Source: New York Daily News by Liz Kim – October 19, 2016
It’s so unfair. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Kia made its inauspicious debut to the U.S. market with a tiny econo-box called the Sephia, and yet it still struggles with negative brand association. Especially lately, the company is creating alluring, high-quality vehicles with just as much style and refinement as models from other automakers, but this appears to be lost in terms of American car culture.
As a recent case in point, Kia was the punch line to a joke on Saturday Night Live. How is any car buyer, save for the few people whose egos are composed of carbon fiber, supposed to ignore this? How does someone justify spending $46,565 on a midsize crossover SUV equipped with a Kia badge? After all, that’s a big chunk of change in a segment full of choices, many of which are excellent vehicles and some of which wear a luxury nameplate.
Thus, the stage is set for my review of a 2017 Kia Sorento, equipped with the top-of-the-line SXL trim level and all-wheel drive. For a week, I used the Sorento to shuttle kids to school, to run suburban errands, and to zoom from one end of the metropolitan Los Angeles area to the other. Could this be the Kia that can change hearts and minds and allow the company to credibly occupy the upper price ranges of mainstream vehicles? Could a loaded 2017 Sorento overcome that distinctive whiff of inferiority that automatically accompanies mentions of Kia?
Let’s find out.
Design: 8.5 rating
While some car companies have adopted more angular and jarring design languages (read: polarizing), Kia sticks with rounded edges and mellifluous curves. Some may call the Sorento handsome, others might see it as bland, but few will deem it unattractive.
Slip inside the Sorento’s cabin and prepare to be dazzled by perforated, diamond-quilted, premium leather with trendy exposed stitching. Especially in my test car’s Ivory color, the upholstery is at once impressively luxurious and dismayingly impractical, as any parent knows that an off-white interior color combined with children equates to a depressingly dingy environment thanks to grimy, sticky little hands and filthy, flailing feet.
Still, in terms of scent and appearance, this upscale leather makes a clear statement that a Sorento SXL is not a cheap vehicle.
My only quibbles with the Sorento’s interior are the unbroken expanses of black dominating the carpets, the headliner, and especially the dashboard. While silver accent trim helps to lift the mood, the dashboard needs a contrasting strip of material for improved visual interest.
Comfort: 7.0 rating
Pleasingly plump, the Sorento’s front seats deliver good thigh support and decent bolstering. In the SXL, the driver’s seat supplies 14-way power adjustment while the passenger receives 8-way adjustment, and both seats are heated and cooled.
Should you seat three people in the second row, shoulder space is tight. Also, while the second-row seat reclines and slides forward and back on tracks, it may still prove cramped for taller people with long legs. My SXL test vehicle included heated outboard seating positions, retractable sunshades, a useful 115-volt three-prong power outlet, and a USB port to quell battery-life anxiety. A panoramic sunroof bathed the cabin in natural light.
The Sorento may boast a third-row seat, but bear in mind that it should be deployed only in emergencies, and then only for the small of stature. It’s nearly impossible for adults to squeeze between the second-row seat and roof pillar in order to get back there, and restricted room will likely bug anyone of greater than average height.
Before you try to squeeze your kids in, note how close the rear hatch glass is to the head restraints, and then fervently whisper a few Hail Marys that the Sorento doesn’t get rear-ended during the trip.
Controls: 9.0 rating
Simple trumps complicated, and Kia obviously kept this in mind when designing the Sorento’s dashboard.
Let’s celebrate knobs. Kia supplies them for increasing stereo volume, tuning between radio station, and for adjusting cabin temperature, providing the Sorento’s driver with the ideal solution for making such changes without taking his or her eyes off the road.
Let’s celebrate buttons. Kia supplies them for accessing the main infotainment system menus, selecting climate system functions, and activating the heated and cooled seats and the heated steering wheel. Large and equipped with intuitive markings, these buttons provide clear and quick reference while driving.
Let’s celebrate switches and stalks, too, the kind that operate exactly as you expect them to. And I can’t forget to mention the Sorento’s transmission shifter, a solid tool exuding quality, and one that works in traditional fashion. Even the manual shift gate is intuitive, the driver logically shifting up for an upshift and down for a downshift.
