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2019 Kia Sorento Test Drive Review
If I said you could get a stylish, even luxurious, midsize SUV made in America that offers a class-leading warranty and roadside assistance program, supplies plenty of room for a family of four, and will protect your loved ones with top crash-test ratings, would you be interested? If so, then you’ll want to learn more about the 2019 Kia Sorento.
Look and Feel
When it comes to choosing a new vehicle, styling matters to most people. If you don’t think a particular model looks good, you won’t want to get into it every day, and you certainly won’t want to be seen inside of it.
In my opinion, the 2019 Kia Sorento is an attractive SUV. Kia has touched up the styling this year, adding revised front and rear bumpers, a new grille, new headlights and taillights, and redesigned aluminum wheel choices. Often, these types of updates can easily go sideways, but Kia’s effort here is successful.
My test vehicle was an SX Limited trim, which sits at the top of a trim ladder that kicks off with the Sorento L at $25,990, plus a destination charge of $990. Upgrades include LX, EX, SX, and SX Limited, which carries a base price of $44,690, not including the destination charge.
The most popular version is the Sorento EX ($35,590 plus destination), which includes a robust V6 engine, nicer wheels, leather seats, and most of the safety technologies. An upgrade package adds navigation, a premium sound system, and a panoramic glass sunroof, among other features.
Inside, the Sorento's 2019 changes are less obvious. There is a new steering wheel, a new shift knob, updated instrumentation, and minor changes to trim. New leather colors include Mahogany (EX and SX) and Terracotta (SX Limited).
Given a starting price in the mid-20s, it’s not surprising to find inexpensive plastic surfaces inside a Kia Sorento. The problem is that a loaded SX Limited goes for almost 50 grand, and the shiny and slippery bits are hard to accept at that price.
Kia wisely covers the SX Limited’s headliner and windshield pillars with a pleasing fabric. There is soft padding on the sides of the center console, the premium Nappa leather upholstery impresses, and the metallic accents work well with the piano black trim. For this trim level, Kia would be wise to upgrade the finish on the lower dashboard and door panels.
For 2019, Kia drops the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine from the Sorento lineup, but retains the standard 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder (L and LX trim) and the available 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 (optional for the LX; standard for the EX, SX, SX Limited).
The V6's steady stream of smooth power supplies quick acceleration and gets fed to the front wheels through a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Drivers can choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Smart driving modes, the latter designed to adapt to driving styles and situations.
All-wheel drive (AWD) is optional ($1,800) and includes a Lock mode for particularly hairy situations. Kia also equips the Sorento AWD with Torque Vectoring Cornering Control (TVCC) that tucks the SUV into corners for improved handling.
During testing, and while mostly in Smart driving mode, my Sorento SX Limited test vehicle returned 20.7 mpg. That almost matches the official EPA rating of 21 mpg in combined driving. If my test loop didn’t include a mountain range, and I hadn’t used Sport mode while tackling the twistier bits, I’m sure the Sorento would have met or exceeded that EPA number.
Handling is more athletic than most people might expect. The Sorento’s meaty 19-inch wheels and tires grip the road in impressive fashion, no doubt assisted by the TVCC. Kia also uses rack-mounted rather than column-mounted electric-steering assist, which always improves feel and accuracy.
On the highway, the ride is solid and silent. As tested, this is a remarkably quiet SUV, and because more than half of the Sorento’s underlying architecture is comprised of advanced high-strength steel, it feels particularly robust on the road.
Suspension tuning deftly delivers responsive handling without resorting to a stiff ride, though pavement undulations can produce a bouncy feel. Cool temperatures and slick spots on the testing loop prevented severe punishment of the Sorento’s brakes. Around town, the brake pedal is sometimes grabby, but that could also be due to the test vehicle’s 11,000-mile odometer reading.
Minimum ground clearance measures no more than 7.3 inches, so if you travel off-road, plan accordingly. Recent brush fires had closed many of the places I normally test vehicles, but previous experience with the Sorento’s AWD Lock mode engaged has demonstrated that this Kia can go places most people wouldn’t want to—so long as ground clearance, approach, departure, and breakover angles are not going to be an issue.
Form and Function
Technically, the Kia Sorento is a 3-row, 7-passenger SUV. And for 2019, all versions of the Sorento include a third-row seat as standard equipment. I, however, would argue that the third-row seat is for emergency use only.
