2014 Kia Sorento is improved but must pick a size

The redesigned 2014 Kia Sorento's long list of The redesigned 2014 Kia Sorento's long list of changes adds refinement and desirable features, but the company's claims of a roomier cabin fall short, according to a Cars.com review. Photo Credit: Cars.com / Kia

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The redesigned 2014 Kia Sorento doesn't look very different from the outgoing model, yet Kia says the SUV is 80 percent new, with a new chassis shared with the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport that brings a host of driving improvements, a redesigned V-6 engine and greater interior dimensions that aim to improve the midsize SUV's roominess.

The redesigned 2014 Kia Sorento's long list of changes adds refinement and desirable features, but the company's claims of a roomier cabin fall short.

The Sorento remains an oddly sized SUV that commits neither to being a compact SUV like the Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox nor a larger SUV like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. Unlike the Santa Fe Sport, which seats five, the Sorento seats five or seven occupants. Hyundai sells a larger model with three rows of seats, the Santa Fe (without the Sport suffix), for which there's no Kia equivalent.

Shoppers content with the Sorento's size will find a lot to like in the 2014's added features, improved comfort on the road and a higher-quality look, inside and out.

Sorentos are available in front- or all-wheel drive with either a four- or a six-cylinder engine. I drove a 2014 Sorento SX V-6 with all-wheel drive at a Kia event in Arizona.

Ride and Handling

Kia hasn't been known for its high-quality ride and handling. A 2012 Kia Sorento SX we tested in our $37,000 SUV comparison was one of Kia's best performers at the time, exhibiting excellent road manners and a fun-to-drive zippiness that outshined the Pilot and Highlander. Those attributes are unchanged for 2014 and have matured with a new stiffer chassis that further dispels the notion of a budget Kia with budget ride quality. The Sorento's stiffer structure makes the SUV feel more substantial and of a higher quality with less body flex and sloppiness over rough roads. The ride remains firmly sprung, though not jarring, with better control.

Wind noise continues to plague the Sorento, as wind howls over it at highway speeds. Road noise was a mixed bag; the Sorento rode over some roads quietly while other roads filled the cabin with obnoxious noise from the optional 19-inch tires. Road noise may vary by wheel and tire options: Standard wheels are 17 inches on base LX models, 18 inches on EX models and 19 inches on SX and SX-L trims.

Interior Room

I had hoped the redesigned Sorento would disperse its three rows more efficiently to improve room for second-row passengers as well as cargo room behind the third row. The previous Sorento attempted to cram the proverbial 10 pounds of stuff in a 5-pound bag, which limited second-row space even in models not equipped with the third row.

The 2014 Sorento's specifications seem great on paper, with increases in second-row legroom and third-row headroom. The results aren't evident when sitting in the second row, however. The second row now slides, reclines and folds in a 40/20/40 configuration, but at 6 feet tall and slender, I found the space tight even with the seat positioned fully rearward. The Chevrolet Equinox and Honda CR-V remain tough acts to follow with extremely generous and more comfortable second rows that don't have to accommodate a third row like the Sorento.

The unchanged and scant 9.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the optional third row provides little room for groceries, or much of anything. Not choosing the third row has a few advantages, like a large hidden storage area beneath the cargo floor and, of course, saving on the seat's cost: $800 on LX models and $1,000 or more on higher-end trim levels.

The Sorento's front-seat roominess is workable for most people but isn't as generous as some models for exceptionally tall drivers. My 6-foot-5-inch co-driver had severe comfort issues because the driver's seat didn't travel back far enough and bent his knees at an uncomfortable angle.

Styling

The Sorento's revisited front and rear styling uses less cheapo unpainted plastic and more body-colored pieces for a higher-quality appearance. It's a smoother and nicely updated look but not a substantial restyle, as the side profile is virtually unchanged; that's unfortunate because obtrusive side pillars block over-the-shoulder visibility. A newly available blind spot warning system is optional and a first for Kia, though good visibility and properly aligned side mirrors largely eliminate the need for an expensive blind spot warning system. Blind spot warning is part of a $2,800 Touring Package on the LX four-cylinder and the $4,000 Touring Package on EX V-6 models; it's standard on SX and SX-L trims.

