I last drove a Kia Sorento in 2015. I rather liked it, concluding that whilst it was never going to win many prizes for excitement, but noted that it was good looking, well finished, spacious and practical and that it drove well. That was the verdict on the second generation car, and at the time of my test, I also noted that a third generation model had just been revealed even though the car I had been testing had only been on sale for 5 years, during which time it had received a major revamp. with a mostly new platform from the latest Hyundai Santa Fe being hidden under largely unchanged bodywork. Kia’s relentless program of new models, each of which seems to be a significant step forward on the car it replaces meant that the new Sorento was likely to continue to keep the model at the top of the leader board (in merit, if not actual vehicle sales, the two often not being as tightly linked as you might think they should be). Whilst the second generation model was ranked by the US car rental companies as a “mid-sized” SUV (ie, their smallest), the latest one is now a “full-size”, which is more logical, as all its competitors are equally so categorised. I did not have to book one of those, though, as I found this test car in the Ultimate Choice section at Hertz’ LAX facility, among a sea of Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima models. I did not hesitate in grabbing the keys so I could see for myself how the Sorento has evolved from the car that so impressed me a couple of years ago.
You can buy a Sorento in Europe, of course, but whilst it might look very like the US market cars, there are some significant differences. For a start (Donald Trump please note!), those sold in North America are actually built there, at Kia’s facility in West Point, Georgia, whereas the European cars are brought in from South Korea. Europeans get the car with the familiar 2.2 litre diesel engine, but that unit is not offered to Americans, who get a choice of 4 and 6 cylinder petrol powerplants instead, and they all get an automatic gearbox, whereas the Europeans can have a manual transmission. Suspension and other settings are adapted for local requirements and expectations, too, and the trim levels and available features also differ. Compared to the previous generation car, the latest one is 95mm longer, built on a platform it shares with the Kia Carnival/Sedona MiniVan, and it is a little lower. Although at a quick glance, the styling might look little different, compare the two models side by side and you will realise that the latest car is easy to tell apart from its predecessor. Whilst design is important, Kia put a lot of focus on making the Sorento better to drive, and adding more equipment and safety features, both of which the market expects. They clearly did not want to mess too much with a winning formula, as the second generation model had sold well, with US market sales up several times over those of the first generation car.
A small V6 badge on the tailgate of the test car gave away the fact that this one had the optional, and far more potent 290 bhp 3.3 litre V6 engine, as opposed to the standard 185 bhp 2.4 litre GDi unit. Even if there were no badge, you would only have to start the Kia up to realise that you’ve got something a bit better than rental car average here, as there is the distinctive sound of a V6 that is emitted as the engine comes to life. Whilst the engine is generally very muted at all times, unless you really rev it very hard – and you are unlikely to need to do that – you are constantly reminded that this is a nice smooth V6, and the Kia felt all the better for it. 290 bhp makes it go much better than the four cylinder car, too. There is always ample power available, and when you flex your right foot even a little bit, there is plenty of acceleration available. The standard 6 speed automatic gearbox did an excellent job. Completely seamless in making ratio changes, the car always seemed to be in the right gear, and the ample available torque helped the Kia to accelerate whenever needed. There is a “Drive mode” feature available. Three different settings are provided: Eco, Sport and Smart, and you can select these using the button on the centre console just rear of the gearlever. I am pleased to report that there seemed to be no penalty at the fuel pump for selecting the V6. In quest of the sunny blue skies that feature in the photos accompanying this test report, I drove the Sorento from Los Angeles all the way to Blythe, the State boundary, which meant a lot of steady speed freeway cruising, as evidenced by the fact that the trip computer cited an average speed for the day of an impressive 60 mph. It also recorded an average fuel consumption of 33.7 mpg, and that is US gallons, so equating to 40.2 mpg Imperial, truly amazing, and massively better than I achieved with the last 4 cylinder Sorento I drove (on a very different rest route, it should be noted). That long journey proved to be no real ordeal, as the Sorento is very refined, with negligible noise from the engine, or the road or the wind.
