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Road Test and Review - 2013 Kia Sorento 3.5 SX AWD

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
September 28, 2012
6 min. Reading Time

How can you tell that the crossover segment is maturing?  One excellent barometer is a vehicle like the 2013 Kia Sorento.  The Kia Sorento is a crossover SUV that has been designed not so much to speak to the emotional side of a buyer's decision-making process, but rather appeal to their rational left brain.  The Sorento hauls kids and cargo, does so while wrapped in sheet metal that is pleasing to the eye, and it also provides respectable power for its segment.  Is an adequate performance in each of the requisite categories, plus an appealing purchase price, the new standard for a competent crossover?  Are buyers increasingly more interested in a crossover that borrows from the minivan playbook when it comes to driving dynamics?  Read on to find out.

2013 Kia Sorento: Competition

The 2013 Kia Sorento is up against number of mid-size crossover foes as car companies from around the world attempt to snag their share of the family transportation pie.  Vehicles like the Dodge Journey, the Toyota RAV4, the Chevrolet Equinox, and the Honda CR-V go head-to-head with the Sorento, as does its in-house competitor the Hyundai Santa Fe (which has been redesigned for 2013 and split into five and seven-passenger editions).  It would be disingenuous to say that any of these crossovers comes with a significantly stronger personality than that which is found in the Sorento, but they do offer individual strengths that help to differentiate them from the Kia option.


2013 Kia Sorento: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2013 Kia Sorento LX starts at an MSRP of $23,150.  This very affordable price tag can be inflated by opting for higher trim levels (such as the EX at $26,950 and the SX at $31,700), or by installing the vehicle's available V-6 engine and optional all-wheel drive.  The Sorento SX V6 AWD tops out at $33,400, which is more expensive than comparatively equipped rivals from Toyota and Honda (although the latter lacks V-6 power).

The model we drove for a week was a Canadian-market Kia Sorento 3.5L SX AT AWD, which when adjusting for the amount of optional gear installed would retail for an MSRP of roughly $36,600 in the United States.


2013 Kia Sorento: Exterior

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the 2013 Kia Sorento's entire package is its styling.  The Kia Sorento's bold front fascia is reminiscent of more aggressive vehicles such as the Kia Forte Koup, and the blacked-out honeycomb grille is nicely set-off by the jagged chrome frame that separates it from the bumper and hood.  Is there a hint of Saab in the curved glass that covers the Sorento's headlights?  Certainly yes, but the effect works well with the butch, blocky bumper and its large faux air intakes that house the vehicle's driving lights.  From the side the Sorento is somewhat more anonymous, while the rear is pulled straight out of the minivan playbook right down to the hatch-mounted spoiler that juts out over the tinted back glass.  Dual chrome exhaust tips (nestled next to each other) and a roll plate add a touch of SUV-inspired styling, but the large hatch opening says people mover, not off-road explorer.


2013 Kia Sorento: Interior

If the 2013 Kia Sorento's outside visage is its most appealing trait, then its passenger compartment stands in stark contrast as its most disappointing characteristic.  Certainly, the majority of the Sorento's interior features come across as functional, but the entire cabin is awash in plastics that seem intent on advertising their cheapness.  There are few surfaces that are pleasant to touch inside the Sorento, and this includes the steering wheel, which shares its plasticky, low-quality nature with the vehicle's dash, door panels, and center console.

The seats in the Kia Sorento (which were upholstered in leather and heated up front, with the option of cooling for the driver) were adequate in terms of comfort, but again, the hides they were wrapped in weren't up to our expectations.  The second row of accommodations provides excellent room for legs, shoulders, and hips, and while the Sorento is advertised as a seven-passenger vehicle the third row - which folds up from the floor - offers two flat-bottomed, thinly-cushioned seats that are unfit for adult occupation.  This is compounded by the fact that to get to the third row one is forced to crawl over the folded-forward backs of the second, which is an awkward enterprise at best.

Cargo space is also significantly compromised with the third row in place, dropping below 10 cubic feet - maybe enough space for a grocery bag or two, but not much more.  With both rows folded, the Sorento can carry a respectable 72.5 cubic feet of luggage.

