2015 Kia Sorento Expert Review:Autoblog
For most new car shoppers, three-row crossovers are little more than a way for the family-minded to avoid succumbing to the minivan stigma. Admit it – the only things that differentiate most larger CUVs from minivans are their lack of sliding side doors and – on most of them – the option of all-wheel drive. Having blossomed into a popular segment with thicker profit margins, though, automakers have plenty of incentive to keep their offerings fresh, and that's exactly why Kia is presenting its 2014 Sorento so soon.
At first glance, the crisply styled utility vehicle seen here appears to be nothing more than a mid-cycle refresh – and not a particularly extensive one, at that. But that's not the case at all. Despite looking very similar to the second-generation vehicle that came on the scene for the 2010 model year, this is an all-new Sorento. Or, more precisely, it's about 80-percent new. Kia says less than 20 percent of the parts have been carried over from the 2013 Sorento, and that's a pretty typical amount for an 'all-new' vehicle generation.
Since we've yet to spend quality time with the "Made in the USA" Sorento for more than a short First Drive in Arizona last February, we snagged the keys to a 2014 model in the all-new SX Limited trim level for a lengthy backroad meander from Florida to South Carolina.
The second-generation Sorento helped inaugurate an entirely new design language for Kia upon its introduction in late 2009 as a 2010 model, and this third-generation 2014 model brings subtle changes that help make for an even better-looking crossover. These improvements include LED daytime running lights and vertical foglights up front, while horizontally oriented LED taillights add a much cleaner look to the Sorento's posterior than the outgoing model's square-shaped, honeycomb units. Overall, these modest improvements have given the 2014 Sorento a more mature and upscale appearance, but the changes are subtle enough that you could be forgiven for mistaking one generation for the other. Despite being a new model, we hear a substantial exterior update is in the near-term pipeline, so if you'd like some more visual differentiation, you might want to wait a while.
This third-generation 2014 model brings subtle changes that help make for an even better-looking crossover.
For the moment, though, it isn't until the hood is opened that you will start to appreciate just how new this Sorento really is. Front and center in the engine bay is the Sorento's new 3.3-liter, direct-injected V6, a slightly downsized engine that replaces the 2013 model's 3.5-liter mill. You can still opt for the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder, but this smaller engine is only offered on the lowest LX trim. Regardless of engine choice, all 2014 Sorentos are shifted with a six-speed automatic. The new V6 is definitely the way to go, as its 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque offer plenty of pep and surprising acceleration for the almost-two-ton Sorento.
Unfortunately, while the 3.3-liter V6 brings an incremental power increase of 14 hp and 4 lb-ft over the preceding V6, it does come at the expense of fuel economy. The official EPA rating for front-drive V6 models like our tester is an unimpressive 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, decreases of 2 mpg on the urban cycle and 1 mpg on the superslab. In an effort to see the small-town sights, we made the entire trip from north Florida to western South Carolina with minimal interstate travel, and we averaged 27.2 mpg for the entire 782-mile journey, getting as high as 28.1 mpg for a good portion of the trip. Interestingly, the Sorento's fuel tank capacity is down slightly (about a half gallon), but we still managed the whole trip on less than two tanks of gas.
The official EPA rating ... is an unimpressive 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Just behind the engine, sharp eyes will note some added plastic in the engine bay. This plastic covers the new strut tower support brace, which is perhaps the most visible indication of how far Kia has gone to improve the structural integrity of its new model. Kia says it has stiffened the Sorento's chassis by 18 percent, and, in the real world, this translates to a smoother ride with more confident handling. The Sorento has long offered a ride and handling balance that favors the firm and sporty, and while this continues to be the case, the word "rough" will no longer be used to describe its ride quality. Larger speed bumps are still enough to rattle some molars, but all other road surfaces and imperfections are absorbed ably by the suspension for a hassle-free driving dynamic.
Another big change for 2014 is the addition of electric power steering with the driver-selectable modes found on many Kia and Hyundai models. The system allows drivers to tailor steering effort to suit their taste, but it doesn't alter the ratio or improve road feel, which remain weak points. In a few instances, we found the Sorento's steering to be a little jerky, but we don't see the average CUV buyer being put off by the system's lack of feedback.
