Con­fi­dence meets ca­pa­bil­ity

Kia Sorento may just be the sta­tion wagon for the mod­ern era

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By John Leblanc

NEWS alert for sta­tion-wagon fans: The once-dom­i­nant fam­ily haulers aren’t com­ing back. At least that’s the im­pres­sion buy­ers get by vis­it­ing any new-car deal­er­ship these days.

Long gone are the times when a sta­tion wagon would meet the needs of buy­ers who had large fam­i­lies to haul around. In­stead, mod­ern new-car buy­ers can find a va­ri­ety of cross­over ve­hi­cles with mini­van-like seat­ing and quasi-SUV off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Kia Mo­tors wasn’t even sell­ing cars in Canada when the sports-util­i­tyve­hi­cle craze was run­ning ram­pant in the ’90s (ini­ti­ated by the Ford Ex­plorer), yet to­day the Korean brand of­fers one of the more ca­pa­ble of­fer­ings in the mid-size, three-row, cross­over class: the 2014 Sorento SX.

More than likely, you’re fa­mil­iar with the Sorento. Kia’s been sell­ing it in Canada since 2002. For the 2011 model year, the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion model be­came more rel­e­vant in the mar­ket­place, mov­ing from its pre­de­ces­sor’s body-on-frame chas­sis to a more mod­ern uni­body chas­sis. And for 2014, the Sorento re­ceives a slight styling up­date, an up­graded cabin and a new, more pow­er­ful V6 en­gine. Plus, Kia says the Sorento’s ride qual­ity and steer­ing feel have also been im­proved, as has Kia’s UVO voice ac­ti­va­tion sys­tem.

You can get into a 2014 Sorento LX for $28,390 (all prices in­clude freight and pre-de­liv­ery in­spec­tion fees). But it’s pow­ered by a 191-horse­power, four-cylin­der gas en­gine, has seats for only five people and has front-wheel drive. My tester, how­ever, was a topline, $43,460 Sorento SX with trac­tion at all four wheels, third-row seat­ing for up to seven pas­sen­gers and plenty of good­ies nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with a six-fig­ure Ger­man lux­ury sedan, as in cooled front seats, nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, panoramic sun­roof, 10-speaker In­fin­ity sound sys­tem and blind-spot de­tec­tion — among other niceties. One of the up­grades you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate is the Sorento SX’s new six-cylin­der gas en­gine. It’s the same 3.3-litre, di­rect­in­jected mill and six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion combo found in the Kia’s Hyundai Santa Fe plat­form-mate (an­other mid-size cross­over that sta­tion wagon buy­ers should put on their short list).

With 290 hp and 252 pound-feet of torque, the Hyundai/Kia V6 is right at the top of the class in power rat­ings. But with less weight to haul around (1,906 kilo­grams ver­sus 1,968), the Sorento SX only takes 7.2 sec­onds to go from zero to 100 kilo­me­tres per hour — a half-sec­ond quicker than the $44,959 Santa Fe XL Limited. Even with five on board and a week’s worth of gro­ceries and kids’ sports para­pher­na­lia, the Sorento and its V6 never felt laboured.

The Sorento SX’s fuel econ­omy is aver­age for its class. Es­ti­mated at 11.9 litres per 100 km in the city and 8.4 on the high­way, I saw an aver­age of 12.8 from mainly ur­ban driv­ing.

When it comes to haul­ing du­ties, the Sorento’s 100-mil­lime­tre shorter wheel­base means it’s less prac­ti­cal than the longer Santa Fe XL. In the Hyundai, rear-seat pas­sen­gers will def­i­nitely be hap­pier than in the cosier Kia. As well, the Hyundai of­fers a max­i­mum of 2,265 litres of cargo space, com­pared to the Kia’s 2,052 rat­ing and can tow up to 2,268 kilo­grams, ver­sus the Sorento SX’s 1,588.

Al­though the Hyundai ob­vi­ously of­fers more cabin space, keen driv­ers will pre­fer the de­sign and func­tion­al­ity of the Kia’s driver-ori­ented cock­pit. The Sorento SX’s dig­i­tal graph­ics found in front of the driver and on the large cen­tral con­sole screen are sharp, clean and easy to read. The Kia’s driv­ing po­si­tion also feels more like a car than an SUV (you don’t sit too tall in the sad­dle), and its seats do a bet­ter job hold­ing the driver in place.

Once on the move, the Kia continues to please. Kia en­gi­neers de­serve ku­dos for the Sorento’s sporty road man­ners. Com­bined with a more rigid body, new front sub­frame and up­per brace, and a sub­frame-mounted multi-link rear sus­pen­sion, as well as re­vised shocks, springs, and bush­ings, the Sorento SX is much more ath­letic to drive than its heav­ier and longer Santa Fe XL ri­val. It’s no sports com­pact, but the Kia re­sists rolling in cor­ners more, with­out any un­to­ward mo­tions when cor­ner­ing hard. And like the Hyundai, the Kia comes with a new three-mode (Com­fort, Nor­mal, Sport) elec­tri­cally as­sisted rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing sys­tem. But the setup in the Kia of­fers more ac­cu­racy and off-cen­tre heft.

Over­all, the Kia can’t match how quiet and re­fined the Hyundai feels when you’re not driv­ing it like a sport wagon. With the Santa Fe XL’s longer wheel­base, that SUV de­liv­ers a much smoother ride than the sportier Sorento SX. But if you like to drive, and your cargo/pas­sen­ger/tow­ing re­quire­ments aren’t at the top of your buy­ing list, the 2014 Kia Sorento SX — if not a true sta­tion wagon — is a sweet-rid­ing fam­ily ma­chine.

The Sorento of­fers a healthy dose of curb ap­peal while main­tain­ing fam­ily-friendly ca­pa­bil­ity. Avail­able op­tions in­clude heated and cooled front seats, nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, panoramic sun­roof, 10-speaker In­fin­ity sound sys­tem and blind-spot de­tec­tion.

RK INC.

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