Review: The 2014 KIA Sorento successfully combines the best of car & crossover

2014-Kia-Sorento-right-front-2-1024x640The Kia Sorento crossover SUV has been sold for years, but continual improvements have kept it a contender. The improved 2014 Sorento shows Kia can keep this carlike vehicle very competitive.

Formidable rivals include the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango and Toyota Highlander.

Styling counts for a lot these days, and the 2014 Sorento looks sharper than its predecessors. It has redesigned front and rear fascias to enhance its presence with a lower, broader look up front and a visually wider rear stance. Projector style headlights peer from behind tapered clear lenses. The Sorento rolls on redesigned 17-, 18- or new 19-inch wheels.

Prices range from $24,100 for the base front-drive, four-cylinder LX Sorento and go to $40,100 for the SX-L version with a V-6, all-wheel drive and numerous comfort and convenience features. Not to mention a 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

A Sorento buyer can choose from a wide range of often costly option packages with alluring features. For instance, the $2,600 Convenience Package contains leather seating, power driver seat, push-button start and automatic temperature control. Jump to the $3,200 Tour Package and you get an 8-inch screen with navigation, Infinity surround sound audio system, power passenger seat, blind-spot detection system and a handy power liftgate.

2014-Kia-Sorento-left-side-1-1024x640A $4,400 Touring Package provides, among other things, a redesigned panoramic sunroof with a power shade and ventilated front seats.

The third-row seat with air conditioning costs $1,200, but is suitable only for small children or pets.

I tested the $31,800 EX V-6 version with 18-inch alloy wheels and Kia’s enhanced Torque-on-Demand all-wheel-drive system. The system now has a locking center differential. Its Torque Vectoring Cornering Control aids stability under certain driving conditions.

My test Sorento had the approximately $4,000 Touring Package that contains a surround sound and navigation system, ventilated front seats,, blind-spot detection and a power liftgate. Its bottom line list price was $35,700—without an $850 freight charge.

As with all Sorentos, my test vehicle had a smooth, responsive six-speed  automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature.

Inside the commendably quiet, roomy interior, a redesigned instrument panel contains easily read backlit gauges. A mixture of large and small, clearly marked controls help allow relatively fuss-free driving. The large, comfortable front seats provide good side support, but shorter rear occupants may object to the high beltline—where the side glass meets the body.

Front cupholders are within handy reach on the console. So are the rear ones that pop out of a center fold-down armrest. Front doors have large storage pockets, a deep covered console bin and even a fairly large glove compartment. Lots of interior plastic is used, but it doesn’t look cheap. Dashboard vents are strategically located.

2014-Kia-Sorento-cockpit-21-1024x640Safety items include front airbags and side curtain air bags.

My Sorento had Kia’s new 3.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-6 (up from a 276-horsepower V-6), with 252 pound-feet of torque. The new engine allows quick in-town moves and easy 65-75 mph. passing on level surfaces. While the engine loafs at 2,000 r.p.m. at 65 m.p.h., I found it surprising that slight highway grades slowed passing times a bit.

I didn’t try the Sorento’s standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which provides 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. But I doubt it would provide anything but just-adequate highway acceleration.

Both the “four” and “six” engines need just regular-grade fuel. Estimated fuel economy for the front-drive Sorento is 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on highways with the four-cylinder and 18 and 25 with the V-6. With all-wheel-drive, the numbers fall slightly to 19 and 24 with the four-cylinder and to 18 and 24 with the V-6.

2014-Kia-Sorento-cockpit-1-1024x640After all, the Sorento weighs from 3,594 to 3,722 pounds with front-drive and from 3,766 to 3,894 pounds with all-wheel drive.

The new electronic motor-driven power steering, which replaces a hydraulic unit, is nicely geared for in-town driving and highway cruising. The ride is supple, but some road surfaces cause a little suspension “bounce.”

Handling is good, thanks partly to a front and rear independent suspension with stabilizer bars and stability and traction control systems. But there is some body sway when driving faster than normal on freeway on- and off-ramps.

The engine bay has a strut-tower brace that increases chassis stiffness and provides a solid platform for the independent front suspension, which incorporates a stiffer H-shaped sub-frame cradle that offers improved vehicle tracking. In back, a reinforced multi-link setup uses new bushings and mounts to better isolate road noise vibration.

Effective anti-lock brakes are activated by a nice firm-feeling pedal.

Getting in and out requires a little extra effort because of the the 66.9-inch-high Sorento’s high floor. Small rear door openings impede fast entry and exit.

The large cargo area has a wide, but high, floor. Rear split seatbacks fold forward and sit flat to greatly increase the cargo area. A lever on each lower side of the rear seat allows the seatbacks to recline, besides causing the split seatbacks to be folded forward.

The hood raises easily on twin struts, and the engine compartment is not cluttered.

So here we have a South Korean vehicle with an Italian name that definitely is worth a good look and test drive.

Prices: $24,100-$40,100

2014-Kia-Sorento-rear-end-1-1024x640On the TFLcar scale of:

Buy it

– Lease it

– Rent it or

-Forget it

I recommend that you Buy It!

Dan Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times–far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008. For more of Dan’s thoughtful and insightful reviews please visit his web site HERE.