2014 Kia Sorento

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Usually when an automobile manufacturer says a new model is a mid-cycle facelift that’s a fairly accurate description. Mostly there are minor changes; maybe it sports a different grille or front and rear fascias. Maybe it has a new dashboard using higher-grade materials. Or in some instances it’s simply called the “new” 20XX vehicle. For its 2014 Sorento CUV Kia has thrown conventional wisdom to the wildebeests.

Yes, it’s basically a mid-cycle facelift, but if that’s really the case, why are over 80 percent of the parts either all-new or redesigned?

Granted, it’s been little more than three years since Kia began production at its new plant in West Point, Ga., when the first vehicle to be produced there was the 2011 Sorento. But the 2014 version puts emphasis on the warning that it's not in the best interest of any auto company to underestimate the Koreans.

For instance, during the 2012 model year Kia posted sales of 557,599 vehicles — just under a 15 percent increase from the previous year marking the 18th straight year of market growth for the brand. The 2014 Sorento is in-your-face proof that Kia is striving for number 19.

The 2014 Sorento boasts an all-new platform that increases torsional rigidity by 18 percent. A major focal point in its design was to improve ride and handling, and improve it they did. It was enlightening — and gratifying — to put the new Sorento through its paces over a series of roads that equate to those mostly driven by potential customers (as opposed to having to whip back and forth through the twisty roads of California).

It “straightens out” curves thanks to its standard Electric Motor Driven Power Steering that replaces the hydraulic unit from the 2013 model. It’s quicker with 2.95 turns of the steering wheel, lock-to-lock, and offers drivers a choice of three steering modes: comfort, normal and sport.

Road noise is nearly eliminated. Few vehicles offer the degree of silence exhibited by the new Sorento. If you, as a driver, are counting on wind and road sounds to drown out the incessant babble (your words, not mine) emanating from the rest of the vehicle — particularly from the front-seat passenger — the only way that’s going to happen is to crank up the standard audio system, or better yet, pop for the Infiniti surround sound audio with 10 speakers.

Two engines choices are available. New is an all-aluminum 3.3L GDI V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. The other is a 2.4L GDI four-cylinder that puts out 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Either is mated to a very smooth six-speed automatic transmission.

The 2014 Sorento comes in four models: LX, EX, SX and Limited. Each is available in front-wheel drive or full-time AWD. The LX is available with either the four-cylinder or V6 but the others are V6-powered only.

Externally, the new Sorento is easily identified from the model it replaces. It has redesigned front and rear fascias that give it a lower, broader look in the front and a wider stance at the rear. The signature Kia tiger-nose grille is enhanced with an anodized silver metal or black mesh. Available fog lights have been pushed to the far corners of the front bumper and horizontally-positioned rear LED combination lamps enhance turn signals and back-up lights. It also rides on 17-inch-, 18-inch- or 19-inch wheels, the latter being a first for Sorento.

The interior is incredibly spacious and front-seat and second-row seating has plenty of legroom — 41.3 inches/38.8 inches. The third row has 31.7 inches. Cargo volume is 72.5 cubic feet with all rows down. Towing capacity is 1,650 pounds in the four-cylinder and 3,500 pounds as a V6. Furthering user convenience, Kia’s first power liftgate is available.

The instrument cluster housing is beautiful and the dials are easily legible. The stylistic center stack provides user-friendly controls and upscale materials are prevalent everywhere. There is not the squeezed-in feeling on either side of the driver’s or passenger’s legs, either.

Too-often occupants with larger thighs have some part of the center console or door frames irritatingly rubbing one of their shins, making the riding experience somewhat less satisfying.

Two leather grains are also available. There’s a lot of technology including a redesigned panoramic sunroof with a one-piece power-operated shade, a 115-volt power inverter and illuminated door handle pockets. Kia offers one of the best connectivity packages in the industry via its UVO eServices, Kia’s next-generation of infotainment and telematics.

Added to Kia’s already impressive standard and available safety equipment is a blind spot detection system. As for EPA mileage figures the four-cylinder FWD achieves 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The AWD gets 19/24/21. The FWD V6 gets 18/25/21 while the AWD version gets 18/24/20.

MSRP ranges from $24,100 for an LX FWD up to $39,700 for a Limited AWD. There are also a large number of port-installed options as well as factory-installed packages.   

— Al Vinikour