Sorento's cabin looks similar to last year's model, but is in fact very different.
Like its exterior, the Sorento's cabin looks similar to last year's model, but is in fact very different. The most noticeable change is a redesigned center stack and center console with a larger touchscreen infotainment display, a concentrated organization of buttons and controls and a T-handle shifter that feels like it was pulled from a luxury car. That attention to detail is also evident in newly rubberized soft-touch knobs for the audio and HVAC systems. The front seats would prove to be plenty comfortable for our road trip, and in addition to offering heat and ventilation functions for front occupants, there is now an additional 1.2-inches of rear legroom to go with the sliding and reclining 40/20/40 second-row seats. The third-row seat (a $1,000 option), is still intended for smaller occupants, but one nifty feature back there is the separate control for rear HVAC fan speed. Another interesting detail about the Sorento that buyers with babies will love is the LATCH anchors built into the front seat brackets for the tethers of rear-facing car seats. As befits a family-first vehicle, they are very useful and make it much easier to install child seats quickly and correctly.
Spending six hours strapped into any car is a good way to learn its strengths and weaknesses. Minor gripes include a driver's seat bottom that won't lower enough and window switches that feel a little too far back on the driver's door panel, but our biggest complaint could be the Sorento's newest cabin tech. On all but the base model, the Sorento now comes with a seven-inch TFT display, but its level of customization is disappointing. This screen provides great resolution for vehicle information, audio and navigation functions, but the majority of the TFT's real estate is used to display an analog speedometer with no ability to customize the layout. Other additions for 2014 that are appreciated include manual rear side window shades, a programmable power liftgate and a redesigned panoramic roof with a single, power-retractable shade and smaller cross support for a more open viewing experience.
Spending six hours strapped into any car is a good way to learn its strengths and weaknesses.
Following in the footsteps of its popular Optima sedan (as well as its newer Cadenza and K900 models), the 2014 Sorento has also added this new range-topping SX Limited model, which comes at a $3,300 premium over the Sorento SX's price and is only offered in a limited color palette – black, silver or pearl-effect white. The true benefit of the SXL package is on the inside, where the Sorento adds Nappa leather seats, dark wood trim, heated second-row seats and soft-touch, suede-like headliner and pillar trim. This package also brings 19-inch chrome wheels and red brake calipers. We think the latter looks a bit aftermarket-tacky, and the bigger wheels conspire to make the same-size brake rotors look a bit undersized.
Of course, such luxury doesn't come cheap. Taking a giant leap up from the Sorento LX V6's $26,500 base price, our 2014 Sorento SXL came with an as-tested price of $40,795 (with delivery and destination) – that's without optional all-wheel drive. At that price, you're looking at close to an even swap with CUV offerings from some prestige brands, though most of them will be smaller and offer far less equipment.
Our 2014 Sorento SXL came with an as-tested price of $40,795 – that's without optional all-wheel drive.
More importantly, the Sorento is somewhat of a middle-ground CUV, as it's larger than vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Ford Edge and Toyota RAV4, yet it's smaller than other three-row crossovers like the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder and even its platform-mate, the Hyundai Santa Fe. Indeed, it has a smaller footprint than those vehicles, but it's also substantially lighter and quicker, while offering interior measurements that aren't completely out of the hunt, either. As third-row seats often go unused in these vehicles and cargo bays aren't always full, we like the idea of this easier to drive, easier to park tweener size.
Regardless of which crossover you buy, as enthusiasts, it's still hard for us to get too excited about any of these three-row vehicles. However, it's also hard to argue with them as practical, comfortable family transportation. The 2014 Sorento delivers all of the goodies buyers expect from a family-friendly utility vehicle, and it does it with improved styling and refinement in a well-sized package. Toss in the all-new SX Limited trim level, and buyers now have a whole host of new reasons to consider the Georgia-built Sorento.
