Kia is no longer an unknown quantity, nor are its award-winning vehicles considered market anomalies. Last year, the company sold nearly 590,000 vehicles in the U.S. And while annual sales were down 9 percent for the South Korean automaker, so were the numbers for many others in an industry that experienced a 2-percent drop across the board.
But things remain business as usual for Kia. Although its latest vehicle, the all-new Stinger sports sedan, enjoyed a successful launch by every corporate objective, the performance car will remain a low-volume offering, especially in America, where consumers are incessantly obsessed with crossovers and trucks.
So, enter the refreshed 2019 Kia Sorento.
Making its debut just last November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the updated 2019 Sorento will no doubt continue to be one of Kia’s top-selling models. And this midsize crossover SUV sees some top-notch upgrades in order to ensure its continued popularity.
It’s no secret that Kia and its sister brand Hyundai have been moving upmarket in recent years. Each makes available to consumers premium offerings, luxury-worthy designs, and every technology available at their ruthlessly competitive sticker prices. With the new 2019 Sorento, much of the new stuff is on the inside – where it counts, as the saying goes.
The most obvious change is that all Sorentos are now 7-passenger people movers. Previously, a third-row seat was standard on V6-equipped models and optional with the 4-cylinder engine only with LX trim. Keep in mind, though, that it’s still one of those use-as-needed and only-for-children seating arrangements. For something larger from Kia, you’ll need to wait for the production version its Kia Telluride concept, which is due sooner than later.
Also new for 2019, an 8-speed automatic transmission exclusively developed in-house will pair up with the Sorento’s V6 engine. Last year’s 6-speed automatic will continue to be bolted to the smaller 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine.
But it’s not all giveth as Kia also taketh away.
Strangely, given the burgeoning popularity of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, the Sorento’s turbo 2.0-liter is dropped for 2019. Yet fret not, as diesel fans can rejoice that the new Sorento could receive a turbo-diesel option by the end of this calendar year. Speculation suggests that it will be the same 2.2-liter 4-cylinder available in the European-spec Sorento.
In the meantime, entry-level Sorento L and popular LX trims continue with the 2.4-liter, which makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Upgrade to EX, SX, and SXL trims to receive the 3.3-liter V6, which produces 290 horsepower and 252 lb.-ft. of torque. The V6 is an option for the Sorento LX.
Kia says that fuel economy figures are expected to improve, and EPA ratings suggest as much. Year over year, the range of ratings for combined driving are 21 mpg to 25 mpg, whereas in 2018 the Sorento averaged between 19 mpg and 24 mpg. The biggest improvement is with the V6/8-speed combo, which nearly matches the outgoing turbocharged 4-cylinder’s efficiency ratings.
Not known for skimping on safety features, Kia will offer its full suite of driver-assistance technologies as standard equipment starting with EX trims and higher.
New this year, driver attention monitoring and lane keeping assist are a part of the safety package. The former determines, via driving behavior and vehicle inputs, whether a driver has become drowsy or inattentive before delivering visual and audible warnings to recommend a break. The latter offers three selectable modes with varying alert levels from audible-only to almost semi-autonomous intervention.
Testing out all three, I found that the lane keeping assist system’s advanced setting will actually steer the SUV around gentler roadway curves (note: not 90-degree turns) while keeping the vehicle within its lane and maintaining vehicle speed (if using cruise control).
However, this is not to be confused with an autonomous driving assist system. Kia’s technology will disable itself if steering wheel sensors do not detect a driver’s grasp, and it only takes a few seconds of hands-free driving before an audible alert as well as a warning message appear, reminding the driver that hands are necessary on the steering wheel.
Kia makes it easy to turn this system off, too, by utilizing a single on-off button on the dashboard. Ultimately, this was my preference during the test drive, in part only because on the tight, winding roads of Colorado where I tested the Sorento, the beeping became annoying.
What wasn’t vexing about the Sorento was how it handled itself in wintry driving conditions. The drive route through western Colorado took us from elevations of 5,800 feet to more than 9,000 ft., but the Sorento SXL suffered no altitude sickness. The robust V6 engine never felt out of breath and the new 8-speed automatic transmission expressed no signs of light-headedness.
Dynamically, the Sorento is further a testament to how far the Kia brand has come. After all, Kia has been snatching up renowned engineers from Germany, like BMW’s former M-division vice president Albert Biermann. While the Sorento will not be confused for an M-badged Bavarian, its drivability is exactly what buyers in this segment want: confident and comfortable.
There are four driver-selectable modes: Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Smart. While the first three produce self-evident traits, Smart mode automatically chooses one of the three settings for you based on your driving habits.
Toggling through them, I noticed more compliant steering feel with a slight bias to oversteer in all but Sport mode, where power steering assist is reduced and gears are held longer but nothing changes to the Sorento’s suspension. Still, this SUV is anything but vague and is rather pleasant to drive along the mountain roads.
And should a last-minute maneuver need to be made, like when a seemingly well-fed, volumizing-shampooed-looking coyote darted in front of me while traveling on Highway 50, the Sorento effortlessly reacted along with me to avoid a bloody collision or worse, some unintentional off-roading.
As if to match its German-inspired handling, the Kia Sorento’s design is an understated one, exuding poise without arrogance. Already a favorable face in the crossover segment, the refreshed Sorento receives minor tweaks to its front and rear styling.
The grille and headlamps are revised, and full LED lighting is standard for SX and SXL trims. The fog lamp housings are also redesigned to look less like an ice cube tray and more like, well, fog lamps. To accommodate the new lighting and grille, the entire fascia has been updated as well.
In the rear, the changes are equally subdued with redesigned taillamps, a new bumper, and a different exhaust outlet finisher. Also new are three wheel designs ranging in size from 17 to 19 inches in diameter.
On the inside, the 2019 Sorento SXL’s cabin is flush with premium materials that rival near-luxury and luxury brands. Nearly every upper surface is shaped with something other than hard plastic. From the armrests to the dash top to frequent touch points, the SXL’s interior is focused on comfort.
Minimalist design updates include changes to the steering wheel, shift knob, instrument cluster, air vents, and center console design. Nappa leather trim is available in new Mahogany and Terracotta colors. And, the Sorento SXL is quiet inside. Due to our testing location, Kia outfitted our test vehicle with Michelin Latitude X-ICE Xi2 winter tires, but the usual road noise associated with such seasonal rubber was hardly a deafening decibel.
The new 2019 Kia Sorento will arrive in dealerships in March of 2018, and Kia expects the starting sticker price will be less than $26,000 while a well-equipped SXL will go for around $45,000. This would be an impressive feat as outgoing 2018 Sorento prices are about the same or a little higher.
Either way, over or under, the midsize 2019 Kia Sorento is more appealing than ever, especially given the high level of pampering for what is a relatively low price.
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