Here's an example of when not to pick the smaller engine. Compared to the V-6-powered example we drove last summer, this four-cylinder Kia Sorento feels lethargic in urban driving. There's plenty of power for merging onto a highway, but the lack of torque is notable in the city. Because the all-wheel-drive Sorento is relatively heavy (3737 pounds) and the engine doesn't make that much low-end torque (181 lb-ft at 4250 rpm), the automatic transmission hunts up and down with annoying frequency.
Engine aside, the Sorento is a respectable but not outstanding three-row crossover. I find its design quite bland and generic, and the driving experience isn't as good as newer Kia vehicles like the Sportage and the Optima. Two minor things: The switches for the rear wiper are hidden far to the left of the steering wheel above the stability-control button. On a more positive note, the taillights have a three-dimensional honeycomb reflector design that looks classy and upscale when illuminated at night.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Oftentimes, automakers will restrict what options can be combined with a smaller base engine, and will keep all-wheel drive off limits as well, but this Sorento does neither. The 2.4-liter I-4 is the smaller engine option, yet here it is in a vehicle with both with all-wheel-drive and a third-row seat. As Jake points out, both of these features add weight and tax the four-cylinder, but it's an interesting mix, especially for buyers who need the seating and traction yet can't quite step up to the optional six-cylinder.
The Sorento doesn't drive horribly, but its ride borders on the stiff side; competitors, notably the Honda Pilot, offer similar interior space along with a smoother, softer ride quality better suited for long treks with the family.
The Sorento's dark interior suffers with rock-hard plastics on the door panel and dashboard -- but these qualities may soon be relics of the past. A Kia interior designer recently told me there's now a bigger push within the company to improve interior materials and color schemes. The new Optima Limited, which boasts unusual white leather seating and a microsuede headliner, is just the beginning. Seeing as the Sorento is due for a midterm update, I hope some of this new interior design mentality surfaces in the finished product.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
While the Sorento is, in general, a pretty innocuous vehicle, it does have a few things going for it. For one, it gets 27 mpg on the highway, which is pretty commendable for a seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive sport-ute. It has a nice, high seating position and rear seats that are quite roomy (not so much in the third row, however). It's got available amenities such as heated leather seats, navigation, and satellite radio. On the debit side, the four-cylinder engine isn't exactly a ball of fire, and the plastic in the cabin feels somewhat downmarket (especially along the top of the doors and on top of the dash). Still, for those who need all-wheel drive and regularly carry more than five people, the Sorento is a viable, competitively priced vehicle.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The three-row crossover segment is hardly what I'd call charismatic, and yet I still expect more than the Sorento offers. In particular, I'm not sure Kia's sporty interior design language works in a vehicle class where one expects warmth and refinement. The hard plastics Evan mentions probably aren't helping either.
Otherwise, the Sorento is fine. Sure, the four-cylinder doesn't always like lugging around 3737 pounds, but you're not going to get better fuel economy in a three-row, all-wheel-drive crossover. And then there's the matter of Kia's 10-year warranty - a major consideration in a segment as practical as this one.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor