2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD test drive: A smooth and comfortable option for family transportation

2013 Kia Sorento SX AWD

2013 Kia Sorento SX AWD

A week with the 2014 Kia Sorento SX served as a reminder that three-row, mid-size crossover vehicles (aka family transporters) involve an important compromise.

You can haul up to seven people (small kids only in the third row, please) and have almost no space for luggage, and maybe not even enough for a week’s worth of groceries. Or, you can fold  that third row into the floor and have room for four or five (child in the middle of the second row, please) and lots of cargo. You can’t have both.

Come to think of it,, I guess you can have both in limited circumstances. All you need to do is buy a roof-top luggage carrier for those long-distance travels.

Anyway, the size compromise is a consideration throughout the flock of family-friendly, mid-size utility vehicles, although some are a bit better than others in combining passenger space and luggage room.

The Kia Sorento offers one of the tighter fits, so it will be best suited for the family with two adults and two growing children and, perhaps, one tot.

Kia Sorento front seats

Kia Sorento front seats

For the record, the Sorento offers 9.1 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 36.9 cubic feet with the third row down and 72.5 cubic feet with the third and second rows folded forward.

That said, the significantly upgraded 2014 Kia Sorento SX has considerable charms to recommend it, most of which are not visible at first glance.

The obvious exterior design changes involve the front and rear ends. The revised grille and tail help the Sorento to better stand out in a crowd and have the added benefit of separating model year 2014 from 2013. Close observers might also be able to spot the new 19-inch wheels on the SX test car.

But that’s only a small part of the 80 percent of all-new or upgraded parts that define the 2014 Kia Sorento. And that 80 percent gives the Sorento a whole lot more than one might expect from what is normally considered a mid-model update.

Most importantly among the new or redesigned parts are an all-new chassis and  a new 3.3-liter direct-fuel-injection V-6 engine, which is standard on the top four trim lines and optional on the bottom two.

Kia Sorento instruments

Kia Sorento instruments

The chassis, with an 18 percent increase in torsional rigidity, includes a new independent font suspension and was engineered to improve ride and handling.

The V-6 engine, smooth and quiet, produces 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. It replaces a 3.5-liter V-6 that produced 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability, the new engine can move the 3,894-pound, all-wheel-drive Sorento from a stop to 60 mph in about 7.5  seconds.

The EPA estimates fuel efficiency of the new engine at 18 mpg in the city and 24 on the open road. I averaged 22 mpg overall in a week of relatively calm motoring and actually managed 25 mpg on one 50-mile stretch of highway.