What It Is
A true seven-passenger crossover that comes out swinging with a ton of value.
Three usable rows in a tidy, stylish package.
Interior materials and ride quality both need significant improvements.
A few too many shortcomings hurt an otherwise solid crossover.
For Kia, the Sorento represents much more than just another midsize crossover with some sporting pretensions. It represents the Korean automaker's first real breakthrough in the U.S., and is a staple to its lineup.
Always a solid midpack seller, the Sorento puttered along with decent sales until the current generation landed right at the height of the economic collapse. At that point, something clicked in the consumer psyche that this budget brand with a 10-year warranty could be relied upon as a good value from a stable company. Even as the domestic automakers recovered, the Sorento kept gaining momentum, hitting a sales peak of 130,235 vehicles last year. And even this year--the year before the Kia Sorento is set to receive an extensive refresh--it's still on pace to break the 100,000 sales mark.
While shorter and slightly narrower than the Ford Edge, the 2013 Kia Sorento competes most directly with it and the Nissan Murano, among other vehicles of similar size and shape. Yet, it has something they don't: a third row, opening up seating for seven passengers. It also has two four-cylinder engines in addition to a top-level V-6. The 2013 Sorento adds another piece to the equation that few other automakers try to go toe-to-toe with: Lots of features for a relatively minimal price.
The Kia Sorento has obviously won fans--and is continuing to garner a new following--for the once unknown and little-loved automaker. It begs the question: Is Kia's success with the Sorento based on great marketing at the right time, or is there enough substance to the 2013 Kia Sorento for it to stand on its own merits?
What We DroveThe 2013 Kia Sorento comes in several permutations. There are three engines available: a 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder base for the front-wheel-drive Sorento LX. Then there's a direct fuel-injection engine that cranks power up to 191 horses. And, finally, the Sorento is available with a 3.5-liter V-6 with 276 horsepower. Most are available in any combination of front- or all-wheel drive and in base LX, mid-level EX, or loaded SX trim levels.
We drove a 2013 Kia Sorento EX with all-wheel drive and the V-6, representative of what dealers will likely stock for snowbelt regions. The front-wheel-drive Sorento LX starts at $23,950, including $800 for destination and handling. The cheapest all-wheel-drive version comes in at $2,200 more, but it also adds the 16 horsepower and a more-efficient powertrain to the mix. Our V-6-equipped 2013 Sorento EX had a base price of $30,450, but it came optioned with the Limited Package ($2,000) that replaces Kia's UVO voice-command system with an older design that includes navigation (UVO doesn't) and provides the Sorento with an air conditioned driver's seat, a memory driver's seat, auto-dimming mirrors, a Homelink garage door opener, and power-folding mirrors. Additionally, the leather-lined Sorento was optioned with the Premium Package 2 ($3,400) that includes a first aid kit, Infinity surround sound system, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, a 50/50 split-folding third row bench, and a panoramic sunroof. Along with a rear bumper protector ($65), a cargo net ($50), and a cargo cover ($125), our Sorento topped out at $36,090, which puts it right in the heart of the segment. By comparison, a similarly equipped Ford Edge with two rows of seats would crest just north of $40,000.
Thankfully, Kia includes a lot of standard safety features in addition to the frills. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety ranks the 2013 Sorento among its "Top Safety Picks." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it an overall four out of five stars, scoring four in front impacts and rollovers and five stars in side impact protection. The Sorento comes with front, knee, and side curtain airbags for first-row passengers, and the side curtains extend back to the second row as well. And, lastly, for those with smaller children, the Kia Sorento comes equipped with LATCH seat anchors for all three seats in the middle row, albeit it's not possible to use the middle LATCH point when another seat is installed.
The CommuteLet's start with the good: The Sorento's V-6 engine. Coupled to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission and fed to the ground via all-wheel drive, its power feels effortless. The Sorento takes some muscle to move its wheel at low speeds but it's smooth and direct, if not somewhat sporting. Along with strong, progressive brakes, we're tempted to say the Sorento is among the better-driving vehicles in its class on a smooth road.
But most roads aren't smooth. The Sorento rides roughly over pocked roads and falls into every pothole with a thunk. It rides like a truck, despite the fact that it isn't one. The model that preceded the current Sorento was based on a truck platform and had a legitimate low-range gearbox for off-roading. The current model is completely car-based and only has a locking differential for light mud slinging. We're not sure why Kia made it ride so harshly.
