As Kia continues to make inroads in every sector, the automaker is still struggling with one of the most competitive fields, the 7-passenger crossover-SUV segment. Stepping up to the challenge is the 2015 Kia Sorento, the company's largest SUV offering. Although it lacks the style and sophistication of its close cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Sorento still fulfills the primary mission of a family SUV. With room for seven, the Sorento is a solid, reliable vehicle loaded with features and offering an impressive list of available equipment rarely found in this class.
Last year, Kia improved the Sorento's ride and handling, gave it more power from its 4- and 6-cylinder engines, and added interior touches that make it feel more upscale. What hasn't changed is Kia's competitive pricing and standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
What's New for 2015?
Minor tweaks improve the 4-cylinder's fuel economy, and the latest version of UVO is added to models that come with the telematics system. Navigation can now be ordered without the UVO/Infinity audio upgrade.
What We Like
Attractive starting price; chassis tweaks make it more fun to drive; interior offers unexpected luxury
What We Don't
Options can boost price over $40,000; 4-cylinder engine only offered on base trim; ho-hum styling
The choice of two direct-injected engines -- a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or a 3.3-liter V6 -- produces notably different amounts of power but fairly similar fuel economy numbers. The base engine yields a modest 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. The 6-cylinder churns a respectable 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, which makes for considerably stronger acceleration. Both powerplants are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. With front-wheel drive, the 4-cylinder produces 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Add in all-wheel drive (AWD), and those numbers fall to 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. The 6-cylinder doesn't fare much worse, likely because it doesn't have to work as hard as the smaller engine. On front-wheel-drive models, the engine is responsible for 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. AWD models earn 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2015 Kia Sorento is offered in four trims: LX, EX, SX and SX Limited. All models can be equipped with AWD, but only the LX offers the 4-cylinder engine.
The Sorento LX ($24,995) includes 17-inch alloy wheels, power features for the windows, locks and mirrors, heated side mirrors with turn indicators, air conditioning, cruise control, an AM/FM/CD stereo with satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface, Bluetooth, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls, YES Essentials stain- and odor-resistant cloth seats, a 40/20/40-split folding second-row seat, and a full complement of safety features, including full-length side airbags, as well as electronic traction and stability control.
The Sorento LX V6 ($27,395) adds a 3.3-liter V6 engine, roof rails and a third-row 50/50-split folding seat.
The Sorento EX ($32,395) includes 18-in alloy wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, an acoustic front windshield, jewel-styled LED front positioning lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, UVO 2 telematics with a rearview camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Smart Key keyless entry and push-button starting, a 7-in thin-film-transistor display, a backing-up warning system, second-row sunshades, leather-trimmed seats, an 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar support, and heated front seats.
The Sorento SX ($37,395) adds 19-in machine-finished wheels, chrome tail-pipe finishers, unique SX trim and accent pieces, a panoramic sunroof with a power shade, low-profile roof rails with chrome finishing, rear air conditioning, a navigation radio with an 8-in display and rear backup camera, Infinity 10-speaker surround sound audio and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The Sorento SX Limited ($40,795) loads up with 19-in chrome-finish wheels, self-leveling xenon headlights, fabric-wrapped A-pillar trim and headlining, a leather and faux-wood heated steering wheel, premium Nappa leather seating and memory for the driver's seat.
The Convenience package available on the 4-cylinder LX model adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, roof rails, heated front seats, and floor mats, among other features. On the LX V6, the package also adds rear air conditioning and a power driver's seat with lumbar support.
A Touring package for the EX trim adds an 8-in navigation screen with Infinity audio, a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, a programmable power lift gate, a blind spot monitoring system, power-folding mirrors and ventilated front seats.
In addition to Kia's optional blind spot monitoring system, all Sorentos feature standard safety items, including advanced driver and passenger front airbags, seat and side-curtain airbags, a rollover sensor, and active headrests for the front passengers. The electronics system includes 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and brake force distribution, and hill-start assist.
In government crash tests, the Kia Sorento earned a near perfect score, with five out of five stars in the front- and side-impact crash tests and four stars in the rollover test. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety labeled the Sorento as a Top Safety Pick.
Behind the Wheel
Kia's efforts at making the Sorento more involving for drivers starts with the chassis, and the last year's upgrades have paid off handsomely. The Sorento handles with newfound crispness, and its reworked suspension helps it feel isolated from uneven pavement. Our V6-equipped tester offered strong acceleration, which made us glad that we had the plus-sized engine. Based on the spec sheet, it seems that the 4-cylinder might not be quite enough for a 3,594-lb SUV. One notable feature that directly affects the driving experience is Kia's Flex Steer system, standard on SX and SX-L models, which manipulates the electric steering system by enabling three modes: Normal, Sport or Comfort. The settings raise or lower steering effort, though we found both extremes to feel somewhat artificial. Sport is too stiff, while Comfort is too light, which leaves Normal as the go-to setting.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda CR-V -- Most recently redesigned in the 2012 model year, the 2015 CR-V costs less than the Sorento and gets better fuel economy, but it doesn't offer a V6 or a third-row seat.
Mazda CX-5 -- Along with Kia, Mazda is a bit of an underdog here, but their CX-5 offers a driver-focused answer to the juggernauts from Honda and Toyota. The 2015 CX-5 ranges from around $22,000 to $32,000 and now offers a bigger engine in premium models, along with enhanced safety systems.
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport -- The Santa Fe Sport offers seating for only five, but it's much better looking, offers a turbocharged model, and has many of the same high-end features as the Sorento. The larger Santa Fe seats seven and uses the same 3.3-liter V6 engine as the Kia.
While it's easy to be discouraged by the escalating costs of higher-end Sorento offerings, what's equally notable are the premium features now available on the Korean crossover, from a panoramic sunroof to ventilated and heated seats and a soft, Alcantara-like headliner material. Kia's UVO 2 eServices system helps make the Sorento a more relevant choice than ever. Careful shoppers should note that base models are actually rather well equipped, which means that while it's tempting to pile on the luxurious options, you can actually score a stronger value with a bit of restraint.