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It is probably more indicative of Kia's roots as a manufacturer of budget-based cars than its current status as purveyor of an increasingly diverse range of popular-selling vehicles that the most expensive item in its lineup is the seven-seat Sorento SX sport-ute I'm driving.
Unlike corporate sibling Hyundai, which has padded its resumé with sporty cars (the Genesis coupe) and high-content luxury sedans (Genesis and Equus), Kia hasn't progressed as far up the price ladder. So, for now, $41,295 is the top rate for one its products.
For that sum, one gets a somewhat mainstream-looking, mid-sized, built-in-the-U.S. SUV with an extremely high level of content. Indeed, if you took all the features out of the Sorento and put them in a car, you would have one very nicely equipped upscale sedan.
Along with the usual modern conveniences that should be found in a topline trim level -- dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, cruise control and upgraded audio system, etc. -- are a few items that tend to be options on other makes -- cooled driver's seat with memory and lumbar support, heated leather steering wheel, push-button ignition, navigation system, panoramic sunroof, power windows with driver's side obstacle detection, windshield wiper de-icer, and more.
When there's a sea of competitive vehicles out there -- and the compact/mid-sized sport-ute segment is certainly oversubscribed -- it's the accumulative details that can make the difference.
Not that the Sorento needs much help -- it's one of the most pleasant SUVs/crossovers I've driven in some time. Its biggest strength lies in the fact that, except in one area, it does a large number of things well. As for that one area of concern, let's get it out of the way: As seven-seaters go, the SX makes a great five-seater (which is standard for the rest of the line).
Kia is not alone in this regard; it's a common complaint with manufacturers that try to stuff three rows of seats into their mid-sized SUVs. In the Sorento's case, it not only makes things tight except for the smaller and more agile to climb into the back -- as well as curtailing cargo capacity -- it has an impact on taller front-seat occupants.
I sit fairly upright when I usually drive so, at 6-2, I have just enough legroom to be comfortable. On longer trips, though, I like to stretch out a bit, and there's not that extra few centimetres to do so, that precious room going to the second- and third-row sitters.
While some of the lower trim levels see a 2.4-litre four-cylinder under their hoods, the SX comes only with a 3.5L DOHC V-6 providing a strong 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, which allows for a 1,589-kilogram towing capacity. The V-6 is bolted to a six-speed automatic with Sportmatic manual shifting. And, while front-wheel drive is offered with the lesser trims, the SX is all-wheel-drive only, complete with a locking centre differential to distribute power evenly to all four wheels at low speeds during more severe weather conditions.
Not having any adverse weather to report, I can only describe the Sorento's comportment in sunny and dry conditions. That's to say it rides and drives as well or better than several so-called luxury-oriented SUVs.
The V-6 is very smooth under commuting conditions, and even when power is called for. Given the fact the Sorento isn't overly heavy for a mid-sized SUV (1,874 kilograms), a time of 8.6 seconds to hit 100 kilometres an hour shouldn't be considered lumbering -- nor should an 80-to-120 passing time of six seconds. As for fuel economy, I averaged 11.6 litres per 100 km in a mix of highway use and suburban puttering -- not bad for the type of vehicle, though not Earth-shattering.
A MacPherson strut front suspension and a fully independent multi-link rear setup underpin the Kia, imbuing it with a ride that takes care of most of a road's less pleasant aspects while still preserving some semblance of feel. The same more or less applies to the steering -- good ol' hydraulic power assist -- which has a decent weight to it.
The compromise of the third-row seats notwithstanding, the Sorento's cabin proves extremely hospitable, with a logical design to the dashboard, the various buttons and controls readily visible and easy to access and, as previously mentioned, a full slate of technology and mod cons. The one downside to the all-black interior is the obvious lack of contrast, especially considering the tester's dark carbon-fibre-look trim pieces.
In the seven-passenger configuration, the Kia offers 9.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat, 37 cu. ft. when the third row is folded and 72.4 cu. ft. when the second row is also tucked away.
The Sorento is yet another strong product from a company that is being noticed by more and more consumers. The only reason the SUV needs to wave a huge flag over its roof and shout, "Look at me, look at me!" is the sheer number of competitors out there. Otherwise, its day-to-day comportment and value easily speak to its worthiness.
-- Postmedia News
-- TYPE OF VEHICLE: Front-wheel or all-wheel-drive mid-sized SUV
-- ENGINE: 2.4L four-cylinder/3.5L V-6
-- POWER: 191 hp @ 6,300 rpm; 181 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm (2.4L) / 276 hp @ 6,300 rpm; 248 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm
-- TRANSMISSION: 6-spd automatic
-- BRAKES: 4-wheel disc with ABS
-- LENGTH: 467 cm
-- WHEELBASE: 270 cm
-- CURBWEIGHT: 1,874 kg (SX)
TRUNK SIZE: 1.47L
-- TRANSPORT CANADA FUEL -- ECONOMY (L/100 KM): 9.8 city 6.5 hwy (2.4L); 10.3 city 7.7 hwy. V6); 11.5 city, 8.2 hwy. (V6 AWD)
-- BASE PRICE: $26,895 (LX) -- $41,295 (SX)