2012 Kia Sorento

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There are almost as many crossover SUVs on the market as there are types of toothpaste down at the drugstore.

Which one to choose?

Kia has tried to make the Sorento a little bit different by making it a little bit bigger on the inside (with standard third row seating) than a compact-sized crossover like the two-row (and four-cylinder-only) Honda CR-V. But not quite as as porked out on the outside – or as pricey – as something like the Chevy Equinox.

It’s also got a new direct-injected engine – and a much better warranty than anyone else offers.

And that may be just enough to make the difference.

WHAT IT IS

The Sorento is near-mid-sized, seven-passenger-capable crossover SUV.

It’s available with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, four or six-cylinder engines and comes standard with third row seating. It competes against models like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox and Dodge Journey, among others.

Prices begin at $21,250 for the base model with 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and FWD. The range-topping SX V-6 w/AWD and six speed automatic has a sticker price of $33,150.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012

For its second year on the market, Kia has added a step-up version of the standard 2.4 liter engine with direct injection and 191 hp. It’s optional in LX and standard in EX trims. You can also get bun coolers for the front seats (in addition to heaters) and also Kia’s hands-free voice control system (UVO) for the onboard entertainment and communication equipment.

WHAT’S GOOD

New direct-injected four delivers about 10 hp more than the standard (and only) engine in the Honda CR-V and about 20 hp more than the standard fours in the Subaru Forester and Dodge Journey.

Available six-speed manual transmission.

More cargo capacity inside than bigger-on-the-outside Chevy Equinox and Dodge Journey.

Standard (and almost adult-usable) third row seating.

Industry-best 10-year/100,000 mile drivetrain warranty.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Significant price uptick for 2012. The 2011 Sorento started at $19,995 vs. $21,250 this year for the same basic vehicle. That’s a $1,225 price bump. It also means the Sorento’s no longer less expensive than several key rivals – including the $18,995 to start Dodge Journey and the $20,495 to start Subaru Forester.

$21k base model not available with new direct-injected engine or AWD. To get either, you must upgrade to at least the LX – which starts at $23,150 before adding either option.

Direct-injected four and optional V-6 are not available with the six-speed manual transmission.

UNDER THE HOOD

Sorento starts out with a 2.4 liter, 175 hp four cylinder partnered with a six-speed manual transmission powering the front wheels. The hp is not high, but it’s on par for the segment (CR-V has  a standard 2.4 liter, 180 hp engine, the RAV4 a 2.5 liter, 179 hp engine; the Subaru Forester’s got  a 2.5 liter, 170 hp standard engine – etc.) and the availability of a manual transmission – and a six-speed at that – is fairly uncommon. Both the CR-V and the RAV4, for example, are automatic-only and only have 4-5 speeds, too.

On the other hand, if you want an automatic, you don’t want the base model Sorento. Ditto AWD. To get either of these features, you have to move up the food chain to the more expensive LX and EX trims. This is unfortunate because it eats into the Kia’s appeal as a value-priced alternative to several of its rivals.

On the other hand, there’s that new direct-injected version of the 2.4 liter engine, which (along with AWD) you can order in the LX and which comes standard in the $25,950 EX. It makes 191 hp, which is stronger than all of its four-cylinder-equipped competition and a nice midway point between the sluggish base engine and the thirsty top-of-the-line V-6.

That engine is 3.5 liters in size and produces 276 hp – placing it among the top three most powerful V-6s in the segment. 

It also makes the Sorento pretty quick. This model’s 0-60 time of about 7.3 seconds makes it among the speediest crossover SUVs in this class.

The direct-injected four-cylinder version (191 hp) takes about 9 seconds to get to 60 mph. The base version gets there in about 9.5 seconds.

The optional AWD system includes a driver-selectable locking center differential, which gives extra traction in snow and mud. This is a feature many AWD-equipped vehicles charge extra for – or don’t offer at all.

Hill Start Assist is standard in manual-equipped models and AWD versions all get Hill Descent Control, too.

