SUV Review: 2018 Kia Sorento

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I’ll admit it: For too long, I have never been terribly impressed with anything Kia has ever built, snobbishly considering the automaker a discount brand for the Giant Tiger set (the Stinger and K900 notwithstanding). So, my expectations leading into a week with the 2018 Kia Sorento SXL were low.

All of them, however, were shattered.

How could they not be, with an interior as good as this? Restyled by ex-Audi chief designer Peter Schreyer, the Sorento and its cabin, bound in soft Nappa leather in the top-line SXL, was more appealing than any Highlander, Pilot, Explorer or Traverse I’ve recently enjoyed. In two-tone white and black – the combination now discontinued, unfortunately – the cabin was not just pleasing to the eye and touch, but decently laid out, roomy and comfortable. Visibility was good. How could I not have noticed this before?

Even simple things, like adjusting the wiper speed, are backed with a visible cue to the function just performed. So, when you slow the wipers, a little box appears in the centre cluster showing what level they’re now set at. Nice. And scrolling through the menu screen is a model of simplicity — fuel economy, car setup, odometer readings, etc. — all intuitive. As are the climate controls, Infinity premium stereo, GPS navigation and driving-assist functions.

Kia’s UVO infotainment system, displayed across an eight-inch touchscreen, is equally clear and organized with a logical menu hierarchy. The heated steering wheel gets a big toggle switch, as do the seats — although the heated seats default to off when the vehicle is shut down, instead of staying on as some drivers might want. Oh, the horror! The seats can also be cooled, and the rear seats are also heated. The clutter of USB cables and chargers can be tucked away in a handy box. Driving-assist functions are well marked. Lighting is good, the interior bathed in ambient LED light. Better, it was easy to find a just-right seating position with a good view to large side mirrors.

Heck, even the Sorento’s exterior struts with appeal, its blunt snout adorned with bright, adaptive HID headlamps over “ice cube” LED fog lights that might date themselves quickly, and LED lightbar tail lights. More nifty, the rear hatch magically opens by itself on this model: Simply stand within a metre of the rear bumper for three seconds and, after a few beeps and flashes, the liftgate opens like a drawbridge. It will not open when you simply walk past or are rinsing the Sorento at the spray wash.

Impressive, too, was the SXL’s ability to swallow some 86-inch long shelving picked up at Costco. The tailgate was even closed with this long cargo in the hold (the passenger seat was folded all the way forward). It was easy with the third row seats folded totally flat and almost flat in the second. Total cargo room is 2,066 litres with all seats down, 1,077 with second row up and 320 behind third row seats. That’s generous.

I considered putting the shelves up on the chrome roof rack, but the rack doesn’t come with crossbars (but does have mounting holes for some.) So yes, the chrome rails along with chrome wheels might be a touch flashy for some, but the stainless exhaust and stainless bumper plates in the front and rear are cool and likely useful. That stainless rear plate would be better replaced with a factory hitch set up, although pre-wiring is in place), especially since the SXL can tow up to 5,000 pounds – on par with the Toyota 4Runner.

That capability comes from the Sorento’s 3.3-litre V6, capable of 290 horsepower and 252 lb.-ft. of torque – ample enough for this 1,969-kilogram midsize SUV, with a run from zero-to-100 km/h in about seven seconds — but it’s not as smooth or as quiet as other V6s in this class. More quiet was the ride, unfettered by wind and road noise, even with winter tires over 19-inch alloys. Handling felt almost as solid as many German SUVs and the brakes felt excellent, able to stop the SUV from 113 km/h better than a Dodge Durango and Volkswagen Touareg, and on par with the GMC Acadia at 53 metres, according to Car and Driver.

The SXL’s six-speed automatic transmission, the only gearbox offered with the Sorento, might lack the other two gears so many others are offering. But it worked well at all times in our test, helping return an average fuel consumption of 13.8 L/100 kilometres of my week of urban driving. Official ratings are 10.1 highway and 14 city.

The 2018 SXL, which replaces the SX+ for 2018, gains several other enhancements this year, including a larger blindspot indicator, deeper cup holders, headlight lens improvements, USB cable outlets in the centre console, better taillight humidity control and the removal of an annoying ice warning due to complaints during season transition months. The steering wheel and shifter are now full leather on SX and SXL trims, instead of woodgrain portions.

All of which shows the Sorento is not just keeping pace with the competition, it is getting past it. Each time I drove the Sorento, I was in a happy place. For anyone who still thinks Kia is a discount brand, it’s time to go drive one.