Kia has been on a roll the past few years, and only a lack of production capacity has kept it from setting new records for sales in the U.S. Aside from the coverage they’ve received for overstating the mileage many of their vehicles get, most all their press has been positive, and the vehicles I’ve reviewed from Kia have been enjoyable and at least class-competitive. The same cannot be reported of the recently refreshed Sorento, I’m afraid to say.
My issues with Kia’s larger crossover have nothing to do with its mildly warmed-over styling, which really does deserve to have the appellation “facelift” applied. Tweaks to colors and trims and wheels, mildly updated lighting, with even more LED lights, don’t move it to the front of the class, nor do they undermine its good stance and handsome lines. It is still an attractive crossover.
Inside things look great too, with nice forms and a clean, uncluttered aesthetic. But peer closer, or touch most surfaces, and the truth becomes clear: the Sorento is made from hard, cheap materials, unworthy of its price. The test vehicle’s dash already rattled at just over 6,000 miles, and the stiff leather on the seats wouldn’t have been appropriate in a subcompact costing ten thousand dollars less.
The front seats were otherwise comfortable, the middle row habitable, and the 3rd row for children only—nothing wrong with that, as the Sorento is of a size to be easily maneuvered in tight parking situations, and with the back seats folded has more than adaquite cargo room. The “UVO” infotaintment system was intuitive and pleasing to use, but it crashed several times during the week I had the Sorento, and required turning off the vehicle for at least 20 minutes to get it to work properly again. Finally, undermining Kia’s well-earned reputation for quality, the power rear hatch showed a reluctance to shut properly; on multiple occasions I’d power close it without issue and drive off, only to have the “door ajar” warning come on and force me to pull over and slam the hatch closed.
The Sorento’s powertrain was decent enough; the test model’s direct-injection 3.3-liter V6 serves up 290 horsepower, 252lb-ft of torque and decent passing power, ably abetted by a very smooth six-speed automatic. Lower end Sorento models get a 191hp four cylinder, but this engine, being overburdened in Colorado’s thin air, should be reserved for those dwelling nearer sea level, as it delivers no improvement over the V6’s 20mpg average in real-world mixed urban/highway use.
Steering feel and precision, and brake modulation, are class-average in the Sorento; the six-year old Mazda CX-9 still leads the pack here, and it surprises me that no one else can figure out how that small Japanese company has made such a large vehicle so rewarding to drive. What really undermines the Kia dynamically though is its chassis. Simply put, this is one of the most woeful new cars I’ve driven in ride and handling.
The Sorento is very undisciplined in the way it travels down a road that has any real roughness or corners (never mind both together); it feels soft and wallowy, yet still suffers from significant impact harshness and an agitated ride. My guess would be that the springs are tuned too softly, to try to give the illusion of a soothing ride, and the shocks don’t have enough rebound damping to control the huge body motions this soft springing allows. It’s like trying to ride on Tigger as he bounces along, Boing! Boing! Handling is no better, thank to the body’s predilection to porpoise about and keel over under large steering inputs. The decades’ old, colorful phrasing of Mechanix Illustrated’s Tom McCahill comes to mind here; he would have said the Sorento “Corners like a hippo on a wet clay bank.”
If the Sorento undercut rivals in price I would be much more apt to forgive it its sins, but at over $38,000 as tested, it rings up higher at the register than better built, better driving rivals, including the aforementioned Mazda. I’m not sure if Kia’s successes have gone to the collective corporate head, but a rapid rethink is in order if the company is to maintain its momentum.
EPA ratings: 18/24; 20mpg combined
Price as tested: $38,850
Here is what Kia thinks of the 2014 Sorento.