New Car Test Drive
Updated and re-engineered for a smoother ride.
Kia Sorento benefits from a major update for the 2014 model year. Technically, the 2014 Sorento represents a mid-cycle freshening; the previous generation made its appearance for the 2011 model year. But even though the Kia marketing people refrain from employing the term all-new, the 2014 Sorento rolls into showrooms with a list of revisions that's much more extensive than the usual facelift. All told, Kia reckons the Sorento's new or re-engineered content at 80 percent.
The 2014 Kia Sorento benefits from cosmetic updates front and rear, a new V6 engine option, a chassis sufficiently re-engineered to be characterized as new, a new electric steering system, a number of suspension revisions, improved braking, upgraded interior appointments, and new infotainment and telematics.
Like every vehicle in this class, the Sorento is a unibody design, basically front-wheel drive with an all-wheel drive option.
Although it continues to offer the smaller Sportage, Kia targets the Sorento against the compact crossover crowd, where it has a size advantage. The Kia Sorento is substantially bigger than the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota RAV4. Sorento's larger size pays roominess dividends.
The 2014 Sorento continues to offer the option of a three-row, seven-passenger configuration. However, adding the third row consumes a bit of cargo space and continues to be very snug in terms of third-row leg room. Kia and Mitsubishi are now the only players in this segment to offer a third-row option. We think Sorento is better as a two-row, five-passenger vehicle.
The 2014 Sorento's new V6 engine is a rare option in this class. The Mitsubishi Outlander is the only competitor with a V6 option. Kia's 3.3-liter V6 uses direction injection to produce 290 horsepower, 252 pound-feet. The new 3.3-liter V6 replaces the previous 3.5-liter V6. Fuel economy for the 3.3-liter V6 is an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg City/Highway, 18/24 mpg with all-wheel drive. It comes with a 6-speed automatic. Regular gasoline is recommended for all models, so no need to buy Premium gas.
Only the base Sorento LX comes with a four-cylinder engine. New for 2012, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with GDI direct injection is rated at 191 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque. (The previous port-injected 2.4-liter four has been dropped.) Fuel economy for the 2014 Sorento LX with 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 6-speed automatic is an EPA rated 20/26 mpg City/Highway, 19/24 mpg with all-wheel drive. Although the V6 option adds $1600 to the bottom line, it doesn’t carry much of a fuel economy penalty, especially when all-wheel drive is ordered.
Structural improvements to the 2014 Sorento include what Kia calls an all-new chassis, with a subframe supporting the strut front suspension, stiffened front strut towers, larger bushings in the multilink rear suspension, and a higher percentage of high strength steel throughout the bodyshell. Kia engineers cite an 18 percent increase in torsional rigidity, an area of chassis construction where more is always better, contributing to more precise handling and first rate crashworthiness. Kia expects that the Sorento will once again score top marks in the latter category.
The inner Sorento has also received comprehensive attention, with higher grade materials throughout, a redesigned instrument panel, an electric steering system that affords the option (Flex Steer) of three driver operating presets, and of course enough electronic connectivity to connect with colonies on Mars the minute they're established.
Hyundai and Kia have made huge strides with quality, and the Sorento has the feel of solid goods. And like other products from the two companies, which are joined at the hip, the Sorento comes to market with a goodly list of standard features even in basic LX editions.
All Sorento models come standard with the 3.3-liter V6 except Sorento LX, which comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. All 2014 Sorento models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.
Kia Sorento LX ($24,100) and LX V6 ($25,700) come standard with manual air conditioning, Tricot fabric seats with YES Essentials fabric treatment, 40/20/40 split-folding second-row seats, AM/FM/SiriusXM/CD/MP3 audio, USB jack, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, power windows with one-touch auto up and down, power locks with remote keyless entry, trip computer. Options are available for the Sorento LX to add many of the features found on higher trim levels.
Sorento EX ($30,000) upgrades with dual-zone climate control, leather seat trim (first and second rows), eight-way power adjustable driver seat with lumbar, 7-inch LCD driver information cluster, rearview camera, backup warning system, Blind Spot Detection System, UVO eServices Infotainment System, push-button start with Smart Key, automatic headlights, second-row sunshades, interior accent illumination, auto-dimming mirror with compass.