You don’t select a vehicle of this type if driving fun is your top consideration, though the engineers at Mazda and Ford seem to have found a way of making their crossovers feel genuinely sporty. The Kia does not quite hit their standards, but it is really not bad. The steering is well-judged. There is just the right amount of assistance so that it never feels heavy, and you do have a good clue as to what the steered wheels are going to do as you punt down the road. And whilst the Sorento has all the crossover attributes of a taller stance and higher centre of gravity, it goes round corners quite nicely, which might surprise you when you realise that this is quite a potent front wheel drive machine. There is plenty of grip, the understeer is kept well in check and the ride, even on some of the coarser surfaces that epitomise California’s roads, it feels comfortable, doing a good job at smoothing out the ridges, bumps and potholes. Thank the fact that it comes on modestly sized 235/65 R17 wheels as much as the suspension, for that. I had no occasion to test the ultimate stopping potential of the brakes, but in normal motoring, there were no concerns evident, with a good feel to the pedal. There is a foot operated parking brake, which, unusually, had been set by whomever had parked the car up in the Hertz facility. The combination of raised driving position and a moderately low window line mean that outwards visibility is good. The mirrors give a good field of view, and there is a rear-view camera which projects an image – albeit small – onto the central display screen, to help you to judge the back end of the car.
About the only evident economy in the cabin, when you first open the door and look in, is that the steering wheel, in this LX trim is a plastic moulded item. Otherwise, what you get is something which shows just how much progress Kia continue to make in giving their interiors the sort of ambience that exceeds their pricing. Soft touch plastics abound here, the top of the dash appears to be leather trimmed and there is a nice choice of inlays, which were a mix of a very dark wood effect and some carefully-selected silver highlights, which make this interior look almost premium rather than mainstream. There is a raised ridge area which extends from the door casings around the front most part of the dashboard under the screen which looks not unlike that which you would find in a Jaguar XJ, for instance, and the fit and finish of everything is extremely good. It is also very usable, with no awkward fripperies to compromise the practicality. A single cowl covers the instrument cluster. There are two large conventional dials, for revs and speed, with smaller gauges for water temperature and fuel level inset in the lower portion of them. Between this is a digital display area which has a number of menus and sub-menus, selected from buttons and a thumbwheel on the right hand steering wheel spoke. These encompass trip mileometer data and vehicle settings, and include a digital speed repeater, which I found useful. There are a pair of multi-function column stalks, on either side of the wheel for indicators and lights on the left and front and rear wipers on the right. The centre of the dash contains the rather small 4.3″ touch-sensitive display screen for the audio unit, set in between a pair of air vents. Apart from a few utilities like setting the clock, this is essentially just an audio unit in the LX trim, though it does have Sirius XM Satellite radio, and this was actually working even though the test car was nearly 18 months old. The icons on the screen are a bit small, but were easy enough to use and there are buttons and knobs around the unit for some of the functions. Below this are a couple of rotary dials and some buttons for the air-conditioning system. In the LX, this is not an automated climate control set-up, but even so, it still did a good job of keeping the cabin, and hence me, at the required temperature as the day warmed up. And that’s all you get. And, frankly, all you need.
Getting into the Sorento felt almost like entry to a conventional saloon, even though you are further off the ground, and do sit higher up. To get the right seating position, you will need to use the all-manual adjustments for the seat and wheel. There is a height adjuster and you set this and use the backrest rake with two levers on the side of the seat. The latter operates in series of graduated steps, which is the US preference, as opposed to the continuous wheel that many European markets prefer. The wheel telescopes in and out as well as up and down. With these and the mirrors adjusted, I was not only comfortable on the cloth seats, but had a good view of what was around me, thanks to that higher seating position. Having spent many hours on the seat in the day. I can vouch for its comfort over a long distance.
Although the standard offering is for just two rows of seats, Kia do sell an optional third row, and this is standard on some specifications. That includes the LX V6, so my test car was – notionally, at least – a 7-seater. Those in the middle row will have nothing to complain about. The floor is completely flat, and the centre console, which has a pair of air vents and a 12V socket on it does not protrude rear-wards any further than in-line with the front seats even when they are set well forward. That means there is ample space for three occupants here. The seats are on sliders, and you can set the backrest angle, both of which are inevitable, but useful consequences of the third row. There is a drop down central armrest, with a pair of cupholders in its upper surface. The third row is most definitely intended for children. Getting in is no harder than any of the Sorento’s similarly sized rivals. You simply slide the seat well forward and then pull the backrest forward, and clamber through the space created. Once installed, though, there is not that much space, and certainly not much comfort for adults, with the inevitable “knees in your chin” feeling. For small children, though, these would be fine, and potentially very useful. There’s no real penalty to the 7 seats, as if you don’t ever use them, you just leave them folded down out of the way, but they could come in handy on occasion. With the third row of seats erect, there is only a modest amount of boot space, but when you drop one or both of the seats down, which is done simply by pulling on the release strap on the back of the backrest, you get a much larger load area indeed. Fold down the asymmetrically split middle row, as well, and there is a vast load area, which is completely flat from end to end. There is a small cubby under the rear-most part of the boot, in which you could store odds and ends. Inside the cabin, there is a wide but fairly shallow drop-down glovebox, a cubby under the central armrest, bins on the doors with a moulding to hold a bottle, and there is a lidded cubby infront of the gearlever, which is quite large and which contains the AUX, USB and a pair of 12v sockets. Middle row occupants get nets on the back of the front seats and bins on the doors and those in the rear most row get a moulded cup holder and stowage recess in the side mouldings. There were roof bars on the test car, so you could load up the roof, and like all vehicles of its type, the Sorento could tow a reasonably hefty load, though that capability would increase significantly if you had the AWD model.
