Editor's note: Estimated mileage ratings have been lowered to reflect a November 2012 EPA audit of this car's stated mileage.
While I loved my first brief stint in a loaded seven-seat 2012 Kia Sorento at Cars.com's $37,000 SUV Shootout, my most recent two-week test drive of a lesser model at home left me feeling a bit … um … meh.
What gives? The Shootout contestant was a value-packed, feature-filled Sorento SX with front-wheel drive that had a surprisingly spunky V-6 engine. The second time around I was driving the Sorento EX, featuring a smaller four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. I found myself chanting aloud "I think I can, I think I can," willing the Sorento along as it gently chugged its way up the small hill to my daughters' school.
The Kia Sorento's styling is neither here nor there for me, not really standing out from the rest of the nameless, faceless medium-sized SUVs and crossovers. I tend to have more extreme tastes, preferring design cues that are unique within their class.
The Sorento isn't unique enough to be offensive to anyone, and maybe that's the goal. It might even catch a few more conservative eyes here and there when clad with the smiling Kia grille and optional rear spoiler.
The Sorento's 7.5-inch ground clearance is high enough that I wished my test car had the optional side steps to assist my younger two daughters (ages 7 and 9). We occasionally pick up my parents as well for a family dinner outing, and I know their creaking joints and my dad's artificial hip would also appreciate a little assistance.
The Sorento is packed full of features without adding exorbitant costs to families on a budget. Five seats are standard. The third-row bench that my test car came equipped with is part of an optional $3,800 Premium Package 1, which also includes heated, power-adjustable front seats with driver's seat memory. Deep charcoal faux-wood trim adds a classy look to this budget crossover, making it feel more upscale than you'd think.
Up front, the driver benefits from steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth cellphone connectivity and audio streaming that was quite easy to pair with my iPhone. This great family-friendly feature keeps my kids busy on long trips by piping their favorite music wirelessly from my smartphone through the car's speakers.
A clever extra storage compartment tucked behind the audio controls was perfect for storing some tissues for when I got weepy from my girls' relentless playing of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend." Please choose something else. Anything!
The second-row bench doesn't slide back and forth, a feature I've come to expect in every crossover these days, especially ones with a third row. Despite the lack of adjustability, there was plenty of room in the second row for my girls and their backpacks. They had access to storage nets on the back of the front seats, as well as storage bins with bottle holders in the two rear doors. An armrest folds down when the center seating position is not in use and gives the kids two cupholders. Second-row passengers benefit from two air vents on the pillars just in front of them.
The third row is a little tight but sufficient enough for an extra kid or two on the weekend. If we had three or more kids at home full time, I'd probably opt for a larger third row with easier access and a curtain side airbag (see the Safety section below). Third-row passengers will have to suffer without their own air vents, and only the right side of the vehicle offers a storage bin and a cupholder. The left-side passenger doesn't get to drink. Sorry.
At 9.1 cubic feet, the cargo space behind the third row is incredibly tight, fitting not much more than a couple of grocery bags. The third-row seats split 50/50, however, and fold flat with a quick tug on a pull-tab, which simultaneously flips the head restraint down and out of the way making for 37 cubic feet of space behind the second row. The cargo space expands to a maximum of 72.5 cubic feet of space after folding the second row seats as well.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): None (in the four-cylinder)
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Who wouldn't want all of the above features at such a great price? Someone with someplace to go quickly, that's who. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder Sorento EX is just plain sluggish and annoyingly slow to get up to speed on the highway. When you punch the accelerator in an attempt to get more reaction, all you get is a rumbly, whiny protest. I get enough backtalk from my kids; I certainly don't need it from my car, too.
For me and my family, the four-cylinder Sorento — rated at 20/26 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive — wouldn't even make it onto our radar screen.
It could actually have been worse: The EX's standard engine is a more powerful four-cylinder than the lower-level LX trim's engine. Called the GDI version (for gasoline direct injection), the EX's engine makes 191 horsepower versus the 2.4-liter's 175 hp. However, the less-powerful engine comes in the LX with front-wheel drive only; all-wheel-drive LX versions upgrade to GDI.
The V-6, however, is a completely different story. My previous drive in the V-6 left me feeling sporty and spunky. It had plenty of get up and go with a near carlike feel to it. Of all the SUVs and crossovers we drove in our Shootout, the V-6-equipped Sorento was one of my two favorites in terms of drivability. It does sacrifice 2 mpg on the highway versus the four-cylinder with all-wheel drive and 3 to 4 mpg with two-wheel drive.
With the top score of Good in front, side and rear crash tests, plus the roof-strength test, the Sorento is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash tests, the Sorento earned an overall score of four stars out of five.
As is required of all 2012 models, the Kia Sorento has standard antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control. Dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and curtain side airbags for the first and second rows are all standard. The third-row passengers do not have airbag protection, a concern for me as a parent. Do I have to pick my least favorite kid each day to ride in the way-back without airbag protection? Sadly, this one specific drawback is enough to keep the Sorento off my family's potential next car list. Most three-row crossovers have curtains that flank all three rows.
For families installing child-safety seats, there's sufficient room in the second row for installing either forward- or rear-facing child seats, but the lower Latch anchors in the second row are buried within the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet, making installation difficult for some types of car seats. Despite having seating for up to seven, the Sorento has only the two sets of Latch anchors in the second row's outboard seating positions. The third row doesn't have lower or top tether anchors.
The seat belt buckles in both the second and third rows are on flexible nylon bases, a system that can make it difficult for younger children in booster seats to buckle up on their own. However, the second-row seats recline quite a bit, which aids in the comfort of booster-seat-aged kids like mine who still nap in the car, while also often improving the fit and comfort of forward-facing child-safety seats.
For the complete Car Seat Check of the 2012 Kia Sorento, click here.
See all the standard safety features listed here.
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