2014 Kia Sorento first drive review: Change is good

Sorento lead

 I love driving in Arizona. The friendly Saguaro cactus wave as you motor past them down the highway, and the dry desert air does wonders for the lungs. It’s also a great place to drive, especially when you’re in a new 2014 Kia Sorento crossover utility vehicle.

Kia invited journalists to Scottsdale, Arizona, not long ago to get behind the wheel of the 2014 Kia Sorento and the 2014 Kia Forte. To see what great things the Forte has to offer, check out John’s review here. On the other end of the spectrum, I chose to review the Sorento, and I’m glad I did. Why? Because there are so many great things about this sport/ute crossover (honestly, I’m just going to call everything a crossover since that makes it easier on me), from the impressive interior to the quiet ride to the technology.

Before we get to the Sorento, though, a few words about Kia. It calls itself the “challenger brand,” but if it stays on track, that tag isn’t going to fly much longer. Kia has been enjoying steady growth (as in 18 years consecutively), including an all-time sales record for 2012. It’s one of the fastest-growing car companies mostly because it offers great products at a fair price, plus every vehicle in its stable has a top pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In addition, Kia now has 40 percent of its U.S. volume built in America. And although many know that Hyundai is the sister manufacturer to Kia, they may share vehicle platforms, but the products are quite different. Now that you know how Kia’s doing, let’s see if the Sorento matches the company’s goals.

Updates for 2014 include new front and rear fascias.

Updates for 2014 include new front and rear fascias.

Let’s start with the exterior, as you all do when you’re on the car lot evaluating your vehicle purchase. The Sorento is not all new, since it was all-new a short three years ago, but has had a major freshening including a new chassis (80 percent new or significantly changed), along with all-new front and rear fascias that are designed to give the vehicle more presence. LED lamps update the front end, as does the larger lower air intake. In back, the Sorento has a broader beam and LED combination taillamps. It’s even more attractive than it was previously, and these updates were just enough to add value to the new Sorento.

The Sorento's interior looks and feels luxurious and expensive, even though it's not.

The Sorento’s interior looks and feels luxurious and expensive, even though it’s not.

Inside is more of everything. More standard features, more comfort, and more quality. The only thing there’s less of is noise. On the SX trim we drove (Sorento comes in LX, EX, SX and the new SX Limited), standard features were plentiful: dual zone climate control, Nappa leather seating, power vented and heated front seats with driver-side memory control, heated second-row seats (although there is a third row if you want the 7-passenger configuration), rear air conditioning, heated steering wheel, and second-row retractable sunshades. Because we had the SX trim, we also had as standard an 8-inch screen with navigation and UVO, including new eServices, panoramic sunroof, 115v power inverter, power programmable liftgate, backup warning system, rear camera, and more. The seats were comfortable and supportive, and gave us a great commanding view of the road ahead. We loved the new TFT instrument panel and the soft-touch surfaces throughout the cabin. Everything has a great tactile feel, the quality is high, fit and finish looks more expensive than it probably is, and on the road the level of sound deadening also feels as if the Sorento is twice the price. About the only negative comment is the turn signal makes an obnoxious beeping sound when in use.

Kia’s UVO system now comes with eServices…with no added fees.

Connectivity is a big deal now, and will be an even bigger deal in the future. Kia’s UVO system when first introduced lagged behind the field in features and services, but that’s all in the past. This new-generation system is impressive. The phone paired quickly and intuitively, the screen is large and easy to see, and the UVO eServices will be a great addition. Unfortunately, because we were in the early vehicles, we didn’t get to experience some of the cool features through the mobile app, but what owners have to look forward to is exceptional. Besides the usual voice commands for phone and audio, you can send a destination from your mobile device or Google maps. Vehicle diagnostics are available, as is 911 Connect and even a parking minder feature that helps you find the vehicle. But the absolutely best part of eServices is that there is no service fee. The only charges come from you phone’s data plan. Don’t know another manufacturer who can beat that deal!