If you are looking for a mid-size SUV with premium features that doesn’t have a premium nameplate attached to it (or the price tag), then the Kia Sorento has been a decent choice for many over the last decade, especially if you have the need to transport seven people at a time.
|1. Two new engines are available, a 191 hp 2.4L 4-cylinder and a 290 hp 3.3L V6.
2. Four-cylinder models are rated at a best of 20/26 mpg (city/highway) and V6 models at 18/24 mpg, though slightly less for models with AWD.
3. Starting at 24,950 the Limited trim tops out at a pricey $38,850.
4. New for 2014 is a Flex Steer system with three settings for Comfort, Normal and Sport.
But the market in which the Sorento roams is getting more and more crowded. Nissan has launched a new seven-passenger Pathfinder, and Kia’s corporate cousin Hyundai also has a new, longer wheelbase version of the Santa Fe hitting the market.
To keep itself competitive, Kia is launching a new Sorento for the 2014 model year. Sort of. It’s not an all-new model though Kia says it would be unfair to call it a facelift because 80% is all new.
From a component perspective it might not have brought with it much, but philosophically it does carry over many traits of its predecessor, both good and bad.
Let’s start with the styling. Yes, it shares almost no body panels with the outgoing model, but it sure doesn’t look that way. At the launch event in Scottsdale, AZ, Kia brought along a 2013 model to showcase the differences. It didn’t help much.
While the styling of this 2014 Sorento won’t offend anyone, it certainly won’t get people excited either.
It is the same story when you step inside. Kia has made quite a few improvements to the interior, but nothing will strike out at you as original. While there are more soft touch materials along with slightly improved ergonomics, the initial feelings are that of familiarity. Anyone with a current Sorento will feel right at home in the new model.
An area of improvement worth noting is that there is now 1.2-inches more legroom for the second row plus more for the third as well, however as we found out, getting in and out of the third row is tricky and would require one to contort like a Cirque du Soleil gymnast.
If you use it as a five-passenger vehicle, it works much better, since by folding the third-row seats, you gain plenty of extra cargo space, expanding from 37 cu-ft to 72.5 cu-ft. And with the availability of a power tailgate, getting into the cargo area is just a press of a button away.
For a family of five, the 2014 Sorento offers lots of comfort. There are heated seats available for both the front seats and the rear bench (though not needed during out drive in the desert), plus now both the driver and front seat passenger can opt for a ventilated cooled seat (previously, only the driver got a heated/cooled seat). You can also opt for a heated steering wheel, which also did not get tested in Arizona.
What we did test is the new UVO entertainment system, which has been given many new apps. In short, it has become more of a built in tablet. It has grown in size too with an eight-inch screen, and all the icons are fairly large, so navigating the touch screen system is quite easy.
The only problem we faced with the UVO system was caused by the new, even larger panoramic sunroof, which allows too much light in and washes out the screen. However, press a button and a cover comes forward to block the giant sunroof.
More changes can be found under the hood. As before, there are two engines available, though both are new. The new base motor is a 2.4-liter, inline-four cylinder unit which now features Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI). This replaces the old motor that while was the same size, but featured Multi Port Injection (MPI). The 2.4 GDI motor produces 191-hp and 181-lb-ft of torque.
The upgrade motor, as fitted to our tester, is the new 3.3-liter, V6, which also features GDI. This replaces the old 3.5-liter, V6 motor, but while the new engine is smaller, it produces more power at 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, a gain of 14 hp and 4 lb-ft.
Regardless of the engine, or choosing a front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) model, the only transmission on offer is a six-speed automatic with manual-override. This is a smooth gearbox, but certainly one that doesn’t enjoy being rushed.
Leaving it in “D” it seems to make brief pauses every time it gears up. This might have been done deliberately to maximize fuel economy, but it certainly makes the vehicle feel slow out on the road. This is not an exciting vehicle to drive.
Neither is the V6 in the Sorento as efficient as the turbo four-cylinder in the Santa Fe. Kia estimates 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. On our mostly highway test, we managed just 20 mpg, and considering this route had very little in the way of traffic or elevation changes – not very impressive.
Kia says that the reason they went for a V6 motor over a forced-induction four-cylinder is because they believe that most of the people who buy such a vehicle have boats and ATVs to tow around, and the V6 motor is going to be more reliable in the long run for such duty. They also said, that while the 3,500 lb towing capacity is similar to the Santa Fe, this is limited by the platform (which these two Korean SUVs share). This engine in a stronger chassis can apparently pull more.
One of the strong points for the Sorento has always been its ride and handling. The 2014 model is no different. Thanks to enhanced suspension geometry, this new model simply glides over bumps. As for handling, the new Sorento also benefits from their Flex Steer system, which allows you to choose between Comfort, Normal and Sport settings for the steering. While the system lacks overall feel, many would like its Comfort setting while driving around town, as it makes the vehicle feel very light and agile.
While most people in most parts of the country will be just fine year-round with a FWD model, there are advantages for having an AWD system. Kia uses a Dynamax AWD setup with torque vectoring, sending power to whichever wheel can best use it, really adding an extra degree of safety when cornering at high speeds or when having to make an abrasive maneuver to avoid an obstacle.
Speaking of safety, you now also get a blind-spot monitoring system, which will hopefully keep you from playing bumper cars in the real world, and if there is an unfortunate crash, there are six-airbags on board to keep you safe.
Priced competitively, a base 4-cylinder FWD model can be yours from $24,950 with V6 models from $26,550. Step up to the SX or Limited models from $35,850 and $38,850 respectively, and AWD can be added as an option to all trim levels for an extra $1,700.
All in, the 2014 Sorento is a decent SUV. Though undeniably improved, it doesn’t look it, and that could be its biggest drawback. Continuing to be a strong value package with checkmarks in both the plus and minus columns, in a sea of attractive new offerings the Sorento fails to deliver any wows.