New & Used Kia Sorento: In Depth
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The Kia Sorento is a mid-size crossover SUV with seating for up to seven passengers in three rows of seats.
The Sorento is offered in many configurations, with a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines and optional all-wheel drive.
Over its lifespan, the Sorento has evolved from its traditional SUV roots to become a more modern, car-like crossover SUV. It's the same switch made with its Hyundai cousins, the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport.
The Sorento faces off against a raft of competitors including the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge and Explorer, the Nissan Murano, and the Dodge Journey. Of course, its half-siblings, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and seven-passenger Santa Fe, should be considered as well.
All Kia Sorento models are assembled at the carmaker's first U.S. factory in West Point, Georgia.
MORE: Read our 2016 Kia Sorento review
In its first generation, which was sold from 2003 to 2010, the Sorento was a body-on-frame SUV instead of using a carlike unibody to create a crossover. This decision hurt the model some, as many families prioritize the interior space, ride, and handling of a crossover over towing and off-road capability offered by a traditional sport-utility and its truck-like frame.
One of two V-6 engines—a 242-horsepower 3.3-liter and a 262-hp 3.8-liter—was matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel-drive capabilities were offered on both, but the system for the smaller engine was part-time rather than full 4WD. Towing capacities were 3,500 and 5,000 pounds, respectively, for the smaller and larger engines. Fuel economy, however, was just 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway with the smaller engine, and a dismal 15 mpg, 20 mpg with the larger.
The 2011 Kia Sorento was the one that switched from old truck-style body-and-frame construction to a car-based platform. Many of its mechanicals are now closely related to those in its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe. It’s also now built in Georgia. And like many of its competitors, it now offers a choice among two four-cylinders and a V-6, rather than two sizes of V-6. The 276-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with six-speed automatic is rated at up to 26 mpg highway. The 175-hp, 2.4-liter four is rated at up to 29 mpg highway and comes with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, while a direct-injection version, new for the 2012 model year, has 191 hp and EPA-rated highway mileage of up to 30 mpg. Front-wheel-drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available on all except the base manual-transmission version.
All Sorentos in this generation came well-equipped, with air conditioning, cruise control, satellite radio, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel standard. A third-row seat became standard on V-6 models. The EX model added 18-inch wheels and a host of electronics, including push-button start, backup sensors, automatic headlamps, leather seating, and a power driver’s seat. Options included navigation, a better audio system, a sunroof, a DVD entertainment system, and Kia's voice-command UVO system.
While its outward appearance didn't change much, the 2014 Kia Sorento got a substantial mid-cycle refresh. Updates included a re-engineered body structure, a new 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6 engine (in addition to the 191-hp four), improved versions of the available all-wheel drive system, and a long list of new features. The front and rear end were restyled, and the Sorento's infotainment systems were upgraded. The systems offered eight-inch screens, Infinity premium audio, real-time traffic info, and next-gen UVO eServices features.
For 2014, a top Sorento SX model added Nappa leather upholstery, heated rear seats, and a wood-trimmed heated steering wheel, as well as HID headlamps and more on the outside. Other new features included second-row sunshades, ventilated seats, and a power inverter.
The new Kia Sorento
Kia introduced a new Sorento at the 2014 Paris auto show. The third-generation model arrives in the U.S. as a 2016 model and is already on sale. Styling is an evolution of the previous model, with all of Kia's latest brand cues mixed in.
The Sorento's engine lineup has expanded to three choices: an improved version of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, the same 3.3-liter V-6 from before, and a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four. The wheelbase has been stretched 3.1 inches, and the chassis has been reinforced and strengthened to improve handling and ride. The new Sorento also carries additional standard and optional features, such as a 360-degree camera system, power-adjustable second-row seats, and several advanced-safety items.
Initial impressions are that this model is much more refined than its predecessor, with a very nicely finished interior and improved materials. The styling has also become more cohesive, owing some to the fact that Kia's brand identity has finally reached a point of maturity. Like other new Kias, it offers three driving modes: Sport, Normal, and Eco. They tailor engine, transmission, and steering settings to suit the driver's mood.
In line with the competition--or perhaps slightly below it--prices for the current Sorento start at about $26,000, though a heavy hand on the options list will drive that above $30,000 quickly and the top models go for more than $40,000.