The 2015 Kia Sorento is an SUV that straddles the border between compact and midsize in terms of both size and price. A round of updates for the 2014 model year has added more power to the V6 engine, a retuned suspension and more refinements to the interior. With its long list of features that includes an optional third row of seating, it offers a practical and comfortable, if not exciting, option for SUV shoppers.
What Is It?
The Sorento is a small to midsize SUV that's available in numerous configurations. You can order it with either four- or six-cylinder engines, front- or all-wheel drive as well as two-row (five-seat) or three-row (seven-seat) seating arrangements. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder is rated at 191 horsepower but acceleration is, in truth, barely adequate. The 3.3-liter V6 with 290 hp is more in keeping with the size and weight (4,183 pounds) of the Sorento, and provides a nicer overall experience in terms of both passing power and refinement. The V6 is the one tested here.
Our SX test vehicle is one of four trim levels: LX, EX, SX and SX Limited. Pricing for the base front-drive Sorento LX with the four-cylinder engine begins at $24,995. Standard equipment includes cruise control, Bluetooth, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, auto up/down driver's window and alloy wheels. Our SX AWD test vehicle cost $39,195 and had zero options. But then, it includes nearly every convenience you could ever want, such as the V6 and all-wheel drive, three-mode adjustable steering, a sunroof, power liftgate, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, navigation, a 10-speaker Infinity audio system, a back-up camera and Kia's first-ever blind-spot detection system.
How Does It Drive?
With a high driving position and slim windshield pillars, the Sorento has excellent forward visibility. The rearmost pillars, though, are quite thick and the extra side windows back there are of little help for lane-change maneuvers. The standard rearview camera with parking lines helps when backing up, though.
The V6 is smooth, if a bit overly loud at higher rpm, and works in concert nicely with the six-speed automatic. Low-end torque isn't stupendous (just 252 pound-feet at a high 5,200 rpm) but the automatic is intelligent about letting it use the available grunt instead of instantly downshifting. Regardless, upshifts are the definition of the term "seamless," and there's plenty of power for merging onto a fast-moving highway. We recorded zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. That's quicker than most small SUVs and about equal to most midsizers.
Kia's Flex Steer adjustable steering comes standard on the EX, SX and SX Limited models. Via a steering wheel button you can change the levels of electric power assist between Comfort, Normal and Sport. We preferred the heavier weighting and more intuitive feel of the Sport setting, not just for our instrumented track testing but for all of our driving, even around town. Luckily Flex Steer doesn't reset each time you turn the car off, so you can set it and forget it.
The Sorento is no sportster, that's for sure, but it's more than capable of tackling turns at normal speeds in a controlled manner. Get near its limits, though, especially if you throw a midcorner bump into the mix, and it starts to get sloppy. The suspension, and the Sorento in general, just can't cope with extremes as well as some competitors. In a similar fashion, the Sorento delivers a comfortable, cushy ride, right up until you encounter a deep pothole or large bump, at which point it transmits the harshness directly to the cabin and you're suddenly wondering what happened to the ride quality.
Noise is well-damped for the most part. The tires stay quiet even over coarse sections and even the expansive side mirrors only give some minor wind rustling. That said, rev the V6 out above 5,000 rpm and it gets unnecessarily intense.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
The front seats are flat and well-padded for all-day comfort, even if the leather isn't overly supple. The center armrest is fairly plush but the door armrest has a plastic trim piece at the exact point where you want to rest your elbow. The second-row seats have firm padding but are still pretty comfy, aided by a high perch and good legroom. The whole seat slides fore and aft and the seatbacks recline.
As in most vehicles its size, the third row is pretty cramped. With the seat positioned directly on the floor, your knees will feel like they're right up into your chest. If you plan on carting adults around back there on any kind of a regular basis, you're going to need a bigger SUV.
In general, the Sorento's interior controls are easy to learn. All 2015 Sorentos come with an 8-inch touchscreen with large buttons and a sensible menu structure. The dual-zone climate control in the SX model has simple-to-use controls, and there are vents for both the second and third rows.
