Recently, actually right after I tested the 2013 Kia Soul, I got a 2014 Kia Sorento EX to review for a week. Unlike prior testers, this one wasn’t a fully-loaded, top-of-the-line model, but it still had an amazing list of standard and optional features. Oh, and if you need help with spelling, it’s one “R”, not two. The town in southern Italy is spelled Sorrento, not the car.
The midsize SUV/CUV market is crowded, and competition is tough, so every automaker has to keep upping the ante, including standard and optional features, safety, and for better or worse, size. Kia has done a great job of keeping ahead of the competition in many segments with regards to both styling and substance, and the 2014 Kia Sorento EX is no exception. The Sorento went through a major redesign just 3 years ago (thankfully, as I have experience with the prior model), and while the 2014 may still look almost the same as a 2013, only about 20% of the parts remain the same. It’s even 250lbs LIGHTER than last year, which is great when most of the car market is getting bigger AND heavier.
The 2014 Kia Sorento starts as low as $24,100 (plus $850 for destination), but I can max it out on their online configurator at $43,550, including destination and a bunch of options like cargo nets and floormats, but also with a third row, which my model didn’t have. Instead, my EX had a flat load floor behind the 2nd row, but then a bunch of hidden storage (see below) beneath some fold-up coverings. The smaller hidden storage (the one at the back with the jack) worked great to keep a 6-pack from sliding around or tipping over.
Great cargo space…but wait, there’s more!
I wasn’t sure what to do with the folded panel (can it slide in a slot behind the 2nd row?). And there’s even more space under the most rearward panel (where the car jack is)
And with all the seats down, you can see minimal intrusions and a nearly flat-load floor the whole way up. (don’t forget about the hidden space too).
Who needs an SUV?
Now, I’ve said before that I don’t really see the need for an SUV/CUV (let’s just stick with SUV for now) when either a minivan, microvan or wagon can do the same job, and quite often better. If you need to haul people, gear and a camper/boat/trailer, then maybe you need an SUV. But for the vast majority of us, a wagon would do just fine, or maybe even a sedan or compact hatchback. Heck, I don’t even need a truck more than 1 time a year, but that’s a different topic. So when I got a chance to drive around an SUV for a week, I ended up mentally comparing it with my own Honda Ridgeline (flexible, similar power, AWD), my parents’ older Kia Sorento and even the smaller Mitsubishi Outlander Sport I reviewed last year (because it’s also an SUV) and the Mazda Mazda5 I recently reviewed.
I know it’s comparing apples to fish in some cases, but there’s logic behind my thinking. For time’s sake, I won’t try to drag this review out into an argument against SUVs, but rather comment on the merits of the 2014 Kia Sorento for the purpose it was made. To haul people and stuff, maybe do some light off-roading and towing, and to do it in style and comfort.
Some of the biggest differences between an SUV and a car/wagon/etc. are, other than fuel economy, the ride height and driving position. Back when I had my Acura TL-S, I would get impatient with traffic because I couldn’t see if there was space in front of me, if someone was slowing things down, etc., but now in my truck, I can see through or over other vehicles and be more relaxed in my choice of lane. As far as ride position, in a car, you’re more reclined and closer to the floor; more like sitting in a recliner. But in a truck or SUV, you’re more upright as the seats are farther up off the floor, so you’re sitting more like at the dinner table. It makes a big difference in comfort to some people, as well as getting in and out of the vehicle. A strange mix is the Kia Soul which rides as low as a car, but upright like an SUV/truck.
The other big difference is cargo capacity with the seats up and down. With a sedan, you’re limited in options for loading boxes because of the trunk, but with a wagon (or box like a Kia Soul), or an SUV, you can slide them right in versus shoving them in the back seat. While I said I would talk about this in a different article, I will say here that I could easily get away with owning an SUV and still be happy except for those rare times I absolutely need a truck. But even then, you can rent a truck. But once you own a truck, it’s hard to not own one. Again, different story.
The Kia Sorento’s Styling and Interior
Unlike some of its competition, the Kia Sorento kept to a more traditional SUV look, disregarding the fad of a sloped rear hatch area that messes up your interior space and volume, even though it looks sleek and sharper. It’s still a good looking car, even if I wasn’t big on the blue color of my tester (seemed a bit boring). If you want to compare styling, it’s very much like the GM offerings (Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave) except for the nose. The hatch is still pretty vertical, as I mentioned before, which provides more room if you choose the 7-seater option.
