Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Kia Sorento

HUNTSVILLE, ON – Kia may be calling their 2019 Sorento all-new, but it’s really more of a design refresh, inside and out, to help it compete better with the Toyota RAV4s and Honda CR-Vs of the world.

The base $27,995 Sorento is a front-wheel-drive crossover that looks and feels like a bigger and burlier SUV – which it is – but is priced right around base compact crossovers.

But wait a minute, isn’t the Sorrento a three-row crossover, with a V6? You may be wondering how it’s meant compete with four-cylinder five-seaters. And so did we, during Kia Canada’s marketing presentation at its official media launch in Ontario’s cottage country.

Short answer: it can – by starting off as a larger four-cylinder five-seater, just like those two sales powerhouses, and pretty much any compact crossover in that class (Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, and Hyundai Sante Fe in particular). Kia calls the Sorento a “mid-compact”, noting its 4,800 mm length that’s a full 20 centimetres longer than the Honda and Toyota now, given the 2019’s 40 mm stretch. (Its seven-seat corporate cousin, the Hyundai Sante Fe XL, is 10.4 cm longer still.)

What you have in the base $27,995 Sorento is a front-wheel-drive crossover that looks and feels like a bigger and burlier SUV – which it is – but is priced right around base compact crossovers.

Powertrains and features that consumers actually want

For 2019, the Sorento no longer offers Kia’s impressive 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, as the V6 with its higher towing capability has proven to be the more popular engine. This goes against the trend of many rivals downsizing and turbocharging their engines, but chances are good that at least some buyers were turned off by the lower horsepower figures of the turbo four compared to the V6, even though it was one of the few turbocharged engines that don’t need premium fuel.

There were no front-drive Sorentos on hand to sample the 2.4-litre, 185 hp four-cylinder combo that comes standard in the base trim, but Kia says it achieves a three percent improvement in fuel efficiency, thanks to a revised six-speed automatic. We imagine the Sorento’s extra size and weight, combined with output (178 lb-ft of torque) similar to its lighter rivals, don’t do much for its driving excitement quotient – or fuel efficiency, which Kia says averages 10.2 L/100 km overall in the front-wheel drive version.

Surprisingly, adding all-wheel drive to the four-cylinder Sorento actually improves its mileage, at 9.6 L/100 km overall. That’s still a sailor’s cup thirstier than both the Toyota and especially the Honda, but usually adding all-wheel drive decreases fuel efficiency, rather than improve it.

Whichever way, in true Korean car fashion, Kia throws in some surprising and delightful features even at the $28K base price, highlighted by heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

But the base trim only accounts for roughly 15 percent of Sorento sales, said Ted Lancaster, president and CEO of Kia Canada, with most of it in the province of Quebec. All-wheel drive becomes standard on one-up LX models at $30,395, which adds a smart key system and this year also a wireless charging pad for your compatible cellphone.

Most people, however, opt for EX V6 models, which for 2019 start at $38,365, and includes a new eight-speed automatic transmission; 5,000 lb towing capacity thanks to the carried-over 3.3L V6 with 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque; and the handy third-row seating that folds completely flat. No V6 five-seater option is offered for 2019, as only two to three percent of folks ordered them that way, said Lancaster.

You’ll find evidence of Kia’s attention to detail in the Sorento’s rear cargo compartment, with an area under the flip-up cargo floor that can hold the retractable cargo cover, so if you remove it you don’t have to hear it slide around back there, or have it take up valuable cargo space.

Mind you, said cargo space is reduced down to Smart car territory if you have all three rows up. But having that third row is a useful option to have, whether for carpooling, days out with grandma, or extra space for your dog – who if anything like our beagle, will commandeer a second-row seat, for its open-window wind-in-the-ears feeling.

Value still, especially inside

That popular EX V6 combo not only adds a third row and extra towing grunt, but a number of other amenities inside, plus active safety features as well. On the practical side, a 110-volt household outlet in the rear will prove handy for powering a vacuum or self-inflating mattress. Leather, memory seats, and a digital instrument cluster spruce up what is a fairly conservative and button-heavy (but easy to use) interior.

Safety-wise, this version features a very sensitive blind-spot warning system, which can be turned off, as well as rear traffic alert.

Throw on the Premium package here for another $2,500, and the Sorento offers up a massive panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, auto-folding side mirrors, LED interior accents, and kid-friendly rear door pull-up shades. There’s also a smart power liftgate that doesn’t make you sweep your foot or kick out at the underside of your bumper like a World Cup sub looking for some extra playing time: in theory, it will recognize the key in your pocket once you stand behind the rear bumper for about two seconds; in practice, it worked for us occasionally, but not always.

Our tester for the first day driving through Muskoka cottage country was the SX V6, which starts at $44,865, and looks sharper with the 19-inch wheels, dynamic LED headlights and taillights, chrome roof rails, and chrome exhaust tips. But on this hot June day, we appreciated the ventilated front seats the most out of all the additions, though the impressive and user-friendly Harman Kardon sound system and heated rear seats are sure to be appreciated here as well.

One option we didn’t try is a new UVO Intelligence app that comes with all V6 models. Once downloaded onto your phone, it offers remote starting from anywhere, remote door locking/unlocking, and a useful “Find my car” feature that honks the horn and flashes the lights. The app will also automatically alert emergency service providers to your location if the airbags go off, while engine error codes and service intervals can also be reviewed on the diagnostics tool.

Kia says it’ll be free for at least five years, and hasn’t decided on a price yet for after that time period. But it’ll be transferable, similar to your warranty.

Quick V6, not most controlled suspension

Just as we found in our comparison of four three-row SUVs around $40,000, the Sorento’s V6 provides impressive poke as well as a refined feel for the price. It’s one of the few in its segment to provide a V6, and the Sorento provides lots of confidence on short highway onramps, or when we need to make a left turn right now, in tight cut-and-thrust driving.

Unfortunately, the suspension hasn’t changed much with the 2019, and it’s there that the Sorento feels a little less refined than some of its rivals, such as the redesigned Volkswagen Tiguan or Chevrolet Traverse that (spoiler alert) trumped it in the above test. On the other hand, the brake feel seems to have improved markedly, at least in our top-line SX and full-zoot SXL ($48,865) testers.

Overall, however, it was perfectly comfortable, even after uninterrupted two-hour stints behind the wheel. Though there was one point where I wondered how minivan-like folding armrests, which appear only occasionally on SUVs, would make this an almost-perfect mile muncher.

Speaking of gripes, some of the safety equipment is only available on the priciest top trim: autonomous emergency braking (standard on Toyotas), driver attention alert, adaptive cruise control, plus the 360-degree camera system, which is super-handy for tight parking spots.

Styling-wise, although there are new rims on all models for 2019, the revised nose and taillights of the Sorento are not massively different, which is arguably a positive, as the Sorento received top styling marks in our SUV comparison. In a few glances, I couldn’t help thinking its silhouette looked like a Chrysler Pacifica, fairly attractive in my books.

Taken together, the Sorento offers a lot to recommend it: attractive styling, good size for the price, and a great value equation, especially at the lower to mid-trim levels. Some may wonder if the nearly $50,000 top-line Kia Sorento may be a tad rich, where you’re approaching luxury SUV pricing territory, but when you look at what mid-size three-row V6 models cost from mainstream automakers, it’s clear that there’s value in the Sorento up and down the price scale.