One feature we did enjoy inside the Kia Sorento was its enormous dual-pane sunroof.  The amount of light they let into the crossover was incredible, and the front panel opened up nice and wide, which made it enjoyable to use on a warm summer evening.  A more confusing situation existed with the Sorento's power folding mirrors, which could be tucked in close to the body of the crossover at the touch of a button.  Roughly half the time when we came back to where we had parked the Sorento, its mirrors were in the tucked position, despite no one having left them that way.  Curiouser and curiouser.


2013 Kia Sorento: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2013 Kia Sorento starts out with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood that is capable of generating 175 horsepower and 169 lb-ft of torque.  A direct injection edition of this same engine is also available, and it kicks output up to 191 horses and 181 lb-ft of torque.  Fuel mileage for the base motor shows as 21-mpg in city driving and 29-mpg on the highway, with direct injection adding one and three miles per gallon to each respective measure. 

A 3.5-liter V-6 serves as the top-tier engine for the crossover, and it produces 276 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of twist.  Like all versions of the Sorento, this unit is backed with a six-speed automatic transmission and can be paired with optional all-wheel drive.  Fuel mileage for the V-6 (which is what was installed in our test vehicle) is listed at 20-mpg city and 26-mpg highway for front-wheel drive editions.


2013 Kia Sorento: Driving Impressions

The 2013 Kia Sorento continued its trend of making an impression of adequacy during our time behind the wheel of the crossover.  Although we spent just a few days with the Sorento, we were constantly grateful that the version of the SUV we were driving was powered by the optional V-6 and not one of its available four-cylinder mills.  The Kia is a heavy beast - as are most entries in its class - and while the six-cylinder did a good job providing us with forward motivation on demand, we shudder to think what this vehicle must be like to pilot with a less robust motor attempting to shoulder such a hefty load.

The Kia Sorento's six-speed automatic transmission performed admirably for us, shifting at the right junctures and never making itself apparent in traffic.  We did not have much cause to test out the all-wheel drive system, which is matched with 7.2 inches of ground clearance and the ability to lock the center differential for those who feel the need to head off-road.  The Sorento's handling was again in the passable camp, with cabin noise most noticeable when traversing rougher roads and steering push apparent when attempting to corner quicker than the hefty crossover would like.

The Kia Sorento isn't a dynamically interesting vehicle, but then again, it's not designed to be.  Anyone who has piloted a minivan will feel right at home behind the wheel of this crossover, despite its taller ride height, and that's by design.  The Sorento might look sportier than the average people mover, and it may be marketed as such.  However, this SUV is ultimately going after the bread-and-butter family sales that are so important to any automaker.


2013 Kia Sorento: Safety

The 2013 Kia Sorento comes with a number of active and passive safety systems to protect passengers from coming to harm out on the road.  Air bags include dual front units, side curtain airbags for those riding in the first and second rows, and seat-mounted side airbags for the driver and front passenger.  Electronic stability control and traction control are of course provided free of charge with the Sorento, as are anti-lock brakes.


2013 Kia Sorento: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Kia Sorento is essentially a tale of two price points.  Despite the lack of power found in the more affordable trim levels of the four-cylinder Sorento, the amount of equipment provided with the vehicle at the entry-level, combined with its good looks, makes it a worthwhile option for family shoppers to investigate.  Paying more for the V-6 - or for the additional goodies that came with our tester such as navigation and the panoramic sunroof - is a harder pill to swallow alongside the unimpressive interior materials that fill the Sorento's passenger compartment.  Staying within the budget-friendly lines of the LX or EX editions of the Sorento is where most customers will find their own personal sweet spot between value and quality.  Trying to push the Kia up market by piling on options just doesn't deliver the same rewards.

What We Like About The 2013 Kia Sorento

  • Handsome exterior styling
  • Good V-6 power
  • Roomy second row seating
  • Nifty dual-pane sunroof
  • Affordable entry-level pricing

We Aren't So Hot On

  • Interior quality falls behind rivals
  • Tepid driving dynamics
  • Almost unusable third row of seating

Photos courtesy of Benjamin Hunting. Test vehicle courtesy of Hyundai, Canada.



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