First Drive: 2014 Kia Sorento [Review]

The 2014 Kia Sorento might look like its predecessor, but what\'s new lies beneath the skin. We check it out.

Three years after its introduction to the market, Kia's U.S.-built Sorento had a date with the surgeons for an updated look, front and rear.

That's not all, Kia says. But to us, that's all that is readily apparent.

According to Kia, there's more than meets the eye. The 2014 Sorento rides on a chassis that Kia claims is about 80 percent new, it's powered by a new engine and it gains a slew of new electronics and entertainment features that weren't available the first time around.

We hit the road in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where plastic surgery is a way of life, to see if beauty is indeed more than skin deep.

At first glance

The five or available seven-passenger 2014 Sorento starts out with an updated front fascia that brings it more in line with the corporate identity that is being put forth under the guidance of the company's German-trained design director, Peter Schreyer. Redesigned in front to appear lower and wider, the grille is now available in silver or black mesh, and it is joined by a widened lower valance for improved cooling. Again, we had to look very closely to see the differences.

Kia's big crossover is now available in five trim levels ranging from the base LX and stepping up to LX V6, mid-level EX, SX and SX Limited.

The Sorento's new unibody structure has been strengthened by 18 percent to improve ride and stability. Strut tower bracing has been added to stiffen the new front suspension cradle, yielding benefits in the arena of noise, vibration and harshness reduction. Out back, larger bushings and mounts help to achieve the same results.

Our EX V6 AWD featured a new all-aluminum 3.3-liter gas direct injection engine that makes 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. The drivetrain can be ordered as either a front-driver or all-wheel-drive with a "torque on demand” system that sends power in varying degrees from a front to rear bias of 100:0, all the way down to a 50:50 split, depending on the needs at hand. Torque vectoring control, which rapidly transfers power between the front wheels to improve handling, is also a part of that package.

A standard 2.4-liter, 190-horsepower gas direct injection Theta II four-cylinder replaces the 2.4 multiport injection engine of last year. We were not able to sample that base powertrain

Regardless of which engine is selected, both are mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-style function now with a single column of shifting detents rather than the gated stairstep approach of the outgoing model. Steering goes from hydraulic to electric motor-driven power steering, with an available FlexSteer system that can vary the heft of the steering rack with comfort, normal and sport modes. We don't think that many people will change the boost since its changes are subtle at best.

Skin deep

Although now into its third year, the Sorento's styling still seems contemporary to its competition like the Toyota Highlander. The new grille will help to subtly differentiate it from the previous model but without a side-by-side comparison, it will appear as business as usual. Newly-designed alloy wheels in 17, 18 and 19-inch sizes are another cue.

The Sorento's bustle has been redesigned as well, now with LED lamps around the turn signals and back-up lights. An power liftgate is standard. It can be optioned out with an under-the-bumper sensor that causes the hatch to open automatically.

Interior motives

The interior receives upgrades in the form of an improved grade of Napa leather, which we hope will find its way into its top-of-the-line Hyundai Equus cousin. A center programmable TFT screen in the instrument cluster is flanked by traditional tachometer and systems gauges. The front seats can now be had with ventilation in addition to heating, while the rear seats are newly configured in a 40-20-40 folding arrangement.

The center stack and its 8-inch diagonal monitor now integrate with SiriusXM satellite radio, SiriusXM Traffic, Bluetooth connectivity and an Infinity Logic7 highline audio system with 550 watts and 12 speakers. New for 2014, and rolling out in other Kia automobiles as well, is a next-gen infotainment and telematics system called UVO eServices. As Kia is no stranger to turning convention up on its ears, they will offer the system free for 10 years or 100,000 miles. It integrates 911 safety features (which call the authorities if an airbag is deployed) as well as apps that are already in use on an owner's smartphone.

The Sorento is also the first of the Kia family to offer blind spot detection. Sonar sensors around the vehicle prompt audio and visual alerts to let the driver know what's around them. The whole package is topped off with a redesigned panoramic sunroof. We found a nicely textured covering over a hard dashboard area, but were disappointed by a lack of soft-touch materials. Our EX example featured an expanse of faux wood trim to accent the width of the dashboard.

On the road again

Our test Sorento EX AWD offered a newer, more put-together ride than that of the outgoing model, and its 3.3-liter proved easily capable of any task asked of it. Our example, with its 18-inch tires, offered a quiet cocoon of silence from the hassles of the outside world and it managed to stay that way on all but the coarsest of road surfaces. Eager to accelerate up to speed, the V6 rarely announced its presence, except in exceptional circumstances, like entering high-speed expressways.

Although our test vehicle did not include the driver adjustable steering system, the standard model electric unit offered very good road feel for a crossover with no dead spots. Using the transmission in Sportmatic mode allowed us to row it ourselves for a somewhat sportier feel. Once again, we think that if sport modes are offered, paddle shift levers should be a part of the package, too.

Riding lower than the previous model has helped with side-to-side wallow, but we are still reminded that this is up to a seven-passenger crossover, and not a Kia Forte in full race trim. But at the end of the day, this Sorento is about hauling passengers and their things in comfort over long distances.

Speaking of which, based on EPA numbers of 18/25 mpg (21 combined), the Sorento with 3.3-liter V6, should have a cruising range of 365 miles of highway driving.

Leftlane's bottom line

Kia is apparently not content to leave well enough alone, even if the major upgrades are under cover on It is clear that the brand plans to continue its upward climb in the industry.

As a fortune cookie might say: By not resting, new heights are easily achievable.

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