Posted Feb 11th 2013 11:57AM
It happens all the time. Three or four years into an automobile's life cycle, the manufacturer goes back to the drawing board, making what it hopes are vital improvements to keep its product at the top of the sales charts. It's true of the car we're discussing today, the 2014 Kia Sorento, but unlike many midlife facelifts, most of what's new here can't be seen with the naked eye.
Yes, there are the normal changes to the front and rear fascias, and a few nips and tucks here and there to improve the crossover's outward appearance. But, for the first time in as long as we can remember, the big news here is that the new Sorento is actually riding atop a new platform, according to Kia.
So while the bodywork has been reshaped where appropriate, it really is what's under the skin that counts with the 2014 Kia Sorento. We decided this development was worth a closer look, so we borrowed the keys to the new Korean crossover and drove off into the desert in Arizona with nothing but a notebook and our trusty camera.
Related Gallery2014 Kia Sorento: First Drive
Let's get the styling updates out of the way. At the front, you'll see thinner chrome trim around the familiar "tiger-nose" grille, which is now finished in an anodized silver shade or black plastic mesh. Flanking the grille are new headlight clusters, which now have LED accents at the top, forming sort of a brow shape over the projector lamps. The optional foglights are pushed to the lower corners for 2014, and the taillights at the rear feature LED bulbs as well. Nothing has changed in between the stem and stern, except for body-colour cladding that replaces the thicker black plastic of previous years.
Judging from what we saw on the surface, we were a bit dubious when Kia engineers told us the 2014 Sorento was riding on an all-new platform. A closer look, however, reveals a few significant changes to the car's unibody structure. Starting from the top, there's a new panoramic sunroof with larger panes of glass and a single sliding cover. While this would normally reduce structural rigidity, Kia added additional strut tower bracing in the engine bay, new stiffer front and rear suspension subframes with larger bushings and new welding patterns that make the unibody structure 18 per cent stiffer than before.
Second-row passengers now enjoy an additional 30 millimeters
(about 1.2 inches) of legroom.
Not only are the guts of the Sorento beefed up, its new suspension bits, though still MacPherson struts and coil springs up front with a multi-link arrangement out back, allow for more interior room than before. Second-row passengers now enjoy an additional 30 millimeters (about 1.2 inches) of legroom and those in the third row see an additional 9 millimeters (not quite half an inch). Those aren't massive increases, but any little bit of knee room is appreciated when packing three rows into a crossover of this size.
The new platform also reduces weight. In its most basic four-cylinder trim, the 2014 Sorento weighs 3,594 pounds (1,630 kg), whereas the last-gen machine came in at 3,845 lbs (1,744 kg). That's significant, and it carries over to the V6 models – a top-level Sorento SX with the V6 engine and all-wheel drive tips the scales at 3,894 pounds (1,766 kg), a very useful reduction from the 4,131-pound (1,874 kg) 2013 model.
Add up all those changes and we're pleased to say that Kia's not full of hot air when describing the 2014 Sorento platform as redesigned.
The 2014 Sorento weighs 3,594 pounds (1,630 kg), whereas the last-gen machine came in at 3,845 (1,744 kg).
Engine options for 2014 are also a step up from last year. Standard in the new Sorento is a 2.4-litre gasoline direct-injected four-cylinder engine that puts out 191 horsepower at a high 6,300 rpm and 181 pound-feet of torque at 4,250. That engine was optional in 2013, with the base machine eschewing direct injection and losing 16 horses and 12 lb-ft in the process. Similarly, a new 3.3-litre gasoline direct-injected V6 engine can be had (the V6 comes standard in SX and SX-L trim) pumping out 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet. It's both more powerful and more fuel efficient than the 3.5-litre engine it replaces.
A six-speed automatic gearbox comes standard with either engine, as does front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is optional. As before, this on-demand system sends power to the wheel with the most traction, but for 2014 the system adds Torque Vectoring Cornering Control that Kia claims improves stability when the conditions are right.
Rounding out the mechanical changes for 2014 is a new electronic power steering system that replaces the previous hydraulic unit. Benefits include increased fuel efficiency and a quicker ratio than before. The big drawback, as is so often the case these days, is a numb feel from the wheel with very little feedback offered to the driver. On the positive side, Kia has fitted the 2014 Sorento with a system it calls FlexSteer that offers three distinct steering modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport (a similar system is offered in the Sorento's platform mate, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport). Normal felt fairly appropriate, while Comfort seemed there solely to remind enthusiastic drivers that they don't care about comfort and really want to have it in Sport.
Step inside the new 2014 Sorento and you'll be greeted with some fancy technological tidbits that include a seven-inch color LCD center gauge on EX models and up (optional on LX) that is really quite impressive. It takes a few double-takes to realize you're not looking at a simple needle and gauge until you start playing with the steering wheel buttons. The digital gauge can offer up multiple trip meters, fuel mileage and range, music displays, outside temperature, routing directions and more. Better yet, it is crisp, clear and easy to read in all types of light.
It's been fitted with FlexSteer that offers three distinct steering modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport.
An audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3, Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming comes standard. If you don't like anything over the air, there are USB and auxiliary input jacks, of course. A very impressive 10-speaker sound system from Infinity is optional. Smartphone owners will also be happy to hear that Kia's latest UVO with eServices is along for the ride. The telematics suite operates through your phone's data connection and makes use of a downloadable app (iPhone available at launch, Android coming soon). Using the eight-inch center-mounted LCD panel, owners can either use the touch-sensitive screen or a long list of voice commands for music, phone services and navigation. Vehicle diagnostics, customized maintenance schedules, roadside assistance and Google Maps.
Dual ventilated front seats are a very nice touch, and are most appreciated in the sunny climes of Arizona where we tested the Sorento. Those in colder climates will also be happy to hear that both the front and rear seats are available with optional heating elements. Of course, these are just a few of the many options available on the Sorento. There are two leather choices in addition to the standard fabric, a power liftgate with programmable height control, power driver and passenger seats, a backup camera, and Kia's first use of blind spot monitoring.
Seventeen-inch silver-painted wheels come with the base LX model, while the EX upgrades those to 18 inches and the SX goes all the way to 19. The EX V6 model we tested wore the 18-inch wheels, which were not only attractive, but appropriately sized to nicely fill the wheel wells.
We found the ride to be on the firm side of comfortable, just as we prefer.
When the unibody Sorento first debuted in 2009, many a rumble was heard about the crossover's stiff ride – so much so that Kia upgraded the 'ute with Dual Flow Damper shocks in 2011. These units are still in use for 2014, and we found the ride to be on the firm side of comfortable, just as we prefer. Handling also benefits from the high-tech shocks, as the Sorento tracks well on long stretches of highway and, though nobody will mistake it for a sportscar, even feels a wee bit sprightly when the going gets twisty, likely helped by its smaller-than-average footprint and relatively manageable weight.
Those somewhat downsized dimensions are a key point when discussing the Sorento. Consider: Kia points to the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge and Toyota RAV4 as the Sorento's main competitors. None of those crossovers are particularly large, and the Sorento's wheelbase is shorter than all but the RAV4's. Just as interestingly, now that Toyota has dropped the third-row option in its RAV4, the Sorento is the only one that offers seven-passenger seating. That could be an important point for families, but bear in mind that space inside will be at a premium. Think of the Sorento as something of an in-betweener nestling in the space just larger than compact but smaller than other seven-seat CUVs.
We're happy to report that Kia upgraded the Sorento's four-wheel disc brakes for 2014. All four rotors now measure 11.9 inches in diameter, ventilated up front and solid at the rear. It's not that there was anything wrong with the previous brakes, but who's to argue with an eight-foot reduction in stopping distance from 100 km/h? We found the brakes perfectly adequate and noted a firm pedal feel.
Think of it as something just larger than compact but smaller than other seven-seat CUVs.
We didn't get a chance to sample the direct-injected four-cylinder engine, as all the test cars we drove were equipped with the 3.3-litre V6. Not that we're complaining – the new direct-injected engine is smooth, powerful and unobtrusive, and the six-speed automatic it's paired with executes nicely timed shifts. There is plenty of power from the V6 engine, and acceleration felt more than zippy enough – while nobody is going to be disappointed with the six, we hope to get some seat time in a four-cylinder model before assuming the bigger engine is necessary.
Fuel mileage comes in at 13 L/100km (18 mpg) city, 9.4 L/100km (25 mpg) highway and 11.2 L/100km (21 mpg) combined with the new V6 – a small improvement over the last model's 13 L/100km (18 mpg) city and 9.8 L/100km (24 mpg) highway rating. We'd have expected a bit more, considering the lack of hydraulic power steering, the addition of direct injection and the notable weight loss. Opting for the standard four-cylinder engine improves matters with ratings of 11.8 L/100km (20 mpg) city, 9 L/100km (26 mpg) highway and 10.7 L/100km (22 mpg) combined. None of these figures is impressive, and they are all lower than competitors such as the Ford Edge (with 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost), Chevrolet Equinox (2.4-litre four-cylinder) and Toyota RAV4 (2.5-litre four-cylinder).
It's pretty attractive, and that really matters in this segment.
When you add it all up, Kia has ended up with a capable, comfortable crossover that doesn't particularly stand out in any way, good or bad. Although, the 2014 Sorento can quickly counter naysayers by offering its three rows of seating, a powerful engine option and all the technology goodies you could possibly want. Plus, it's pretty attractive, and that really matters in this segment. Production of the 2014 Sorento started earlier this month and is scheduloed to arrive in dealer showrooms in the next month or so. Canadian pricing has yet to be announced, but early estimates say it'll kick off near the $26,895 "well-equipped" price of the 2013 model.
Before setting out on your new-car-shopping adventure, though, take some time to consider your priorities. Do you really want a seven-passenger crossover, or would a minivan suit your needs more appropriately? If it turns out you are indeed a crossover kinda family, you'd be wise to consider the Sorento.