2013 Kia Sorento Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
April 3, 2013

It's an easy call among crossovers: the 2013 Kia Sorento has the right features, the right fuel economy, and the right size.

The Kia Sorento knows a thing or two about reinvention. Back in 2011, it gave up on the truck-based formula that it had relied on since it was brand-new, chucking it all for a version of Kia's mid-size Optima platform and a new mission as the brand's mainstream crossover. Trading off-road talent for on-road fluency has paid off: Kia can hardly keep up with sales at its Georgia assembly plant. But more important, it's crafted a crossover that offers shoppers a good alternative to a slew of best-sellers--Escape, CR-V, Edge, and Equinox among them.

The Sorento returns for the 2013 model year with no major mechanical changes, and just a few updated features. It remains a value-rich vehicle, even in base form, with all kinds of configurations and options--engines, transmissions, traction systems, seating--to appeal to almost any wagon buyer. It's all wrapped in good-looking, nicely detailed sheetmetal that doesn't play to outdated SUV cues, and doesn't go overboard on mimicking carlike shapes or worse, borrow from boats. Handsome in a middle-of-the-road manner, the Sorento's charm only dulls a bit when the plastics in the cabin undergo a tougher scrutiny. They're not shiny, and they're matched well--they're just not as lush as you think they'll be, with all the tight fits and spare lines.

Most Sorento drivers will want to leap instinctively for the top V-6 drivetrain, but there's a four-cylinder in the middle worth examining. It's not the base 2.4-liter, 175-horsepower four, though--skip that one and the manual that's only available with it. It's sluggish and dated, and delivers low gas mileage that's only offset by its low base price. The mid-range four, with direct injection, is up to snuff: it's a 191-hp four that spins sweetly enough, and delivers as much as 30 mpg highway according to the EPA's ratings, with a well-sorted automatic transmission 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.

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The base Sorento comes out of West Point, Georgia, 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. There's a third-row offered on some models, but that 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-seat 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 $35,000 mark, at which point the Sorento runs into some bigger, richer hired hands--vehicles like the Ford Flex and Explorer, the GMC Acadia, and likely, the upcoming Nissan Pathfinder.

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2013 Kia Sorento

Styling

Attractive and modern, the Kia Sorento has shaped up into a distinctive, handsome crossover.

The Kia Sorento is an old vehicle--at least, by Kia standards. With a slew of redesigned cars and crossovers in its lineup, Kia has penned new entries in nearly every class of car since it introduced the Sorento in 2011. The big ute gets at least some of the credit for bringing new buyers to the brand's showrooms--it's a handsome vehicle, with none of the thickness or frumpy lines of its predecessor. It's more balanced in all, with a front end that bears the new signature front end of most of Kia's vehicles, one with a grille integrated tightly with wide headlamps. Trim down its sides, with a smooth urban-shuttle theme, the Sorento ties all its angles together well with a glassy greenhouse and a full-stop rear end that brings all the themes to a succinct end.

The cockpit has a common look and feel, simple without looking plain. The dash is capped in serviceable-looking plastics, and punctuated by big gauges laid out clearly, and etched with large, clear fonts. The center stack is topped by a big LCD screen, which is itself flanked by large air vents and sits atop knobby climate controls--the big, round kind that are easy to operate without staring at the controls instead of the road. The simple look only is dulled by lots of hard plastic. Most of it looks good, even the woodgrain trim that bisects the dash horizontally, but there's very little of the soft-touch plastic we've grown more used to, even in less expensive vehicles.

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Kia’s assembly quality reached global standards a few years ago, and the Georgia-built Sorento is no exception. For its price, the hard plastic on the dash and doors is understandable, and it’s all pieced together with above-average fit and finish.
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2013 Kia Sorento

Performance

V-6 Sorentos have enough muscle, but the direct-injected four may be the best match for the Sorento's soft-handling mission.

Last year's addition of a new, more advanced four-cylinder engine clouded our Kia Sorento recommendation a bit. In its first year on the market, we overwhelmingly advised you to pick the optional V-6 over the base four-cylinder, even with the slight gas-mileage and bigger price penalty it exacted.

