Review: 2014 Kia Sorento SX
It used to be that if you needed to haul a lot of people, you got a minivan. They’re still the most practical option, but they got tagged with such pejorative titles as “soccer-mom” vehicles, which turned a lot of people away.
Automakers responded by stuffing extra seats into SUVs, which didn’t quite solve the problem of interior space — most of those third-row chairs have little legroom and are only suitable for small children — but did present an imperfect solution for those who wanted to move away from the minivan stigma.
Kia is one of a handful of companies still offering a minivan, the Sedona, but it also builds the Sorento, an SUV that can be optioned with three rows of seats.
It’s been heavily revised for 2014, although it’s tough to tell from the outside, which doesn’t look substantially different from the 2013 model. (That’s not a bad thing, mind you: under the direction of design chief Peter Schreyer, the Sorento is possibly the best-looking SUV in its segment.)
The changes are under the skin, with a new platform and more powerful engines. The old 3.5-L V6 has been replaced with a 3.3-L that now makes 290 horsepower, compared to 276 horses, but with only a hair’s increase in fuel consumption. The 3.5 was rated at 11.5 L/100 km in the city, while the 3.3 is pegged at 11.9.
The base Sorento LX uses a 2.4-L four-cylinder engine, and is strictly a five-seater, starting at $26,696. All other trim lines — LX-V6, EX, and my top-line SX tester — use that smooth-and-stout V6.
LX models come in front-wheel drive and can be ordered in all-wheel, while the EX and SX are all-wheel only. The system primarily runs in front-wheel under ideal conditions, but sends power to the rear wheels if extra traction is required.
The LX-V6 and SX can be optioned with the third row. My tester was equipped this way, which adds $1,100 to the SX’s price, which starts at $40,595.
Although it’s not easy to get to the third row, requiring that you slide the second-row seat forward, and then bend and fold yourself between that and the door frame, it’s relatively spacious back there, enough for most adults on a short-haul trip.
Cargo space is limited when the back row is up, but the third and second rows can be folded flat whenever you have to haul more parcels than you do people. If the third row isn’t ordered, you get a large hidden compartment under the cargo floor in its place.
Kia’s marketing program is to throw in a lot of features for the price, and so the SX trim line includes such standard items as a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlamps, power liftgate, premium stereo, navigation system, backup camera, blind-spot warning system (a new addition for 2014), heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated second-row seats.
It also includes a warranty that covers pretty much everything for five years or 100,000 km.
The cabin is well done, with good fit-and-finish, supportive seats, and a lot of small-item storage. The SX includes fake wood trim that actually looks pretty good, too. All models include integrated pull-up sunshades in the rear doors, so you can protect young passengers from the sun without resorting to aftermarket stick-on shades.
The V6 engine does a great job, and the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. But despite Kia’s claim that the new platform is stiffer, I found the suspension too soft. The vehicle feels wallowy, lumbering around corners instead of turning tightly around them.
I certainly don’t expect a big vehicle like this to handle like a sports car, but there are a lot of SUVs with tauter handling, including the Hyundai Santa Fe XL, the Sorento’s sibling, which feels more firmly screwed down overall.
The Kia also bangs hard on bumps, sending the noise and vibration over road imperfections straight into the cabin.
The SX includes a driver-selectable system that lets you change the steering feel and effort. Like many vehicles today, it uses electric power steering rather than a hydraulic power-steering pump, which saves a bit of fuel. The engineers then calibrate the electric motors to determine how it feels when you move the steering wheel.
The Sport setting gives the best weight and response, while the Normal tuning is too light for my liking, and the Comfort setting is floppy and vague.
There will always be trade-offs with these types of vehicles, and even though it has more legroom in the third row than many, it’s still a tight fit for regular use.
If you’re always hauling a full house, remember that Kia will also gladly sell you a minivan.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Kia Sorento SX-V6
Price: $29,495 base, $41,795 as-tested
Engine: 3.3 L V6
Power/torque: 290 hp/252 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 11.9 city, 8.4 hwy., 10.6 as tested
Competition: Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Journey, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Mazda CX-9, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Highlander, plus any minivan.
What’s best: Strong engine, nice interior, lots of features.
What’s worst: Too-soft ride, tight third-row access.
What’s interesting: It’s built in West Point, Georgia.