Kia really has really made it with the 2014 Kia Sorento. Every passenger who got into this seven-passenger Sorento crossover wagon said the same thing, some iteration of “Ooh, Kia’s really coming along!”
Correction; Kia has come along—a long way. The underdog from Korea is now part of one of the largest automakers on earth, and last year sold more than half a million cars.
Drive this new Sorento for a while, or just crawl around on Kia’s Website, and you’ll see why.
When I picked up the vehicle, it was late at night. As usual with new cars, when you hit the ignition button, an aurora borealis of switches, buttons and screens lights up. (For some reason, the ones on the steering wheel—cruise control and stereo, typically—are always dim and tiny.)
One of my design yardsticks is how easily these controls can be doped out in the dark. If I have to turn on the dome light and fish out the owner’s manual, the car flunks driver-friendliness right away.
There were no such challenges with the Sorento, even when it came to zeroing out the trip mileage (the little reset buttons in the odometer window went extinct long ago) and the average MPG and MPH, functions that every carmaker hides somewhere different.
It was astonishing just how many switches and buttons there were; and when I started the engine, the driver’s seat motored forward to some memorized position. I set my own preferred rake, reach and height, and the side-mirror positions, and quickly saved them all.
The wide range of seat adjustments was impressive too. Usually I can’t tip the seat bottom back far enough to support my thighs, at least without dropping the seat halfway to the floor.
So far, so good. Manipulating the satnav was easy also—even adjusting the map’s brightness and scale—and so was tuning in and saving my favorite NPR and Sirius stations. Merging into traffic was the next plus: Oh, a V-6! A healthy one, at that, and hooked up to a smooth six-speed automatic. Blind-spot monitors and one-touch signaling took the stress out of nighttime lane changes. Response, comfort, capability and ease—all present and accounted for.
For part of the long way home, I was thinking, “Man, for a Kia, this thing is really loaded. And I’ll bet it’s less than 30 grand!” Then it hit me—I too was a victim of Underdog Syndrome. Why shouldn’t Kias be “loaded”? And while Sorentos can cost less than $25,000, that’s for a four-cylinder, 191-horsepower LX model with front-wheel drive. My six-cylinder, 290HP SX AWD listed for $36,000-plus.
Even a starter Sorento is pretty well equipped, but check out the SX’s toy chest: pushbutton ignition, power tailgate, panoramic power sunroof, a rearview camera and backup sensors, two-zone automatic climate control, variable wipers, a HomeLink button in the rearview mirror, voice-activated telematics, sunshades in the rear windows, heated and cooled front seats, even driver-selectable steering assistance (comfort, normal, sport).
Now add the items I mentioned earlier and we have features that not so long ago could only be had on a luxury car, not an underdog.
Kia, you’ll remember, made its name on value. As its sticker price climbs, the Sorento’s value-for-price edge over its competitors erodes a bit, but it doesn’t disappear completely. And let’s not forget its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and very high safety ratings from the feds and the insurance industry.
The Korea buzz from this winter’s auto shows is mostly about the K900, the 420-horsepower luxury Kia that’s set to debut in the spring, probably at about $60,000. Kia will sell dozens and dozens of Sorentos (and even more Fortes, Optimas, Sportages, Rios and so on) for every K900 that goes out the door, but all these developments point to the same thing: Kia’s underdog days are long gone.
When China’s automakers finally roll onto our shores as the newest underdogs, it’s the Koreans they’ll be aiming to knock off.