The base trim is the Sorento L, which starts at $25,400 and comes with the 2.4 litre four-cylinder engine. Standard features are quite limited, to allow it to achieve that low price, so all of note that you get is cloth seating, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and a USB port. There are no option packages available for the base model. Upgrading to the LX trim ($26,700) adds a standard 4.3-inch touch-screen display, a rearview camera, and two USB ports, as well as access to a number of other options. For $1,800, the Convenience package includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, rear parking assist, and Kia’s UVO infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If you need more room than the standard five seats, a Third-Row Seating package is available for $1,490 on top of the Convenience package. The Advanced Technology package costs $1,500 with purchase of the previous two packages and includes many advanced safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking. The LX V6 trim of the test car comes with the V6 engine and costs $28,990. It includes all the features found in the LX trim, as well as the third row of seats. With this trim, the Convenience package retails for $2,500 and adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and third-row air conditioning vents and controls to the features in the regular LX Convenience package. For $1,000, you can get the same Advanced Technology package that’s available for the LX trim. Starting at $31,500, the EX trim includes attractive standard features like the UVO infotainment system, rear parking sensors, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seating, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated front seats. Options include a Premium package for $1,600 that adds an automatic power liftgate, folding side mirrors, a power outlet, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert. The Advanced Touring package costs $2,500 and includes a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The EX trim is the only trim to offer the 240 bhp 2 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is standard. The EX V6 ($33,100) includes the V6 engine and adds standard features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. On this model, the Premium package only costs $1,200 while the Advanced Touring package is $2,500. Rounding out the lineup is the SX trim, which only comes with the V6 and starts at $38,600. Additional standard features include larger 19″ alloys, an 8-inch touch screen with the UVO system and navigation, HD Radio, a 10-speaker Infinity premium sound system, power outlets, a 14-way power driver’s seat, smart power liftgate, folding outside mirrors, and a panoramic sunroof. For $2,000, the Advanced Technology package includes a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and high-intensity discharge headlights with automatic cornering and levelling. The SX Limited V6 trim starts at $43,900 and comes fully loaded with all previously mentioned options, as well as premium Nappa leather, heated second-row seats, and a surround-view monitor. Although Kia products are no longer the bargain that they used to be, these are still among the lowest prices in the class, and when you couple this with a top NHTSA safety rating, a class-leading 5 year warranty and an excellent reliability record, you can see the attraction of the Sorento in any trim level.
When I left the Hertz facility. the agent on the gate told me that this was “a good car”. He was not wrong. And he is far from alone in thinking it. The US motoring press generally rate the Sorento as pretty much at the top of its class. In America, that is what they call the “mid-size” Crossover/SUV, although the rental car companies use the term “Full Size”. In Europe, of course, we tend to think of vehicles of this size as a “large” model, but what it means that it is smaller than the likes of the Chevy Tahoe and Dodge Durango, but larger than a Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 or Kia’s own Sportage, so it faces a raft of rivals including the in-house Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, the Ford Edge, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, the latest Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain and the venerable Dodge Journey, to name but a few. Of those which I have sampled, most have had their smaller 4 cylinder engine in them, which puts them immediately on the back foot. Whilst I can see why these are offered, when the price penalty is only a couple of thousand dollars, I think that, especially if you were ever to load your mid-sized crossover up with people and stuff, this is well worth paying. Even putting the V6-ness to one side, the Kia impressed me more than its rivals have done in other regards. It would seem to have no significant weaknesses at all, and plenty of strengths. Just like its predecessor a couple of years ago, I conclude that it is good looking, well-finished, spacious and practical and that it drives well. Kia are not resting on their laurels, though. The week that I drove this 2017 model year car, Kia announced a facelift for the Sorento. As well as some minor visual tweaks, most of the other changes are to the specification levels, which rise in all cases, and will only make the Sorento an even more attractive proposition. Definitely recommended now, I look forward to sampling the even better 2019 model in due course.