Kia Sorento's three rows add space, but it's tight

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2013 Kia Sorento SX FWD: Three rows in a compact crossover.

Price: $35,875 as tested ($31,700 base)

Conventional wisdom: Kia was dinged by the EPA last year for fudging its fuel economy numbers; can we ever trust them again? (Answer: Yes, I think so.)

Marketer's pitch: "A departure from the unexpected."

Reality: The EPA fuel economy numbers for this model with the V6 engine are unchanged at 26 mpg highway. And the vehicle doesn't really veer too far from what I expected.

Running with the big boys: Kia's Sorento has been available long enough that buyers shouldn't think of the company as a maker of small cars anymore.

The $3,200 Premium Package 3 gives buyers heated and cooled seats, Sirius with navigation package, panoramic sunroof, folding mirrors, heated steering wheel, and more, so this baby is ready to compete with the best of them.

Power: The 276-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 moves the Sorento fairly well. But the power is a little unrestrained. It's easy to spin the tires and when I pressed the accelerator to the floor, the vehicle would go a little bonkers. I might try either of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines first and see if the performance is worth a few MPG.

Shifty: The 6-speed automatic comes with SportMatic shift capability, but, like other vehicles of its size, the Sorento doesn't really offer a fun shifting experience. I found I left it in automatic mode and used the gears for downshifting on the steeper slopes like one might find in the Pittsburgh region.

On the road: Kia has not managed to work the big, lumbering truck feeling out the Sorento. It's a little tiring to drive, and handling was a little wonky, lacking a one-with-the-road feeling that the Honda Pilot has.

Carrying cargo: The cargo space behind the third seat was dear. But getting Sturgis Kid 4.0's bicycle over the last two rows was easy. Folding down the seats was not difficult either; just pull the lever and fold, although a slightly reclined middle row can be an obstacle.

Carrying passengers: The passenger-side middle-row seat does fold out of the way for easier access to the third row.

But that's the last time adults will feel comfortable in the rear. The third row is all knees in the chest and head against the rear window. And foot room was poor.

The middle row is fixed in position but comfortable for this 5-foot, 10-inch test passenger.

Tight entry: Getting in the rear doors is not exactly easy. They curve to a tight point at the bottom around the wheel well. This made getting in and out of the rear in close parking spots on a rainy day practically death-defying.

Odd position: Maybe I'm nitpicky, but I just could not get myself into the right position when I drove the Sorento. The driver's seat was comfortable, wide and firm, but the position of the seat, steering wheel, console and gas pedal were just not quite matched up. The steering wheel seemed centered too far to the middle of the vehicle or the seat angled just a little bit too much to the outside corner. I felt shlumpy.

Cheap controls: The steering wheel buttons were functional and clear, but they looked a little cheap and plasticky. The dash had some cheap, plasticky components and a few nice, soft ones, and a gray veneer across the front that added some class.

Weather together: The rear wiper button is all the way over there to the left of the steering column, while the front wiper control is on a stalk on the right. I find it generally rains in both the front and the rear of the vehicle, so keeping these items close together seems logical. And the rear wiper has just one setting.

Fuel economy: I observed 22.5 mpg in a mix of highway and city, leaning toward suburbs and 45 mph. (The Sorento I tested is listed at 26 mpg highway on the sticker; again, the 3.5-liter version did not get revised EPA fuel economy numbers.)

Where it's built: West Point, Ga.

How it's built: Reliability and satisfaction are middling in Consumer Reports testing, but a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty can alleviate some worry for owners.

In the end: Having tested the Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango and Chevy Traverse, I couldn't see much to recommend the Sorento beyond price. It's not a bad vehicle, but I'm still smitten with the Pilot, find the Durango a fun ride and the Traverse most accommodating to passengers.


Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at First Published February 13, 2013 5:00 AM


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