For many shoppers, a 3-row crossover is a family vehicle, designed to bring you and your kids from point A to point B as efficiently and easily as possible. But there are a few shoppers who seek driving enjoyment from their crossover of choice, and that's where the 2014 Kia Sorento SX comes in. Offering sporty touches and a powerful engine, the Sorento SX is designed for drivers who miss the sports car that they had to give up when they started a family. So does the Sorento do a good job of combining sport and utility? We spent a week behind the wheel of one to find out.

Potent Engine, Excellent Handling

The Sorento SX boasts a powerful engine and excellent handling, and it certainly delivers. Under the hood is a 3.3-liter V6 that makes an impressive 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, which is muscular for the class. Also strong is the Sorento's 0-to-60 time, which is close to seven seconds, a figure reserved for premium sedans and sports cars not so long ago. With that said, our test car suffered from a dramatic transmission "thunk" noise when downshifting, a problem we hope was limited to this particular vehicle.

Also impressive is the Sorento SX's handling. We think it's among the best in its class, coming close to the also-sporty Mazda CX-9 and Ford Explorer Sport. Steering is nicely weighted, and it doesn't have some of the vague feel featured in rivals such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. Unfortunately, that means ride quality can be a little harsh, possibly because of the SX model's 19-inch alloy wheels.

Questionable Value

But while the Sorento SX offers a potent engine and better-than-expected handling, there's a problem: You can get all that without upgrading to the SX. Nearly all Sorento models come standard with the crossover's 3.3-liter V6, except for the base-level Sorento LX, and even then the V6 is optional. In fact, a Sorento LX equipped with the V6 starts around at $27,500 with shipping, compared to more than $36,000 for a base-level SX. It's the same story with handling: The SX doesn't add improved suspension, offering only larger wheels than its less-sporty counterparts.

So what does the SX add? Mostly features, and lots of them. Slotting at the top of the Sorento range, the SX boasts a panoramic sunroof, a power tailgate, ventilated front seats, a navigation system, an Infinity sound system and rear air conditioning. It also offers adjustable steering modes, though without adjustable suspension they only make a minor difference in the crossover's handling feel.

Worth It?

As a result, you might ask yourself whether the Sorento SX is worth the money over a base-level LX or a mid-level EX model. Our response is that it depends on what you want.

If you want luxury, you'll be happy with the SX, and not just because of its equipment. We also appreciated the crossover's interior materials, which are excellent for an SUV in this segment, and we like the standard infotainment and navigation systems, which are easy to operate compared to many class rivals. Of course, the SX's long list of features doesn't hurt its case, and for drivers who want even more equipment, there's a new Sorento SX-L, which adds a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, xenon headlights and chrome wheels. It starts at around $40,000.

But shoppers who don't need such a long list of features would probably be happy with a Sorento EX. For a base price of around $31,500, it delivers equipment like leather upholstery, a rearview camera, heated front seats and automatic headlights, a long list of features that most drivers would appreciate.

Our Take

If sport is your primary objective when buying a crossover, we wouldn't fault you for considering the powerful Sorento, but we would recommend against the SX. With the same engine and suspension as lower-level models, the Sorento SX doesn't offer improved performance over the more affordable Sorento LX V6 or EX. The SX does have more features and, as a result, a higher price tag. Sport-minded shoppers considering the Sorento might also be interested in the sharp-handling Mazda CX-9 and the powerful Ford Explorer Sport.

If luxury is on your mind, the 2014 Kia Sorento SX might be right up your alley, especially given its price tag. It's several thousand dollars cheaper than traditional 3-row luxury crossovers like the Acura MDX, BMW X5 and Infiniti QX60, yet it offers more standard equipment. If you're interested in luxury, and if you can get past the Kia badge, the Sorento SX is worth a look.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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