Until recently, Kia and sister company Hyundai had a problem: their vehicles offered great value and strong quality, but their dorky looks and design quirks made them easy to ignore.
Boy how things have changed.
Approaching the Sorento, you first notice the work of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer. Clean surfaces and a muscular stance give the vehicle chunky good looks, particularly with this tester’s 18” mirror-finish alloy wheels.
The top of the line Sorento SX AWD comes standard with the 276-horsepower V-6, a 6-speed automatic, and the aforementioned 18” wheels. Inside, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, navigation, Bluetooth, and a 10-speaker Infinity sound system round out the standard features of the up-level SX.
The driver is presented with an elegant yet simple dash layout featuring a large touch screen and intuitive audio system and climate controls. Kia’s clear, simple iPod/Bluetooth interface is still one of the best offered in any vehicle. The Sorento has a clever dual-tiered storage compartment below the climate controls. In a vein similar to Volvo’s floating control panel behind which lies storage space, the Kia’s dual-level storage provides ample space for phones, glasses and other items that normally clog cup holders.The center console is covered in matte-black plastic that isn’t particularly flashy but looks durable. Carbon-fiber-look accents are tasteful and fit with the understated cabin. Our tester’s optional $1200 panoramic sunroof covers almost the entire first and second row seating area, providing abundant light to the otherwise dark cabin, especially with the black leather seats.
With seating for seven, passenger space is ample. However, with the second and third row seats up, remaining cargo space is tight (9.1 cubic feet). Folding both rows reveals a cavernous cargo area; though the downward sloping roofline that looks so attractive from the outsides does limit the ability to carry taller items. Two mountain bikes couldn’t be stowed upright in the Sorento, an easy task for some smaller, boxier competitors.
Dynamically the Sorento does well but in no way sets a new standard for mid-size SUVs. Fuel economy is good at 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The V-6 and 6-speed auto work together well, at times undermined by nonlinear throttle programming that is quite sensitive at initial tip-in but can be slow to respond deeper in the pedal travel. That said, acceleration is strong.
A rare area where Kia lags the competition is in suspension tuning. Lots of body roll makes the 3900-pound SUV feel large. At times the Sorento’s ride feels jittery, with sharp, sudden bumps sending reverberations through the body, leading one to wonder if Kia was aiming for both comfort and sportiness but not quite getting the mix right. Not horrible, but not class-leading either.Depending on the trim level, the Sorento offers tremendous value, particularly for those who don’t like being forced into top-level trims for Bluetooth, USB interface, or heated seats. A well-optioned AWD Sorento with the 175-horsepower 4-cylinder and a 6-speed automatic can be had for around $25,000.
The attractive, well-engineered Sorento may not lead the competition in every way, but this vehicle is a must-see for anyone considering mid-size SUVs. Pilot and Highlander, consider yourselves warned.