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2017 Kia Sorento Test Drive Review
Speaking plainly, if you fail to consider a 2017 Kia Sorento while shopping for a midsize crossover SUV, you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice.
In terms of styling and design, comfort and controls, safety and technology, value and practicality, and driving dynamics, the 2017 Kia Sorento is one of the best vehicles in its segment. Plus, it's engineered to exceed the requirements of the most demanding warranty coverage in the business. No wonder, then, that I recommend the Sorento to anyone willing to listen.
Look and Feel
"Saturday Night Live" has officially cost Kia at least one sale. My wife and I are shopping for a new midsize crossover SUV, and we can’t come to agreement on what to buy. I want the efficient and sensible Subaru Outback. She wants the roomy and luxurious Acura MDX. Both meet our criteria in terms of a safe family vehicle, but one costs far more than the other. I figured that the 2017 Kia Sorento would be an excellent compromise, one giving her the upscale styling and interior amenities she wants while keeping costs in check.
After spending lots of quality time with this test vehicle—an audition of sorts—she was almost convinced. Then, on a quiet Sunday evening, after we’d tucked the kids into bed, we watched the season opener of SNL. In the “Live Report” skit, Kenan Thompson’s reporter character is trying to figure out why Australian actress Margot Robbie’s interviewee character is married to a total schlub. Upon discovering the husband drives a Kia Sportage, Thompson is incredulous that the man would dare drive such a gorgeous woman around in a Kia.
My wife looked over at me. “You see, honey,” she purred, “people make fun of people who drive Kias.”
Consider that balloon burst.
Might I suggest that SNL writers bother to get acquainted with the latest crop of Kia models? Really, they are terrific vehicles, stylishly rendered and made with quality and care. Wholly undeserving of whatever residual negativity might be associated with the Kia badge, they, and you, would be surprised by just how good modern Kias are.
You might also be surprised by how expensive they can be. The Sorento lineup features L, LX, EX, SX, and SX Limited trim levels. Prices range from $26,295 without any upgrades to just short of $50,000 when every single option and dealer accessory is piled on. My test vehicle, the Sorento SX Limited equipped with all-wheel drive, stickered for $46,990. Before you clutch your chest in horror, you should know that that price is not out of line with other midsize SUVs carrying equivalent equipment.
Personally, I think the 2017 Sorento looks terrific. This is an elegantly detailed and beautifully balanced design, harmoniously rendered without perpetrating styling-by-committee sins or resorting to tacked-on glitz. Granted, my top-of-the-line version, dipped in Titanium Silver paint and equipped with chrome 19-inch aluminum wheels, is the most glamorous looking of all Sorentos, but even the most affordable models exude inoffensive good taste.
If there’s a problem here, it’s that the most expensive Sorento SX Limited is offered with the fewest number of possible paint and interior color combinations, which is the opposite of expectations.
With the SX Limited, your premium Nappa leather color selections include Black or Ivory. With the Ivory leather, presented in a stitched and quilted pattern, the cabin takes on a lushly upscale two-tone appearance. Get rid of the Kia emblem on the steering wheel, and just about anyone would immediately identify this version of the Sorento as a luxury vehicle. Including SNL staff writers.
The dashboard could use a splash of additional contrast, though. It’s all black with upscale polished metallic accents and gloss black trim. While this is clearly a nod to Germanic design sensibilities, some open-pore wood or real aluminum would be appreciated.
When you buy a Sorento, you can get a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, but you don’t want that. It’s offered only in the L and LX versions anyway.
At a minimum you want the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and is standard in the Sorento EX. An even more robust 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 engine is optional for the LX and EX, and standard for the SX and SX Limited. It can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
All three engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive (FWD). A torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system is optional for all models except for the base L trim level, and my test vehicle had this $1,800 upgrade. With all-wheel drive (AWD), the Sorento’s V6 engine is expected to get 19 mpg in combined driving, according to the EPA. I averaged 19.4 mpg on my test loop.
Kia’s emulation of luxury SUVs does not stop at styling, interior detailing, and equipment. The 2017 Sorento drives like a luxury vehicle…at least it does in SX Limited trim. Step on the accelerator pedal, and the SUV launches softly and gently unless you’re in a hurry, in which case the Sorento’s 290 horses gallop effortlessly.
The transmission, for the most part, shifts smoothly and when you expect it to, though in stop-and-go traffic conditions it sometimes gets a little confused. The gear selector feels solid and robust in the driver’s hand, further imparting a sense of vehicle quality, and a manual shift gate provides intuitive operation.
A Drive Mode Select system offers Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes. I spent most of my time in Normal mode, mainly because I preferred how it calibrated throttle response and steering effort. The steering exhibits a syrupy heft that further inspires comparisons to luxury vehicles, and the ride quality is excellent, the suspension soaking up bumps, controlling excess body motion on whoops and dips, and doing a remarkably good job of isolating the cabin from the outside world. Even at freeway speeds, it is unexpectedly quiet inside a Sorento SX Limited.
Handling impresses, too, for an SUV. Aside from displaying more body roll than might be preferable, the Sorento can confidently hustle down a country road at a good clip. This Kia is not built for traveling very far off the pavement, though. It provides just 7.3 inches of ground clearance combined with fairly shallow angles of approach, breakover, and departure. That’s good enough for blizzard busting, but not much else.
An impressive all-arounder, the Kia Sorento delivers power, performance, comfort, and capable handling in a single package.
Form and Function
Sized on the small side of the scale, the Sorento’s interior cannot match most competitors when it comes to passenger room and cargo volume. This, more than anything, is a good reason to skip this Kia in favor of a larger midsize crossover SUV.
