One drawback of jumping from the BMW 328i (turbocharged 4-cylinder sedan) to the 2014 Kia Sorento SX (V6-powered midsized SUV) was the inevitable hit in fuel economy. As mentioned in a previous update, the Bimmer credits its impressive highway rating of 34 miles per gallon to a number of factors, including relatively lightweight construction and an intelligent direct-injected and turbocharged powerplant. The Kia, though also boasting direct injection, has several variables working against it regarding fuel economy, such as a heftier curb weight and two fewer gears with the automatic transmission -- six versus the BMW's eight.
So how has the Kia been holding up at the pump after more than 12,000 miles on the clock?
Fuel Economy: The Hardware
The 2014 Kia Sorento is offered in two powertrains -- a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder and a 3.3-liter V6. Depending on front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive configurations, the 4-cylinder's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers range from 19 mpg city/24 mpg hwy to 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy. Step up to the V6 and those figures range from 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy to 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy, for combined city and highway driving of 20 mpg and 21 mpg, respectively.
Though our all-wheel-drive SX is encumbered by a 3,894-lb curb weight, the fuel economy cause is aided by direct-injection, variable valve timing and an Eco button, which slows throttle response and limits the amount of fuel delivered to the engine ... but more on that later.
In Practice: Clean Living Behind the Wheel
Unlike the relatively sporty BMW 328i, my time at the helm of the Kia Sorento usually didn't involve wrestling with the devil on my shoulder trying to convince me to speed. Sure, driving anything generally involves some temptation to drive fast, but the Sorento simply isn't a seductive machine when it comes to bat-out-of-hell acceleration or high g-force turns, which tends to be a good thing for your driving record and insurance rates.
As much as I tried to live with the Eco button illuminated, I found the subsequent sluggishness of the engine overbearing in that mode. Especially when it came to stoplight launches and impromptu passes, the Sorento's laggy throttle and reluctant downshifts invariably led me to switch out of Eco and to drive more aggressively. Though I'm generally responsible and sensible during day-to-day driving, the Sorento's Eco setting worked against that instinct and motivated me to overcome the choking effect by mashing the throttle. Thus, I didn't spend a lot of time in Eco -- and while I haven't yet had the discipline to hypermile the Sorento, I haven't exactly driven it like I stole it, either.
By the Numbers: Truth in Advertising
Remember Hyundai's flap over not delivering its marketing-friendly 40 mpg figures? Well, our time in the Sorento suggests Kia deserves kudos for being realistic about its estimated EPA numbers of 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined. With an overall real-world running average of 20.61 mpg, our Sorento's onboard trip computer generally hasn't strayed from those numbers by more than 1.5 mpg. Our worst fuel economy so far has been 15.8 mpg during stop-and-go traffic, and our best of 24.6 mpg was achieved during a road trip to Palm Springs. Even better, the Sorento will happily gulp regular fuel.
In the End, It's All About Lifestyle
As much as it's tempting to look at smaller, lighter and sometimes sportier vehicles as more economical options compared to midsize SUVs such as the Kia Sorento, the real question of running expenses relates more to your day-to-day driving needs. Do you crave a sport 'ute for its elevated, confidence-inspiring seating position? Or do you want it to haul a family and groceries without feeling cramped? These are legitimate questions to consider before committing to a new car purchase.
As for my needs -- which include hauling a wife, a 2-year-old and the occasional guest, along with a cargo section stashed with a stroller and miscellaneous baby-related doodads -- the Sorento has been a sufficiently spacious ride with which to get from A to B, which makes its overall real-world fuel economy figures something I can happily live with.