Pros: Powerful 4-cylinder engine; excellent fuel economy; low price; impressive standard equipment list; IIHS Top Safety Pick

Cons: Side curtain airbags don't cover the third row; no blind spot warning system; somewhat sedated and boxy exterior styling

What's New: The Sorento gains standard leather seating in EX trim, while the LX V6 now comes standard with a third-row seat.

If there's one quality the 2013 Kia Sorento has over its competition, it's bang for the buck. Sure, there are a number of equally powerful, equally roomy crossover SUVs on the market (the Ford Edge and Toyota Highlander, just to name two). But when you add up the features, technology and warranty offered by the Sorento, and then look at the price, it's a hard sell not to pick the Kia. The Sorento's technology roster begins under the hood, where a choice of three engines is offered, one with gasoline direct injection (GDI) technology that delivers maximum power and fuel economy. Move inside the Sorento's cabin and a bevy of electronic information, entertainment and communication systems awaits.

From the outside, the Sorento lacks the visual pop of Kia's other products, such as the stylish Soul and Optima. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it may widen the Sorento's appeal to more mainstream buyers. Step inside the Sorento and it's a different story. The interior simply outshines the competition with an elegant design, rich materials and fabric choices--such as white-on-ebony leather--features usually reserved for more expensive luxury models.

In addition to its ability to carry seven passengers, the Sorento's fuel economy and horsepower are near the top of its class. And its pricing undercuts just about everything comparable. The Sorento also comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile vehicle warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty that is virtually unmatched. And for those who feel strongly about buying American, it will come as welcome news that the Sorento is built at Kia's plant in West Point, Georgia.

Comfort & Utility

Kia packs a lot of utility into the Sorento, giving it an available third-row seat and 60/40 split folding, second-row seats. Although the third-row seat expands passenger occupancy to seven, it's really only suitable for young children. With the third-row seat in the up position, the Sorento's generous 37 cu ft of cargo space dwindles to around 9.1 cu ft.

On the comfort side of the equation, the Sorento exceeds expectations. Base LX models are nicely equipped with such standard features as a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, USB interface and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity. The EX trim adds dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-way power driver's seat, fog lamps and a backup camera. Move to the top-of-the line SX and you'll get full leather seating, Kia's navigation radio and a 10-speaker 550-watt Infinity audio system. Options for the Sorento include all-wheel drive, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, an air-cooled driver's seat, power folding side mirrors and a panoramic glass moonroof.

Technology

Powered by Microsoft, the UVO information and entertainment system allows voice control of Bluetooth-enabled cell phones as well as a portable music devices like an iPod or iPhone. Add the available navigation system and you'll enjoy SiriusXM Traffic free for three months (after that, you'll need to pay for a subscription). SiriusXM Traffic uses the navigation system to alert you of approaching traffic problems. If there's a delay, the navigation can be used to calculate a new route around the jam.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Sorento's standard engine is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder good for 175 horsepower and 169 lb-ft of torque. Available only on the LX, this engine may help the Sorento achieve a low starting price, but it won't do much to help move it along when fully loaded. A better choice is the 2.4-liter GDI gasoline direct injection 4-cylinder (optional on the Sorento LX, standard on the EX), which bumps horsepower to 191 and torque to 181 lb-ft. GDI technology boosts horsepower while also offering better fuel efficiency. Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter is rated at 21-mpg city/29-mpg highway (front-wheel drive) and 21/27 mpg (all-wheel drive). The GDI changes those figures to 21/30 mpg and 20/26 mpg, respectively.

The Sorento's 3.5-liter V6 is available on the LX, EX and SX models. With 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, this engine has the muscle to move a loaded Sorento with ease. Yet its fuel economy figures of 20-mpg city/26-mpg highway are not far below the 4-cylinder's figures. The all-wheel drive (AWD) model attains slightly lower marks of 18/24 mpg.

No matter which engine you choose, it will be connected to Kia's electronically controlled Sportmatic 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. Those who opt for the AWD option will get a full-time on-demand system with a lockable center differential that's useful when driving slowly through heavy snow or light off-road duty.

Safety

The 2013 Kia Sorento offers a full complement of standard safety equipment, including electronic traction and stability control, 4-wheel ABS, front seat side-impact airbags, first- and second-row side curtain airbags (the third-row seat is not protected) and Hill Start Assist to keep the vehicle from rolling backward when pulling away on a steep grade. The Kia Sorento is also an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, getting top marks in the frontal offset, side impact and roof strength crash tests.

Driving Impressions

Despite its size, the Sorento rides and drives like a midsize sedan. With its wide track and independent front and rear suspension, the Sorento delivers a smooth, controlled ride. Excessive body lean was observed only during extreme hard cornering maneuvers. The Sorento's unobtrusive stability control allows for somewhat sporty driving. But when the road gets rougher, we did notice more noise and impact harshness than in comparable SUVs. We also found that the Sorento's steering wheel feels a bit heavy to turn, and its suspension favors the softer side of the spectrum. If you're looking for an SUV with a firmer suspension and a sportier attitude, we suggest the Ford Edge or the Mazda CX-5 (though neither offers third-row seating).

We're not big fans of the standard 2.4-liter's performance, but we do like the GDI version, which offers better off-the-line acceleration and passing power. The Sorento's 3.5-liter V6 not only ups performance but also increases the maximum tow rating from 1,650 to 3,500 pounds.

Other Cars to Consider

Dodge Journey - The Journey offers more room for its third-row occupants and can match the Sorento's feature and content offerings. But the Sorento gets better fuel economy and has a more powerful 4-cylinder engine.

Ford Edge - The Ford Edge has a more buttoned-down feel to it, with a sportier ride and an available turbocharged engine; however, the Edge doesn't offer a third-row seat option, and its pricing starts well above the Sorento.

Toyota Highlander - The Highlander holds its value better than the Sorento, but a comparably equipped model costs a bit more and doesn't offer as good a warranty.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd pass on the V6 and opt for an LX or EX with the 2.4-liter GDI engine. Unless you need the ability to tow 3,500 pounds (or desire the top-of-the-line SX trim), the 2.4 GDI is more than capable, delivering good low-end power and excellent fuel economy. We think the Sorento EX is actually quite reasonably priced, costing thousands less than comparably equipped models from Ford, Dodge or Toyota. Unless you regularly encounter heavy snow, the front-wheel-drive model with electronic traction control should suit most drivers' needs even in winter--and provide better fuel economy, too.

In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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