Last year Kia introduced a third way--a new direct-injected four-cylinder with midrange power, excellent fuel economy, and decent acceleration. We still think the V-6 is the best model for those who plan on ordering all-wheel drive, and for those who need the seven-seat model and plan on filling their crossover with passengers and stuff on a regular basis--but the direct-injected four is a good choice for commuters who use their Sorentos a little more lightly.

The base four-cylinder lacks the punch and fuel-economy numbers to make it anything more than a frugal alternative. It's rated at 175 hp, and offered with the six-speed manual or automatic transmission and front- or all-wheel drive. It's sluggish, and not that much less expensive than the updated four-cylinder with direct injection that's offered on the Sorento LX and EX. With 191 horsepower and up to 30 mpg on the EPA highway cycle, this engine turns in a little more noise--a typical DI-induced ticking--but also juices the Sorento slightly more than the base engine. The relatively lightweight Sorento feels a little more responsive with it, and seems well capable of 0-60 mph runs of less than 9 seconds.

Anyone planning on moderate to heavy-duty use with the Sorento should spend up to the 3.5-liter V-6. With either front- or all-wheel drive, the 276-horsepower six pairs with the six-speed automatic for ample power, smooth and eager shifts, and brisk trips to the redline that enable clean-and-jerk maneuvers to highway speeds without much protest. Gas mileage isn't even that bad, compared to some of the five-seat competition, as long as all-wheel drive remains an option, not a foregone conclusion. If you don't live through more than a few weeks of winter each year, think twice before adding all that weight to the bottom line.

If you think you need it, the optional all-wheel-drive system sends most of the power to the front wheels, but when traction changes, it can send 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. Drivers can also lock the differential at a 50:50 power split, and Kia includes downhill descent control and hill-hold assists, but no true low range (or any real need) to make this a true off-road vehicle. However, the Sorento can tow 3,500 pounds in some trims.

The Sorento’s ride quality is a touch more rumbling than you might expect on construction riddled interstates, but you'll mostly notice noise and a light impact feel. It’s more softly sprung than the RAV4 and CR-V, with steering that’s willing but not exceptionally quick, and a whiff of torque steer for front-drive models. It’s the kind of benign handling you look for in family vehicles.

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2013 Kia Sorento

Comfort & Quality

A mid-size package with an available third-row seat gives the latest Kia Sorento the right stuff to take on a wide swath of crossovers.

The Kia Sorento was new two years ago, and since the 2011 model-year renovation, its crossover transformation has won over significantly more buyers than the old, trucky SUV model had in its final years on the market. The 2013 model's essentially carried over, and still maintains the versatility that makes it a great choice for carrying people and cargo around town or on long highway cruises, while leaving off-roading for more capable SUVs.

The Sorento sits on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, and is 184.4 inches long. That puts it squarely in the middle of the crossover segment, with the new Honda CR-V and Ford Escape just bare inches shorter, and vehicles like the Chevy Equinox and Ford Edge checking in just an inch or so, and a cubic foot or so, larger. That said, the Sorento has a spacious feel once you climb inside--the combination of a low step-in height, and a somewhat tall roof and doors, make it feel somewhat bigger inside than competitors, particularly the newest Escape and the RAV4.

Most passengers will fit well in the Sorento's front and second-row seats. In front, the bucket seats have good bolstering on the backrest, though the seat bottoms could use more formed-in support. Head and leg room are on par for the class. One row back, most adults will have enough knee and leg room for good comfort, and head room is ample enough for six-footers, too. The seatbacks can be reclined for more comfortable long-distance rides.

The Sorento can be fitted with a third-row seat, a novelty in the class, aside from the third row in the Toyota RAV4. We don't consider the Mitsubishi Outlander's puny third-row bench suitable for anyone other than small children. The Sorento's seat won't carry anyone taller than five feet, and the seat cushion sits almost on the floor to create what head room is there, but as a substitute for a minivan, the seven-seat model does a fair job of balancing convenience and flexibility.

On that note, the third-row seat folds flat to reveal a cargo area with a decently low load floor, and the second-row seats fold forward to expose a total of 72.5 cubic feet of hauling room. With the third-row seat in place, cargo room drops to a measly 9.1 cubic feet, and the seatback itself sits close to the rear hatch glass.

