The Sorento – world-renowned, noted for its name, a misspelled version of a tony southern Italian town, and for being the mechanical cousin to the Hyundai Santa Fe.
OK, the first part is a bit rich, but you can buy this thing in different variations across the globe.
It’s KIA’s upper-crust SUV, and they start at $26,895 and come reasonably equipped. I drove the top-of-the-line SX AWD version, which comes in at $41,295 – it’s as loaded as it can get, and there are no options to be had.
Exterior/Under the Hood
The Sorento is a handsome vehicle – it’s not nice enough or different enough to get any double-takes, but it doesn’t do anything to offend either. The lines are simple, clean and chunky, allowing for some butchiness without treading into jacked-up 4×4 territory.
I liked the dark chrome 18” rims shod with 235/60R18s, the chrome trim around the vehicle which was used sparingly (thank goodness!) and the LED tail lights. I thought KIA did a good job integrating the foglights.
Under the hood sits a 3.5-Liter V6. It’s a stout one, putting out 276 HP at 6300 RPM and 248 lb.ft of torque at 5000 RPM. There’s nothing particularly modern or exciting about the engine, but it’s a decent one.
The power is routed to all four corners via a good old 6-speed automatic transmission.
The fuel economy is half decent – KIA rates it at 11.5 L/100 km (20 mpg) in the city, and 8.2 L/100 km (29 mpg) on the highway. In mostly city driving with no effort to conserve fuel, and a couple of highway cruises, I averaged 15.3 L/100 km (15 mpg). Though this is not fantastic, it’s not surprising considering this is a 4131 pound all-wheel drive SUV.
If you want to, you can equip this bad boy with a towing package which will allow you to lug another 3500 pounds of fun stuff around with you.
I felt the materials in the Sorento were a bit behind the curve. They are nice to look at, but you won’t find a shred of soft plastic on the dash or console, and the whole thing gets a bit Darth Vader. A splash of color or brightwork wouldn’t kill them, would it? And the faux carbon fiber stuff just doesn’t suit this vehicle. Mind you, does it suit any vehicle?
The seats are quite comfortable, clad in leather throughout, and both front seats are power-adjustable and heated. The driver’s seat is also cooled and has a 2-position memory.
There’s a decent manually-adjustable steering wheel with controls for media, cruise, phone and handsfree. Behind that is a horizontally squashed speedometer, smaller gauges and a simple, but highly useful driver information screen.
Everything is powered – door locks, folding mirrors, windows and the front of the 2 sunroofs. Entry is keyless and ignition is push-start.
The top of the stack starts with a dated-looking clock, and below that is KIA’s touchscreen which handles media, phone and navigation functions. The user interface is decent, and it works pretty well – the 10-speaker Infinity-branded system, feeding off a variety of sources, wasn’t very impressive. I thought it sounded canned when playing satellite or MP3 sources.
At the bottom of the stack is an automatic dual-zone climate control system.
The console houses the gear selector (with manual shift mode) and a nice upholstered armrest.
Once you squeeze through the relatively tight rear door opening, you’ll find three seats, three headrests and three seatbelts in the second row. The outboard positions are quite comfortable, and offer reasonable (but not great) leg and head room. It seems airy back there thanks to the huge second sunroof. The middle seat is narrow and slightly raised, and straddles a bump in the floor – all of this makes it less than comfortable for adults, but all three of my kids were back there with nary a complaint. You’ll also find 2 sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats. The seats are stationary on the ground, but can recline.
The front seatbacks are hard plastic, which makes them uncomfortable, if you’re a daddy longlegs and you’re butted up against them.
In terms of convenience, you get adjustable air vents, a 12V plug, tiny doorbins, a couple of seatback mesh pockets, and the middle seatback folds down to become a nice armrest with a couple of cupholders.