The sleeker front and rear look is aided by a thinner Kia grille up front and LED daytime running lights on EX, SX and SX-L trim levels, plus LED taillights on all models. Inside, there's a new center control panel design and available 7-inch LCD gauge cluster with a smoothly operating digital speedometer with an analog appearance that's not jerky like some digital readouts. It's not a flawless execution, though, because the speedometer appeared dull even at its brightest setting.

Features

First-time features are abundant in the 2014 Sorento, including an optional adjustable-height power liftgate. Kia says the new chassis allowed the feature for 2014 because the previous Sorento wasn't rigid enough to support the power feature. Unlike many liftgates, the Sorento's opens high enough for me to walk under and grab items from the cargo area without worrying about hitting my head. The liftgate is part of an expensive $2,800 Touring Package on lower trim levels, however, and it would be nice to see the useful feature offered as a stand-alone option instead of paired with navigation, an upgraded sound system, a blind spot warning system and more.

The Sorento is also more expensive for 2014 by $1,000. It now starts at $24,950, including an $850 destination charge. Kia's mess-resistant Yes Essentials cloth seating material is now standard instead of optional on all models, and there are two leather upholstery options. Leather comes standard on EX and SX models while SX-L models come with premium Nappa leather.

Standard features include a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, seating for five, six-speed automatic transmission, body-colored heated side mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators, air conditioning, USB input, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, and cruise control. Rear heated outboard seats are newly available, as is the addition of a front passenger ventilated seat to the previous driver-only ventilated seat option.

Under the Hood

For 2014, Kia has ditched the less powerful four-cylinder and offers only a direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 191 horsepower. I got plenty of seat time in the new 290-hp, 3.3-liter V-6, but the four-cylinder wasn't available for testing. Both engines pair with a six-speed automatic transmission and available all-wheel drive with a 50/50 power-split button to lock the wheels together for maximum traction on slippery surfaces.

The V-6 is quieter and more refined than previous Kia V-6 offerings. In the Sorento, its acceleration feels typical for an SUV's V-6 and isn't going to wow anyone. The turbocharged four-cylinder offered in the Santa Fe Sport is a more compelling engine option, with a rush of power that makes it fun to put the hammer down. The Sorento's V-6 builds power gradually and quietly, never feeling rushed to do so.

The Sorento's in-between size also means in-between gas mileage with a not-so-impressive 20/26 mpg city/highway EPA rating for the four-cylinder and front-wheel drive, which is the most efficient configuration. Similarly equipped compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have much higher starting estimates: 23/31 mpg and 24/31 mpg, respectively. A larger SUV with a standard V-6 engine, the Honda Pilot is rated 18/25 mpg, equaling the Sorento's V-6 mileage in a much larger package.

Choosing all-wheel drive knocks the four-cylinder's mpg to 19/24 mpg and the V-6 to 18/24 mpg.

Safety

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As a recent redesign, the 2014 Kia Sorento hasn't been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the time of this writing. Standard safety features include the federally required antilock brakes, electronic stability control, front airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Sorento also has front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags for the first and second rows as well as a rollover sensor and front active head restraints as standard equipment. Unlike most three-row competitors, the Sorento's side curtain airbags do not extend to the third row. We've looked into the importance of third-row airbags and their absence in some SUVs. You can read our findings here.

2014 Kia Sorento in the Market

The 2014 Kia Sorento's refined ride quality and newly available features may not be enough to entice shoppers from other automaker camps. The Sorento continues to strike a balance between small and large SUVs, though with that comes interior room and gas mileage that's likewise middle of the pack. Sorento shoppers who are perfectly pleased with the size and gas mileage have a lot to look forward to in the 2014 Sorento.

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