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Posted: August 19, 2014

Executive wheels: Kia’s SUV stand out

And my excellent Michigan adventure

Jeff Rundles

2015 KIA SORENTO SX AWD

Detroit isn’t exactly the spot most people would pick for a summer vacation, but mine usually starts here. The gateway to Michigan, a wonderful, beautiful state, and while Detroit itself has its depressing downsides, the surrounding environs are much more alluring than non-Detroiters have been led to believe, and the city itself is emerging from the ashes of industrial collapse to be – at least downtown – as vibrant as cities can be these days.

So the first thing I do is pick up a Korean vehicle – the 2015 Kia Sorento SX AWD – and, well, I stuck out like a sore thumb. That’s the thing about Michigan: unlike Denver and Colorado, the foreign brands are few and far between. The roads are jammed with Fords and Chevys and Lincolns and Chryslers and Dodges and Buicks and Cadillacs in such numbers that one feels a little like the old guy who wanders into a 20-something bar and the noise level drops. Actually, it feels just like that and I have the experience of both scenarios.

But the Sorento was a fortuitous choice nonetheless. I put a lot of miles on it, from Detroit to Petoskey and up to the top of the Upper Peninsula (Yah, I was a Yooper), and I never once found the vehicle lacking. And this in spite of the challenges we gave it.

It started when we picked up the Sorento at the Detroit Airport. We have four suitcases and two golf travel bags (yes, we flew Southwest, three of us, and the bags flew free). They call the Sorento a CUV – Crossover Utility Vehicle – because since its second generation is built on a car platform rather than a truck’s, but don’t let that fool you: this is all SUV.

All six bags fit in the way-back, as they say, including the space over the folded down third-row seating, with relative ease. I could even still see quite well out of the back window with the rear-view mirror. I was especially impressed that the golf bags – in travel cases – fit sideways across the back, stacked, just to give you some idea of the width of the storage area. Awesome.

Our first foray was the 20 miles or so into the heart of Detroit from the airport along I-94, heading to Comerica Park and a Detroit Tigers Baseball game. We’re driving a Kia and it was Motown Night. Go figure. The Sorento’s navigation system – part of Kia’s UVO eServices technology package – proved to be a winner. Easy to program and a breeze to follow, the nav system guided us by voice to the very front of the ballpark in no time. In fact, we made it for batting practice where Tigers’ pitching aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the 2012 and 2013 Cy Young Award winners, respectively, were shagging balls in right center; Scherzer threw my son a ball.   

After the game we ventured north for the next leg of the trip and once again tapped the awesome reliability of the navigation system. This time I needed to know how to get from one parallel highway to the next, somewhat west, and so I put in a landmark from a small town on the other highway. Voila! I would never have taken that route on my own, but it took us right to our destination.

The next day we drove north for nearly four hours to Petoskey and the little enclave of Bay View there on Little Traverse Bay – one of the most beautiful spots anywhere in the U.S. It was Saturday, so there wasn’t the Friday-night/Sunday-night weekend rush hour traffic, but Michigan is full of so many lakes that people are coming and going all the time. Our Sorento was way up to the task. The 290 hp, 3.3-liter V6 GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) engine, coupled with the 6-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic, is plenty of power, even loaded down as we were, to maneuver the ins and outs of highway and byway driving throughout Michigan. When I needed to pass – particularly on those two-lane roads when you want to make it quick – the Sorento powered through beautifully. To say it was a pleasure to drive – that the Sorento is a great road-trip vehicle – is a huge understatement.  

To make the ride even more pleasurable, our test-drive model was equipped with a wonderful surround sound audio system, complete with satellite radio (SiriusXM), and we hit our favorite music all the way Up North (as they say in Michigan) without going in and out of radio range.

Also, the front passenger seat reclined quite a way, so my wife could easily get in a cat-nap, and my son sprawled out on the rear seat for his snoozing pleasure. I never rode in the rear seat of the vehicle, but my son proclaimed it very comfortable and roomy; he loved the Sorento and, at age 16, he is hyper-sensitive to vehicles.

Once we were settled Up North and among other family members, the Sorento proved once again to be a winner. With the third-row seating now available, we easily and comfortably put six people in the vehicle (could have gone seven), drove up over the impressive Mackinaw Bridge to become Yoopers, and then made it all the way to the awesome Tahquamemon Falls near Lake Superior where we frolicked in the river. We also enjoyed cheeseburgers in the nearby hamlet of Paradise (cheeseburgers in Paradise – get it?). The Sorento and its navigation system came through again.

The mid-sized SUV market in America is a very crowded one, with dozens of choices running the gamut of price ranges – Subaru, Hyundai and Mitsubishi all the way to Porsche and Range Rover. But I will tell what I told a friend of mine who is going to drop his Porsche Cayenne as his lease is up. He said he wanted something nice, but less expensive, and I didn’t hesitate and said: “Kia Sorento.” I believe it is the best combination of power, features and price that you will find on any SUV on the market. Period. Plus, it is very nice looking.

The Sorento is offered in five trims in both 2WD and AWD. The lowest-priced AWD model – the LX – features a 2.4-lityer I4 engine with some 191 hp (rated at 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway), and carries a base price of $25,900. The top-of-the-line is the Limited with AWD with the same engine as my SX that carries a base price of $41,700.

My test-drive SX AWD model carried a base price of $38,300 and included, standard, many of the nice things people want: a huge sunroof (loved it, loved the light), leather seating, blind-spot detection (great!), rear AC, 19” wheels, Bluetooth, and all of the power stuff you’d expect. I can imagine what else they would put in a more-expensive trim. The only thing they added on was the destination charge of $895, so the bottom line was $39,195.

I have driven many vehicles in this SUV field and I can attest that this Sorento would be my choice. There are others with more power – but not much – and with more sumptuous luxury – but not much – but they cost far more, and far too much to justify the difference. The Kia Sorento stands out from the crowd.

RATING: FOUR WHEELS PLUS THE SPARE (OUT OF FOUR)

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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