2015 Kia Sorento

The world of three-row crossovers is a crowded one. With a few exceptions (Volkswagen, and to an extent, Lexus), there are few players left in the U.S. market without an entry.

Kia has been playing in this space with the Sorento for a while now, but its latest entry is its greatest--all-new for the most recent model year.

The Sorento is Kia's largest crossover. Available in both two- and three-row configurations, it seats either five or seven passengers.

Our tester is an EX model and includes the optional third row. It is also equipped with all-wheel-drive and the beefiest of the three engines offered in this chassis. Two-row models can be optioned with the 2.4L GDI four-cylinder, and while the five-seater may be the lightest Sorento, we can't imagine that's a particularly sprightly configuration.

Opting for a third row limits you to either the turbocharged GDI two-liter or, as found here, the 3.3L "Lambda" V6.

The Sorento is not a featherweight. At 4,343lbs, it's not heavy for the class, but it's still a substantial chunk of machine. If you're expecting sedan-like handling, you simply won't find it here.

Kia offers three different engines in the Sorento, depending on the interior configuration and trim level.

The entry-level option is a 2.4L GDI four-cylinder making 185 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 178 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Bumping up to the EX or SX gets you a 2.0L, turbocharged four-cylinder that is good for 240 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 260 lb-ft of torque at 1,450.

Topping the range is a 3.3L unit from Hyundai/Kia's "Lambda" family of V6s. It makes 290 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 252 lb-ft of torque at 5,300 RPM. This is the standard engine in LX, EX and SX models with the third-row option.

Buyers who want to combine three-row practicality with four-cylinder frugality are limited to the LX model, which has an optional third row. The LX Convenience package is a required add-on for this combination.

All trims from LX up are available with all-wheel drive. Kia's system features a locking center differential and what it calls "torque vectoring corner control," which acts to move power to the wheels with the most available grip using the braking system.

This wide range of powertrain configurations means several different fuel economy ratings. 2.4L models with front-wheel drive are rated at 21 mpg city and 29 highway. Adding all-wheel drive drops the highway figure to 26 mpg.

2.0L turbo models are rated at 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with front-wheel-drive and 19 city/25 highway with all four wheels driven.

The 3.3L V6 is rated at 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations.

The Sorento is also rated to tow. 2.4L models are rated for 2,000lbs regardless of drivetrain configuration. Turbocharged models are rated for a maximum of 3,500lbs. V6 models are rated for 3,500lbs in front-wheel-drive configuration and 5,000 if all-wheel-drive is selected.

What does it look like?
Few manufacturers try to reinvent the wheel in this segment, and Kia isn't one of them. A few hold-outs like to keep their options boxy (Dodge and Ford, most notably), but the Sorento's proportions are entirely conventional for a modern, three-row offering. It's not too exciting and not too boring; not too square and not impractically swoopy either.

That's not to say there aren't any flashy elements. Kia's new grille is nothing if not prominently featured here, looking as if it does double-duty as a feeding apparatus for marine Mammalia (judging by the number of dead insects it collected over the course of our late-September road trip, it could do the job). There are chrome bits here and there too--not too gaudy--and the expected smattering of LED lighting. All in all, it's a solid effort--handsome, but not necessarily studly.

And the inside?
Kia learned years ago that a clean interior is a great way to demonstrate the effort engineers have gone to in the name of improving quality. The Sorento is no exception.

The Sorento's interior layout is fairly conventional. The second-row bench splits 60/40 for passenger ingress/egress and accommodating unusually long cargo. The third row is a fold-flat setup with its own split configuration, if so equipped.

The Sorento offers all the typical gadgets one would expect from a three-row crossover. Climate control is available for third-row passengers, and the rearmost row folds flat when not in use to accommodate large cargo. Buyers can add wow-factor options such as a panoramic sunroof, rear-seat entertainment systems, a 110v power inverter and Kia's UVO infotainment suite depending on trim and configuration.

Trim level breakdown and packages
Kia's trim offerings for the Sorento are somewhat daunting at first blush. It is available in L, LX, EX, SX and Limited trims. The Limited trim is essentially a package for the range-topping SX model, which can make purchasing even more complicated.

The L is the most basic Sorento available. Buyers are limited to the 2.4L engine and a two-row configuration. Standard equipment includes Bluetooth connectivity, a AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite audio system with wheel-mounted audio controls, basic USB charging and auxiliary input, drive mode select, power locks with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and a 40/20/40 split-folding second row with adjustable headrests.

The LX builds upon the L's standard features with a rear-view camera, UBS 2.1 charging, and front seatback pockets. It's also the only four-cylinder trim available with third-row seating and the lowest trim level available with optional all-wheel drive and Kia's UVO infotainment suite (optional).

The optional LX Convenience package adds an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, leather-trimmed steering wheel, leather and wood gearshift handle and a back-up warning system. This package is required for buyers who wish to add third-row seating.

The LX V6 model follows the same general equipment path as the LX, but adds the option of rear-seat climate control.

EX represents the biggest step up so far. The standard engine is the turbocharged, 240-horsepower four-cylinder. Additional equipment comes in the form of leather seating, an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, adjustable front headrests, heated front seats and a leather wheel and gear selector.

The EX Premium package jazzes up an already-above-average interior effort. The EX alone is enough to get you leather, but add-ons here include 110v power and auto up/down windows at all four corners. The EX Touring package adds a panoramic sunroof, Infinty audio with surround sound, voice-command navigation, roof rails, an auto-dimming mirror and LED map and room lights.

The EX V6 follows the same convention as the EX, but accounts for third-row options.

The SX model is available exclusively with the 3.3L V6. It includes all of the features found on the EX Premium and Touring Packages, and adds a 14-way power driver's seat with memory and various exclusive interior and exterior trim pieces.

Limited models revert to the EX's powertrain availability. The base engine is the turbocharged four yet again. Standard features include all of those found up through the SX V6 (minus the engine). Additional equipment includes a heated steering wheel, alloy pedals, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats and premium Nappa leather seat trim.

An available Technology Package adds HID projector lamps, surround view cameras, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.

The Limited V6 follows the same packaging convention as the Limited, less the engine.

Occupant safety
All Sorento models come standard with dual front- and side-mounted airbags, first- and second-row side curtain air bags, front seat-belt pretensioners, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, hill start assist, LATCH anchors and rear child-safety locks. Lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alerts and forward collision warning systems are available in packages on higher trim levels.

Key Competitors
The Sorento faces off against a robust and still-growing segment of three-row crossovers. Key competitors include the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Flex, Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, and Mazda CX-9, among others.