When you hop into the 2013 Kia Sorento, you're surrounded by a stylish, leather-lined interior. Then you start looking at it closely, and feeling around. In our vehicle, which had covered all of 5,500 miles, we saw its leather-wrapped wheel peeling. Mind you, that's 5,500 arduous miles dragged through the hell that is press fleet duty. But it still made us suspicious of the Sorento's interior durability. Almost all of the interior plastics were hard, and some creaked with a tug here or there. While the materials were on par with most of the midsize crossover class, build quality wasn't. Then again, some of it could be attributed to journalist agitation.
The Grocery RunI don't consider myself a save-the-world hippie, but living in California has made it conducive for me to save my recyclables and cash in every few weeks for some lunch money. It forces me to hoard grocery bags full of old water bottles in my apartment until I happen upon a vehicle that's big enough to carry all of them to the recycling center. By the time I got the Sorento for the weekend, there were three large kitchen bags full of bottles and two smaller plastic grocery bags. The Sorento gobbled them up with plenty of room to spare. With the rearmost bench folded flat, the Kia is able to envelop 37 cubic feet. The Ford Edge, by comparison, takes in five fewer cubes.
But with the seat up, it can only muster 9.1 cubic feet, placing not even a foot of distance between the rear seatbacks and the liftgate. If you're thinking about carrying eggs back there with all the seats up, we highly recommend you reconsider.
In a parking lot, the 2013 Kia Sorento feels a little cumbersome with steering too slow and heavy to maneuver in tight spaces. But when backing out of spaces, it helps to know the Kia Sorento comes with a rearview camera. It's available on all models with UVO or the navigation system, albeit its resolution is a little grainy. Still, it's a feature that usually costs a good chunk of change in other cars. Poor resolution or not, it does its job pretty well.
The Weekend FunAround the cabin, we noticed little of the same sort of fragility in back, perhaps because fewer people have used the second and third rows. But supposing they had, they'd find neither row is a particularly shabby place to be. In the middle row, we found leg room to be plenty ample for three across. And in the rearmost seat, it's possible to fit two real human beings, not just kids or Oompa Loompas. Sure, you should probably be under 5-foot-7 to use it. But compared to the third row in even a vehicle like the much larger Chevrolet Tahoe, the Kia's rear bench is well-designed and surprisingly functional.
At highway speeds, the Sorento is nearly silent, although its less-than-smooth suspension isn't ideal for long road trips. Its Infinity audio system, controlled through an easy-to-use touchscreen, easily drowns out any ancillary noise caused by wind running along its bulky lines, making commuting a go by without much fuss. It's only when the driver looks down at the fuel economy readout that he or she begins to worry.
Over our week with the Kia Sorento, we saw right around 17 mpg through both city and highway driving. That falls 1 mpg below the Sorento's EPA city rating and 2 mpg below its mixed number. While below the number we had hoped for, it wasn't wholly disappointing. A front-wheel-drive 2012 GMC Terrain equipped with a less-powerful V-6 managed to achieve the same number under our stewardship.
SummaryOn the surface, the Kia Sorento looks like it has all the right boxes checked while undercutting the competition by a wide margin. In reality, you get exactly what you pay for.
There's a lot to like about the 2013 Kia Sorento. Its relatively compact dimensions help on tight streets, and its seven-passenger seating make it a decent alternative for those not needing to commit to a more expensive behemoth like a Chevrolet Traverse or Ford Explorer. It's a legitimate in-betweener, a niche that doesn't have nearly as many players as it should. Kia's been wise to see the opening and take advantage of it--and do so while undercutting the competition.
But the accessories can only mask the Sorento's shortcomings so well, and it's obvious that the Sorento's budget constrained what the automaker could do. Its interior plastics feel cheap; its ride feels unrefined. While functional and stylish, Kia's asking $36,000 for customers to believe the Sorento will make it in the long-run. Given what we've seen so far, we're not sure it's wise to go all-in with the Sorento.
Given how well our Sorento accomplishes its mission, we think it's a credible pick for a family in need of a people-hauler on the cheap. But we'd feel better off recommending a cheaper four-cylinder model or going with a minivan. Or, hang on for a few more months when the improved 2014 Kia Sorento makes its way to dealerships.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $36,090
EPA City: 18
EPA Highway: 24
EPA Combined: 20
Estimated Combined Range: 360 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor
"The inside looks premium until closer inspection. But hey, at least they made it look good. " -Matt Askari, Associate Editor
"I had to come to a quick stop and the sunroof shades shut themselves." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor