You’ll need to decide this for yourself, of course, but I am far from convinced that the 2014 Kia Sorento is a true head-to-head competitor for Honda’s CR-V, Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport, the Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota’s RAV4 and Ford’s Escape.
Actually, the RAV makes some sense for one important reason: it has long been available with three rows of seats. The third rack is tight, but okay for tykes doing a little run to the play centre. The CR-V, Santa Fe Sport, Equinox and Escape… well, they are strictly five-seaters and not overly large ones at that.
Kia Canada, though, is in a spot. By the numbers, the Sorento is a compact crossover/SUV, but there is that confounded third row. In terms of functionality, the Sorento is closer to an intermediate-sized rig – like the Hyundai Santa Fe XL and the Nissan Pathfinder, to name two.
On the other hand, in terms of pricing, the Sorento plays in the compact SUV/crossover pool. The cheapest one starts at $26,695, while all loaded up, dressed to the nines, the Sorento tops out at just north of $40,000.
Still, get a sense of where the updated Sorento fits by looking at the numbers: The RAV4, for instance, runs $23,790 to $34,835; the CR-V, $25,990 to $35,140; the Santa Fe Sport, $26,499 to $38,499; the Equinox, $26,935 to $42,620; and, the Escape, $21,499 to $42,699.
What should strike you as odd is the vast pricing range here, one that goes across the board. You can get an Escape for less than $22,000, though you’ll still need to pile on taxes and fees. At the other end, you can drop nearly $50,000 on the priciest of these, taxes and fees included. So, at one end is an entry-like price, while at the other is a luxury buy.
The moral: take your time to price out your vehicle. In no time, you can easily find yourself dropping thousands on what started out as an affordable runabout, the 21st-century version of the family station wagon.
Kia’s case is that if you choose the LX version with front-wheel-drive (all-wheel-drive is also available), you’ll be treated to more stuff than the competition at a similar price. Stuff like a satellite radio and a rear sunshade, heated mirrors and automatic headlights.
Kia will also tell you that the Sorento looks the part of a rugged rig, now that the headlights and such have been tweaked, there are new wheels, the rear has a new tailgate and taillight design and the interior has better materials and soft-touch paint to make you more comfy. These are all nice, but also pretty much the standard price of entry here. I do like the improvement to the instrument cluster, which makes it easier to read the gauges. Smart move there.
Kia has also upped the legroom for the second and third rows. Take note, though: the third seaters essentially sit atop the rear wheels – with a seat and some sheetmetal in between, of course. This is a place for only short hops, not matter how short you may be.
As for power, the starter engine is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder (191 hp/181 lb-ft of torque) and that means I have no news to offer. Kia sold this one with the 2013 Sorento. Ah, but the V-6 is another story. This one is a 3.3-litre with direct fuel injection, versus the old 3.5-litre. Power is up to 290 hp (from 276 hp), but what matters more is that the engine feels smoother and the response feel quicker.
Kia’s engineers also say they strengthened the chassis, which makes for a calmer, more responsive, quieter ride. They’ve also tuned the suspension for quicker and calmer responses. This Sorento now also has electric power steering with something Kia calls FlexSteer. That means you can punch up the “normal” setting, “sport” for heavier responses and “comfort” for a light steering feel. Normal is fine. This do-dad is a talking point, but in practice not such a big deal.
Kia also offers the Sorento with blind spot detection, cooled front seats, heated front and rear seats, rear sunshades. a wide, panoramic sunroof and a fancy multi-media system. The latter is compatible with Apple systems, has Bluetooth and can even store 200 songs in its Jukebox. And you can get a navigation system, too.
The Sorento is an important rig in the Kia Canada array. But it’s in tough against some excellent competition. Kia wants you to test it against mostly five-seaters and, if you do, the Sorento stands up well on a feature-for-price basis. Nonetheless, the Sorento, despite its upgrades for 2014, still feels on the truck-like side of things – and that’s how it looks, too.
In a world of car-based utilities that drive like cars, well, a little more fine-tuning might be in order.
2014 Kia Sorento
Type: Compact crossover
Base Price: $26,695; $1,650 freight
Base engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 191 hp/181 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available
Alternatives: Dodge Journey, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape