I’m wondering if a day will ever come when Chinese-made cars begin to roam American highways. My feeling is that the first decade of that period — minus some Red Dawn–styled invasion bringing them forcibly to our shores — could be a bit like those wretched, early days for Korean cars in the U.S. market.
Those experiences, by the way, are way, way long gone, as both Kia and its sister company, Hyundai, craft world-class vehicles equivalent to domestic offerings and European and Japanese imports.
The Kia Sorento, that brand’s full-size CUV, is a pretty decent option, with a veritable ton of basic options, much-improved and futuristic looks and the full-blown third-row space that buyers still crave.
The 2014 version of the Sorento is a major forward step from the previous model, getting a huge makeover inside and out, plus a new chassis. That includes a bunch of pretty glamorous touches, including BMW-styled faux hardwood on the console and knee plates, lit-up aluminum door sills plus a fantastically rigid, stitched leather steering wheel.
Power choices are a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, probably better suited to lower-elevation driving, or an entirely pleasant 3.3-liter gasoline direct injection V6, pushing 290 horsepower and producing a combined mileage total of 23.5 mpg during my recent travels.
Sorento’s overall stocky stance makes it a bit more like a Durango than a Grand Cherokee, if you know what I mean; the lines give it a thick, shoulder-heavy kind of look, with an oversized, chrome-edged plastic grille and vertical running lamps adding a measure of toughness. Fully tricked out with shiny 19-inch aluminum wheels, it’s a surprisingly punchy package.
You’ll find the larger engine (and the AWD setup) producing good but not alarming speed on the road. An optional user-adjustable steering setup makes the responses soft or sporty, though I cannot see Sorento being put into ML 63-inspired race duty, so the point of that is a little lost on me.
Seating could be described as a little hard-bottomed up front on a slightly well-used demonstration vehicle; second-row seating is roomy, and for $1,000 extra, my vehicle featured a 50/50 split, fold-flat third row and rear AC controls.
It’s the hyper-litany of grown-up touches that might appeal to buyers — especially of the SX model — trying to get as much as possible for under $40,000. My model featured signal repeaters in the side mirrors, an all-digital speedometer and trip computer display, a power liftgate and even intensely responsive seat heaters (and summertime ventilation).
Yes, some of the interior plastic is still just a bit reminiscent of the old days (or of domestic car interiors), including overly floppy flaps in the bottleholders in the doors and lower-quality leather in the center armrest, but for the most part you’ll be impressed by the details.
One thing I pray that a 2015 update has changed is Sorento’s vague and wickedly difficult-to-use navigation system. Maps shown at a scale larger than ½ mile lacked any details at all (if you’re in the Front Range, all you’ll see is colored worms, indicating speeds on the highways, if those are highways) and, dear lord Jesus, any attempt to adjust that scale repeatedly recentered the map somewhere near Cuba. Same as the last time I drove the car. It drove me crazy.
I should note that the 2015 model has appeared but is essentially unchanged from the much-changed 2014, with the exception of the navigation package being available uncoupled with the car’s Infinity sound system and the UVO connectivity system.