- Right niche, right time
- V-6’s brisk pace and fuel economy
- Good passenger and cargo space
- Dash plastics not premium-grade
- Handling on the soft side
- Frugal four-cylinder not so fast
With the right size, the right gas-mileage numbers, and the right standard features, the 2012 Kia Sorento is an easy recommendation in the crossover class.
An also-ran in family crossover vehicles until last year, the latest Kia Sorento is a value-rich wagon that just happens to have all-wheel drive, if you need it, and a V-6, if you can't live without one. But even as a front-driver, with an economical four-cylinder, the Sorento makes a serious case for itself with excellent interior space, above-average gas mileage, and relaxed road manners.
Kia's rapid improvement in styling makes the Sorento a design to notice. It's not overtly trucky, nor is it too soft and curvaceous--it strikes a handsome middle ground between the opposite ends of the crossover spectrum. It's neatly organized inside, too, with only the hard feel of its plastics taking away from its tidy good looks.
Choosing the right Sorento means knowing how you'll use it. For most of today's crossover drivers, the front-drive, four-cylinder version with direct injection is a fine choice. Skip the manual transmission and the base four-cylinder: the 191-hp four spins sweetly enough, and delivers as much as 30 mpg highway according to the EPA's ratings, with a well-sorted shift quality and good handling that gives more weight to comfortable ride than to even moderately brisk cornering. Opting into the V-6 version is something we'd reserve for drivers who tow on occasion, or for those who regularly run the kiddie carpool and use all of the available seats.
The base Sorento comes out of the Georgia assembly plant as a five-seater, and even for adults, those seats have ample leg room and good head room. The seats themselves are supportive--even better when they wear leather--but the third-row bench is only for those under five feet tall, with the dexterity to jump into the way-back, and the distractions to ignore the low seating position. Cargo space is fine, mostly, but a seven-row model with the back row raised won't leave much room behind for any cargo.
Strong safety scores from both the Feds and the IIHS put the Sorento in good stead with the competition, as does the array of standard equipment--air conditioning, power features, Bluetooth, satellite radio and a USB port are present and accounted for on every version. If you get spendy, the SX offers standard navigation, leather, and has an available panoramic roof, but prices zoom past the $30,000 mark.