On the inside, the Kia doesn’t disappoint. I’ve mentioned how stunning the quality of materials can be, especially in my Kia Optima Hybrid review last year, and for such a relatively low price to both premium models as well as its own segment competition. Certain surfaces, are hard plastic, but those are usually on places no one touches, like the dashboard. Everything still matches, with few major material differences and colors, so the interior does come off looking a bit upscale. One complaint was the steering wheel, which I also complained about in the Kia Soul. They say it’s “leather wrapped”, but it’s just too slippery. I want a fat, meaty steering wheel that doesn’t slip through my sometimes dry hands.
A very nicely styled front row with supple seats, although beige leather always scares me (staining).
The seats are cushy and supportive, and I don’t doubt I could put on a full day’s driving inside with few breaks, even for those sitting in the back seat. Up front, we both heated AND cooled seats, yet again no up/down control for the passenger seat. When will they consider that height-challenged people like my wife ride in that seat? In the back, you also get integrated pull-up sunshades, available heated seats (yes, in the second row) and a 40/20/40 split second row to maximize options for carrying cargo and people. I can’t say what the third row would be like, but other reviews indicate it’s not extremely comfortable, but most aren’t on mid-size SUVs.
Seems like a flat bench, but with a fold-down arm rest, both a 12v DC plug AND a grounded AC plug, you can set up a home office in the back seat or run your kids’ home electronics while on the go without adapters.
As far as cargo volume, you’re competing with smaller CUVs like the RAV4 and CR-V behind the 2nd row, but that’s not counting the extra 9 cubic feet under the floor. Also, it’s just as much about configuration as size; higher numbers might be great, but if a sloped roof intrudes on your boxes so they don’t fit, then the space isn’t really as usable, right?
Infotainment and Navigation
My Sorento only had the $4,000 Touring Package option added onto its $31,700 sticker price for a total of $36,550 after destination. The Touring package came with:
- Navigation system with 8″ display
The navigation and infotainment was pretty much as easy to use as on any other Kia I’ve reviewed, but I didn’t get to try out the UVO services brings apps to the game. It allows for vehicle diagnostic checks, finding your car in a parking lot (it happens) and call 911 if the airbags deploy, as well as more integrated apps for Google and iOS. The big deal is there’s no fee for the service (I just didn’t activate it while I had the car as I didn’t want to plug in any of my info on a loaner). But syncing your phone via bluetooth, including downloading contacts (which is very important to me) and streaming audio like Pandora worked flawlessly. The large screen was great, but it needs to be angled a bit more towards the driver and they have to figure out something to reduce glare. But I did like the redundant buttons on the wheel and below the screen, which some competitors have done away with and I hate.
I will admit right now that I didn’t even bother trying the voice commands to do things like change radio stations or the climate or whatever they let you do. I got tired long ago with having to learn the keywords for the commands, and then the computer not understanding me because the window is open or I’m yelling at it out of frustration. This goes for ALL vehicles, and a recent study showed that voice-activated infotainment systems can be more dangerous than just touching a dial or button. Granted, once you get used to the commands, I’m sure you’ll be fine, and I figured out how to make a call fairly easily through Bluetooth.
- Infinity Surround Sound System
I will say that I wasn’t awestruck by the Infinity Surround Sound System, which the Soul also had. It just sounded like a decent stereo to me, but it was in the package, so I got it.
- Ventilated (cooled) front seats
I’ve found that in the 3-4 vehicles (cars, trucks and SUVs) I’ve tested with cooled/ventilated seats, that on hot days in the 90s, the seats don’t do too much. You still need to blast the A/C, but at least they help to reduce sweaty backs and butts. I think they need more powerful fans or more vent holes to improve the air flow. I want to be able to feel like I stuck my butt in a freezer!
- Blind Spot Detection
I didn’t think I would care for this feature since I have very good peripheral vision, but once I got going and used to it, it’s one of those features you can’t think of how you did without for so long (like the heated steering wheel in the Optima). It’s not meant to replace proper driving, but you don’t have to bend forward and crane your neck to look in the blind spot as much or at all because you get a light on the side mirror (left or right) as well as a chime if you start to move towards it (or maybe when you put on your turn signal. I can’t recall). It’s a very welcome added safety feature that I’ll be looking for in my next vehicle.
