You can't tell it from the lightly freshened sheetmetal, but the Kia Sorento has been heavily updated for the latest model year. The tweener compact/midsize crossover now features a more upscale interior, upgraded powertrains, a revised chassis and new safety technologies.
Thanks to the changes, it represents an excellent value for a fully modern, feature-packed family vehicle. It also has the added bonus of an optional third-row seat - a feature offered by only one other crossover in the segment - that can accommodate two small passengers, bringing seating capacity up to seven.
The new Sorento sports a more athletic look than its predecessor due to restyled front and rear fascias, a slightly wider stance and attractive new taillights, but the bigger news is an almost completely redesigned suspension. It provides safe, predictable handling dynamics in addition to a ride that's soft but not floaty. The new setup also includes several NVH-reducing measures that result in a whisper-quiet interior.
The cabin has also been enhanced with additional soft-touch materials, a reworked instrument cluster and a new center stack with more premium-looking controls. An available eight-inch touchscreen controls navigation and entertainment functions in addition to Kia's UVO eServices infotainment system.
UVO provides Bluetooth-based smartphone integration, streaming audio and voice command functionality for everything from placing calls to changing radio stations. It also includes vehicle diagnostics info and maintenance reminders, and lets users send directions or Point of Interest info from Google Maps searches on their smartphone to the Sorento's nav system, which itself offers access to Google Maps and Google Places.
The Sorento has ample room for five passengers in the first two rows seats, but the optional third row is best left to small children. With the third row in place, just nine cubic feet of cargo space is available - carrying seven passengers and a healthy amount of cargo isn't an option. However, fold down the third row and there's an impressive 37 cubic feet available, and a full 72 cues can be had by tucking away the second row.
Entry-level Sorento models come standard with a direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder - last year's less-efficient and less-powerful port-injected four has bit the dust. The mill produces 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft. It moves the Sorento with sufficient authority, although fuel economy is slightly disappointing. It manages just 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway - not terrible figures, but many competitors can hit 30 mpg or better in the highway cycle.
Optional on base Sorentos and standard on up-level models is a direct-injected 3.3-liter V6 that's good for 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. Despite its 99-pony advantage over the four-cylinder, it returns just slightly worse fuel economy - 18/25 mpg.
A six-speed automatic gearbox handles shifting duties for both engines.
All Sorento models come standard with front-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive is available as an extra-cost option. It provides enhanced traction in inclement weather and reduced understeer courtesy of a torque-vectoring system, but reduces mileage to 19/24 mpg with the four-cylinder and 18/24 with the V6.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Sorento is offered in LX, EX, SX and SX Limited trim levels.
The LX comes standard with the four-cylinder motor in addition to A/C, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM stereo system with AUX and USB input jacks, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio, Bluetooth and cruise control buttons, a trip computer and 17-inch alloy wheels.
To those features, the EX adds the V6 motor, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, a backup camera, a backup warning system, a blind spot detection system, Kia's UVO eServices infotainment system, a seven-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster, push button start, a proximity key, front LED accent lights, a rear spoiler, fog lights, interior accent lighting, automatic headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The SX brings a navigation system with Sirius Traffic updates, a 10-speaker Infinity surround sound system, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable front passenger seat, a power liftgate, rear air conditioning, a stitched dash visor, an auto-dimming mirror with compass and HomeLink, stainless-steel sill plates with illuminated scuff trim, chromed dual-exhaust, LED taillights, a 115-volt power inverter and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The SX Limited includes Nappa leather upholstery, imitation wood trim, heated second-row seats, self-leveling Xenon HID headlights and 19-inch chrome-finish alloy wheels.
All Sorento models come standard with dual front, front side and 1st/2nd-row side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems. Upper-level Sorentos also feature a blind spot monitoring system.
The only similarly-sized crossovers to offer third-row seating are the Mitsubishi Outlander, a crude, dated option, and the Dodge Journey, which became surprisingly competent due to a recent refresh. We recommend that buyers willing to forgo the extra passenger capacity cross-shop the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.