Up front the seats are heated and cooled, with the outboard second-row seats heated as well. The liftgate has power operation but there isn't a button for it up front near the driver. The center console cupholders would benefit from some anti-tip technology but they're otherwise well sized.
How Does It Perform Off-Road?
Not great. During some minor off-roading we exceeded the limits of the all-wheel-drive system in a hurry. On a slippery but not overly steep dirt uphill slope, we nearly got the Sorento stuck, to the point two of its tires were just sitting there spinning. Grippier tires would've surely helped the situation, but it was obvious this isn't a very sophisticated system.
How Safe Is It?
In federal government tests, the NHTSA gave the 2015 Kia Sorento a five-star overall crash rating, including five stars for frontal and side-impact and four stars for rollover. Private testing performed by the IIHS has not yet rated the 2015 model, but the nearly identical 2014 Sorento received the top score of "Good" for moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, head restraints and seats, but the lowest score of "Poor" in the small overlap front test, a new addition to its testing regimen.
A blind-spot monitoring system is standard on SX and SX Limited models, optional on the EX and not available on the LX. A rearview camera and rear parking sensors are standard on all EX and SX models and optional on the LX.
In Edmunds panic-brake testing, the Sorento SX AWD had a best stopping distance of 131 feet. That's one of the longest in the segment. Our test driver called the Sorento's braking abilities "barely adequate," thanks in part to the soft pedal feel, some pedal fade and a bit of side-to-side squirm.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The Sorento SX AWD comes with a 3.3-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. That combination is rated by the EPA to deliver 20 mpg in combined driving (18 city/24 highway). We averaged 20.2 mpg on our 116-mile evaluation loop, and just 17.8 mpg overall during its 652-mile stay with us.
The EPA rates the V6-powered front-wheel-drive Sorento at 21 mpg combined (18 city/25 highway). For improved mileage, the base front-drive LX model uses a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and the same six-speed automatic transmission. This combo is rated by the EPA to deliver 23 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway).
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Sorento's straddle-the-fence positioning between small and midsize crossovers, along with the availability of both a third row and a V6, give it some extra leverage versus its main competitors. Plus, this fence-straddling blurs the line as to exactly which vehicles are direct competitors.
Like the Sorento, the Chevrolet Equinox offers both four-cylinder and V6 engine options. It has a longer wheelbase and overall length than the Sorento, yet oddly less EPA interior volume. The Equinox gets high marks for its plush ride but doesn't have a third-row option. Pricing starts within a couple hundred dollars of the Sorento.
The Ford Edge is a true midsize SUV, yet it still forgoes the third-row option. Strong suits are a quiet cabin and composed ride, plus multiple engine choices, including two V6s and a turbocharged four-cylinder. Pricing starts about $4,000 more than the base Sorento.
The Honda CR-V is our go-to small SUV, thanks to a well-engineered cabin, fine driving characteristics and good build quality. It starts about $1,000 less than the Sorento and gets better fuel mileage, but it doesn't have the option of a V6 or a third row. It's also about 6 inches shorter than the Sorento, with less interior volume and maximum cargo space.
The Toyota RAV4, like the CR-V, is dimensionally smaller than the Sorento. It's also a four-cylinder-only crossover without a third row, but it starts about $500 less than the Sorento and its four-cylinder gets superior fuel mileage to the Sorento's four and, despite its small size, it actually has slightly more maximum cargo space than the Kia.
Why Should You Consider This SUV?
If traditional compact SUVs are just too small for your tastes but you don't need a true midsizer, the Sorento may satisfy your need for something in between. The combination of optional third-row seating, multiple trim levels and a choice of four or six-cylinder engines makes it a unique offering in the segment.
Why Should You Think Twice About This SUV?
Even though Kia has been continually improving the Sorento, it still isn't as refined as rivals like the Honda CR-V in terms of ride quality or interior materials. It's also not one of the more efficient vehicles in the class, so if fuel mileage is a top concern there are better choices.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.