Driven: 2019 Kia Sorento SX Limited AWD

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Aug 18, 2018
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“$48,000 for a Kia?!!”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that phrase exclaimed during the week I spent with a fully loaded 2018 Sorento SX Limited which only goes to show how hard it is for a company to change its image. Kia has been working diligently in recent years to make its story about more than just price. Their manufacturing facility in Georgia cranks out some of the highest quality vehicles in the country. The Stinger has been compared favorably to BMW M cars and Mercedes AMGs. And the new Cadenza received high marks from all who’ve driven it.

Behind the wheel of a 2019 Kia Sorento

But as some of America’s most famous brands will tell you, changing consumer perceptions is a Sisyphean task.

McDonald’s has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate its restaurants, update its menu, and launch marketing campaigns designed to convince the masses you can find premium coffee and fresh, healthy food under the Golden Arches. Most of us, however, still think of it as a drive through joint for cheap burgers, fries, and a coke.

Budweiser brewed a passable American Ale in an attempt to cash in on the growing trend toward more flavorful beers. The drinking public would have none of it.

So how does Kia think they can go from a purveyor of economical automotive appliances to a worthy competitor of Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevy, and even BMW? Can they put the $48,000 question to rest?

When it comes to changing perceptions the most effective thing a company can do is change the product, something Kia has been hard at for the past few years. The Stinger, Niro, Cadenza, and soon-to-be-updated K900 are all evidence of that. The Sorento in question was revamped three years ago and for 2018 has seen minor updates that make a pretty big difference. My SXL trimmed tester was loaded with everything from the company’s 3.3L V6 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission to a full suite of safety and technology features, panoramic moonroof, heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, and every feature you’d expect to find on a crossover with a badge from a much more prestigious automotive brand.

That’s one of the challenges. Features don’t differentiate car brands anymore. Everyone has adaptive cruise control and other active driver assist technology. Everyone has leather seats with contrast stitching and . Everyone has satellite radio, dynamic navigation, and engines that offer more power and more efficiency than we could have ever imagined 15 years ago. The result of this is that the gap between the top-of-the-line cars and entry level brands has narrowed significantly. And Kia’s playing an interesting game here. In it’s base trim with limited equipment, it starts at just $25,900 significantly less than the Toyota Highlander, Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, and VW Atlas. But when you compare the top trim levels of all these vehicles, there’s very little difference in price.

So what does a $48,795 Kia family hauler drive like? Unsurprisingly, like a very good family hauler. The V6 engine delivers 290 horsepower which is plenty for a 7-passenger crossover. It’s smooth and quiet, offering the kind of unruffled performance and all the safety features you expect in a vehicle you plan on strapping the fruit of your loins into. The engine and transmission combo give you enough power to confidently execute interstate merges. The ride is smooth and quiet. The handling won’t have you seeking out mountain switchbacks and there’s virtually no feedback provided through the electronic power assisted steering unit, but the Sorento goes where you point it and doesn’t have much body roll or slop around when you push it a bit.

A true 7-passenger crossover – assuming that the two passengers in the back seat are of the juvenile variety – Sorento is aimed right at the heart of the hottest vehicle segment right now. In this highest trim and content level, it hits the squarely in the center of the bullseye. Seats in the first two rows offer plenty of space and comfort. Outside of the Nappa leather trim, the finishes are a notch above spartan without going all the way to premium. The fit, however, is first rate. On a Wednesday night, I picked up three of my friends, each of us over six feet tall, and made the hour and fifteen minute drive from Madison to Miller Park to watch the Brewers take on the Nationals on a warm July evening. With the third row stowed flat there was plenty of space for our tailgating supplies and all of us had the room and comfort we needed regardless of whether we were seated up front or in the second row. In our post-game reverie inspired by some late game heroics, the drive home was made easy by the radar cruise control and lane keep assist that helped keep the Sorento centered in the lane without being overly intrusive.

After spending a week with the Sorento and having driven the Stinger GT, Rio 5-door, and Niro Hybrid, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to recalibrate my expectations of their vehicles. It’s no longer a bottom feeder brand hoping to sell new cars to people who can barely afford them. Kia is a first-class mainstream automaker that deserves to be considered right along with the best-selling marques from Japan and the United States whether you’re shopping for an entry-level subcompact or a fully loaded crossover. So yes, the 2019 Sorento SXL costs $48,000. And compared to others in this category, it’s worth every penny.

2019 Kia Sorento SX Limited AWD
5-door mid-size, 7-passenger crossover
Base price: $25,990 Sorento L FWD
Price as tested: $48,765 includes destination and delivery
Options: SX Limited Trim includes: 19-inch chrome wheels, all-wheel drive, 3.3L V6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, dual-zone automatic climate control, Harman Kardon premium audio, navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio with 3 months free, Nappa leather trimmed seats, heated and ventilated power front seats, push button start with smart key, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, surround view monitor, radar cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights, fog lamps and tail lights, panoramic glass roof with power sunshade, power hands-free liftgate. ($20,500) Snow white pearl paint ($395), LED interior lighting ($450), Puddle lights ($240)
Engine: 3.3L V6 with direct injection
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 290 hp @ 6,400 RPM
Torque: 252 lb.-ft. @5,200 RPM
Curb weight: 4,343 lbs.
Towing capacity: 5,000 lbs.
0-60 mph: 7.3 seconds
EPA MPG: 19 city/24 highway/21 combined

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."