2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review: A Me-Too Crossover Done Well

In the last few years, the mid-sized crossover with three rows of seating has become a hyper-competitive market. Between the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Chevy Traverse/GMC Acadia, and Ford Explorer, among many others, these family vehicles are fighting hard for space in Americans’ garages. And the American-assembled 2017 Kia Sorento joined the fight with a feature-packed vehicle that matches up against almost anything in its class.

For 2017 Kia updated some interior and safety tech, but the major overhauls from the 2016 model year remain. That was when the Sorento was completely redesigned from the ground up to take on the competition. The 2017 Sorento comes with three engine options: a base model 2.4-liter four cylinder with 185 hp, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four with 240-hp, and a 3.3-liter V6 with 290 hp. A six-speed auto transmission is standard on all trims, and AWD is available with either the turbo or V6 engines

We spent a week in the premium 2017 Sorento SXL with the V6 and AWD, clocking 712 miles around the Phoenix metro area traffic and on a one-day blitz up to the Grand Canyon and back. Overall the Sorento was a comfortable, capable family hauler that will meet most any family’s road-tripping, carpool, and Costco needs. And it should, since this Kia’s sticker price of $46,990 (incl. $895 destination charge) is pushing into the land of tricked out GMC Acadia Denalis. Which is kinda Kia’s problem. It offers great value, but it falls short on distinctive features and style, which it does so well with the compact Kia Soul. In other words, the Sorento doesn’t set benchmarks (other than price); it just seeks to measure up. And that’s fine for families in need of high-quality, high-function transportation who want to save a few grand over the competition.

Kia’s design language has undergone a welcome update to become younger and edgier, and the front of the Sorento bears this out, but everywhere else, Kia seems to be playing it safe. In the Grand Canyon parking lot, its middle-of-the-road crossover look got lost among thousands of other vehicles. Twice, my family walked up to the wrong vehicle, thinking it was the Sorento.

Inside, a giant two-panel sunroof stretches over the second row’s spacious leather seats. The ergonomics of the steering wheel and driver’s cockpit is well designed. Views out the windows felt expansive, a refreshing change from the current design trend to shrink the windows down. But otherwise, there’s a lot of soft, but functional plastic throughout the cabin.

On a winding, high-speed stretch of I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Sorento’s V6 was more than capable of holding its own even on steep climbs. We noticed no obvious loss of acceleration between Phoenix (elevation 1,086’) and Flagstaff (elevation 6,909’). Switching the drive mode to Sport gave the steering wheel a heavier, more direct feel, while changing the gear shift points on the transmission to make better use of the 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque.

Our Sorento wasn’t outfitted with paddle-shifters—the turbocharged 2.0-liter four gets those—but they would’ve been nice to have in passing situations when we were in Eco mode and needed a quick gear drop for faster acceleration.

The Sorento’s SXL’s 19-inch wheels rode softer than expected. Credit the vehicle’s independent rear-suspension, a standard feature in vehicles in this class, but nicely tuned by Kia for comfort with enough body-roll control to make high-speed lane changes and tight mountain roads above Flagstaff seem like no big deal.

In the city, the Sorento drives smaller than it looks. Zipping through traffic and tight parking lots doesn’t take much effort—the 360-degree-view cameras make parking in tight spots easy. It’s still a sizable vehicle, which is why we appreciated its safety tech: rear cross traffic alert and blind spot detector do a solid job keeping drivers out of harm’s way.

The V6 AWD Sorento has a tow-rating of 5,000 pounds, which is roughly inline with its competition, but the majority of owners are going to care about interior functionality. The split 3rd row folds completely flat and levers on either side of the rear cargo area will release the 2nd row to fold almost flat to create a space big enough to throw a mountain bike or a surfboard in the back. The powered rear liftgate opens easily enough although we could never figure out its hands free operation. It’s supposed to open automatically when it detects the key fob nearby.

Comfort is where you can literally feel the quality Kia put into the Sorento. The front seats are heated and ventilated. The steering wheel’s heated. The driver’s side lumbar support was among the best (i.e., most aggressive) we’ve experienced. Driver controls were laid out simply and intuitively. Even the 8-inch infotainment interface (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) was among the simplest and straight forward we’ve seen in awhile. To wit: Even with Apple CarPlay available to us, we enjoyed using Kia’s dead-simple navigation system instead of our phones to map our way around Arizona.

A flat floor in the split 2nd row of seats makes it much easier to slide objects into the space and for passengers to slide across the seat to exit on the curb side. The 2nd row seats slide fore and aft, recline and come with heat as an option. Access to the 3rd row is tighter than other vehicles and the lack of headroom and legroom mean it’s really only useful for young kids or teenagers and shorter adults on short carpool jaunts of 20 minutes or less. And with the 3rd row up, cargo space behind it is reduced to a row of shopping bags and not much else.

This is where things got weird: On a tank of gas spent driving around Phoenix on a mix of traffic-choked freeways and city streets, the Sorento’s onboard computer showed us averaging 22.3 mpg. And on our Grand Canyon blitz, where we left the Drive Mode in fuel-saving ECO mode, it said we clocked 27.2 mpg. Those are fantastic mpg numbers for a V6-powered vehicle this size hauling a family of four all over Arizona, but they gave us pause. Our results were curiously much, much better than the EPA’s 17 city/23 hwy. Not sure if this was a glitch in the computer system, but a quick search online shows that other real-world Kia Sorento owners are seeing average fuel economy around 20 mpg, roughly in line with the EPA’s 19 mpg. Overall, this disconnect was a bummer to realize.

Value is a key component of Kia’s M.O. here in the U.S. So even though Kia’s moving up-market with this vehicle and competing against the top of the line from the likes of GM and Ford, Kia still seems to beat them on price.

And if that value proposition doesn’t work for you, the warranty should: Kias come with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 6-year/60,000 mile warranty with roadside assistance included. That’s peace of mind that American, Japanese, and European brands don’t offer.
Yes, $47,000 for a Kia seems like a ton of money for, ahem, a Kia, but once you get in the Sorento and drive it like we did, you’ll understand this: the Sorento drives and functions like a $47,000 vehicle should.

The 2017 Sorento is by all accounts a great crossover for the money. It shares exterior lines with the Acura MDX, drives like a comfortable American SUV, with the interior fit, finish and attention we’d expect from luxury brands’ crossovers. Is it as off-road capable as a Jeep Grand Cherokee, as performance oriented as an Audi Q5, or as powerful as a Dodge Durango? No, but it is a sweet average of all those things. User tip: add a sticker or two to the rear glass so you don’t lose it in a parking lot.

On the TFLcar scale of:

Buy it, Lease it, Rent it or Forget it….

*I’d say “Buy It” but the current lease deals on a Sorento V6 AWD base model are insanely great: no money down/$260 month.

Styling – 3 stars
Performance – 3 stars
Ride and Handling – 4 stars
Utility – 4 stars
Comfort and Convenience – 5 stars
Economy – 3 stars* *note that our mpg numbers were suspect.
Value and Competition – 4 stars

Summary (one line)
The 2017 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD does no one thing exceptionally well, but does most everything quite nicely.