2019 Kia Sorento First Drive

2019 Kia Sorento First Drive

The Kia Sorento has long been an alternative choice in the midsize SUV segment. While offering a bit more room, refinement and power (with its optional V6 engine) than its four-cylinder competition, it's lacked the size and practicality of larger, dedicated three-row SUVs that inhabit the same class. For 2019, Kia has given the Sorento a host of minor tweaks in hopes of better attracting both buyers of more luxurious three-row midsize SUVs and those who own more economical SUVs.

What's New
For 2019, all trim levels of the Sorento (L, LX, EX, SX, and SXL) get a face-lift and sport a new grille, bumpers, and headlights and taillights. New full-LED headlights are standard on the SXL and optional on the SX while LED taillights are standard on the EX trim level and above. Under the hood, Kia has axed the previously optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. That leaves the 2.4-liter non-turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the base engine. It's standard on the L and the LX and comes paired to a revised six-speed automatic transmission. The Sorento's 3.3-liter V6 is still available. It's optional on the LX and standard on the EX, SX and SXL. Kia has upgraded the V6's transmission to a new eight-speed automatic, which slightly improves fuel economy compared to the previous six-speed auto.

Inside, the biggest news might well be that the 2019 Sorento is now available as a seven-passenger SUV only. This makes it one of the smallest midsize SUVs to offer standard three-row seating, but Kia hopes that added flexibility will woo buyers who want to maintain a smaller footprint but like having the option to seat the occasional extra passengers. All Sorentos get a new steering wheel design, new interior accents, improved instrument panel graphics, and redesigned air vents and center console.

Kia stacks the Sorento full of technology features, especially on EX trim levels and above. Those get Kia's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) as standard equipment. ADAS is composed of a forward collision warning system, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist and a surround-view camera system. All-wheel-drive models also get rollover mitigation as standard equipment. There's also an optional 630-watt, 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an available wireless charging pad compatible with Android 6.0, iPhone 8 and iPhone X phones.

Down the Road
The 2019 Sorento we got our hands on was a kitted-out SXL complete with all-wheel drive with a sticker price north of $46,000. That might seem like a lot to ask for a midsize SUV, but it's on par with the top-of-the-line Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9. Most importantly, the Sorento we drove was equipped with the 3.3-liter V6 engine, which is the only engine we would recommend as the 185-horsepower 2.4-liter engine is just not enough for something this size. Another reason to get the V6 is that, when equipped with all-wheel drive, the Sorento is rated to tow 5,000 pounds.

The Sorento's 290-hp V6 has been around a while, but Kia has certainly dialed it in. We found it to be smooth and sonorous, even if it didn't quite provide the punch we expected. Some of that lack of acceleration might be down to the gearing on the new eight-speed automatic — it's fairly tall (likely in the name of fuel economy), with seventh and eighth gears seeming almost redundant on the highway.

On the road, the Sorento feels decidedly different from most of its competitors. While we wouldn't go so far to say it's ponderous or trucklike, it certainly feels heavier in both ride and handling than, say, the Mazda CX-9. But that heaviness imparts a good sense of stability, especially on the open road. And while we found the steering to be a touch on the heavy side, especially in Sport mode, the Sorento is an easy vehicle to keep pointed straight for many, many miles.

The Inside Gets Turned Out, Too
Inside, the multitude of little tweaks really do give the Sorento a fresh look. Only the instrument cluster seems a bit behind the times, but the new graphics on the menu screen are appreciated. The interior feels rich and has a solid build quality. The whole interior can be brightened by opening up the massive panoramic sunroof, which is optional. We think the Sorento has one of the best-looking interiors in the class. There's a commendable amount of sound insulation baked into the Sorento, too. Only very coarse road surfaces were cause for elevated conversation volumes.

The trade-off to the Sorento's slightly smaller footprint is less space aft of the front seats. Adults can sit comfortably in the sliding second row, but even at their most rearward position we wished for a bit more legroom. The third row is a bit on the tight side, but not as tight as the access to the third row, which is hampered by the rear wheelwells that intrude into the cabin. So while it might be best for kids in terms of space, it's also best for kids in terms of access, too. But there's still good practicality in this slightly smaller midsize SUV as the 50/50-split folding third row drops flat and the 40/20/40-split second row is easy to configure.

Pricing and Fuel Economy
Prices range from the mid-$20,000s up to the mid-$40,000s depending on a wide variety of option packages and trim levels. Fuel economy varies, too. Expect the 2.4-liter four-cylinder to return 25 mpg in combined driving (22 city/29 highway) with front-wheel drive or 23 mpg (21 city/26 highway) with all-wheel drive. The 3.3-liter V6 gets 22 mpg (19 city/26 highway) with FWD and 21 mpg (19 city/24 highway) if you opt for all-wheel drive.

Overall, we think the updates to the 2019 Kia Sorento are worthwhile and further improve this SUV's appealing mix of practicality and style. It's currently on sale and, if you're in the market for a midsize SUV, it's definitely worth a look.


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