When Kia introduced the current-generation Sorento three years ago, the vehicle’s orientation changed from sport utility with off-road capability to a crossover intended primarily for on-road use. The decision turned out to be spot on.
Buyers moving out of full-sized sport-utility vehicles were enthusiastic about Kia’s versatile mid-sized crossover, with gas mileage rivaling some passenger sedans. Optional third-row seating accommodates up to seven passengers. Today, the Sorento is one of the automaker’s volume-leading models.
For 2012, Kia boosts the Sorento’s gas mileage further with the introduction of a gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine. Because gasoline is delivered directly into the engine cylinders rather than passing through intake valves, there’s less parasitic power loss. Tailpipe emissions also decrease, since less gasoline passes through the engine unburned.
The test car is the upscale EX model with the 2.4-liter GDI engine, priced from $25,950. MSRP does not include an $800 delivery charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include keyless entry and start, Kia’s UVO infotainment system developed in conjunction with Microsoft, cruise control, automatic climate control, satellite radio, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls and Bluetooth interface.
A $3800 option package adds leather upholstery, the third row of seating, heated front seats, memory driver’s seat, navigation with real-time traffic alerts, premium Infinity audio system and a power passenger seat. An optional cargo net costs $50, bringing the price as tested to $30,600.
Road trip to Tucson
After driving the Sorento around the Phoenix environs for a couple of days, I headed south 150 miles to Tucson. I wanted to put several hundred miles on the car to see if the EPA’s fuel economy predictions were accurate, and also determine whether the four-cylinder engine offered adequate power for average driving conditions. Average fuel economy for the week-long test drive was 25.4 miles-per-gallon: slightly better than the EPA estimate.
On the flip side, I felt that the small block lacked low-end torque, which is important for navigating through dense freeway traffic. The Sorento’s curb weight is 3605 pounds; not a tremendous amount for a vehicle of its size. But my guess is that the curb weight listed in the specifications doesn’t include all of the accessories on the EX grade, all of which add mass.
Although the Sorento is more aerodynamic than some sport-utility vehicles, it is still a two-box, high-profile vehicle. Both of these factors make the car harder to move off the line.
Aside from its lack of torque, the engine is a good performer. There is no noticeable vibration: a performance problem common among large four-cylinder engines. The six-speed automatic transmission progresses smoothly through the gears, with little shift shock.
The Sorento’s unibody construction and four-wheel independent suspension give the crossover ride-and-handling characteristics similar to a passenger car. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners.
Steering response is good at all speeds, with enough assist on the low end for maneuvering through crowded parking lots and good on-center response on the highway. A 35.7-foot turning circle is excellent for a vehicle with a 106.3-inch wheelbase.
Ground clearance is 7.5 inches: enough to clear bumps and ruts on dirt roads, or a moderate amount of snow. Four wheel disc brakes stop the Sorento in a firm, linear fashion on wet or dry roads.
Visibility around the front and sides of the vehicle is quite good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes. A rearview camera on the test car eliminates blind spots in the rear corners and under the back glass when the driver shifts into reverse.
Versatile interior seats up to seven passengers
With the optional third row of seating, the Kia Sorento seats up to seven passengers. Since the front-wheel drive car doesn’t have a floor tunnel, there’s enough legroom in the middle second-row position for an adult on shorter trips.
One thing I noticed consistently throughout my week-long test drive is how pleasant the Sorento is to live with. One of the reasons for this is the well-configured interior. Engineers did an excellent job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, making it easy for passengers in all three rows to converse.
The driver can also adjust audio system balance, to send more sound to the back of the car if there are passengers in the third row.
The adjustable driver’s seat with memory has ample low lumbar support for trips lasting several hours. The standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to keep a safe distance from the front airbag and a clear forward view.
The UVO entertainment system lets the user interface with his smartphone, for applications such as Pandora. I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in bright sunlight.
Storage bins in the seating areas are abundant. The center console bin is quite large; it can easily hold a small purse or pack. A locking glovebox provides secure storage inside the passenger compartment. All four doors have bottle holders. First and second-row passengers have access to cupholders in the center console and a fold-down armrest.
Second and third-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The Kia Sorento easily meets our bicycle-friendly criteria.
With the third-row seats in place, there isn’t much room for cargo inside the vehicle. But standard roof rails make it easy to add a cargo carrier up top.
The Kia Sorento comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, antilock brakes, stability and traction control. Kia’s factory warranty covers defects due to manufacturing for up to ten years or 100,000 miles.
Kia builds the Sorento at its West Point, Georgia assembly plant.
Likes: Kia’s vehicles continue to be among the best values available, with high build quality, and extremely high levels of standard safety, comfort and convenience features. The Sorento is a great option for active families who want to reduce ownership costs by minimizing fuel usage.
Dislike: Four-cylinder engine lacks low-end torque for acceleration off the line and merging into high-speed traffic.
Model: Sorento EX FWD
Base price: $25,950
As tested: $30,600
Horsepower: 191 Hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 181 lbs.-ft @ 4250 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 22/32 mpg city/highway