To say that you’ll instantly feel at home in a Sorento is an understatement.
Utility: 7.5 rating
Kia touts the Sorento as a midsize crossover SUV, and it qualifies, but just barely. Feeling narrower and snugger than some direct competitors, the Sorento also has more cramped cargo space.
Remember how I mentioned that this seat is positioned close to the rear liftgate? That’s reflected in the numbers; with the third-row seat in use, the trunk measures just 11.3 cubic feet. That’s tiny by small car standards, let alone a midsize crossover.
Fold the third-row seat down and you’ll have 38 cubic feet of volume, which is better aligned with the reason you’re buying a crossover in the first place. With the second-row seats folded, you’ll get 73 cubic feet of narrow but tall space. This number is barely larger than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and is smaller than almost every midsize crossover on the market.
Technology: 9.5 rating
Accessing entertainment and information is easy in the 2017 Sorento, because Kia’s excellent UVO infotainment system requires a short and shallow learning curve.
Pairing a smartphone is easy, and for 2017, the Sorento adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration technology to make it simple and intuitive to use the more popular apps on your device. Primary menu buttons provide quick access to the system’s full functionality, allowing owners to set the Sorento up to specific preferences.
Beyond the usual cadre of satellite radio and connectivity features, UVO eServices provides free access to a number of connected services. Simply pair or connect your smartphone to the system, and through your data plan it provides Google Send-To-Car navigation instructions, 911 Connect emergency services, and a Parking Minder and Find my Car feature to help you to remotely locate the Sorento.
Furthermore, parents can squash youthful bad judgment with the Sorento’s programmable geographic boundary, speed and curfew alerts, while worrywarts can rely on maintenance reminders and an automatic vehicle diagnostics review to set their minds at ease.
Safety: 10 rating
From both crash avoidance and crash protection standpoints, the 2017 Kia Sorento is a veritable fortress on wheels.
Safety-related technologies that help drivers to avoid accidents include blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure monitoring and a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. Together, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors and a surround-view camera feature that knits together an image to present a top-down view of your immediate surroundings can keep your Sorento free from parking lot mishaps.
Should a collision prove unavoidable, you should know that the 2017 Sorento is a rock star in the crash-testing department. It earns a 5-Star rating from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a “Good” rating in all parameters of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing which, in combination with its forward collision prevention systems, translates into a “Top Safety Pick+” designation.
Rest assured that you’re putting the people you love the most into one of the safest vehicles in the midsize crossover SUV class.
Power and Performance: 8.0 rating
Under the Sorento’s hood, a 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 supplies smooth, quiet, muscular power while a 6-speed automatic transmission feeds the energy to the SUV’s front wheels. An all-wheel-drive system is optionally available and towing capacity measures 5,000 pounds, which is more than many competitors.
Despite riding regular surges of copious acceleration, my test vehicle got 19.4 mpg on my test loop and returned 20.8 mpg during a week heavy with highway driving. This compares favorably to the EPA’s ratings of 17 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg in combined driving.
Ride and Handling: 8.0 rating
If you placed masking tape on the Sorento’s steering wheel Kia badge and took this SUV for a spin around town, you would swear you were driving a more modern version of my sister’s first-generation Lexus RX. The Sorento has the same refined suppleness and soft, quilted ride quality that soaks up bumps before they can reach the cabin, despite the big 19-inch wheels that come standard with the SXL trim level.
That plushness comes at some cost when it comes to cornering, however, as the Sorento exhibits lean and wallow when pushed into a set of curves with too much speed. Still, with excellent brakes, heavy but mostly precise steering and tires that provide a good level of grip, the Sorento provides predictable, easily controlled handling.
In the 2017 Sorento, Kia builds a stylish midsize crossover, a practical SUV, and an undeniably safe family hauler. Combine these traits with the SXL’s upscale detailing, the reliability reflected in the best warranty you can get, and the value that comes with regularly discounted prices and car loan terms, and there is genuine value to be found in a Kia Sorento.
Still, other people can be judgmental dimwits, can’t they? If you can get past what it used to mean to be a Kia owner, you can thumb your nose at the people looking down theirs while you stroke the fine perforated Nappa leather upholstery of your sumptuous Sorento SXL.