In Austin, traffic is heinous enough to make you give up driving forever if a) it’s Friday afternoon b) it’s a holiday or C) it’s raining. So there we were in a monsoon at 4pm the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, me, my tween daughter, and 9-year old son on our way to a “travel” soccer tournament. I use “on our way” and “travel” loosely. There we sat.
Which gave us time to take in our automotive surroundings. We found ourselves seated in a 2014 Kia Sorento SXL. And we would be putting it through its paces. As a matter fact, I challenge any automotive magazine to come up with a better test for a midsize SUV than the one we had in store. Hundreds of miles on Texas Interstates to visit previously unexplored soccer fields in the wilds of suburban Houston, torrential rains, then on to muddy ranch roads as we stopped in to visit a friend’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and, as an encore, we traversed the fastest stretch of road in the country on our trip home.
Kia itself has been on an upwardly mobile track for some time. Each new model from this Korean maker seems more ambitious and refined, another step away from the only other Kia I’ve ever driven — my sister-in-law’s 1995 Sportage. That SUV (?) was so tinny and poorly sprung it was the only car I’d ever thought capable of flipping while being parallel parked.
The Sorento we now sat in was several hundred thousand miles of development away from that first generation Sportage. The kids watched the rain dance on the panoramic sunroof which seemed to stretch the entire length of the vehicle. They raised and lowered the sun shades built in the to rear passenger doors and plugged their electronics into the 115v outlet.
I searched for my favorite station on the satellite radio, and adjusted the excellent Infinity stereo. I admired the bright touchscreen atop the center stack — despite the fact that the navigation system was constantly updating our arrival time into Houston later and later. The center binnacle with speedometer and other gauges was also a clever little round screen.
The black leather interior had an upscale, almost European feel. Although the leather and faux-grained plastic steering wheel put me off at first, it grew on me. The fact that the perforated seats could also cool (or heat) were a considerable bonus in the already building Texas heat.
After nearly an hour of creeping eastward, traffic finally relented, we were free of Austin’s gridlock, and the vehicle could stretch its legs a bit. The low end acceleration had nice giddyup, but the power band tapered a bit over 40. The 3.3l V6 felt quite capable in the wide variety of setting we threw at it. The vehicle never felt underpowered to me.
Once I figured out that the steering had multiple modes, and switched it from “Comfort” to “Sport”, it had a satisfying weight and feel. Feedback was dampened, but this vehicle still felt very nailed to the ground. Braking performance was excellent in the wet conditions, as advertised by the bright red brake calipers. I wasn’t sure how this enhanced performance, but my teenage son was very impressed.
One safety feature I appreciated on the crowded Interstate was the Blind Spot Detection system. The system is generally pretty unobtrusive. An indicator light appears on the side mirror if there is a vehicle in the blind spot. If you put on your turn indicator in that direction, an alarm sounds. The system worked accurately for me a couple of times.
The Sorento is the ideal companion for a weekend soccer trip, affording the kids plenty of room, and me peace of mind. We had plenty of storage (we kept the 3rd row stowed away for our entire trip, the whole test drive for that matter and I have three kids which reminds me to ask why anyone really needs a 3rd row) for our gear and soccer chairs, easily accessed through the power liftgate.
But how would the SUV perform when left the safe suburbs and headed into the untamed wilds of the Hill Country?
“Wilds” my be overstating it. In fact, we would be staying in a ranch house worthy of Architectural Digest, but the roads were dirt, and the rains had turned them soft. When we turned off the blacktop, I got the feeling that a lot of SUV owners must get — finally, I get to use this thing for what it’s for.
The AWD system on the Sorento met the challenge of sloppy, muddy roads, acre-sized puddles, and even a doorsill deep creek crossing without a moment of uncertainty. The quality of the traction system was made clear when I followed another family in a jumbo but 2WD SUV down a particularly sloppy section of ranch road. Ahead of us, the back end of the big SUV could be seen slipping and sliding making a sloppy mess. The Sorrento remained completely composed.
As if that weren’t enough adventure for one weekend, our return to Austin routed via Texas 130, the toll road featuring an 85 mph speed limit. I asked the kids to be on the lookout for feral hogs (which have caused several major crashed on that roadway) and pushed the vehicle to near 90. The vehicle was almost unnervingly quiet and composed, though my kids were not.
With the Sorento, the real question is, will families really plonk over $41k on a Kia? My answer: smart ones will. Compare this vehicle to an equally loaded Chevy Traverse or Toyota RAV4, and the value becomes clearer (my test model was the top of the line SX LTD, the base LX model starts at just under $25k). The build quality, the content, the warranty, all will sway an informed consumer that a badge is just a badge. And this vehicle is nobody’s deputy.