbook? For large families or buyers wanting the most space, the Telluride is the superior SUV. But for a versatile SUV that's more nimble and likely less expensive than the Telluride, you'll want to get the Sorento.

To see more about these SUVs and others like them, visit our SUV rankings page.

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