The Goldilocks Of Suvs

By Eric Peters

September 6, 2018 6 min read

What if you don't want to deal with a full-size crossover SUV but you need the seating capacity of a full-size crossover SUV? Then you might want to take a look at a three-row but not full-sized crossover like the Kia Sorento. It can haul seven passengers in its three rows of seats -- and fit in a less-than-Camry-sized curbside parking spot.

*What It Is

The Sorento is a midsize crossover SUV with three rows of seats -- still a fairly unusual feature to find in crossovers the size of the Sorento, which has a slightly smaller footprint than many current midsize sedans.

It's almost exactly the same overall length as two-row midsize crossovers like the Ford Edge, and it has more passenger room in its first two rows and total cargo capacity than slightly smaller crossovers like the Mazda CX-5 and Chevy Equinox.

Base price is $25,990 for the L trim with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. A top-of-the-line SX Limited with all-wheel drive and a 3.3-liter V-6 has a $46,490 sticker.

*What's New

The Sorento optional V-6 is now paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, replacing the six-speed transmission used last year. This slightly upticks the gas mileage numbers, from 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway last year to 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the new model year.

The formerly optional 2.0-liter turbocharged engine has been dropped, but you can still get a four-cylinder Sorento without the turbo -- if you want a less expensive Sorento.

A 40 mpg-capable diesel engine is on deck, too.

*What's Good

You get third-row space without third-row size.

It has class-competitive cargo capacity with the third row folded.

It has reassuring warranty coverage.

*What's Not So Good

The third row is tight.

Cargo space is tight when the third row is in use.

Diesel isn't available -- yet.

*Under the Hood

Standard equipment is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that has 185 horsepower. It comes paired with a six-speed automatic and your choice of standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive.

Zero to 60 mph takes about 9.5 seconds.

Gas mileage is 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for the FWD version, and 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with the optional AWD system.

The optional 3.3-liter V-6 has 290 horsepower and is likewise available with either FWD or AWD, but it comes paired with the new eight-speed automatic. This combo gets to 60 in just over seven seconds. It's rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the FWD version, as previously stated, and 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the AWD model -- only slightly less fuel-efficient than the standard (and less powerful) 2.4-liter engine.

The V-6-equipped AWD Sorento can also pull a very solid 5,000 pounds.

*On the Road

The Sorento's defining driving attribute is manageability.

It is only 189 inches long -- several inches shorter than a current midsize sedan like the Toyota Camry (192.7 inches long). It has a much smaller footprint than full-sized three-row crossovers like the Nissan Pathfinder (198.5 inches), and it is almost tiny compared with not-so-mini vans like the Honda Odyssey, which stretches 203.2 inches (a stunning 2 feet and change longer than an actual '80s-era minivan such as a Dodge Caravan).

If you aren't comfortable driving something that makes you feel as though you ought to get a commercial driver's license -- or a captain's hat -- then this one will appeal. It fits easily into car-sized parking spots with cars parked on either side. It leaves room in the garage for other things, too.

*At the Curb

The Sorento is very spacious in its first and second rows, with an astounding 44.1 inches of driver- and front-seat passenger legroom, and 39.4 inches in the second row, with the additional seats behind all that.

The third row is a squeeze, both to sit in and to access. But the point is it's there -- and its presence gives the Sorento the ability to carry two more people than other crossovers the same size.

You also get 7.3 inches of ground clearance, which is about an inch more than most cars and enough to give you an extra margin of snow fording without needing a ladder or grab handles to climb into the thing.

The dash layout doesn't wow you with unusual shapes or other dealer showroom dram, but that's a virtue you will come to appreciate as you spend time behind the wheel. For example, most functions can be operated via physical (and physically large) buttons that you can easily see and operate effectively by feel.

It is a trend -- arguably not a sound one -- to make most interfaces cellphone-like, touch-screen, tap and swipe. The problem with that way of doing business is that it takes the driver's concentration away from the road and directs it toward a screen, since you can't tap and swipe accurately just by feel.

*The Rest

The Sorento's Hyundai-badged cousin, the Sante Fe, offered a third row last year (technically still this year) but doesn't for the new year 2019 ... at least not until the new diesel engine becomes available sometime next spring/summer.

When it does, you'll be able to buy a Sante Fe XL -- but only if you also buy the diesel engine.

*The Bottom Line

It's not too big, and it's not too small. That might make the Sorento just about right.

Eric Peters' weekly column, "Peters' Garage," can be found at creators.com.

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