Mountain Wheels: Kia’s Sorento SUV cruises comfortably over the long haul |

Mountain Wheels: Kia’s Sorento SUV cruises comfortably over the long haul

My friends in Ohio were looking for a three-row family hauler, stylish and go-anywhere kind of rugged, and I offered the Kia Sorento SUV as a pretty solid choice. It starts as little as $26,290, and even when you run through the 11 available grades of engine and trim, the top-of-the-line, absolutely optioned-out SX Limited model is just $46,490.

Another friend in Summit County owns one and is able to get around in the snow, it’s stylish, and hell, it’s even assembled in a factory in West Point, Georgia, by American employees.

The wife in Ohio was intrigued. But the husband, an old friend of mine who I would categorize as the kind of guy who would go door-to-door stumping for a Catholic version of Mitt Romney, if there was such a thing — was not having any of it.

“There is no way in hell anyone in this family is driving a Kia,” he told me. “That is not going to happen.”

While the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and the Lamborghini Urus SUVs are I guess out of their price range, he explained that they have long been Cadillac people, over and over again, leading me to guess that he doesn’t put a lot of weight on JD Power ratings. The name-badge status thing must be pretty strong down there in their cul-de-sac in southern Ohio.

They ended up going with a Volkswagen Atlas, another decent choice. But his abject horror at the notion of a Korean SUV got me thinking about what marketers call the psychographics of Kia’s status in the United States. South Korean cars did indeed have a rough start in the U.S. market in the early ’90s, much as your parents or grandparents might have been imprinted by very early Toyotas of somewhat questionable build quality.

It takes a long time for a brand to build to the point where it’s a no-brainer, go-to choice. And while that’s certainly the case on the West Coast, Kia is still working on staking out territory everywhere — even though nearly 400,000 Sorentos and Optima sedans are built in that Georgia plant. The company is clearly hoping that its new full-size Telluride SUV totally changes things; I hope to report on that behemoth in about a month.

In the meantime, I spent a very, very long time in a Sorento last weekend, driving all the way to (ironically) Telluride and back from the Front Range. I got to know the three-row SUV pretty well, with an overall 26.5 mpg over nearly 900 miles of driving.

For 2019, Sorento has been tweaked just a bit inside and out to update its looks, and my high-end model got the new eight-speed automatic transmission to go along with the 3.3-liter direct-injection V6, putting out 290 horsepower. That’s decent mountain-friendly power for a good-size vehicle like the Sorento, and also allows it to pull up to 5,000 pounds of trailer.

All-wheel drive was also an important part of my journey with absolute whiteout blizzard conditions on Vail Pass and season-long ice ruts in Telluride’s alleys. The Sorento’s system handled it all well — you can also click a button to defer to front-wheel drive if you’re on less slidey slopes.

The seven-passenger, three-row configuration is now standard on all Sorento models, with those third-row passengers getting elbow-level heating vents and fan controls. And the entire deal provides a seat-dropped 73 cubic feet of storage space.

The fully optioned-out SX Limited brings you the whole shebang of the Sorento experience, from a 630-watt Harmon Kardon audio system to 360-degree view cameras and driver assistance features — plus turn-to-point LED headlights, 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof

Sorento’s looks and outline put it somewhere between a Dodge Durango and the rest of the mid-size SUV/crossover pack, though a grille full of flat rectangular slats, a set of three-lens headlamps and Kia’s funny little four-lens fog lamps keep it distinctive. The long rear roof spoiler, chrome-edged windows and some metallic trim (an ersatz skid plate up front, and cargo plates in the back, plus a rectangular, one-side exhaust port) also add a bit of style.

I enjoyed a sturdy, comfortable and steady ride, whether hauling along the freeway near Grand Junction or inching my way through the iciest stuff imaginable. Multiple drive modes also allow you to get aggressive or keep it in “smart,” adjusting acceleration force more softly.

Interior looks are also tasteful, from the piano black door arches, console and dash trim, to the well-bolstered Nappa leather seating.

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