Test Drive: 2018 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to drive the Kia Sorento in its top SXL trim. At this level, the seven-passenger SUV is kitted out with niceties like a 360-degree camera system, adaptive cruise control, and air-conditioned seats trimmed in premium Nappa leather.

The Sorento represents a tremendous value for a well-built and very refined machine.

Both the design and execution of the cabin were so well done, it made me believe that if the badges were swapped out, it would be quite easy to convince people that the Sorento was crafted by a luxury manufacturer and not the Korean brand known for low-cost transportation.

The version you see reviewed here is a mid-level 2018 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD that’s more in line with what most Sorento buyers will purchase. With the absence of the luxury features mentioned above, the EX V6 rings the register at $37,495 – a full ten grand cheaper than the top trim.

Despite the modest cost of entry and fewer luxury features, this Sorento also feels like a more expensive machine than it is. The seats are still covered in real leather, though in this case, they’re the sort of stiff hides that make good leatherette a convincing alternative to skinning animals. The seats are still heated too, and for the power driver’s seat, there’s plenty of electrical adjustability to find a comfortable position. The materials for the dash and door trim look and feel good too, with pleasing textures and tasteful design throughout.

It all makes good ergonomic sense with easy-to-reach knobs for primary climate and audio controls, and crisp, white lettering against black backgrounds for buttons and dials. It’s all sensible and functional and looks like it’s going to last years of rigorous use.

The infotainment system – Kia’s UVO2 – does not include navigation at this level, and its 7-inch touchscreen is an inch smaller than the one used on the top trim system, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included, I didn’t miss the higher-end system’s functionality.

The audio quality from the sound system, on the other hand, is another story. The six-speaker system found here provided low output and weak-kneed bass response, making me wish for the Infinity system in the SX / SXL machines. (Note: for 2019, the premium audio system will be upgraded to an even better Harman Kardon unit).

Second-row passengers are afforded excellent legroom thanks to a bench seat that slides fore-and-aft on rails to help maximize the comfort of passengers in all three rows. What’s more, the second row reclines and offers a clever 40-20-40 split for folding. This, along with a second-row household AC plug are smart touches unique in the class to the Sorento and its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe XL.

At 4,760 mm in overall length, the Sorento is notably shorter than many of its competitors in the three-row mid-size SUV segment. Still, third-row leg- and headroom are very competitive, and Kia provides third-row climate controls too. Width is also narrower, so Kia only fits seatbelts for two in its third row, where competitors like the Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, Volkswagen Atlas and Honda Pilot all crowd in spots for three.

The Sorento’s third row is do-able for average-sized adults for shorter trips, but should otherwise be left for kids. Of course, that’s true of the competitors’ rigs too, and really, for those looking to fill three rows with adults on a regular basis, a minivan or a full-size SUV is a smarter choice.

Device-hungry passengers will also wish for more USB plug ports in the Sorento’s back quarters. And if all three rows are filled, there’s precious little space left for cargo – the Sorento’s one real bugaboo in the segment. With three adults and two children aboard, loading luggage at an airport pick-up required some masterful Tetris skills. That said, the luggage did include a cumbersome stroller that took up a lot of space.

Like its interior, the Sorento’s exterior styling is restrained, handsome, and looks pricier than its cost. The upcoming 2019 model will see minor refreshes to the styling with better use of LED lighting and some reshaping of trim pieces to keep the Sorento looking fresh and contemporary.

Compared to other mid-sizers, the Sorento’s tidier exterior dimensions allow for greater maneuverability. With increasing traffic congestion in urban and suburban settings, and seemingly ever-shrinking parking spaces, the Kia’s tighter turning radius is a blessing. This mid-trim EX adds parking sensors, too – a rarity at this price point.

But it’s not just sensible sizing that makes the Sorento rate so highly in terms of drivability. It’s also due to great throttle response and linear, quick steering that help give the Kia a feel of refinement. Even fitted with winter tires featuring a very aggressive tread block, the Sorento’s handling was at least as good or better than I can recall from any of its competitors.

Kia offers the Sorento with three drivetrains in 2018. A 2.4L four-cylinder with 185 hp; a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder with 240 hp; and our tester’s 3.3L V6 that delivers a robust 290 hp. This V6 is a real smooth character and a perfect fit for the Sorento, providing ample oomph for both acceleration and towing (it’s rated for 5,000 lb in this configuration). The six-speed automatic does a decent job of matching the engine’s smoothness in its own operation, but the new eight-speed coming for 2019 is touted by Kia as being smoother still.

What’s more, that new transmission is likely to improve upon the Sorento’s fuel efficiency – decent in its class, rated at a combined 11.4 L/100 km (13.2 city and 9.3 highway). For those seeking greater efficiency, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine is being replaced in 2019 with an all-new diesel offering.

Not only is the Sorento a smooth cruiser, but it’s also very quiet, with engine, road, and tire noise all decently suppressed. If there’s a downside to all that, it’s that it is surprisingly easy to look down at the speedometer and find the Kia travelling at a much higher speed than expected.

Lastly, while a one-week test does not enable us to foretell long-term reliability of a machine, it is worth noting that Kia has been generating a lot of buzz in recent years for consistently ranking very well on various initial-quality and long-term reliability reports. The Sorento also offers a five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty to help reinforce a purchaser’s peace of mind.

When priced out to near-luxury car levels, the Sorento does a pretty convincing impression as a luxury machine. But even at a mid-level trim, the Sorento represents a tremendous value for a well-built and very refined machine.

2018 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD
Engine Displacement: 3.3L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 290 hp
Peak Torque: 252 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 13.2/9.3/11.4 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 320/2,066 L seats down
2018 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD
Base Price $37,495
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,740
Price as Tested $39,335
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
7 Features
8 Value