2019 Kia Sorento Quick Spin: Lots to <3 But #PowertrainProblems

2019 Kia Sorento; Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The Sorento is Kia's largest SUV, and the Korean brand has freshened it for the 2019 model year with updates large and small. One of the more significant changes is a new eight-speed automatic transmission that pairs with the optional 3.3-liter V-6 engine. We recently had the chance to take the updated 2019 Sorento for a quick spin, and though the SUV is quiet on the road, easy to drive and has a premium feel in SXL form, the new transmission and V-6 are an underwhelming pair.

Related: 2019 Kia Sorento Gains Standard Third Row, Diesel Model

It's not that the Sorento's V-6 drivetrain isn't smooth and refined — it is — but rather that it doesn't move this three-row SUV swiftly. And with 290 horsepower, 252 pounds-feet of torque and eight forward gears to choose from, that's surprising — I expected more. That said, the new transmission shifts smoothly and kickdowns happen readily.

The updated V-6 drivetrain gets better gas mileage as both front- and all-wheel-drive models see their combined EPA estimates jump 2 mpg over the 2018 models to reach 22 mpg for front-wheel-drive Sorentos and 21 mpg for all-wheel-drive versions. Both the V-6 and the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder use regular gas.

Once you've reached cruising speeds, the Sorento driving experience improves. Ride quality is firm and controlled, the cabin is hushed, and the SUV steers and brakes easily. The SXL model feels upscale (and with a starting price of $45,680 for front-drive versions and $47,480 for all-wheel-drive models, both including a $990 destination charge, it absolutely should). These attributes are a big reason why.

A newly standard third-row seat means all trim levels can now carry up to seven people. One of the things we dinged the Sorento for when we last tested it as part of our 2016 Three-Row SUV Challenge was its smallish cabin, and it's still an issue with the 2019 Sorento. The third row isn't comfortable for adult passengers; they must put up with a knees-up seating position. It's also hard to get in and out of the third row — even with the second row's walk-in feature. The second row's seat cushions are a little low, but the middle seat is big enough for adults.

When we last tested a 2017 Kia Sorento in a field of eight three-row SUVs, it came in third place. We liked the 2017's overall value and tech features, and the 2019 Sorento builds upon those qualities with things like newly available wireless smartphone charging. Its revised V-6 drivetrain, however, doesn't feel similarly improved, and this could leave the Sorento vulnerable in the coming years as competitors are updated.

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