Kia applies a high standard to its cars. The 2014 Sorento boasted 80 percent new or re-engineered parts and content, including cosmetic changes, a new V6, new chassis, new electric steering, suspension revisions, improved braking, upgraded interior appointments, and new infotainment and telematics. Sorento will be all-new for 2016. So there aren’t many changes to the 2015 Sorento.
The Kia Sorento comes with Torque Vectoring Control (TVCC), for added stability in corners, and quicker electric power steering, with less than three turns of the steering wheel, lock-to-lock. The steering features an available Flex Steer system that offers drivers a choice of three steering modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport.
The 2015 Sorento was named the Best Family Vehicle by the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA), during the annual Mudfest competition in Snoqualmie, Washington, in which we participated. More than 20 NWAPA automotive journalists evaluated vehicles on an autocross course as well as paved and moderate off-road routes during the two-day event.
The front and rear fascia are fairly low and wide, while the grille is enhanced by either anodized silver or black mesh, depending on the model. The lower valance has been opened to expose a cross-hatched intake, while LED positioning lamps create striking eyebrows over projector-style headlights in clear lenses. Available fog lights on all trim models are upended and pushed to the far corners of the front bumper for better forward and side visibility. Horizontally positioned rear LED combination lamps warmly embrace the turn signal and back-up lights. The Sorento rides on 17-, 18- and available 19-inch wheels.
Like every vehicle in this class, the Sorento is a unibody design, basically front-wheel drive with an all-wheel drive option. Although, because the Sorento is available as a three-row seven-seater, there are precious few cars in its exact class (Mitsubishi Outlander to name one). But in fact, the Sorento is in a class of its own. The Sorento’s list of standard and optional features goes well beyond the rest of the compact crossover crowd, and so can its price. But the affordable beauty of the Sorento is the well-equipped LX model.
Although Kia continues to offer the smaller Sportage, Kia places the Sorento in the compact crossover field, where it has a size advantage. The Sorento is substantially bigger and roomier than the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota RAV4, none of which offer a third row.
Comparing specs and the feel and quality of the car, we’d say the Sorento is most like the Acura RDX: about the same wheelbase, length, weight, second-row legroom, horsepower and torque from a smooth V6, and 6-speed auto transmission. Cost for a fully loaded model is about the same, nearly $40,000, but the big difference is that the Sorento is available in the LX model with fewer luxuries, for about $8000 less than the base Acura RDX.
The Sorento’s double-overhead-cam V6 engine made its initial appearance in the 2012 Hyundai Azera sedan. A V6 is a rare option among compact crossovers, although the Outlander too has a V6 available. Kia’s 3.3-liter V6 uses direction injection to produce 290 horsepower, and 252 pound-feet of torque.
Fuel economy for the 2015 Sorento with 3.3-liter V6 is an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg City/Highway, 18/24 mpg with all-wheel drive. It comes with a 6-speed automatic. Regular gasoline is recommended for all models, a definite engineering plus, as many direct-injection engines today require Premium fuel. We put 764 miles on a 2015 Sorento SX AWD, and averaged a combined 24.1 mpg, beating the EPA estimate by a good bit.
Only the base Sorento LX comes with a four-cylinder engine, mated to a 6-speed automatic. It’s a 2.4-liter with GDI direct injection rated at 191 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque. It’s EPA rated 20/27 mpg City/Highway, 19/25 mpg with all-wheel drive. Although the V6 option adds $1600 to the bottom line, it doesn’t carry much of a fuel economy penalty, especially when all-wheel drive is ordered.
The one-year-old chassis features a subframe supporting the strut front suspension, stiffened front strut towers, larger bushings in the multilink rear suspension, and more high strength steel throughout the shell. Kia engineers cite an 18 percent increase in torsional rigidity, an area of chassis construction where more is always better, contributing to better handling and crashworthiness.
The Sorento has the feel of solid goods, with a goodly list of standard features even in basic LX editions.
