2019 Kia Sorento First Drive Review: More Of A Good Thing

First Drive

Kia's three-row crossover just keeps getting better.

If you stare closely at the refreshed 2019 Kia Sorento, you may struggle to see how it differs from last year's model. Kia gave its mid-size SUV a minor facelift, and some improvements that are more than skin deep. Clearly the folks at Kia are eager to show off their improvements, because we were flown out to West Point, Georgia, where the Sorento SUV and Optima sedan are built. We were then handed the keys to a top-trim SXL V6 model with Snow White Pearl paint to see how the most fully loaded Sorento behaved on Georgia's back roads.

For 2019, the biggest noticeable changes to the Sorento are revised front and rear fascias, which we feel are smoother and more upscale, though not drastically different from the outgoing model. Likewise, the revised interior would not seem out of place to previous Sorento owners.

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We noticed a new steering wheel, seats, and HVAC controls, but to discover the biggest changes for 2019 you have to scratch the surface. All V6 models now come equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder cars still makes due with a six-speed automatic, though we didn't have a chance to drive it during our visit. Pricing for the Sorento starts at $25,990 for the base L trim with FWD. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is good for 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. While we didn't have a chance to sample this engine, we assume it would be adequate, if not slightly underpowered for the roughly 3,800-pound SUV.

Even the base L trim comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED positioning lights, intermittent wipers, tilt and telescoping wheel, 40-20-20 folding 2nd row, 50-50 folding 3rd row, 7-inch display with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth, three power outlets, steering wheel audio controls, and keyless entry. Stepping up to the LX trim for $27,490 adds an acoustic front windshield, seat back pockets, two rapid charge USB ports, power windows with auto up/down, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. The LX trim can also be ordered with a V6 engine for $31,290, and includes eight-way power driver seat with lumbar and dual zone automatic climate control.

We'd highly recommend stepping up to the mid-level EX V6 for $35,590, which adds 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, 7-inch trip computer, auto dimming rear mirror, heated leather seats, leather wheel and shift knob, 3rd row air conditioning controls, and a smart tailgate. The EX trim also adds most of the important safety features including rear park distance warning, forward collision avoidance, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and smart cruise control with stop-and-go. Go nuts with the options like on our SX Limited test car with the V6 and AWD, and the price can balloon up to around $48,000.

We greatly enjoyed the luxurious touches on the SXL like the 2nd row sunshades, 10-way power adjustable seats with Nappa leather, seat ventilation, perforated leather steering wheel, Harmon Kardon audio, heated steering wheel, and heated second row seats, but we'd save around $10,000 and take the EX trim. As much as we'd love to recommend the SXL, not everyone is willing to shell out nearly $50,000 on a decked out Kia. For most people, the EX trim will do nicely and comes with the features we value most. The 3.3-liter V6 produces 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque and a 5,000-pound towing capacity going out through an eight-speed automatic to FWD or AWD.

The drivetrain is remarkably smooth and composed. We asked Kia why it decided to still include a V6 when so many competitors have switched to four-cylinder turbos, and we got a simple response - "it's what our customers want." It's hard to blame them, because the smooth power delivery of the 3.3-liter engine made us yearn for the days when SUVs had nice-sounding V6 engines instead of buzzy four-pots. Fuel economy isn't terrible, with EPA ratings of 19/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined. Those EPA figures go down by 2-mpg on the highway with the AWD. This V6 is no where near as throaty as the twin-turbo unit found in the Stinger, but it does produce a nice noise at full tilt.

We stomped on the accelerator a few times to test the V6's oomph, and found it to be more than adequate. Our loan complaint with the power delivery was the odd spacing of the gear ratios. It was difficult to get the transmission to kick down enough to get the engine up to redline, though we doubt too many three-row SUV drivers will be trying to hit redline on their way to pick up the kids from school. In almost all circumstances, the eight-speed shifts smoothly and imperceptibly. Even though we doubt most owners will ever utilize them, Kia has given the Sorento several drive modes to help change the character of the car.

The Smart Shift & Drive feature allows you to chose from Eco, Normal, Sport, and Smart modes. We didn't notice any huge differences when we threw the Sorento in sport mode, but the car did seem more eager to downshift on throttle tip in. The steering did get slightly heavier in sport mode, though it is hard to notice a major difference. We left the Sorento in smart mode most of the time, where it shifted between normal and sport depending on how we were driving. The Sorento is not the most powerful SUV in the mid-size segment, but the power is perfectly adequate and the driving dynamics are smooth and refined.

The steering provides just enough feedback to not be soul crushing, and remains light enough to keep the Sorento highly maneuverable in parking lots. The Mazda CX-9 is a far sportier experience, though we doubt too many three-row SUV buyers are making their purchasing decision based on sportiness. If that's the case, be sure to check out the Dodge Durango SRT and its massive 475 hp V8. The Sorento remains a winner due to its well-balanced nature and overall refinement. On the inside, the Sorento is well laid out and spacious. The controls are easy and intuitive, and Android Auto and Apple Car Play are standard on top of Kia's generally excellent infotainment.

The heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats on the SX-L trim are well bolstered, and feel like they were plucked right out of the Stinger sport sedan. We especially loved the Terracotta brown leather, with looked like it belonged in a much more expensive car. While the leather was beautiful, there was a bit too much black plastic around the cabin, which feels cheap in certain spots. We also didn't love the red monochromatic HVAC screen, which looks like it belongs on a 2008 Kia Forte rather than a 2019 vehicle.

The Sorento makes up for some of its cheaper components with a lovely gauge cluster that both looks great, and provides clear and concise information to the driver. Ergonomically, we noticed that getting into the standard 3rd row was slightly tricky with the cargo cover in its first position, though it could be repositioned or removed to make accessing the third row simpler. Once in the 3rd row, the 36.3-inches of headroom was perfectly adequate, although the 31.7-inches of leg room was a bit tight for someone of adult size. The second row was perfectly roomy with 39.4-inches of leg room and the ability to slide the seats backward and forward.

Cargo capacity behind the 2nd row is competitive at 38-cubic inches, though that figure shrinks to 11.3-cubic inches with the 3rd row folded up. Based on our short drive, we imagine that the Sorento will serve nicely for families with two or three children, who will occasionally use the 3rd row. The Kia Sorento was always a strong competitor in the mid-size SUV segment, and with the improvements for the 2019 model year, Kia has given buyers more of a good thing.

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