Kia Sorento Long-Term Wrap-Up: Never Thrilling But Certainly Satisfying ""

By | May 19, 2017

It’s hard to imagine that there’s a more under-the-radar vehicle for sale in America than the Kia Sorento—certainly among those that sell more than 100,000 copies annually. Which is a shame because, as we learned during our 40,000-mile test of this Sorento, it’s a practical and wieldy three-row SUV. (A confession: We sometimes forgot this thing’s name while it was here, calling it the Sportage—Kia’s smaller two-row crossover—about a third of the time. Oops.)

How We Did Spec It

We’re a shallow lot, so we started our Sorento ordering process in late 2015 by seeking out versions without shameful-looking wheels. These turned out to be the top two trims, the SX and SXL. We stopped shy of the SXL and its upgraded nappa leather upholstery, ventilation for the front seats, and heated rear seats because we had already inflated the Sorento’s base price from about $26,000 to something like $40K. Because we wanted to look cool. Driving a three-row Kia SUV.

But the Sorento SX does look nice, a rather simply sculpted product of a German-led design studio that wouldn’t look out of place with a European badge in its grille. (That said, some of us felt the design was a bit too simply sculpted, a factor perhaps causal to the nameplate’s relative anonymity.) It’s not as if we suffered by choosing the SX; it has pretty much Kia’s entire arsenal of features as standard. A full rundown is available in our introductory story, but highlights include an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a third-row seat, proximity entry and start, a 7.0-inch screen in the gauge cluster, and those sweet, sweet 19-inch wheels. To the all-wheel-drive SX’s $40,795 base price we added just a few minor accessories to bring the total to $42,180. That’s a tall number for a vehicle that starts at less than $26K, but it’s par for the course in a well-kitted mid-size, three-row SUV. Thus equipped, our Ebony Black Kia rolled onto our parking lot.

If a Sorento has an SX badge on its butt, it has a 3.3-liter V-6 up front. (Kia also equips the Sorento with a choice of four-cylinders, either a 2.4-liter or a turbocharged 2.0-liter.) We were largely happy with the naturally aspirated six, which had no issues and offered the sort of smooth, linear power delivery and predictable throttle response and tip-in that even today’s best turbo engines struggle to match. The transmission stayed out of the way and did its job; that’s all we have to say about it. While it won’t snap necks, the zero-to-60-mph time of 7.1 seconds is respectable, and the V-6 even managed to return 22 mpg over 40,000 miles. The latter figure was aided by the Kia’s frequent use as a road-trip vehicle, but it’s just 1 mpg shy of the EPA’s highway estimate for the 4400-pound SUV.

Always on the Move

Indeed, the Sorento rarely had time to cool its tires before it set out again on frequent trips to small towns and cottages in northern Michigan or journeys to Chicago and Pennsylvania. The Kia also spent a few months in Montana, in the care of C/D’s moose, cocktails, and moose-cocktails editor John Phillips, who took it on adventures in at least eight states before returning the Kia to Ann Arbor.

Helping the Sorento’s suitability for long-distance travel were its comfortable and spacious interior and its admirably low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness. The SX gets second-row side sunshades and a panoramic sunroof, meaning we and our passengers could let in as much or as little light as we liked, and the firm, supportive seats allowed for long but fatigue-free days in the saddle. Easy-to-access LATCH connectors made swapping various child seats a snap.

All primary and secondary controls are easily reached from the driver’s seat, and we made ample use of the three available USB ports for front- and second-row passengers to keep devices charged; our Sorento had a 115-volt household outlet on the back of the center console for additional juicing, too. We were always happy to use the Kia’s UVO infotainment system on account of its crisp graphics, quick responses, and intuitive layout. We were able to upgrade our Sorento for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, something Kia now offers to owners of vehicles with the UVO3 version of the system. (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto became optional for 2017.)

