At first glance, it doesn't look like the 2014 Kia Sorento has changed much since last year. But under the sheet metal, it is new, with changes to the chassis and suspension that have smoothed out the ride and improved handling. Our tester was the mid-level EX trim with all-wheel drive.
Appearance: Kia made only minor tweaks to the exterior, which strikes a balance between sophistication and ruggedness. The front grille is a bit more refined, with the LED "eyebrow" lights in the headlight assembly that integrate nicely with Kia's "tiger-nose" grille. (We still don't see how that fanciful description resembles a big cat.) The front fascia now has more body color and less black cladding. The most noticeable change is in the new taillights, which now are upswept and stylish.
Performance: The Sorento offers two engine options: a 2.4-liter inline-4 and a new 3.3-liter V-6. Our tester had the 6-cylinder, and its 290 horsepower seems the way to go for a 3,900-pound vehicle. In our tester, the acceleration was robust. A six-speed automatic is standard. The steering now has electronic power assist which feels well-balanced. (The top two trim lines have FlexSteer, where you can change the steering feel — comfort, normal or sport.) The Sorento's handling is good for an SUV, with minimal body lean; our tester had full-time AWD for a secure ride. Estimated mpg is 18 city and 24 highway, which isn't too bad for a V-6. The towing capacity is up to 3,500 pounds.
Interior: The Sorento has an attractive cabin with an open-air feel, thanks to a huge, panoramic sunroof that was part of our tester's $4,000 Touring Package — which also includes navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, Infinity surround-sound system, blind-spot detection, driver's seat memory and a power lift-gate. Still, as we've found to be typical of Kia, you don't have to shell out a lot of money on option packages to get a lot of standard features. Our EX trim came with Bluetooth, Kia's easy-to-use UVO infotainment system (we give the voice recognition high marks), a virtual speedometer, push-button start, leather seats, rearview camera and XM satellite radio. Still, none of these perks would mean much if the Sorento didn't have an interior to match, which it does. The seats in the first two rows were comfortable, and the light beige was perfect for the Florida climate. The roomy and attractive cabin has an upscale feel, with a mix of mostly quality materials and well laid-out controls. The Sorento's large rear pillars can create blind spots, so we appreciated the standard/optional electronic safety features. There is a healthy 72.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the second- and third-row seats down. The second row folds in a 40/20/40 configuration for more flexibility. The third row, however, is difficult to access and would only be practical for small children.
Our 3 favorites
Speedometer: It is a virtual display between the dashboard gauges; hard to tell it's not analog.
Interior: Even if all the materials don't register as such, it has an upscale vibe.
Connections: An easy-to-reach tray with plugs for your electronic devices.
Sunroof: Huge sunroof covers most of the roof for a bright and airy cabin.
Infotainment system: Great voice recognition, and easy to use.
Seating: Up to seven with optional third row.
The bottom line: The Sorento is no longer just a bargain SUV. Sure, the base price is $24,100, but that can quickly escalate as you work your way up the four trim lines. For its features, looks and practicality, it deserves serious consideration.