How new the 2014 Kia Sorento really is depends on how you look at it, or more correctly, where you look at it.
Kia's current design renaissance encompasses the street-wise Soul and Sportage wagons as well as the Optima and Rio sedans. You can also place the current-generation Sorento that was launched for 2011 on that list. The lines are so right on the money in terms of contemporary style and carrying capacity that there was obviously no point in monkeying around with the mid-sized wagon's looks.
For 2014, the Georgia-built Sorento receives a minor nose tweak, including the ubiquitous mesh-style grille, updated headlights and optional fog lights, plus new taillight lenses. Otherwise the silhouette remains basically the same.
Surprisingly, however, just about every other part of the Sorento's DNA has been altered, redesigned, or otherwise enhanced, kind of like when Peter Parker was bitten by the spider to become Spiderman. Same kid on the outside, but better reflexes and more power.
For 2014, Kia has mounted the Sorento on a platform that's identical to that of parent Hyundai's Santa Fe Sport. Kia claims the new structure is 18 percent stiffer than the 2013 version; attached to that is a stouter sub-frame that holds the powertrain more firmly.
There's also a new independent front suspension, while a more compact rear suspension aids interior space and restricts noise and vibrations from entering the cabin.
The Sorento's hydraulic power-steering system has been exchanged for a more efficient electric unit that features Comfort, Normal and Sport settings, depending on your desired level of steering firmness.
Kia's design team also took care of business on the inside, installing a new instrument panel and center control stack with easier-to-find buttons and knobs.
As before, Sorento can accommodate up to seven passengers with the optional third-row seat, but there's precious little legroom in back and equally scarce stowage room when loaded to the max with passengers. There is a solution if a more comfy back row is a must, but it requires visiting your Hyundai dealer to scope out the extended-wheelbase version of the Santa Fe.
Big changes are also to be discovered in the engine bay. The 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder powerplant that was standard for 2013 has been dropped, and the previously optional 191-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection (fuel is sprayed under very high pressure directly into the combustion chambers instead of the intake manifold) now assumes base-engine duties.
Added performance is at hand with the available 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 (also direct-injected) that delivers 18 more ponies than the outgoing 3.5-liter V6.
The four-cylinder's six-speed manual transmission has been deleted, leaving only a six-speed automatic with manual shift controls.
As before, you can order your four-cylinder or V6 Sorento in front- or all-wheel drive. The latter is a full-time system that constantly varies the torque to all four wheels and can direct power to the outer wheels in high-speed turning situations for added control (known as torque vectoring).
Interestingly, estimated four-cylinder fuel economy is 20 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway (two-wheel-drive), which is close to the V6's 18/25 rating. That points to the extra work the four-cylinder has to do to lug the Sorento around, which might make you wonder what the point is.
Clearly, the four-cylinder enters the market at a more favorable pricepoint.
The 2014 Sorento starts at just under $25,000, which is a price jump commensurate with the increase in power, content and that one great intangible, class.
Along with the existing LX, EX and SX/SX-L trims, Kia has added a new SX Limited model that does its luxury best to coddle passengers with a wood-trimmed interior with ventilated soft leather-covered seats on the inside, while self-leveling headlights and exclusive 19-inch wheels (17- and 18-inch wheels adorn lower trims) are installed outside.
As for options, the tricks up the Sorento's sleeve include a power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, advanced voice-activated communications, infotainment and navigation controls (incorporating an eight-inch touch-screen) and a blind-spot monitoring system that constantly tracks vehicles in the immediate vicinity and issues an audible and visual alert should any get too close.
What you should know: 2014 Kia Sorento
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive wagon
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (191); 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (290)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: The mid-size Sorento and its peers offer multi-passenger capacity with their occasional-use third-row seats that are more kid- than adult-friendly. They're also easier on the wallet than similar full-size wagons.
Points: Mid-cycle updating will go unnoticed for most observers; New engine choices add power, reduce consumption; Manual transmission delete likely won't be noticed; Plenty of first-time luxury options to be had; Third-row seating and AWD options available on all trim levels for maximum choice; One of the better-looking wagons on the market.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 20/26 (2.4);
Base price (incl. destination) $25,000
Base price: $20,000
Budget-priced wagon offers impressive room and V6 power option.
Base price: $31,400
A stouter, roomier wagon with standard V6 and plenty of towing capacity.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Base price: $25,300
Closely related to the Sorento, but also comes in a longer version.