Sorento SX ($35,000) adds navigation system with 8-inch display, Sirius Traffic, Infinity audio system with 10 speakers, subwoofer and external amplifier, ventilated front seats, memory for driver's seat and mirror position, stitched dash visor, stainless steel sill plate with illuminated scuff trim, four-way power passenger seat, voice command for UVO, FlexSteer, power liftgate, rear air conditioning, 115-volt outlet, HomeLink,
Sorento Limited ($38,000) upgrades to Nappa leather seat trim, leather-and-wood heated steering wheel, leather shift knob, second-row seat heaters.
All-wheel drive ($1700) and the third row seat package ($1000) are optional on all models.
The Sorento is the bigger of Kia's two compact crossovers (the smaller one is the Sportage). The Kia Sorento has many structural and powertrain commonalities with the Hyundai Santa Fe.
However, while the Santa Fe is available with two different wheelbase editions for 2014, the Sorento model range is confined to the 106.3-inch wheelbase of the Santa Fe Sport. (The longer Santa Fe has a 110-inch wheelbase and offers three-row seating.) The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is five-passenger only, whereas the Kia Sorento continues to offer the option of a three-row, seven-passenger configuration.
Kia's front and rear styling updates are aimed at giving the 2014 Sorento a wider, more aggressive appearance, but the effect is subtle and the most visible distinction is a semi-circle of LED lights flanking each projector beam headlamp.
Fog lamps (optional) have been gone from horizontal to vertical, and moved to the edges of the bumper, enhancing the impression of added width. LEDs also handle turn signal and back up lighting duties at the rear.
The Kia Sorento is marketed as a compact crossover utility, but is big by the standards of the class. There are positives and negatives associated with this positioning. On the negative side, those dimensions add up at the scales, making the Sorento portly by compact standards, with curb weights crowding the two-ton frontier. Mass is never a dynamic asset, nor is it a plus in terms of fuel economy, where the Sorento scores lower EPA ratings than its predecessor and lower than all the leading compact competitors. Mass also contributes to a driving experience that is essentially competent but pretty bland.
The plus is a roomy cabin, with lots of cargo capacity: 72.5 cubic feet with the middle seats folded flat, almost 40 feet behind the middle seats in five-passenger configuration. The second row offers adjustability and respectable leg room. However, roominess notwithstanding, it's hard to view the cramped third row option as a plus. We recommend against the third row.
The 2014 Sorento offers a sonar-based blind spot monitor system, a first for Kia. Like other blind spot watch dogs, the system tracks vehicles lurking in the Sorento's rear quarters and provides visual alerts, followed by audible warning if the driver begins to move into the occupied lane.
Wheel/tire choices are unusually extensive. The basic Sorento LX comes with 7x17-inch wheels wearing 235/65R17 tires. The range also includes 18- and, for the first time, 19-inch aluminum alloys.
Kia Sorento interior materials and design have a quality feel and appearance, a definite uptick from the previous generation (2010-12). For 2014, a new instrument binnacle embraces seven-inch LCD screen that augments an analog tachometer, fuel readout, and coolant gauge with a digital speedometer, as well as trip information and navigation info (in models so equipped).
The center stack is dominated by a new eight-inch touch screen that's home for the navigation system, as well as controls for the Sorento's updated infotainment. Kia calls it UVO eServices, and it includes a broad range of connectivity options.
Upper trim levels include upscale features such as ventilated leather power front seats, front and rear dual zone auto climate control, premium audio pushbutton starting, heated and ventilated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, second row sliding sunshades, illuminated door handle pockets, and a 115-volt power inverter.
As you'd expect, higher trim levels include a large power sunroof, with a power-operated shade, and Kia has added a programmable power rear liftgate.
We found the seats are relaxed-fit comfortable (the word sporty does not come to mind) and widely adjustable, with or without power adjustability.
