Determined to be a big-time player in the States, Kia continues to turn up the heat on its competitors.
Just three years ago, Kia replaced its compact, truck-based Sorento SUV with an all-new crossover of the same name. The new Sorento quickly began to ring up sales against such august company as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.
But vehicles in competitive categories can take nothing for granted. So, with the 2014 model year, Sorento gets a mid-cycle refresh so extensive other brands would pitch as a full makeover.
Indeed, Kia calls the updated Sorento “80 percent new.” Its chassis is new, interior materials are updated and the telematics and infotainment systems are refined. Last year’s base, four-cylinder engine goes away and a new and more powerful V-6 debuts in the premium-level slot.
Its optional all-wheel-drive system adds torque-vectoring, a sophisticated technology that sends power to individual wheels, improving handling in slippery conditions and fast corners.
The Sorento is one of the larger compact crossovers and one of just two to offer third-row seating (the other being the recently reviewed Mitsubishi Outlander). Though its wheelbase is unchanged, this year’s chassis revisions boost rear-seat legroom. A pair of full-size adults will find abundant leg- and headroom.
As always, the vestigial third row is best left for children too young to know a better world exists just inches ahead.
The new chassis produces an 18 percent gain in structural rigidity, allowing the fitment of a new front suspension and a significant retuning of the rear suspension. Both measures improve ride and handling. In town, the Sorento rides smoothly over broken patches. At speed, it’s composed, with minimal body lean in fast corners.
Focused on helping consumers forget its cut-rate origins, Kia has replaced hard plastic cabin materials with soft-touch surfaces. Extensive sound-reduction measures cut cabin noise to impressively low levels.
Kia pioneered cabin tech in the lower price ranges. The new Sorento’s upper trims feature the latest version of Kia’s voiced-activated UVO eServices infotainment and telematics systems. The color touch screen grows to eight inches, the menu structure has grown more intuitive and graphics are sharper.
The addition of a secondary control knob makes this one of the most user-friendly interfaces available, regardless of price (though I continue my one-man campaign against onboard touch screens).
Sorento engine choices include a 2.4-liter, 191-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The optional six measures 3.3 liters and makes 290 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available.
The weak link here is efficiency. The FWD four is rated at 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 combined. AWD cuts that to 19/24/21. The six is rated 18/25/21 and 18/24/20.
The four is generally regarded as a bit underpowered. The six, which on most trims represents a $1,600 upgrade, provides abundant power without a significant efficiency penalty.
Other significant ’14 updates include available blind-spot monitoring, front-seat cooling and a height-programmable power liftgate.
Whatever you want to call it -- makeover or refresh -- is immaterial. Fact is, the updated Sorento adds fuel to the already incendiary compact crossover battle.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD
Vehicle base price: $24,100
Trim level base price: $36,700
As tested: $38,550
Optional equipment included third-row seating; rear air conditioning.
EPA ratings: 18 city/24 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified