What's New for 2012
Fresh from last year's redesign, the Kia Sorento gains a few more upgrades for 2012. Topping the list is a new, optional four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection for more power and better fuel economy. Also new are a ventilated driver seat, stain-resistant seat fabric and Kia's "Uvo" voice-activated control interface.
The redesign of the Kia Sorento last year signaled the automaker's intent to take on the big nameplates with its crossover SUV. Starting with a switch to carlike unibody construction, the Sorento delivered the ride and comforts that Americans have come to expect from crossover utility vehicles. With the 2012 Sorento, Kia continues its determined effort with an impressive starting price that pits the Sorento squarely against crossover all-stars like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The Sorento's most obvious advantage is its near-midsize dimensions, since it's actually long enough for a third-row seat that adults can use. In comparison, the RAV4's third row is strictly for kids and the CR-V doesn't even offer one. It's worth noting that the vast majority of buyers typically move up to a vehicle larger than this if they really need a crossover with a functional third row. But if you want something that's still modest in size, the Kia Sorento works out nicely.
Like a lot of its competition, the 2012 Kia Sorento comes with a choice of four- or six-cylinder power. The base four-cylinder is merely adequate, tasked as it is with moving 3,600 pounds of crossover with just 175 horsepower. For the 2012 Sorento, though, Kia offers an additional choice in the form of a new direct-injection four-cylinder good for 191 hp. Fuel economy is also up with this engine, and it's capable of delivering an impressive EPA-rated 30 mpg on the highway. Meanwhile, the 3.5-liter V6 continues on, a better choice for drivers who carry kids, pets and stuff on a daily basis.
Overall, the 2012 Kia Sorento is an impressive effort. Thanks to its engine lineup and enhanced feature content, it competes with its more familiar rivals on performance, not just price. Nevertheless, we suggest shopping around, since the Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey and Subaru Forester are all worth a look, as are the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are the traditional favorites. But we recommend the 2012 Kia Sorento without hesitation; it's a testament to how far this automaker has come in just a few years.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Kia Sorento is a crossover SUV offered in four trim levels: base, LX, EX and the sporty SX. A third-row 50/50-split-folding seat with room for two is optional on the LX and four-cylinder EX, and standard on the EX V6 and SX.
The base model comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping multifunction steering wheel, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity and a CD sound system with satellite radio, an iPod adapter and an auxiliary audio jack.
Moving up to the LX nets a six-speed automatic transmission, body-colored heated outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and a second-row armrest. Optional for the LX is the Convenience package, which includes the more powerful four-cylinder engine for front-wheel-drive models, foglamps, roof rails, rear parking sensors, heated front seats and a back-up camera with a rearview-mirror-mounted display. The Convenience package for LX V6 models includes the third-row seat.
The EX starts with the LX's equipment and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control (with rear air-conditioning on V6 models), a power driver seat (with power lumber support), a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and Kia's Uvo voice-activated electronics interface (it's similar to Ford's Sync).
For the EX, opting for the Premium Plus package gets you power-folding outside mirrors, leather seating, heated front seats, a power front passenger seat, a hard-drive-based navigation system, a rearview camera and a 10-speaker Infinity surround-sound audio system with digital music storage. For the EX V6, this equipment is pretty much split up between the Premium and Limited packages. A panoramic sunroof and a ventilated driver seat also come with these optional packages.
The SX is similar to the EX V6 fitted with the Premium and Limited packages. It comes with more aggressive exterior styling details, a sport-tuned suspension and unique metallic interior trim. The panoramic sunroof is optional.
Powertrains and Performance
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 175 hp and 169 pound-feet of torque comes standard on base and LX trim levels. A direct-injected version of the same engine is rated at 191 hp and 181 lb-ft, and it's optional on the LX and standard on the EX. The base model has a six-speed manual transmission, while all others come with a six-speed automatic.
Front-wheel drive is standard across the board, while LX and EX models can be had with all-wheel drive. The AWD system also offers an available locking center differential to improve low-speed traction in icy or off-road situations.
In Edmunds performance testing, the base four-cylinder accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds, one of the slower times in the class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with the front-wheel-drive automatic. All-wheel-drive models drop fuel economy to 20/26/22. Fuel economy for the direct-injected four-cylinder is rated at 21/30/24 with front-wheel drive, and 21/27/23 with all-wheel drive.
Optional on LX and EX models and standard on the SX is a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. It's offered only with the six-speed automatic and gets the Sorento from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 7.4 seconds, one of the quicker times in the class. Fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 20/26/22, while all-wheel drive gets 18/24/20.
The 2012 Kia Sorento comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, hill-start assist, hill descent control, front active head restraints, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags that cover only the first and second rows. In Edmunds brake testing, both four- and six-cylinder Sorentos stopped from 60 mph in 120 feet, a very good result for this class.
In government safety testing, the Sorento earned four stars (out of a possible five) for overall protection, with a four-star rating being awarded for both frontal and side-impact protection. The Sorento also earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top score of "Good" for frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The design and materials quality of the Sorento's interior competes with the best in its class, with a restrained but sophisticated look. Dashboard plastics, though hard to the touch, look good, while audio and climate controls and the rest of the switchgear are intuitive and feel substantial. Kia's new Uvo also works very well. Based on the same technology as Ford's Sync system, it allows drivers to control various functions by voice command, including their MP3 players and cell phones.
The front seats provide plenty of comfort for long trips and provide the type of commanding view of the road that crossover buyers want. The second-row seat accommodates two with ease and three in a pinch. It doesn't slide fore or aft without the optional third-row seat, making the Sorento less versatile than the Equinox, CR-V or RAV4. But the third-row seat does feature 50/50-split-folding seatbacks and enough room for taller passengers. With the rear seats folded, the Sorento can carry up to 72.5 cubic feet of cargo, about as much as a RAV4 or CR-V.
The 2012 Kia Sorento's base 2.4-liter engine feels punchy enough around town and with light loads, but struggles a bit with extra passengers and cargo. The extra power generated from the new direct-injected four-cylinder helps, and we suspect the majority of buyers will be happy with this midlevel choice. Buyers who regularly ferry passengers and cargo are better served by the strong and smooth 3.5-liter V6.
At highway speed, the Sorento's cabin remains impressively isolated from both road and wind noise. We're also impressed with the Sorento's handling ability and its direct response to steering inputs; this is one of the more enjoyable small family crossovers to drive. The ride quality should suit most folks, but we've found it gets harsh when the Sorento is driven over potholes or similarly broken pavement.