I was never an SUV fan, and while 2-seat sports cars are usually my preferred mode of transportation, becoming a father meant adapting to the world of car seats, sedans and new perspectives on practicality.
AutoTrader's long-term BMW 328i and Volvo S60 served that purpose well and proved I could wrap my head (and heart) around life with four doors. But a long-term test of the 2014 Kia Sorento SX opened up a whole new can of worms: Could I make peace with its plus-sized proportions and, more crucially, could I enjoy driving a sport utility vehicle?
If it wasn't for an upcoming move, I may have never quite understood the concept behind driving an SUV.
A Move ... and Some Competition
It's fair to say the Sorento is more of a crossover than a full-size sport-ute. Still, my 5-door experiment certainly took on more legitimacy when it came time to pack my family's earthly belongings and move into our new home.
I happened to have a Mazda CX-5 that week, as well, a double booking that revealed significant contrasts between the Japanese and Korean crossovers in overall style and intention. The well-equipped Mazda was still lean and sparse (in a pleasing, functional sort of way), and its $31,890 as-tested price for the top-tier Grand Touring all-wheel-drive model still undercut the Sorento's MSRP by $6,110.
When it came to folding down the rear seats and cramming our stuff in the back, the CX-5 offered just slightly less cargo capacity -- 65.4 cu ft versus 72.5 -- but without the convenience of a power-operated lift gate. While the Mazda was still capacious enough to haul our stuff, the Kia delivered more overall storage-swallowing capacity thanks to its taller roof line and wider footprint. Regardless of their incremental volumetric differences, having two crossovers at our disposal and driving in tandem proved to be the next best thing to renting a U-Haul.
Hauling Duty: How'd It Do?
Nothing makes you appreciate a power-operated lift gate like walking toward your car while cradling piles of heavy boxes -- and doing that 14 times in a row sure makes the feature feel, well, invaluable.
Once you slide boxes into the trunk, the benefits of a crossover are immediately evident. Though rear wheel wells prevent complete space efficiency, being able to fold both rows of seats flat allows a good amount stuff to be squeezed back there.
Hitting the road reveals the benefits of Kia's refined suspension work for 2014, with the smoothed-out ride making it easier to drive at normal speeds without the fear that your china will shatter from road irregularities. The SX model's 3,500-lb towing capacity makes driving a trunk full of stuff no big deal, leaving plenty of passing power and hill-climbing capability despite the added payload.
Bottom Line: Functionality, Achieved
Plenty of people buy sport utility vehicles for their imposing road presence or larger-than-life image, but my moving experiment put me in touch with a very real reason to purchase an SUV.
I preferred the Kia overall thanks to its plusher accommodations and gutsier 6-cylinder engine, though I'm still not sure the rest of the car's service life of commuting, errands and daily use justifies its crossover layout. After all, we still could have rented a truck or borrowed a friend's SUV. But for the weekend spent moving nearly all our belongings, the 2014 Kia Sorento SX did a commendable job of getting us and our stuff from point A to B, paving the way for the next long-term update, which will focus on everyday usage.