Interior room and cargo flexibility proved adequate in use, even though they’re on the small side compared with some key competitors. The Kia has a good amount of space for stuff in back with the third row folded, and it offers numerous cubbies for the detritus of daily life, although making use of that room—notably the third row—was more difficult than we’d have liked. For instance, you can clamber into that row via either rear door, but neither side of the 40/20/40 split-folding second row can tumble forward; moving a seat out of the way is a two-step process (fold down the backrest, then slide the seat forward), which would be difficult for little ones to manage on their own. Finally, only the passenger side has a lever accessible to those in the third row who wish to make an unaided escape. Kia should study the functionality of the Honda Pilot, where the seatbacks tip forward and slide at the touch of a single button, and both can be moved out of the way easily by third-row occupants.

On the plus side, the second-row seat slides through a decent amount of real estate, which made it easy to apportion legroom among all back-seat occupants. We rarely had passengers in the wayback, though, as the seat bottoms are too low and the backrests are too flat, making it suitable only for children and/or short trips. Helpfully, each side of the second-row bench can be folded from the cargo area, using release levers located on the outer walls. Interior materials generally appeared to be of high quality, and they wore well overall. Nothing broke, even though our multitude of drivers were unusually torturous on this vehicle, even by our tough standards (as a nice person, you’d probably treat it with more respect).

Useful but Tame

From behind the wheel, our Sorento SX turned out to be everything we knew it to be from previous exposures: capable, easy to drive, and utterly anodyne. There’s little excitement to be found in this class in general, and we didn’t find any in our Kia. That’s not to say it isn’t well tuned. Body motions are nicely damped, and we found maneuvering the Sorento in tight parking lots easier than in some other crossovers because of its good forward and rear visibility. The ride is amazingly smooth, with a sophistication to the way the suspension irons out impacts large and small that’s more typically found in far more expensive vehicles. The brakes are strong enough to place it midpack in our 70-mph-to-zero test, although we did wish that Kia engineers had taken up the slack at the top of the pedal travel.

We never figured out what was going on with the steering, the one major source of frustration. In general, it was stupendously numb but otherwise accurate, and the Kia tracked straight on long freeway stretches. Often, however, the steering would go heavy or light, sometimes varying its weight back and forth during a single spin of the steering wheel. The worst symptom was the inconsistent weight just off-center, where sometimes it would just go extremely heavy for no apparent reason.

Service, Wounds, and a Recall

With the Sorento flying hither and yon to Montana, where Kia dealerships are about as common as coral reefs, we missed a couple of scheduled services but then got the care and feeding of the Kia back on track in Ann Arbor. One service we missed was a routine $76 job, but the other was a biggie and would have cost $413; absent those costs, we spent $470 for scheduled maintenance. Our Sorento was subject to a single recall repair, for the trailer-wiring connector, which may not function properly and keep the trailer’s brake lights illuminated. This was, of course, repaired at no cost. (The Kia had a tow rating of 5000 pounds, but we rarely took advantage of it.)

The right rear of our Sorento was cursed. First, an unknown assailant backed into the rear bumper and took out half of the passenger-side reflector. Then another accident ninja dented the right-rear quarter-panel near the D-pillar in such a way that we could only guess they punched it with a fist—or with someone else’s head. Whether during that incident or another one, the same area ended up with long creases in the body. We had the reflector replaced for $72 and the sheetmetal pulled for $200. We also replaced a windshield to the tune of $480 due to a large crack that formed after taking a stone chip. But none of these were the Kia’s fault. Its only real flaw was a power hatch that sometimes refused to be a power hatch; occasionally, we’d have to lift it manually—oh, the indignity—before it would happily motor closed at the push of a button.

Our time with the Sorento showed it to be a solid choice among mid-size SUVs that still merits consideration even 16 months on, although newer competition is on the way in the form of Volkswagen’s Atlas and Chevrolet’s Traverse. If Kia can inject some personality and more functionality into the next generation of its three-row SUV, it’s likely more folks will have the Sorento on their radar screens. We might even stop calling it the Sportage.

Months in Fleet: 16 months Final Mileage: 40,545 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 22 mpg Fuel Tank Size: 18.8 gal Fuel Range: 410 miles
Service: $470 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $480
Damage and Destruction: $272

View Photos View Photos

Leave a Reply