First, it is extremely hard for people to enter and exit the third-row seats. Even kids. Second, although it's roomier than expected once you’re in, there is no bottom cushion support whatsoever. Third, the rear head restraints are nearly flush against the back window, essentially putting people in the Sorento’s rear collision crush zone.
Used as a 5-passenger SUV, the Sorento makes far more sense. Dropping the third-row seat expands the paltry cargo capacity from 11.3 cubic feet to a credibly useful 38. Fold the second-row seats down and this Kia can swallow up to 73 cubic feet of cargo. Those figures, however, are in the same neighborhood as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4, which makes for a tricky value proposition.
Unlike those compact crossover SUVs, the Sorento can be optioned with lots of luxury. For example, my SX Limited test vehicle had premium Nappa leather upholstery, a 14-way power adjustable driver’s seat with an extending thigh support cushion, and an 8-way power adjustable front passenger seat. Heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and ventilated front seats were present and accounted for, all sitting beneath a huge panoramic sunroof with a large opening.
Front-seat comfort is good. Rear-seat comfort is less impressive, mainly due to tight legroom and a rather flat bottom cushion lacking in thigh support. My test vehicle did have rear air-conditioning vents, rear side-window sun shades, and three different types of power sources to keep the kids happy. Kia dealers can install accessory tablet computer holders if you’d like.
Depending on the trim level, the Sorento is equipped with one of three infotainment systems. UVO play is standard for the L and LX, equipping the SUV with a 7-inch touchscreen display, a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
Upgrade to EX trim for UVO eServices, which provides a free 5-year service plan including 911 Connect with automatic collision notification, roadside assistance, a parking-minder function, and safe teen driving features related to curfew, speed, and geo-fenced boundaries. This infotainment system also adds Bluetooth music streaming capability, Sirius XM satellite radio, and believe it or not, a CD player.
Optional for the EX and standard for the SX and SX Limited, UVO eServices with Navigation equips the Sorento with a larger 8-inch touchscreen display, SiriusXM traffic data, and HD Radio. In SX and SX Limited trims, a wireless charging tray sits in a covered bin forward of the shifter.
Any Sorento with the top eServices system is also equipped with a new 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with Clari-Fi digital music restoration technology and Quantum Logic surround sound. This setup sounds terrific, and because Kia includes Volume and Tuning knobs, along with useful steering-wheel-mounted controls, it is easy to use.
A 360-degree surround-view camera system is optional for the SX trim and standard with SX Limited trim. It provides front and rear camera views with multiple vantage points, as well as a 360-degree top-down view. In combination with front and rear parking sensors, it works beautifully when maneuvering in tight situations.
If you’re looking for a safe SUV in which to ferry your family, the Kia Sorento delivers.
All versions except for the base L trim include blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The EX gets all the goodies, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and those important UVO eServices safety features.
New for 2019, lane-keeping assist helps to center the Sorento within the intended lane of travel while attempting to prevent unintended lane departure. A driver-attention-monitoring system is also new for 2019, continually evaluating the person who is driving for drowsiness or distractedness. Both of these new features are standard for the EX, SX, and SX Limited trim levels.
Should the driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems fail to prevent an accident, rest assured the Sorento will do its best to protect you and your passengers. This SUV gets top marks from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
In terms of size and price, the 2019 Kia Sorento straddles both the compact and midsize crossover segments. This Kia is sized like the bigger compacts and, in upper trims, priced like the best-equipped midsize models.
That doesn’t sound like a good value proposition, but it is important to consider the Sorento’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, its 5-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and its 5-year/50,000-mile roadside assistance coverage.
Also, don’t forget that versions with UVO eServices get a free 5-year subscription to important features. And just try adding a V6 engine to a CR-V, Rogue, or RAV4. Suddenly, the Sorento’s cost-effectiveness picture improves.
Now, factor in rebates, incentives, and other deals. As I write this review, Kia is offering a choice between a $3,500 rebate and no-interest financing for 60 months on a Sorento SX Limited. Deals like this are regularly available for this SUV, too, which goes a long way toward making my loaded test car fit a family’s budget.
Just don’t plan on using the third-row seat much, if at all. It’s best to think of the 2019 Kia Sorento as a 5-passenger SUV with jump seats if you absolutely need them.
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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