Pros: Attractive starting price; chassis tweaks make it more fun to drive; interior improvements offer unexpected luxury
Cons: Options can boost price to $40,000; 4-cylinder engine only offers combined fuel economy improvement of 1 mpg; mild exterior redesign doesn’t reflect extent of mechanical changes
What’s New: Boasting 80 percent new or improved parts, the 2014 Kia Sorento gains a reworked chassis that’s stiffer and more responsive, cabin upgrades, a more powerful 2.4 liter 4-cylinder with a new available 3.3-liter V6 and Kia’s first use blind spot detection technology. The Sorento is also the first Kia to feature their new voice-activated UVO telematics system.
Kia hasn’t quite figured out how to make a sizable dent in the SUV market. The biggish Borrego debuted in 2009 at a time when other automakers were in the midst of downsizing and shifting their attention to smaller SUVs, but when Borrego eventually went the way of the brontosaurus, Kia focused its energies on their second-generation Sorento, a midsized SUV that debuted in 2011. Not long after that intro, Kia has aggressively attacked their Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 competitors by endowing the 2014 Sorento with ride and handling improvements, more power from its 4- and 6-cylinder engines and interior touches that make it feel more upscale. The 2014 Kia Sorento is available in no fewer than five trim levels — LX ($24,100), LX V6 ($25,700), EX V6 ($30,000), SX ($35,000) or SX-L ($38,000) — and each can be ordered with all wheel-drive for an additional $1,700. All Sorentos come with a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
Comfort & Utility
The Sorento is available with a wide array of creature comforts, and the varying equipment levels have a big effect on the ultimate sticker price. Take, for instance, the $2,000 Convenience Package available on the 4-cylinder LX model, which adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, roof rails, heated front seats and floor mats, among other things; that setup swells to $2,600 on the LX V6, adding a third row of seating, rear sonar, rear air conditioning and a power driver seat with lumbar support.
A Premium Package on the 4-cylinder LX (available only with the Convenience Package) runs $2,600, and includes leather seating, push-button start, climate control and a few other niceties. A Touring Package (on the same model, which also requires a Premium Package) adds an 8-inch navigation screen with Infinity audio, a panoramic sunroof, a power lift gate and ventilated front seats for an additional $2,800. Opt for the Touring Package on the EX V6 model and you’ll get the previously mentioned items plus a few extras, including blind spot detection, which adds a total of $4,000 to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).
While the more generously equipped trim levels leave less room for escalating MSRPs, the entry level models are more susceptible to runaway pricing, especially since they offer few a la carte options and a cascade of options packages.
Kia is nudging toward more advanced in-car connectedness. Those advances are being spearheaded by their UVO system, which is powered by Google and compatible with iPhone and Android smartphones. The UVO system will be available by late spring 2013. The technology integrates Google Maps and Google Places, while enabling searches and locations to be easily sent from cell phones to the car’s navigation system using the My POI function. Advanced voice recognition enables spoken commands to control several multimedia systems, including navigation. Another feature is Parking Minder, which helps locate your vehicle when it’s parked.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The choice of two direct-injected engines — a 2.3-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 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, for a combined fuel economy rating of 22 mpg. The 6-cylinder doesn’t fare much worse, likely since it doesn’t have to work as hard as the smaller engine; the engine is responsible for 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, which translates to a combined figure of 21 mpg.
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. Electronics systems include 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and brake force distribution and hill-start assist. While official crash test results have not yet been divulged, Kia anticipates they’ll improve upon the previous Sorento with a 5-star rating.
Kia’s efforts at making the Sorento more involving for drivers started with the chassis, and their tuning work has paid off: This sporty vehicle 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 we had the plus-sized engine. Based on the spec sheet, it seems the 4-cylinder might be a bit too anemic for a 3,594-lb SUV. One notable feature that directly affects the driving experience is Kia’s FlexSteer system, which is standard on SX and SX-L models and 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 2013 CR-V starts at $22,795 and escalates all the way to $30,295. Along with the Toyota RAV4, this Honda is considered the 800-lb gorilla of the midsize crossover segment.
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 2014 CX-5 ranges from $21,195 to $28,870, and now offers a bigger engine in premium models and enhanced safety systems.
Toyota RAV4: Toyota’s RAV4 gets a complete redesign for 2013, which helps this $23,300-$28,410 crossover up the ante against competitors.
While it’s easy to be discouraged by the escalating costs of higher-end Sorento offerings (which now approach the $40,000 mark with the new SX-L model), what’s equally notable are the premium features now available on the Korean crossover, from a panorama sunroof, to ventilated and heated seats and a soft, Alcantara-like headliner material. Kia’s UVO eServices help 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.
What do you think, would you consider a Kia instead of a Honda or Toyota?