2019 Kia Sorento SXL

2019 Kia Sorento SXL

Kia’s midsize SUV gets a makeover

Words by: Adam Allen

It’s time to hear a story about a past encounter with a Kia product, isn’t it?

Cue the flashback sequence. It was 2003, and we found ourselves in the clutches of a bleak Midwestern winter in a little town just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. Aside from enjoying the smugness in the knowledge that we Canadians aren’t the only ones who must suffer through wretched winter conditions, our focus was directed at sourcing transportation required to get us and our gear to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a winter tire event 5 hours away. Given Mother Nature’s propensity to throw fits of ugly winter deluges in that part of the U.S. with regularity, we’d need something with four-wheel drive. The local rental agency had the keys to a then newish Kia Sorento and with the heater cranked to full blast, we began the journey east. Here’s what we can vividly recall about that drive- the weather sucked and the Sorento was um, the transportation. Let us say that our noble steed got us from point A to point B. Its suspension felt wonky, the brakes didn’t inspire much confidence and the drivetrain mewled on and on as the 3.5 litre sent its beleaguered horsepower through a 4-speed automatic. The interior didn’t offer any meaningful bright spots either, and we remember being mesmerized by the build quality, or lack thereof. Good times.

Just a guess, but the Sorento has come a long way in 17 years.

That’s not a stretch, and if you count yourself amongst motoring society at large you have encountered evidence of Kia’s rise to respectability, Sorento included. While this 2019 vintage is not all-new, it has been thoroughly made over and should elicit interest from buyers looking for a three row SUV that actually fits in his or her driveway. It’s a handsome thing, sheet metal pulled taut around its three box proportions and attractive 19” wheels anchoring the entire package. If there’s any regret to be found, it’s that Kia has turfed the punchy turbo four engine in favor of just two, the entry naturally aspirated 2.4 litre 4-cylinder and the 3.3 litre V6 found under the hood of our fully loaded SXL tester.

“You can have whatever colour you want, as long as it’s black”.

We’re quoting Henry Ford’s famous Tin Lizzie quip here not because our tester was painted black (it was) but because that seemed to be the only colour Kia has in mind for the confines of its Sorento. It’s not that it isn’t a comfortable with a very long list of standard kit or that it isn’t functional (rather, it is all of those things) but man, is it ever dour in there. We mused that getting into this rig on a scorching hot day would be a form of cruel and unusual punishment after the sun had raised the temperature enough that you could fry an egg on the dashboard, but one staffer pointed out the cooled seats, A/C that can induce teeth chatter at full bore and a large panoramic sunroof to vent everything and we reconsidered. Actually, the Sorento and many of its Kia brethren are quite adept at making short work of Canadian weather with its temperamental extremes- heated seats and steering wheel start giving off heat right away on a cold morning, and the front and rear defroster take a lot of the effort out of freeing your Sorento from an icy grip on a miserable winter commute. Two highlights stand out for us- one is the continued excellence of the infotainment system found across the brand. The other is Kia’s very cool UVO telematics service which lets you perform feats formerly reserved for German flagships like the Audi A8- using your phone you can start the car remotely and set your desired climate control settings, monitor maintenance needs including on-demand diagnostics and should you find yourself in a collision, the system will alert emergency services of your unfortunate predicament.

What’s it like to drive?

One thing the Sorento has down pat is comfort. It’s a serene place to get your commuting done and despite the lack of low-end torque from the 3.3 V6, it wafts along effortlessly- surely some of that praise belongs to the new 8-speed automatic. The Sorento drives exactly like every vehicle it competes with, which is to say it goes down the road with nary a protest and makes no claims to any sense of sporty dynamics. That said, there is one discovery we made which will prompt us to send Kudos to Kia and that is the ability to fully shut off stability and traction control. So many cars these days have an off switch for these electronic aids, but that really means ‘on’ to ‘less on.’ Huh? Driven in an unrelenting winter storm that saw a significant amount of snowfall, a little wheelspin was appreciated so that we could free ourselves from drifts and deep snow while we watched other motorists struggle against their own aggressive electro-nannies. Another bright spot- quite literally-  are the front LED headlights which light the way exceptionally well, and we can’t recall adaptive that swing through such an impressively large range of motion.

What might go wrong?

As Kia’s relentless improvement of vehicular dynamics continues unabated with each new model, the Sorento could benefit from a tighter body structure and a more focused effort in suspension tuning. Compared to even the Forte compact we borrowed from Kia’s stables recently, the Sorento feels a bit out of sorts and wobbly rather than disciplined and composed. Under the hood, we enjoyed the large naturally aspirated bent six- an increasing rarity in the midsize SUV segment- but it proved to be thirstier that we would have hoped. Part of that blame goes to being flogged through deep snow followed by the inevitable slush slurry choking our local roads, the other likely due to the engine’s extraordinarily high-power peak; the 3.3 is making maximum torque just 1,200 rpm shy of the redline.

Should I buy a Kia Sorento?

A usual, Kia brings a compelling value argument to the table that simply can’t be matched by those it competes with. On paper, it spars with the likes of the Subaru Ascent and VW Atlas, but those cars are massive in comparison so it isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples. It also lists the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer as rivals, and if you were to option either one to the spec worn by our EX-L, you’d be forking out more dough for the privilege. Dollars aside, we like the Sorento’s honest simplicity intuitive switchgear and smooth demeanor around town and on the highway. Plus, it’s now one of the better-looking choices you can opt for in its class. Try one on and see if it’s got what it takes to become a member of your family.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL– Specifications

  • Price as tested: $49,165
  • Body Type: 4-door, 7 passenger SUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 8-Speed automatic
  • Engine:  3.3 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
  • Horsepower:  290 @ 6,400 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 252 @ 5,200 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,970 kg (4,343 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 11.7L/100km (20 mpg)