kia sorento on evolutionary chart

Family Tree: The Kia Sorento

Kia Sorento Model History and Generations

Some of the most interesting vehicles on Kia’s lineup are the ones that have ridden the waves of various automotive trends, market shifts and economic eras. Better than any model we’ve featured in our Throwback featurette, these vehicles show Kia’s evolution from humble value brand to the design and engineering powerhouse they are today.

>>> READ MORE: See Why the 2010s was Kia’s Best Decade Ever <<<

The Kia Sorento is one such model. As a premium SUV offered above the Kia Sportage, the Kia Sorento debuted for the 2002 model year in the United States. Like the Kia Sorento, it aimed to provide off-road capability and large interior space.

Let’s see its trajectory and ancestry in action.

First-Generation Kia Sorento Model History

Model Years: 2002-2009
Construction: Body-on-frame (truck), front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (4WD)
Passengers: 5 maximum
Engines: 2.4L I-4 (140 horsepower), 3.5L V6 (192 horsepower), 3.3L V6 (235 horsepower) and 3.8L V6 (263 horsepower)
Transmissions: 4-speed automatic, 5-speed manual, 5-speed automatic with manual mode

The first-generation Kia Sorento is the oddest one of the bunch. Like the Kia Sportage, it was a body-on-frame, truck-based SUV that encouraged drivers to keep pushing past the line that separates the roads from the trails.

As such, the first-generation Kia Sorento had either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive options.

Here in the United States, the first-generation Kia Sorento had standard dual-front airbags and side-curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers.  Extra features included wood interior trim inside, satellite radio (later in the generation’s life cycle), leather seating with heat, premium audio system, in-dash CD changer, sunroof and more marked some of the available upgrades.

First-generation Kia Sorento on white background
interior of 2004 kia sorento first generation

Second-Generation Kia Sorento Model History

Model Years: 2011 – 2015
Construction: Unibody (crossover), front-engine, front-wheel-drive (AWD)
Passengers: 7 maximum
Engines: 2.4L I-4 (175 horsepower), 2.4L I-4 (191 horsepower), 3.3L V6 (290 horsepower) 3.5L V6 (276 horsepower)
Transmissions: 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 5-speed auto with manual mode, 6-speed auto with manual mode

Like the second-generation of the Kia Sportage, the second-generation of the Kia Sorento (the first under iconic designer Peter Schreyer) saw the model move to be a more compelling compromise between rugged SUV and smooth-handling car. This meant rotating the engine 90 degrees for an FWD and FWD-bias transverse drivetrain layout and losing the ladder frame.

Ultimately, this was the beginning of the Sorento as we know it today – a competent and confident SUV that handles and rides with the smoothness and agility of a car.

exterior of 2011 kia sorento on blue background
2011 kia sorento interior from birds eye

Third-Generation Kia Sorento Model History

Model Years: 2016 – 2020
Construction: Unibody (crossover), front-engine, front-wheel-drive (AWD)
Passengers: 7 maximum
Engines: 2.4L I-4 (185 horsepower), 3.3L V6 (290 horsepower)
Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with Sportmatic®, 8-speed automatic with Sportmatic®

The third-generation Kia Sorento is an evolution for the midsize crossover, focusing on refinement and exalting the vehicle into luxury SUV territory rather than diverting from a successful formula. That said, the third-generation Kia Sorento has a ton of changes to submit on its interior which is very different from the outgoing model’s more straightforward design.

comparison of 2015 and 2016 kia sorento on shore
2015 Kia Sorento (Left) and 2016 Kia Sorento (Right)

In terms of capability, passenger space and performance, very little was changed. In 2019, Kia further updated some of the exterior elements of the Kia Sorento, making it more sporty and luxurious than ever before and adding standard third-row seating, standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity and equipping higher-trim models with features like heated and cooled driver and passenger seats.

2020 kia sorento exterior
interior of 2020 kia sorento

Future Kia Sorento Models

We know an all-new, fourth-generation Kia Sorento is headed our way for 2021. We’ve made some bold predictions about the model many of which are proving to be true – our favorite being the availability of a hybrid and/or PHEV powertrain.

We also predicted that the next Kia Sorento will focus more on being a luxurious alternative to the compact Sportage, rather than vying with the dominant Kia Telluride for the title of best family transporter.

>>> READ MORE: Our Predictions for the Fourth-Generation Kia Sorento <<<

Of course, we’ll always be sure to share anything we learn regarding the 2021 Kia Sorento. You can always find Kia content here on the Friendly Kia Blog and articles, spy shots and rumors shared on our Facebook page.

For more information on the Kia Sorento or to schedule a test drive with the current (and best so far) Kia Sorento, contact us today!

>>> Contact Us Today <<<