2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis



We’re suckers for a good ad campaign.

And when we saw the new Kia Sorento ad, with it climbing a heinous off-road course at Hell’s Gate, Moab, Utah, we thought – “hey, we haven’t been in a Sorento in a while”.

Time to make that right.

Well, it’s a perfect time to test the ’19 Sorento, as it features some significant upgrades that take this likable 3-row crossover a step up in the desirability department.

Devilishly Handsome.

The Sorento has always been a good-looking piece, with an upscale-vibe and a rugged square-shouldered look. Its last complete redesign was in 2016.  For 2019, it’s even more attractive with a revised front end with new headlamp configuration bracketing a new grille.

On SX models like ours, you get added bling with full LED lighting, and the “ice-cube” style fog lights that are shared with other models, including the Sportage we recently reviewed. We really like the slivered yellow daytime running lamps – they give the Sorento a unique look. A new sculpted front bumper finishes of the look.

Out back (not to be confused with the Outback), there’s also a new bumper, sleek LED taillights, a revised lift gate – even a sportier muffler tip. Dressed in Platinum Graphite and riding on top of LX exclusive freshly-designed 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, the overall effect is both elegant and rugged.

Sinfully Luxurious

Inside is welcoming and cozy. There’s loads of soft-touch and fine-grain trim. Subtle upgrades for 2019 enhance the experience, with a new steering wheel and shift knob, revised instrument cluster with new graphics – even the air vents got a re-do.

The experience makes for a pleasant environment. The gauges are large and clear, the 8-inch touch-screen display is easy to use – especially with Kia’s UVO info-tainment interface that remains one of the industry’s best. All the tech goods are there, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Voice-command navigation – all played through the impressive, new 630-watt, 10-speaker, 11-channel Harmon/Kardon Surround Sound system.

At your touch is dual-zone climate control, while the Panorama sunroof brightens up the interior. While our tester was dressed in Black Metallic leather, the new Terracotta color looks especially scrumptious.

And we were living the scrumptious lifestyle. Since our tester was the top of the line SXL (L is for Limited!), we also enjoyed soft Nappa leather on our heated and ventilated front seats, with 14-way power driver, 8-way power passenger, and new for 2019, 2-way powered lumbar support for the front seats. Kia is obviously sweating the little things. Impressive.

This is a family vehicle, so they made sure those in back aren’t left out. The 2nd row features heated 40/20/40 seats, and the 50/50 third-row folding seats are now standard on all trims. Like the Lexus RX350L we tested, the third-row seats provide space up to 7, but it’s no picnic getting back there – best for kids, or adults for shorter trips. At least they provide a rear A/C control for those back there.

If you need more space, you need to look at significantly larger vehicles like the VW Atlas.

The third row may be tight for adults, but at 73 cubic feet, the cargo space is huge. On our tester, a sensor notes if you walk up with the key fob in your pocket. If you stand stationary at the back for a couple of seconds, it will sound a warning beep and open the rear liftgate. A neat trick, and you can impress your neighbors with your magic skills.

Built for the Highway to Heck

While that TV spot at Hell’s Gate may make you think that the Sorento is a truckish off-roader, it’s really a luxo-cruiser – besides it’s too pretty to scrape up, don’t ya think?

For 2019, there’s news on the powertrain front – the bad news is that the 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder is a goner. The good news is the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder workhorse and 3.3-liter V6 remain. And within the year, a new Diesel model has been promised as well.  Our top of the line tester runs the big 6, and it’s well-suited to the big SUV.

Unchanged with 290 horsepower, it enjoys a new 8-speed automatic (up from last year’s 6-speed).  That wider spread of gears gives excellent punch off the line, quiet cruising, and should even nudge the mpg up a couple. It also adds a new layer of refinement you can enjoy on your everyday commute, or next long vacation.

A new Shift& Drive feature gives you the choice of Eco, Sport or Smart – Smart shuffling modes based on your driving. We had way too much fun staying in Sport mode and winding out that sweet V6. For those who tow, the Sorento V6 with AWD like our tester has a max capacity of 5,000 lbs.

The ride is smooth and comfortable, with just enough feedback to feel a little truckish, which we like – it gives the Sorento some personality, rather than just feeling like a fluff-ball luxury car dressed up as a crossover. Steering is nice and light, and even though this is a large vehicle it’s easy to maneuver. Our tester’s AWD adds confidence in the dry, and although we didn’t have an opportunity to sample it in wet or snow it’s a wise choice for anyone where conditions get slick. It even has a 4WD Lock Mode – great for tough conditions, like that scary run in Moab.

Speaking of maneuvering, we love the Surround View Monitor that gives you a 360-degree overhead view – a blessing when squeezing into tight parking spaces. The rear cross traffic alert is equally loved when backing out of crowded parking spots in malls.

Kia and sibling Hyundai (and really, most manufacturers) are going out of their way to load up their vehicles with safety gear. Kia calls theirs Advanced Driver Assistance System, and includes Forward Collision Warning, Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Collision and Rear Cross Traffic Warnings, and Surround View Monitor.

Our tester also had Lane Keep Assist and Driver Attention Warning – if it sees you driving snoozy, it sends you an alert and shows a coffee cup icon on the instrument panel. Very cool.

Heavenly Priced

No Devil in the details, here. But like we’ve said, if you want bargain Kia pricing you’ll need a time machine – those days are long gone. Kia is a full-on competitor to top brands, and expects you to pay for that same privilege.

That said, the Sorento is a fine value. You can get a Sorento L model for just $25,990, with that tough 2.4L four cylinder, standard 3rd row seats, UVO 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

We’d probably pop for the Sorento LX at $27,490. It has the same engine, but adds Blind Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross Traffic warning (vital on a big vehicle like this). Plus, if you want All Wheel Drive, this is your starting point (an additional $1,800).

Sorento V6 models come in LX V6 ($31, 290), EX V6 with goodies like Leather and Forward Collision Avoidance ($35,590), and SX V6, that adds 19-inch alloys and Panoramic Sunroof ($39,900).

Then we have the big enchilada, the SX Limited like our tester. Sporting chrome alloys, Nappa Leather seating, and Surround View Monitor. Starting at $44,690. Our tester was the AWD model (add $1,800). With destination ($990), we carried a sticker of $47,480.

Looking at comparable 3-row competitors, a loaded VW Atlas SEL with 4 Motion comes in at $49,735. The Mazda CX-9 Signature comes in at $46,660 – but it’s a turbo 4-cylinder – no V6 is offered.

Like the ‘18 Sportage we recently tested, Kia does an admirable job of updating their vehicles to keep them fresh, relevant, and desirable.

Ready to take you to Hell’s Gate and back, the luxurious, handsome, and capable, 7-passenger, 3-row Kia Sorento is an excellent choice for a family SUV.

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.