This is the typically tight third row that you expect from a smaller SUV. Getting into the third row is an adventure, and requires one of the second row seats to be tumbled forward – and making that happen isn’t an exercise in personal joy. Once you go through the process of tumbling the seat forward, you’ll find yourself in a claustrophobic rear compartment. There are two seats, two headrests and two seatbelts. Head room sucks. Leg room sucks. There are a couple of side bins, and adjustable air vents.
Still, if you were a teen or adult and stuck back there for any length of time, you’d become acutely aware of how much the driver hates you for sticking you there.
The Sorento has decent storage options. The glove compartment is nice, there’s a useable open bin at the front of the console (with a nice rubberized bottom as well as two 12V plugs and the aux/USB plugs), two cupholders in the console and an enormous storage bin (with a removable organizer tray) under the armrest lid. Door bins are fine, and include a bottle holder.
The cargo space is good. The typical configuration (third row folded down – the seats fold 50/50) yields 1047 liters. You can cover this volume with a retractable, removable soft tonneau cover. Fold down the second row, and you’ve got yourself a 2052 liter cave to work with. Conversely, should you be using the third row as a torture chamber, you’ll be left with a laughable 258 liter space – enough for a couple of flat, vertical packages.
The V6 never leaves you wishing for more power. It’s fantastic for driving around the city – power delivery is smooth and immediate, especially off the line.
The transmission, while not particularly fast, is always very smooth. It has a manual shift option, but considering how slow those shifts are, I found it was best to leave this auto to its programming. Also, because it’s a bit ponderous, you’ll find it takes a second or two to get moving when you step on it to pass someone – the engine is wiling, but it has to wait for the transmission to find the right cog.
The suspension was where I felt the Sorento needs work. It’s pretty truckish, and nowadays, without true off-road cred, that’s inexcusable. We’ve come a long way, baby, and for a soft-roader like this, we should be able to expect a buttery ride. The rebound rates are too stiff, and the cabin lurches over bumps and bigger joints, as well as rutted, snowy roads. Wait – that pretty much describes all the Edmonton roads, soooo … yeah, not the most comfy ride.
Handling is OK, but not great. It will hold corners, but the Sorento always felt spongy and top-heavy to me, and there’s quite a bit of lean into and out of corners. That’s not terribly unusual for this class of vehicle though.
The all-wheel drive system seems to be very competent. I never experienced less traction than I expected, and I drove mainly on snow-packed, icy streets. The turning circle is fantastic for a vehicle like this, and parking it was a cinch.
Noise is very well controlled during city driving – engine, wind and drivetrain sound is negligible. Unfortunately there was some very noticeable wind noise coming from the sunroof when we hit the highway.
Visibility out of the Sorento is good, except the rearmost pillar section is enormous, and can get in the way of some shoulder checks.
I definitely found some fit and finish issues. I didn’t like the gaps between some of the dash/center stack trim, and I found insulating foam coming out of a seam in the back passenger compartment.
I always appreciate one or more 12V plugs in the cargo area – there are none to be found here.
Speaking of convenience I appreciate, I was a bit surprised to find there was no power liftgate – I don’t even believe it is an option on the Sorento. At this price, it should at least be an option.
Is it just me, or does it come across as cheap that they would include a cooled seat for the driver, but not the passenger? Ergonomics are pretty good, but I found it strange that the rear wash and wiper buttons were moved to the dash.
At first glance, the Sorento seems like a fantastic vehicle, and in many ways, it is. It offers quite a bit, including a smooth, powerful engine and transmission combo. But the ride and the quality of materials throughout the cabin left me wanting more for my money. The little omissions of conveniences here and there may seem trivial when they stand alone, but when you consider them all, I found I wanted more here.
I give the KIA Sorento a 6 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was middling. She liked the styling and the high driving position. She didn’t like the ride (it spilled her coffee – twice!) and she didn’t like that the vanity mirror lights need to be manually turned on. She missed the power trunk lid too.
I enjoyed the Sorento and the things it did well, but I’m not sure I’d want to put up with this kidney-jostler in the long run. You’d be wise to check out the competition, particularly its cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by KIA Canada.
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