- 4-way power passenger seat (should have been 6-way to add up/down)
- Panoramic Roof with Power Sunshade
I was wowed with the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport’s panoramic roof, and this one was just as good (but it didn’t have LED lights to light it up). It goes back to just behind the 2nd row and has a power sliding cover that you can stop at any point (cover your kids in the 2nd row but have the sun shine on you). I did find the controls to be a bit quarky where the sunshade would close when I just wanted to close the roof. It was annoying enough where I suggest Kia look into it, but not enough where I would do without the feature, especially since my wife loved it.
- Memory Driver’s seat and mirrors
What can you say. When you used to own a car with this feature, then you move to 2 cars without it, it’s a pain to have to readjust everything when you’re both quite different sizes.
- Power folding outside mirrors
I did use this once or twice when pulling into tight parking garage spots or just to make it easier to pass through for ourselves or other shoppers in parking lots. You can control it via the remote (2 taps of the lock folds them, 2 taps of the unlock unfolds them)
- Power liftgate
A very nice feature for my wife who is on the short side and the tailgate raises rather high. You get a button on the tailgate to close it, but you can also control it from the front seats. The controls are by the sunroof controls and allow opening it and closing it when the vehicle is in park. And of course if something is in the way (including a small child), it will open right back up. I like to test this myself with my own arm.
As far as the instrument cluster (where the speedometer and gas gauge are) goes, it’s partly digital, and allows you to scroll through numerous personalization options, but only when the vehicle is stopped. They’re mostly saved to the key you use, much like the memory seats, which makes it nice with a 2 driver household. It gave just the right info, except for the screen for Sirius/XM radio which just showed what channel I was on. I don’t memorize the channels, so it wasn’t a help to me as I wanted to see the station name, artist and song. If I have the navigation going, I don’t want to switch screens if I don’t have to, but it’s a small complaint.
Driving the Sorento
I’m used to driving my Honda Ridgeline truck. It’s front-wheel drive with about 250hp and around the same torque. Compared to the Sorento, the Sorento has nearly 300hp and 250lb ft of torque. There was no problem getting this rig going, but I think Kia can dial back the power a bit to save on fuel. The Sorento with AWD is rated at 18 city/24 hwy and 20mpg combined. My truck is 15/20 and I regularly get 17-18mpg in very mixed driving.
Over the course of 207 miles of driving, spread out over about 7 hours (so you can see more city than highway driving), I averaged a meager 18.8mpg. Not much better than my truck which has 1 less gear and weighs 700lbs more (and doesn’t have an ECO button, which I had turned on in the Kia the whole time). While I appreciate the power and its smooth delivery, I think the “pace race” is getting out of hand. Do we need a 300hp CUV to haul around plants from Home Depot? Really, how many people are hitching up boats or campers to their midsize SUVs?
Also, my truck, with similar fuel economy, has a 22 gallon fuel tank, while the Kia Sorento EX only holds 17.43 gallons. Based on my average, that’s 86 more miles I could have gotten in the Kia before a fill-up. I can generally get to my wife’s parents’ in PA and back to MD (near DC) on a tank of gas, going a bit “swift”, but with the Sorento, I would have had to stop less than halfway back for gas. While it’s a very comfy highway cruiser, I don’t want to be getting out and wasting time filling up on gas when I can be blasting down the highway listening to MC Hammer on the 90s on 9 station 🙂
Ok, I got the fuel economy complaints out of my system, so back to the drive. Comparing the 2014 Sorento with my parents’ older model (2 generations older), it’s much more confident on the road, and the steering is tighter. But that isn’t saying much, because when I compare it to my Ridgeline, the Sorento’s suspension is still too springy and the steering is too vague. I can take a corner quite fast in my truck (which is sort of a CUV too), but after a week, I still didn’t feel confident doing the same in the Sorento. But regardless, I would recommend the Sorento for its ride and handling because you shouldn’t drive like me anyway.
In a recent comparison test hosted by Motorweek and Cars.com, the 2014 Kia Sorento came in third place, just behind the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (which I think placed high because the judges had low expectations for it). It beat out the Toyota Venza, Ford Edge and Nissan Murano handily, whether due to price, features, ride, configuration or what have you.
For my verdict, not having driven the others except the Ford Edge, I would place the Kia Sorento at the top of my midsize SUV list for consideration. Kia has proven time and again it is willing to innovate, cram in features, provide a stylish ride, inside and out and do it all for less than the competition. The extra long powertrain warranty doesn’t hurt the deal either, and if you’re looking for a 7-seat crossover, it’s just a checkbox away on the option list.