The 2014 Sorento continues to offer the option of a three-row, seven-passenger configuration. However, adding the third row consumes a bit of cargo space and continues to be very snug in terms of third-row leg room. Kia and Mitsubishi are now the only players in this segment to offer a third-row option. Toyota bowed out in its latest RAV4 redesign (model year 2013) due to miniscule third-row take rates. (The Hyundai Santa Fe with 110-inch wheelbase offers a third row, but it is a longer vehicle.)
Five-passenger models (with just two rows of seats) get a storage compartment under the rear cargo floor.
The menu is long, and the takeaway is this: Kia may claim to target the compact class, but the Sorento's inventory of standard and optional features goes well beyond the rest of the CUV crowd. As does its pricing ladder.
Our initial hands-on impressions were gleaned at the wheel of loaded Kia Sorento SX with all-wheel drive. The venue was Arizona, a too-brief run from Scottsdale east to Globe on smooth roads that offered little in the way of challenge aside from some elevation changes and microwave bombardment from local law enforcement officers bravely defending the public by wielding radar guns.
We found the 3.3-liter V6, a new engine that made its initial appearance in the 2012 Hyundai Azera sedan smooth and generally quiet, sounding a little busy only at full throttle. Smooth also applies to the operation of the 6-speed automatic, which manages downshifts for passing or hill-climbing without calling much attention to itself.
A well equipped all-wheel drive Sorento weighs in at about 3900 pounds, according to Kia, which is considerably heavier than others in the compact crossover posse. There were no four-cylinder LX models available at the Arizona event, but we emerged with the impression that the Sorento will make owners much happier when equipped with the V6 engine. The 3.3-liter isn't going to produce face-distorting acceleration, but it does generate respectable stoplight getaway and enough punch to take at least some of the drama out of passing on two-lane highways, very desirable in a vehicle designed for family transportation.
Designed to automatically and instantly transfer power to the wheels with traction, up to 100 percent to either end of the vehicle, we presume the sophisticated all-wheel drive system to be essentially transparent in operation. The presumption, rather than certainty, is rooted in the nature of the Arizona drive route, which was on dry roads. If the all-wheel drive system found any reason to operate in anything but its front-drive default mode, it wasn't apparent.
Ride quality is creamy, though firm enough to convey a sense of competence. The new Flex Steer option does manage to convey some approximation of on-center tactility, particularly in Sport mode. After experimenting with all three settings, we simply left it in Sport, and while there was no real sense of actual road feel the higher effort associated with this mode delivered the best accuracy. The foregoing is something we'll see in almost every new vehicle coming down the pike, as carmakers switch to electric power steering as part of the scramble to meet mounting EPA fuel economy standards.
While the Sorento driving experience is generally bland, there are a couple of strong suits. For one, the chassis and body engineers have done a very good job of noise suppression. The previous Sorento drew demerits for interior noise at freeway speeds; this new one deserves plaudits. For another, the bigger brakes have gratifying power, and the system provides excellent pedal feel and easy modulation.
Substantially revised for 2014, Kia Sorento is among the largest of the compact crossover utility vehicles. Sorento boasts a roomy cabin, with lots of cargo capacity. We recommend Sorento as a five-passenger vehicle; it really isn't big enough for three rows of seats. Ride quality is smooth. We found the V6 smooth and quiet and recommend it over the four-cylinder because the Sorento is on the heavier side of the class. All-wheel drive is a smart option for wintry conditions. Hyundai and Kia have made huge strides with quality, and the Sorento has the feel of solid goods. Overall, Sorento offers a good value for buyers who can resist moving up the model line and adding options.
Tony Swan filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Kia Sorento SX.
Kia Sorento LX ($24,100), LX AWD ($25,800); LX V6 ($25,700), LX V6 AWD ($27,400); EX ($30,000), EX AWD ($31,700); SX ($35,000), SX AWD ($36,700); Limited ($38,000), Limited AWD ($39,700).
West Point, Georgia.
Options As Tested
all-wheel drive ($1700); third-row seat package ($1000).
Kia Sorento SX ($35,000).
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