The Sorento is the bigger of Kia’s two compact crossovers (the smaller one is the Sportage), sharing structural and powertrain elements with the Hyundai Santa Fe, which is available with two wheelbases, 106.3 inches for the two-row version and 110 inches for the three-row. The Sorento uses only the smaller wheelbase, even with its third row squeezed in. We think it enhances the package.
The Sorento’s front stance is wide but subtle, with the most visible distinction a new semi-circle of LED lights flanking each projector beam headlamp. A wide trough in the hood, between character lines at the edges, gives the Sorento a touch of macho. You enjoy these lines through the windshield. You can actually see the hood of your Sorento, unlike some steep-nosed crossovers.
Fog lamps (optional) are vertical and at the edges, enhancing the appearance of width. New for 2015 are LED turn signals, taillights and reverse lights.
Wheel/tire choices are unusually extensive. The basic Sorento LX comes with 7×17-inch wheels wearing 235/65R17 tires. The range also includes 18- and, for the first time, 19-inch aluminum alloys.
The Kia Sorento cabin is roomy, with lots of cargo capacity: 72.5 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded flat, and still almost 40 feet with the just the third row flat. The second row offers adjustability and decent leg room. It’s a 40/20/40, not the usual 60/40, making the Sorento a sweet four-passenger with easy access to the cargo area. The third row is cramped, but it works for a family with four or five kids. Sorento is the soccer mom’s delight.
The Sorento continues to offer the option of a three-row, seven-passenger configuration. However, adding the third row consumes a bit of cargo space and continues to be very snug in terms of third-row leg room. Kia and Mitsubishi are now the only players in this segment to offer a third-row option. Toyota bailed with the RAV4, due to lack of buyers. The Hyundai Santa Fe with 110-inch wheelbase offers a third row, but it is a longer vehicle.
Five-passenger models (with just two rows of seats) get a storage compartment under the rear cargo floor.
The Sorento offers a sonar-based blind spot monitor system, a first for Kia. Like other blind spot watch dogs, the system tracks vehicles lurking in the Sorento’s rear quarters and provides visual alerts, followed by audible warning if the driver begins to move into the occupied lane.
The Kia Sorento is marketed as a compact crossover utility, but is big and heavy by the standards of the class, with curb weights crowding two tons, so the Sorento scores lower EPA ratings than its competitors in that CUV class. The weight also steals from that wished-for nimble driving experience. We forget we’re talking about a seven-passenger vehicle here, so when you put nimble in that context, we’d say it’s way so.
At the least, we’d say it’s tight, and the ride is firm and compatible, without the jagged edges that you get in an Acura RDX, to which the Sorento compares favorably, in the handling department. The Flex Steer option conveys on-center tactility, particularly in Sport mode. After experimenting with all three settings, we left it in Sport, which made steering effort higher but handling more precise.
The brakes have gratifying power with excellent pedal feel and easy modulation.
We put 764 miles on our loaded Sorento SX AWD, including filling it with cargo on a northwest road trip in rainy fall weather, and it passed every test. The powertrain felt perfect, especially the smooth 6-speed automatic transmission, without paddles but not needed. The V6 engine’s torque makes silky acceleration all the way up to 6500 rpm, without transmission kickdowns; or else the kickdowns are so smooth you can’t feel them. The 3.3-liter doesn’t produce neck-snapping acceleration, but stoplight getaway and two-lane passing are excellent.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in the base LX makes 191 horsepower, but they’re hard to find, even for us. Without driving one, we think the Sorento will make owners much happier with the V6. In the LX, it’s $2400 more with front-wheel drive.
The Kia Sorento is large for a compact crossover utility vehicles, which means it is roomy with lots of cargo capacity. Unless you need to carry six passengers, two of which must be small, the two-row version makes more sense. The engine, transmission and ride are all sweetly smooth. The cabin is quiet and classy. Sorento offers good value, especially in the LX model with fewer options.
Sam Moses contributed to this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Kia Sorento SX in the Pacific Northwest, adding to Tony Swan’s report after his test drive in Arizona.