Review: 2014 Kia Sorento

By Andrew Ganz
Monday, May 6th, 2013 @ 9:47 am
Momma always taught you not to judge a book by its cover, right?

Well, the 2014 Kia Sorento offers up quite a test. It looks a whole lot like its predecessor, from its blocky front fascia to its gigantic rearmost roof pillar, but the fine folks from the fastest growing brand in the United States swear it's all new underneath.

That's a term that gets tossed around a lot these days - "all new." To find out if it applies to the Sorento, we ordered up a well-equipped model and hit the road.

What is it?
Utilizing a new version of the platform that also underpins the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Sorento is a five or seven-seat crossover that battles it out for mainstream family buyers.

Base Sorentos are powered by a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but most models will include a 3.3-liter V6 that cranks out a satisfying 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft. of torque. Both front and all-wheel-drive (as tested) are available and all Sorentos, regardless of engine or drive, send power to the wheels via a six-speed automatic.

Sorentos are available in a dizzying array of trims - base LX,volume EX, sport-oriented SX and luxurious Limited. We specified an EX all-wheel-drive with a $4,000 Touring Package that brought with it a navigation system, a blind spot monitor, power adjustment for the passenger's seat, a panoramic moonroof, a power liftgate and memory for the driver's seat. All told, our tester listed for a hefty $36,550 - although, following in Kia tradition, that price undercuts similarly-optioned rivals.

The Sorento SX adds about $1,000 worth of FlexSteer user-adjustable steering, 19-inch wheels and gaudy chrome accents.

Fear not, big families: Our test car only had five seatbelts aboard, but a $1,200 third row package adds room for two more.

What's it up against?
From within the Hyundai/Kia portfolio, the Hyundai Santa Fe offers up serious competition. Seek out a non-Korean car and you'll want to look at five-seaters like the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Equinox and Nissan Murano, plus the five or seven-seat Toyota Highlander.

The strong-selling Highlander was clearly Kia's target for the Sorento.

What's it look like?
If you liked the 2013, you'll probably love the 2014. Kia didn't stray far from the outgoing Sorento, which means that model's distinctive side profile with its extra-large D-pillar remains. That's a serious hindrance to over-the-shoulder visibility, although a rearview camera is standard equipment.

Up front, the only way to discern the 2014 from the 2013 is to look at its lower bumper area - the running lamps are now vertical. At the rear, the differences are more obvious since Kia's beak-style tail lamps are newly included.

Our test car's attractive Wave Blue paint was complemented by unpainted lower moldings and fender trim to provide a "rugged" look that the Sorento doesn't quite deliver on when the pavement ends. Of course, that hardly matters to most consumers in this segment - if you want to go off road, buy a Grand Cherokee or a Toyota 4Runner.

And on the inside?
Again, the changes are subtle, if a little more appreciable, inside the Sorento. Kia seems to have taken a page from Toyota in selecting only hard plastics, but at least the Sorento looks high buck. Just don't tap the door panels or the dashboard unless you like the feel of rock hard trim.

Some Volkswagen influence is visible in the Sorento's new center stack. Matte silver trim rings surround infotainment and audio "zones," most of which are generally easy to use. A plethora of look-alike buttons sits just below the big infotainment screen.

That screen features Kia's latest Uvo connectivity software. Particularly easy to use, the system is most notable for its lack of menu-intensive operations. That the navigation map is particularly clear is an added benefit. We do wish that the Uvo icons looked a bit different - at a quick glance, it's hard to tell what feature you're selecting.

Microsoft had a hand in developing Uvo, and like the Ford Sync system, we found a larger-than-expected learning curve to some of its voice commands. Still, Uvo proved reliable and lag-free, something we can't say about all infotainment systems.

An additional screen sits in the gauge cluster on higher-spec Sorentos. Replacing the speedometer, it's a crisp screen, but the contrast ratio and brightness seem a bit off. In bright light, the virtual speedometer needle was very difficult to see.

Otherwise, the Sorento's interior is a convenient and comfortable place to whittle away the miles. Comfortable heated and air conditioned front seats and terrific second row room made it a favorite for longer trips during our evaluation. Especially notable on our test car was the fragrant, leathery scent that greeted us every time we opened the door. The leather Kia selected is about par for the class, but it delivered a deliciously luxurious eau de peau (leather).

Out back, Sorento features a nicely-finished cargo area with a very usable 35 cubic feet.

But does it go?
At just shy of 4,000 lbs., the 290-horsepower Sorento is fairly slim by class standards. As a result, it accelerates with authority, making the most of its direct-injected V6's 252 lb-ft. of torque. Although those figures aren't far off of what competitors offer with turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the naturally-aspirated V6's power pours on smoothly. Aiding matters is the quick-shifting six-speed automatic, which was more than happy to downshift a cog or two for passing.

That performance does take somewhat of a toll at the pumps, but we can at least report that we saw fuel economy on par with the 18/24 mpg suggested by the EPA test. Overall, we tagged the window sticker's 20 mpg.

Opting for sunbelt-friendly front-wheel-drive would have boosted the highway and combined figures by 1 mpg each, but it would be accompanied by some torque steer - pulling of the steering wheel under hard acceleration. That sensation was fortunately negated entirey by our tester's all-wheel-drive, which features a locking center differential for thick snow or more challenging terrain. However, with its modest ground clearance and decidedly pavement-oriented Kumho City Venture tires, our tester won't keep up with a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Despite the terrific grip afforded by the tires and all-wheel-drive, Sorento remains anything but sporty. Its steering offers only the vaguest feeling of what the front wheels are up to. Assist is heavily over-boosted, to the point where it's hard to keep the tiller pointed straight ahead when cruising on the highway. The more sport-oriented Sorento SX features a handy steering wheel-mounted button that changes resistance from ultra-light "comfort" to enthusiast-friendly "sport," but not other trims. Our tester felt like it was stuck in the SX's "comfort" mode.

That lousy steering is, sadly, rather par for the class. On the other hand, Sorento does set a high standard for ride quality. Its fully-independent suspension swallowed up serious bumps and ruts with aplomb. Reflecting an all-wheel-drive system that sends most of the power to the front wheels most of the time, the Sorento tended to plow into corners, but it did so in a predictable, controllable manner.

On the highway, we experienced little undue road and wind noise, making this five-seater a terrific road trip companion. Just don't look for the squiggly lines on your map.

Leftlane's bottom line
Delivering nearly everything a typical family-type buyer might want, the all-new-but-doesn't-look-new Kia Sorento is a worthy contender in the midsize crossover class.

Enthusiastic drivers will want better steering and those stepping out of a luxury-level vehicle would be justified in raising an eyebrow at the lack of soft-touch interior materials, but Sorento is generally a pleasing family cruiser. The SX improves the steering situation (and it includes a nice stitched cover for the instrument cluster), but its heftier price tag dents the value equation.

2014 Kia Sorento EX AWD base price, $31,700. As tested, $36,550.
Touring Package, $4,000; Destination, $850.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.

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