Max tow rating (with the V-6) is 3,500 lbs. – par for the segment.

ON THE ROAD

The new direct-injection four significantly improves throttle response and works well with the six-speed automatic, but it’s a shame that Kia decided against offering buyers the choice of a manual transmission with this engine.

V-6 versions, meanwhile, accelerate with almost muscle car authority. Only the V-6 RAV4 is quicker – and just barely.

The base four cylinder version’s chief virtue is that it’s paired with a manual transmission – which some people just like better than an automatic because it provides more involvement as well as the possibility of better gas mileage and (usually) the certainty of a lower sticker price.

The downside is not much happens when you push down on the gas pedal and there’s very little in the way of reserves to call up  when the Sorento is loaded with people, or when you’re trying to pass a left-lane hog. The Sorento’s curb weight – empty – is about 3,800 lbs. With two people on board, you’re well over 4,000 lbs. and the base four’s 175 hp just isn’t enough to give you a comfortable margin on the highway.  It’s probably fine for chugging along in suburban stop-and-go traffic, though.

The V-6, on the other hand, has power to spare. For a little perspective, its 276 hp output is 26 hp more than a 1985 Corvette with a 5.7 liter V-8. Floor it, and the Sorento moves. It is quicker than a Mazda Miata or base model BMW Z4.

You can have all kinds of fun with that.

Poor weather-wise, I have nothing but praise for the Sorento.

Many people believe they must have a truck-based SUV and heavy-duty 4WD (with 4WD Low gearing) to deal with rough weather, especially heavy snow. That’s an urban legend.

The truth is that truck-based 4WD with Low-range gearing is mainly designed to tackle off-road conditions – not poor conditions on-road.

If you don’t go off-road often and just need a vehicle that can deal with unplowed snow on paved roads, AWD will almost always do the trick and save you some money both up front (AWD is usually less expensive than 4WD) as well as down the road (AWD vehicles usually get better gas mileage than heavier 4WD vehicles). They (AWD vehicles) also give you better driving feel/handling when it’s dry and nice out – because car-based AWD systems are designed to improve dry-road handling and grip, too.

Truck-based 4WD systems are not.

AT THE CURB

In my opinion, the Sorento’s one of the best-looking vehicles in this segment. More sportwagon-like than boxy SUV-like. Large driving lights on either side of the lower front valance panel give it a snarky but not too WWF macho face.

Equipment-wise, the Sorento can be fitted out with most of the stuff you’d find in an entry luxury-branded vehicle, including heated and cooled seats, Bluetooth wireless, keyeless pushbutton ignition, voice-activated navigation, premium 12 speaker Infinity audio with satellite radio, a Panorama sunroof that runs almost the entire length of the roof, rear-seat DVD entertainment with wireless headphones, mood lighting, etc. Versions equipped with leather seats get an attractive two-tone look.

Base models aren’t Blue Lite Specials, either. Air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, Bluetooth wireless, a tile and telescoping steering wheel inside and 17 inch alloy wheels outside are all included.

Like other crossovers, you sit higher up and have a better view all around in the Sorento than you do in a standard car. This is a big part of the appeal. A back-up camera (bundled with GPS) is available to improve the one sightline that’s not-so-good with any SUV or crossover – the view behind you.

The standard third row seats offer more theoretical passenger-carrying ability than models without them (like the Equinox and Honda CR-V) but they’re still tight and really for kids only. There’s no footwell, so you have to sit with your legs bunched up toward your belly – if you’re an adult.

Headroom back there is ok, though – and the seats are perfectly usable for agile adolescents and younger kids.

Total cargo capacity (with second and third row folded flat) is 73 cubic feet – more than the Chevy Equinox (64 cubic feet), Dodge Journey (67.6 cubic feet) and exactly the same as the Toyota RAV4 (73 cubic feet).

Meanwhile, the Sorento’s smaller on the outside than several of these competitors. It is 183.9 inches long overall vs. 192.4 for the Journey and 187.7 inches for the Equinox. The Sorento’s more compact exterior dimensions gives you several inches more latitude when it’s time to slide into a parking spot and leaves you some extra room in your garage, too.

