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2012 Kia Sorento Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2012 Kia Sorento

New Car Test Drive
© 2012

The Kia Sorento is a fully equipped midsize crossover SUV that's smooth and quiet, with responsive handling. The 2012 Sorento is available with a new four-cylinder engine that delivers excellent fuel economy, while V6 models are available that deliver strong acceleration performance. All-wheel drive is available for sure-footed traction in wintry conditions. Sorento can be ordered as a three-row model that seats seven or a two-row model that seats five.

Completely redesigned for the 2011, the Kia Sorento cruises into the 2012 model year offering a new engine that improves power and fuel economy. 2012 Kia Sorento models also offer a new voice-activated infotainment system designed to help the driver stay connected with the digital universe without distracting from the road ahead, and the available cloth upholstery has been upgraded.

The Sorento is designed to compete with the Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, and Honda Pilot, and it offers a good value when compared with these midsize crossovers.

This second-generation Sorento is much more like a car than before, benefiting from tight, lightweight, rattle-free unibody construction. The first-generation 2003-2009 Sorento was a truck-based, go-anywhere sport-utility, but it was completely re-engineered with a totally new structure for 2011. It's 600 pounds lighter than its truck-based predecessor yet it's roomier in most interior dimensions and offers greater cargo capacity.

During our test drive, we found the latest Sorento quiet, its rigid structure providing an impressive feeling of sturdiness. The suspension is nicely tuned to muffle rough pavement. On winding roads, it feels decently agile and easy to control with perfect steering feel.

The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with port fuel injection. It delivers adequate performance and adequate fuel economy, achieving an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg City/Highway with AWD. For 2012, there's a new 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder with more power and an EPA-rated 21/28 mpg with AWD. The top-line V6 delivers spirited performance, putting the Sorento at or near the front of its class, although EPA estimates drop to 18/24 mpg with AWD.

The exterior styling of the Kia Sorento is crisp, freshly contemporary. Looking over its uniformly accurate body-panel gaps suggests Kia is paying close attention to the industry's ever-higher build-quality standards.

2012 Kia Sorento EX models come with a new voice-activated infotainment system called UVO based on the Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive platform. 2012 Sorento models with cloth upholstery come standard with new YES Essentials fabrics, which provide anti-bacterial, anti-soil, and anti-static properties. A deluxe Sorento SX variant was added late in the 2011 model year and continues into 2012. The manual-shift base model has been discontinued for 2012. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard on all 2012 Kia Sorento models.

While not intended as an off-road vehicle, a four-wheel-drive Sorento with its 7.5-inch ground clearance would be happy to head out over open desert with no thought of turning back. Furthermore, if you live in vertical country, hill start-assist control and downhill brake control, standard across the Sorento line, will make life easier.

Inside the Sorento is a roomy cabin with a rich inventory of occupant-convenience technologies, including voice-actuated navigation. The interior features quality materials, attractive design themes and handsome color schemes. Leather upholstery is available.

For back-seat riders, Sorento offers separate front and rear air conditioning controls. To keep the front-row proprietors amused, the well appointed Sorento features an AM/FM/satellite/CD/MP3 (or add available high-power 10-speaker Infinity audio), Bluetooth connectivity, USB audio input jacks, steering wheel-mounted audio controls. The available rearview camera displays what's behind the vehicle when backing up either in the rearview mirror or on the navigation screen, if ordered.

The new four-cylinder engine features gasoline direct fuel injection (GDI), providing 11 percent more horsepower and an EPA-estimated 32 mpg Highway rating. The GDI four-cylinder will be the Sorento's mid-range power source, with a conventional port-injection four-cylinder as the base engine and a V6 as the premium choice.

The 2012 Sorento boasts being listed as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Built in the United States, the Sorento is the first Kia model to sell more than 100,000 units in a single year.

Model Lineup

Kia Sorento LX ($23,150), LX AWD ($25,350); LX V6 ($24,950), LX V6 AWD ($26,650); EX ($25,950), EX AWD ($27,650); EX V6 ($27,950), EX V6 AWD ($29,650); SX V6 ($33,150), SX V6 AWD ($34,850)

Walk Around

The Kia Sorento looks modern, sleek, clean as a whistle. It has a forward-lunging stance, the result of a low and compact nose, followed by long, dynamically rising lines to rearward. Kia has been particularly successful at executing the current high-grille look (dictated by body-integral front bumpers) without causing the nose to seem high and awkward.

The grille is flanked on both sides by sly-looking upper complexes for headlights and turn signals. Lower complexes contain foglights and are finished in matte-black to match the grille mesh.

A dark plastic faux skidplate wraps up from below the vehicle to about halfway up the foglight nacelles on LS and EX models.

The SX dispenses with this design element by stretching the lower air opening and the body-color part of the bumper down closer to ground level. A smaller, stainless steel skidplate defines the bottom of the enlarged lower grille on the SX, and SX foglights are five-sided instead of round, and accented by splashes of body-color trim. More subtle is the change in the upper grille on the SX, where the trademark Kia tiger-nose shape seems to float within the grillework, rather than outlining the border as it does on lesser models.

To maximize interior volume, particularly in the third-row seats, the Sorento roofline makes only a slight taper downwards at the rear. Similarly, the rear passenger doors extend back over the wheel housing to optimize access to third-row seats.

Sorento's shape is more than just a pretty face; it slips through the air at highway speed with minimal wind noise.


The Kia Sorento interior is tasteful and pleasing. Dash surfaces are an attractive textured black with gray simulated-wood trim, not the real thing, in the driver's compartment. Controls and switchgear are of high quality, with good tactile feel. Instruments are well laid out and self-explanatory.

We found the driver's seat, with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support, to be excellent, firm, supportive, confidence-inspiring. There's lots of legroom here, making the Sorento a good choice for exceptionally tall drivers. The front passenger seat on the top models is powered, but adjusts only four ways as is common.

The second-row bench seat was comfortable, though even with the front seat well forward, second-row legroom was so-so. Good for small children, not so good for tall teen-agers.

The third-row seats are a compromise, as they are in any but the most grandiose three-row vehicles. Tilt-folding the second-row seats forward to access the rear involves a bit of calisthenics, as the seats are fairly heavy. Once the unlucky, last-row galley slaves are in place and the second-row seats slam down and lock, the latches are hard to release and fold forward from the rear row. Headroom in the far rear is minimal, as well. The third row should be adequate for kids but adults won't like it back there.

The navigation system with rearview camera lacks some of the more sophisticated onscreen visual aids for backing while turning found on premium crossovers. The Infinity deluxe audio system is superb. The climate control works flawlessly, offering strong fan volume when requested. Vanity mirrors in the sun visors were lit, but only after you turn them on with a button. Similar units in some other vehicles light automatically upon being opened.

Cargo space with all seats folded down is 72.5 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions

The Kia Sorento rides smoothly and handles well. It's relatively quiet on the road and feels sturdy underway.

The suspension is nicely tuned to muffle and damp pavement irregularities. On smooth curves when driving a bit more aggressively, the Sorento feels agile and easy to control. Much of this is thanks to Kia's firm, spot-on steering effort, the independent rear suspension, and the rigid unibody construction.

Steering is power-assisted but isn't too light: It requires the driver to make forthright moves to left or right so there's no wandering or numbness of any kind. First-class.

We found the standard four-cylinder engine adequate, though not exciting. This old-school, port-injection 2.4-liter engine is EPA-rated rated 21/29 mpg and generates 172 horsepower.

The new 191-hp 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder produces 10-percent more power than the base engine and slightly better fuel economy. More telling are the torque numbers: The base engine peaks out at 169 pound-feet at 3750 rpm; the GDI ups this only 7 percent, to 181 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. In short, it appears as though the GDI may deliver more goods but it has to rev higher and work harder at delivering them. We suspect its most desirable virtue will be its improved fuel economy: 22/32 EPA-estimated City/Highway mpg on front-drive models, which is as good as our previous benchmark, the four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox.

The V6 engine makes the Sorento feel crisp and energetic. A Sorento V6 may be the quickest SUV in its class. Rated at 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm, it delivers ample acceleration performance handy when merging onto the freeway in fast traffic. Fuel efficiency drops to an EPA-rated 18/24 mpg with 4WD, 20/26 mpg with 2WD. That's slightly better than the Chevrolet Equinox, however.

The 4WD models use full-time all-wheel drive, which makes them excellent all-weather alternatives.

The four-wheel disc brakes of the Sorento brought it to a firm halt from highway speed with good controllability. We found the nose dives down under heavy braking, but the vehicle was stable in panic braking, and on dry pavement the anti-lock brakes worked appropriately.

The Kia Sorento is an attractive crossover with surprising levels of luxury, versatility and sophistication. It offers a good value among midsize SUVs. The cabin is attractive, and it's smooth and quiet underway. A choice of engines offers buyers a choice of low purchase price, excellent fuel economy or strong acceleration performance.

Ted West filed this report to after his test drive of the Kia Sorento near Newport Beach, California.

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