Controls are logically laid out. In addition to a touch-sensing infotainment screen, Kia supplies traditional buttons and knobs, and lots of them. This approach makes using the stereo, the climate system, and secondary controls easy and intuitive, allowing the driver to concentrate on the road ahead. I’m not a big fan of the font Kia uses for its control markings or the red backlighting at night, but those are small prices to pay for the this degree of simplicity and familiarity.
Comfort levels decline the further back your seat assignment. The driver and passenger are quite happy, especially in the SX Limited model. In addition to premium leather, this version of the Sorento includes heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel.
Drivers receive 14-way power seat adjustment, including a 4-way lumbar support, making it easy to find the perfect driving position. The front passenger sits on an 8-way power-adjustable seat. Soft material anywhere you’re tempted to rest an arm or an elbow further contribute to your happiness.
Second-row seat comfort is adequate. The seat slides in order to provide extra space for third-row occupants. However, even when the second-row seat is moved as far back as it will go, tall people may find that their shins contact the hard front seat back covers, and that’s never a good time. Plus, the seat cushion is a little low and flat, lacking proper thigh support. On positive notes, the SX Limited comes with manual side window sunshades, and the seat reclines quite a bit to provide an excellent view out of the huge panoramic glass roof.
If you’re a grown up, you can forget about climbing into the third-row seat. This space is for kids only, thanks to restrictive entry/exit clearance, headroom, and legroom. Optimistically, Kia supplies a separate climate control and air vent for the third-row seat, reflecting the thoughtfulness evident throughout the Sorento.
My test vehicle has Kia’s Smart Tailgate, which automatically opens when it senses that the key fob is near the rear of the vehicle. If your arms are full, and you want the tailgate open, this is a terrific feature. If you’re just hanging out talking to a friend after your kid’s soccer game, and the tailgate opens, spilling soccer balls out into the parking lot, then, umm, not so much.
Anyway, if the third-row seat is raised, you’ve essentially got no space for your stuff. So keep it folded down to enjoy 38 cubic feet of usefully shaped cargo capacity, and note that a compact folding stroller slides into the Sorento wheels-first. If you need maximum volume, fold the second-row seat to create 73 cubic feet of volume. That figure is smaller than most competitors in the midsize crossover class.
Available for most versions of the 2017 Sorento, Kia’s UVO infotainment system is an outstanding example of this type of technology.
You don’t need to reference the owner’s manual in order to figure out how to use UVO, the main menu selections are logically arranged on either side of the display screen, and the Home screen shows the navigation map, the time, and your current radio station or music track. Plus, there are knobs for adjusting the stereo’s volume and station tuning.
Better yet, Kia is one of the few car companies that supplies connected services without a paid subscription. All you need to do is connect your smartphone via the USB port, though to access some features you’ll also need the UVO eServices smartphone app. Remember, though, that data rates may apply.
Once you’re connected, you benefit from automatic collision notification, quick access to 911 emergency response and roadside assistance, and safe teen driver technologies including speed, curfew, and boundary alerts. Plus, UVO eServices supplies a parking minder to help you find the Sorento if you’ve forgotten where you parked it. The system also supports Siri, Pandora, Yelp, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and much more.
This list does not represent the extent of UVO’s capabilities. It’s a terrific system, and not just because the screen successfully resists the collection of fingerprints. All it needs is a larger, more modern display.
For 2017, automatic emergency braking is newly available, elevating the Sorento to Top Safety Pick+ status in the eyes of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Sorento also gets a 5-star crash test rating from the federal government. So yeah, this is one safe kid hauler.
Additionally, the Sorento is offered with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, and lane-departure warning, and these three systems, plus the automatic emergency braking system, are available for all trim levels except the basic L trim. Upgrade to the LX V6, and you can add a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. Only the SX Limited provides a 360-degree surround-view camera system.
Oh, and don’t forget, if you’ve got brand new drivers in the household, UVO eServices provides speed, curfew, and boundary alert functions.
My advice to my children has always been this: Spend your money on experiences rather than things. Ultimately, those overpriced shoes you bought when you were 22 will prove meaningless, but you will always remember that extra day spent lounging on Lanikai Beach with someone you love.
Choosing a Kia Sorento can help you to conserve money that will be better spent living your life instead of working as a slave to it.
Not only did my test vehicle exceed the EPA’s predicted fuel-economy estimate in combined driving, but for more than 15 years Kia has been engineering its vehicles to exceed the company’s generous standard and powertrain warranty programs. If the vehicles are junk, the company goes out of business. Instead, Kia is growing, and the company dominated the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study this year.
Nevertheless, as evidenced by a certain late-night comedy sketch program, an image to the contrary persists. This, actually, is a great thing for bargain hunters.
As this review is written in mid-October 2016, Kia is offering cash rebates up to $2,000, or $500 and no-interest financing for 66 months. Owner loyalty programs, college student and graduate programs, and military programs abound, and Kia even has one specifically for Uber drivers. Plus, attractive lease deals are in place to assure that payments on even the most expensive SX Limited remain lower than luxury-branded SUVs.
Long story short, as a friend of mine likes to say, there are few reasons to skip the 2017 Kia Sorento over other midsize crossover SUVs. Chief among them are a cramped third-row seat and a stingy maximum cargo capacity figure. If those don’t bother you, put the excellent Sorento on your test-drive list. It deserves to be there. And it doesn’t deserve to be the butt of a joke on "Saturday Night Live."
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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