Tall-walking Kia wants to sweep your sister in Omaha off her well-planted American feet. It won’t be easy.
As you may recall from the post-disco ‘80s, tinny Korean Kias once rattled down American roads looking about as solid as mail-order toasters, but the 2019 Kia Sorento SUV – all two tons of it – rolls now with three decades of steady improvement and the sort of solid appeal that might even sell well in the Midwest, a region not inclined to favor imports.
About the only thing my American-built Sorento seemed to lack was soccer balls rolling around in the cargo area and the smell of French fries wafting from the back seat.
The dark gray SXL model I had recently looked even bigger and more substantial than it was, flashing one of Kia’s large tiger-nose grilles from a blunt, aggressive front.
Interesting three-projector headlamps slid gracefully into the fenders while a slight roll in the body gave the Sorento’s smooth sides some subtle muscle.
Meanwhile, a slender piece of chrome trim at the base of the body matched polished 19-inch multi-spoke wheels shod with 235/55 tires.
Sitting clean and shiny in the driveway at Chateau Box, it had a sort of Buick near-near luxury feel to it – provided in part by its ambitious $47,000 window-sticker.
Frankly, I was more attracted to the V-6 engine beneath the hood, a motor that many automakers are abandoning in favor of more frugal turbocharged fours.
The standard engine in the Sorento, for example, is a 2.4-liter normally aspirated four with 185-horsepower, which in my view is not enough propulsion for a mid-size crossover weighing more than 4,000 pounds.
Fortunately, my higher-end, all-wheel-drive SXL arrived with a 3.3-liter six cranking out a much more acceptable 290 horsepower.
I prefer V-6s over highly stressed four-bangers because they tend to make their power at lower revs, don’t generate as much under-hood heat and probably are more durable over the long term.
Plus, I’ve heard repeatedly from people who say their V-6s can match an over-achieving four-cylinder in fuel economy because the sixes don’t have to work as hard.
The spirited six in my Sorento – tied to an eight-speed automatic -- jumped away from stops with a convincing wave of power.
Stand on the accelerator from a stop and it will accelerate to 60 in 7.2 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and should get about 19 miles per gallon in city driving.
Just FYI: While that acceleration is more than adequate for merging onto freeways and doing donuts in the ice, it is nearly a second slower than a Ford Explorer equipped with the optional EcoBoost V-6 – if you need speed.
Like all tall, big-box crossovers, the Sorento leaned some in corners, but didn’t get sloppy, also offering a surprisingly fluid ride for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
It tended to glide firmly over bumps and small potholes, rarely jarring the cockpit.
Similarly, the steering in the Sorento – always a factor in thick, fast-moving traffic – was fairly numb, but reasonably precise and quick for a sort-of truck.
In fact, I never minded driving the Sorento and I am strictly a car guy.
Meanwhile, the black-and-saddle interior in my Sorento had a mildly upscale look – though lots of plastic still coats a bunch of surfaces.
A semi-pliable black dashboard, for instance, curved around an 8-inch display screen in the center of the dash trimmed with silver plastic trim.
Although it seemed a bit tacky compared with the rest of the interior, the center-stack included highly functional knobs and switches for the audio and climate systems.
It also had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities, while some computer buried in there somewhere directed forward-collision, lane-assist and active cruise-control systems.
Saddle-colored leather seats, though, were the focal point, providing good-looking sectioned, perforated surfaces and decent support.
As an SXL, my Sorento had three rows of seating with fine leg- and head room in the second row, but pretty limited space in the third row – typically a kid zone in most mid-size SUV/crossovers.
The attractive, appealing Sorento exemplifies just how far Kia and Hyundai have come in just 10 years.
Now, the much-improved Sorento must tangle with the big dogs – the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, among others.
My guess is it will, even in Omaha.
2019 Kia Sorento SXL
- What I liked most: The Sorento’s sophisticated blend of clean good looks, utility and decent performance.
- What I would change: Give the Sorento a more distinct interior, particularly in the higher-end models.
- MSRP: Base price of SXL model, $46,490; price as equipped, $47,480.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway and 21 mpg overall with filler on the left.
- Official color: Platinum Graphite.
- Odometer reading when tested: 12,403 miles.
- Weight: 4,331 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 189 inches long/74.4 inches wide/66.3 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 18.8 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- 2019 Kia Sorento SXL in a few words: A competitive mid-size crossover from a brand that has come a long way in a relatively short time.
- Warranty: Ten-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile overall protection.
- Final assembly location: West Point, Ga.
- Manufacturer’s website:
- E-mail me at
- Up next: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N
Photo Credit: Kia