THE REST

The main fly in the pie, as I see it, is that Kia’s no longer the value-buy in the segment. Last year, you got more vehicle for your money than Toyota or Honda gave you. But not this year. Now, granted, some of the price uptick has to be credited to inflation – which is a looming problem that all the car companies (and all of us) are having to deal with. On the other hand, Kia can’t blame the Fed for its pricing structure, which requires any buyer who wants a little more pep (the direct-injected version of the 2.4 liter engine) or all-wheel-drive or even an automatic transmission to buy into the even more expensive LX, which starts at $23,150.  Meanwhile, there’s the Dodge Journey at just under $19k – about $2k less than the base Sorento. I’m not saying the Journey’s better than the Sorento. Among other things it doesn’t offer a manual transmission and its standard automatic is a Clinton-era technology four-speed unit. But it is $2k less to start and that’s likely going to be a big factor in many buyers’ minds given the economy.

And at $33k, the top-of-the-line Sorento SX – nice as it is – is dangerously close to entry luxury territory.  With a few options, it is within a few k of a BMW X3 or Lexus RX350.

And that’s pushing it.

The Chevy Equinox, Subaru Forester and Dodge Journey all top out under $30k.

The Toyota RAV4 tops out under $26k.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s not too big – and it’s not too small.  And while the price has gone up, it’s got features – most especially that standard third row – you can’t get in competitor models at any price.

Throw it in the Woods?

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Is it just me or is Kia really putting out some nice cars lately.

    You can get a turbo charged Kia Optima with heated/cool leather seats, navigation and power everything for about 28K.

  2. All well-documented pros and cons aside, Eric, I have an insurmountable mental block against taking seriously a car whose name also means “killed in action.” (I’ll always wonder where their marketing people were on this proto-issue: Korea, perhaps? ;>)

    Anyhow, I just bought an ’11 pimped-out CRV. Happy with it, as my wife is still happy with her ’02. And no, KIA owners: CRV does not stand for Crappy Runty Vehicle.

    • I have heard that Kia is a compound of Korean terms for “rising” and “out of Asia.” In any case, the cars are excellent (I especially like the new Optima) and wouldn’t hesitate to buy one. The Honda CRV is a nice little runabout but severely underpowered, under-warranted and overpriced – no offense intended. The weak warranty, especially, is something that continues to bug me. 3/36 is bottom of the barrel – and Honda buyers deserve better. I say this as a fan of Honda, the company – and owner of several (all excellent) Honda motorcycles, incidentally. But as far as cars, the company has lost a lot of ground over the past few years. Have you seen the new Civic? It’s a big disappointment and I (along with a lot of other car jocks) expect it to do poorly because it’s very clearly no longer the go-to choice in its segment. That is something that would have been all-but-unthinkable five or six years ago.

      • No offense taken. I’ve noticed the power deficit. That was a trade-off, like so many things in life. I’ve also heard about the disappointing new Civic: which I did not even consider, for that reason. Weak warranty or not, the dealer from which I purchased is the same one from which my wife and son purchased their cars in ’02 (CRV) and ’01 (Civic), respectively. The customer service and accommodation to them have been nothing but impressive. These were also major factors in my purchase decision.

        FWIW, my purchase also supported Ohio (my state of residence) workers who, in turn, did not have to be bailed out by my taxes.

    • DO NOT BUY A Kia. I Bought a brand new 2012 Kia Sorento. At 800 km head gasket had to be replaced. At 1500 km, oil pan seal had to be replaced. At 2000 km engine block had to be replaced. After arguing with Kia they replaced the entire motor instead of re-building my engine. KIA CANADA DOES NOT STAND BEHIND THEIR PRODUCT! We requested to have the vehicle changed from the minute we started having these problems and was told NO. My truck that I paid over 40,000$ for a hunk of junk. If you research Kia Sorento, I am not the only person to have major problems with the vehicle OR Kia Canada.

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