NAPOLEONVILLE, La. -- Down by Bayou Lafourche between Napoleonville and Thibodaux, we're taking the Bayou Road -- Louisiana 308 -- to check out all of the revisions built into the 2014 Sorento, a USA-built crossover utility vehicle by Kia of South Korea.
Sorento debuted in Kia's USA fleet in the Class of 2003 as a rear-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle assembled in South Korea with a body-on-frame truck platform.
The second-generation Sorento of 2011, switching to front-wheel-drive orientation with the integral body-frame structure of a car, came together at Kia's USA manufacturing facility in Georgia.
Now for the 2014 issues, Sorento scores a stiff new body structure, a new front suspension and retuned rear suspension to enhance ride comfort and handling, a new all-aluminum V6 engine pumping more power, revised front and rear lamps plus more comforts and equipment loaded into Sorento's expansive cabin with room for five or seven passengers.
Sorento's fortified structure with a torsional rigidity improvement of 18 percent supports a 106.3-inch wheelbase and a track width of 64.0 inches up front and 63.9 inches in back. Setting the wheels out near edges of the chassis brings stability to the stance and enhances Sorento's agility when cornering.
The independent suspension system consists of struts in front mounted on a floating subframe and a multi-link arrangement in back with a stabilizer bar at both ends tuned to check excessive lateral roll of the body.
The Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS) system provides electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of Sorento's engines. Top trim versions add Flex Steer controls with selectable modes (Normal, Sport, Comfort).
For locomotion Kia offers two aluminum-block options.
The engine in the price-leader Sorento LX base trim edition is a 2.4-liter in-line-4 plant with dual overhead cams (DOHC), gasoline direct injection (GDI) and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) for high-tech metering of the fuel burn.
Output reaches to 191 hp at 6300 rpm, with torque running up to 181 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
The shifter is a Kia-built electronically controlled 6-speed Sportmatic automatic which allows hands-on shift control via a console-mounted shift lever.
Sorento's other trim versions -- LX V6, EX V6, SX and SX-L -- stock a new 3.3-liter V6 with DOHC, GDI and CVVT.
The V6, producing 290 hp at 6400 rpm and 252 lb-ft of torque at 5200 rpm, operates through Kia's 6-speed Sportmatic automatic.
Both powertrains offer the choice of front-wheel-drive traction or a permanently-engaged all-wheel-drive system.
The smart AWD equipment uses a computer and wheel sensors to determine how much power to apply at each wheel for maintaining tire traction on slippery pavement. Also, the AWD rig adds a locking center differential which distributes engine torque equally between front and rear wheels to maximize tire grip.
All trim versions of Sorento 2014 provide computerized links to a sophisticated anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), plus electronic stability control (ESC), even hill-start assist control (HAC).
Sorento looks strong and athletic with contemporary forms and a long cabin perched above the horizontal underbody. The vehicle's width is emphasized up front by a broad grille with honeycomb mesh and narrow corner headlamp clusters housing new eyebrow LED positioning lamps and projector headlights.
Climb aboard and note a benefit of Sorento's car-like unibody structure: Kia's designers managed to drop the cabin floor but still retain a reasonable chassis height for ground clearance. As a result, you don't have to hike up to climb aboard, but simply slip in sideways like you might enter a sedan.
On the first row two bucket seats flank a floor console. On Row 2 a bench split 40/20/40 has room for three riders with generous legroom. On Row 3 an optional folding bench split 50/50 accommodates two more passengers.
Sorento's redesigned instrument panel on all trims above the base LX consists of a 7-inch full-color thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD projecting a digital speedometer along with easy-to-read analog instruments (tachometer plus fuel level and engine temperature gauges).
Kia's MSRP chart for the 2014 Sorento runs in a broad range from $24,100 to $39,800.