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2013 Kia Sorento

Safety

The Sorento's safety performance has been a strong point.

With at least above-average crash test scores from both of the major agencies, the 2013 Kia Sorento has much to provide families in the way of safety. It doesn't offer some of the latest optional safety technology you'll find on other SUVs and crossovers, but the basics and a few options earn it a high score here.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls the Sorento a Top Safety Pick, which means it earns a "good" score on all IIHS crash tests, including a new roof-crush score. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), meanwhile, rates the Sorento at four stars overall; four stars each for frontal impacts and rollover protection are offset by a five-star side-impact protection score.

Each 2013 Sorento comes with dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; and active headrests.

Visibility is fine, even with the Sorento's substantial rear roof pillars. A rearview camera is offered on high-end versions, but it's packaged with an expensive navigation system. Bluetooth, however, is standard on all models.

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2013 Kia Sorento

Features

Every Sorento has satellite radio and Bluetooth; panoramic sunroofs, navigation, and ventilated leather seats are pricey options.

Both the five- and seven-seat Kia Sorento crossovers come with a generous list of standard equipment, bumped up a little more for the 2013 model year.

Kia sells the Sorento in three trim levels--base LX, EX and SX. In LX trim, the Sorento offers standard power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio and steering-wheel audio controls; a USB port; Bluetooth; and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Base prices still range in the low-$20,000s, though the Sorento's no longer the sub-$20k bargain it was when it was new in the 2011 model year. The V-6 engine is optional on this trim level, and when it's ordered, the third-row seat comes with it.

The Sorento EX adds on pushbutton start; automatic headlamps and fog lights; a power driver seat; rear parking sensors; and a rear spoiler. EX V-6 models, along with the third-row seat, get a rear air conditioner. The Sorento SX, meanwhile, has its own body kit and sporty wheels; it also gets a standard navigation system with voice commands, as well as a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and Infinity speakers.

A good value in base form, the Sorento can swell in price to more than $37,000 with options. We'd opt for the rearview camera, but as an option on LX and EX models, it's bundled with a navigation system that's a considerable uptick, given the Sorento's low base price. Infinity audio brings better sound quality, but navigating the Sorento's sound system has some foibles that will take a few clicks and taps to get used to. Leather seats and a panoramic sunroof are also offered.

The Sorento also gets a choice of newly styled wheels; a power passenger seat; a ventilated driver seat; power-folding side mirrors; and upping the tech ante, UVO. The UVO system is Kia's version of the same Microsoft code that underwrites Ford's SYNC system. It uses Bluetooth connections to drive some vehicle functions by voice, for hands-free operation of the phone and audio controls. It's not quite as sophisticated as SYNC, but it's a smart first step into less distracted driving.

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2013 Kia Sorento

Fuel Economy

The Sorento's advanced four-cylinder gives it the gas mileage of some five-passenger competitors.

Compared to some five-seat crossovers, the five- or seven-passenger Kia Sorento has very good fuel economy.

Ford's Edge and Chevy's Equinox come to mind: with direct injection the Chevy hits 32 mpg on the EPA highway cycle, but the more advanced four-cylinder Sorento, with a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, is rated at 21/30 mpg. The Edge's turbocharged edition gets up to 30 mpg, as well.

With all-wheel drive, the direct-injected Sorento's gas mileage drops to 20/26 mpg. And opting for the base four-cylinder without direct injection lets economy numbers dip to 20/27 mpg with manual transmission.

The V-6 Sorento carries over its fuel economy numbers again into the 2013 model year. The front-drive automatic-equipped crossover is rated by the EPA at 20/26 mpg; with four-wheel drive, it's still competitive at 18/24 mpg.

Note that four-cylinder versions of the 2012-2013 Sorento are among a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 22/32 mpg (25 mpg combined) with 2WD and 21/28 (23 combined) with 4WD to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Sorento's actual tested fuel economy to be 21/30 mpg (24 combined) with 2WD or 20/26 (22 combined) with 4WD. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.

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April 28, 2015
2013 Kia Sorento 2WD 4-Door V6 SX

Nice ride, nice handling and a good family vehicle.

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big car and a perfect car for a family of 6-7. it's fast if you want it to be, handles good.
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