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See the USA in a ... Sorento?


Early morning in Grand Teton National Park. The 2014 Sorento features updated front and read fascias with LED accents topping the headlights.I’d always wanted to drive across the United States. Recently I had that opportunity, behind the wheel of a 2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD. Beyond the bucket list check off, I had another reason to make the trip – I had to deliver my family’s Grumman canoe to my nieces near Raleigh, North Carolina. Then I took a hard right, and drove on to Miami, Florida to complete the adventure.

Along the way I visited Yellowstone National Park, Mt. Rushmore, the Gateway Arch, and more than a few tourist traps. I wheeled the Sorento through its home state of Georgia, where it was assembled in a state of the art factory.

Why a Kia Sorento instead of some ultra-high mileage diesel or hybrid economy car? I had to make the trip in late October so inclement weather was a probability, making all-wheel drive a must. Plus the boat was 17-feet long, and needed a stable mount across the windy plains. An SUV or CUV was in order.

The Sorento turned out to be just about the perfect vehicle for the trip, and I was able to use most of its substantial capabilities along the way. The brand has come a long way since it arrived in the U.S., with its first dealership on Portland’s 122nd Avenue.

While Kia calls the 2014 a “refresh” of the previous model, it’s actually mostly new. On the outside it looks similar to the 2013, but with updated front and rear styling and lighting. But underneath the skin there’s a new V-6 gasoline direct-injected engine available, an all-new chassis, electric power steering, and a redesigned interior.

A 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, 191-horsepower engine is standard on the base LX trim, but it’s not the engine you want. There’s only an $1800 price premium for the more advanced 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6, and the EPA-estimated mileage penalty is a paltry 1 mile per gallon.

Oregon didn’t offer much of a challenge for the test car’s V-6, with its artificially low 65 mph speed limit. Even the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton didn’t tax the motor. It was only Wyoming, where I was pedaling the fully loaded Sorento at 75 mph over 9,000 foot mountain passes did the motor seem less than ample. Then again, there wasn’t enough air for me to breathe either.

Like most engines with direct injection, on cold mornings, the 3.3-liter is a bit loud due to its high-pressure fuel injectors. But the motor quiets down nicely as it reaches operating temperature.

All Sorentos come with a 6-speed automatic transmission and either front or an all-wheel drive that is biased towards the front wheels, shifting power to any of the 4 with traction as necessary. AWD-equipped vehicles also feature torque-vectoring control, which adds power to the outside wheels in a turn to enhance cornering stability. An “Eco” mode can be activated to adjust powertrain and climate control settings for maximum efficiency.

In eastern Wyoming, I discovered one of the best roads that I have ever driven. It’s called the Bighorn Scenic Byway; it covers 58 miles of spectacular mountain highways, and was a great test of the Sorento’s new suspension and powertrain. While it’s no sports car, the Sorento holds its own quite admirably, feeling more like an Audi crossover than a Kia of old. The transmission allows for manual shifting mode, which was essential in the mountains.

While most automotive enthusiasts loathe the new electric power steering units becoming commonplace, there are places that they work very well. The Sorento SX features three modes – Sport, Normal, and Comfort – with various levels of resistance and feel. The Bighorn Byway begged for the Sport mode, while the crosswinds found on long stretches of interstate highways were well neutralized in the Normal setting. For ease of maneuverability in cities with horrible pavement (like St. Louis), I switched to the very light Comfort mode.

The Sorento comes with the full slate of vehicle stability systems, including antilock brakes, traction and stability control. The occasional snowy patch on the Bighorn and lots of wildlife on the road near Yellowstone National Park gave me a chance to exercise all 3, and they all worked very well. The Sorento SX employs a blind-spot warning system, informing the driver with visual and audible warnings of objects not visible in the mirrors.

All new vehicles come with some form of tire pressure monitoring systems, and the 2014 Sorento’s saved me from being caught in a dangerous situation. Traveling in the rain across the tabletop-flat moonscape of southern Illinois, I was suddenly alerted to low pressure in my right-rear tire. Instead of driving on until the tire was completely flat, I was able to pull into a safe rest area while the tire was still partially inflated.

About the only safety systems that I didn’t test out were the Sorento’s 6 standard airbags and rollover sensor.

My mileage results for the first few thousand were meaningless, as a massive canoe does an excellent job of destroying a vehicle’s aerodynamics. It’s not the air going around and over the boat that’s the problem, it’s the air lifting over the windshield that has no place to go, and the turbulence caused by the tie down straps. The rule is if you can hear it, it’s hurting your efficiency.

With the boat on top, my highway mileage was a painful 20 mpg, but once it was gone, the number jumped to an impressive 26.5 mpg. I say impressive, as the AWD Sorento’s EPA highway rating is only 24 mpg, and I was pushing it pretty hard while achieving 26.5. That said, the Sorento could benefit from a larger fuel tank, as its 17.4-gallon unit and little confidence with an inconsistent fuel gauge meant that I visited a lot of gas stations.

There were 3 other major issues with having a boat on the roof. There’s no way that a satellite radio signal could penetrate an aluminum canoe. Fortunately, the Sorento’s awesome Infinity audio system features Bluetooth audio streaming in addition to its 10 well-placed speakers. Unfortunately, I’m now sick of each and every song on my iPhone after listening to them for 3,500 miles. Second, the SX and SX-L trim levels feature a gorgeous panoramic sunroof that I couldn’t use until I dropped off the boat. It was pretty great once I drove on to the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida though. Finally, I had to switch off the Sorento’s optional power tailgate so I wouldn’t inadvertently slam it into the boat.

There’s standard seating for 5, with a third row seat optional to bring the total to 7. Like most in this class, the third row is best reserved for occasional use by kids or very compact and flexible adults. The interior is highly customizable with a 40/20/40 split second row and 37 cubic feet of cargo volume behind it. LX models come with stain-treated cloth seats, while EX and above models feature various grades of leather.

LX and above models also feature a customizable 7-inch dash display in addition to the center-mounted 8-inch navigation screen. The navigation system is on par with luxury brands, although destination entry can be a bit more convoluted than necessary. A nice feature for the long distance drive was a listing of distances to upcoming rest areas, and information on the services available at each exit ahead.

A 16-degree morning in Grand Teton National Park called for the heated seats that are available on all Sorentos, while a day in Orlando, Florida made the ventilated seats featured on the SX and SX-L trims an essential luxury. 4,990 miles is a long way to drive, but the standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 8-way power seat made it easy to always find a comfortable driving position.


Base Price: $23,100

Price as tested: $38,550, including $850 destination charge.

Type: 7-passenger midsize SUV (as tested)

Powertrain: 3.3-liter gasoline direct-injected V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive (as tested)

EPA estimated mileage: 18 city/24 highway

Final assembly: West Point, Georgia