First Tests

2019 Kia Sorento SXL First Test: Korean Pilot

It's been updated, but is it better than it was?

It's been updated, but is it better than it was?

After redesigning the Sorento for 2016, Kia revealed the refreshed version of its popular midsize crossover late last year. Following three years on the market, that was probably a smart decision. But unless you park both versions next to each other, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference. The question is, though, does the new Sorento drive any differently than it did before? We brought in a 2019 Kia Sorento SXL with a V-6 and all-wheel drive to find out.

Granted, the Sorento was already a solid midsize crossover. With the 2016 original, we appreciated the extra 3 inches of length the engineers added, as well as its more attractive design and comfortable ride. The long features list, slick infotainment system, and a nicely designed cabin were added bonuses. It could possibly have used more room in the third row, but that will become less of an issue next year when the larger Telluride launches.

For 2019, Kia focused more on refinement than making major mechanical or design changes. Seating for seven is now standard, as is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. Higher trim levels now come with nicer materials, more driver-assist features, and a premium Harman Kardon sound system. Beyond a few tweaks here and there, the exterior design stays about the same.

But just because powertrain updates weren’t Kia’s top priority doesn’t mean the Sorento didn’t see a few changes under the hood, too. The 2.0-liter turbo-four has been cut, and the two remaining engines get better transmissions. The base four-cylinder gets an upgraded six-speed auto, and the optional V-6 engine now uses the Cadenza’s eight-speed auto. The all-wheel-drive system has also been improved, now offering a locking center differential and better torque vectoring.

Typically, you’d expect a car with a new transmission to be a bit quicker than before. In our testing, however, that wasn’t the case. Our Sorento SXL hit 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 89.8 mph (144.5 km/h). Compared to the 2016 V-6 model we last tested, its 0–60 time was 0.4 second slower and its quarter-mile time was almost identical (15.7 seconds at 144.1 km/h).

Because the SXL includes more features than the EX model we tested previously, it’s possible the extra weight had something to do with the slower 0–60 time. The 2016 EX weighed 4,153 pounds, and the 2019 SXL came in at a slightly heftier 4,282 pounds. Even if the 129-pound weight difference wasn’t the sole contributor to the Sorento’s slightly slower acceleration, it does serve as a good reminder that extra options add up quickly on the scale.

That 0–60 time wasn’t too far off the 7.2 seconds we recorded last time we tested a Toyota Highlander. Unfortunately for Kia, both the old and the new Sorento are quite a bit slower than the last Honda Pilot that we tested, which hit 60 mph in only 6.2 seconds. Braking, however, improved quite a bit compared to the 2016 Sorento. Instead of needing 126 feet (38.4 meters) to stop from 60 mph, the new Sorento required only 116 feet (35.3 meters)—3 feet less than the Pilot and 12 feet less than the Highlander.

The 2019 Sorento showed big improvements in our handling tests, too. We recorded an average of 0.83 g on the skidpad and were able to complete the figure eight in 26.9 seconds at 0.64 g. All three of those figures best the 2016’s performance. The Sorento’s handling also bested both the Highlander and the Pilot. According to testing director Kim Reynolds, it might have even been quicker if stability control had stayed off. Instead, it kept turning itself back on, slowing figure-eight times.

Around town, the Sorento proved itself to also be a more than capable daily driver. Despite being spacious enough to comfortably seat five people, it was easy to drive and park. Even tight spaces weren’t an issue thanks to the surround-view camera system. It was also impressively comfortable on the highway, and while commuting to and from the office, the adaptive cruise control even felt smoother than our Infiniti QX50 long-termer. Unlike the Infiniti, the Kia also had Apple CarPlay.

For a lot of buyers, the Sorento’s improvements probably won’t matter. They’re brand loyalists who only care about the badge, and they’ll always buy another Honda or Toyota. But if you’re looking for a good deal on a crossover that offers a lot of features for your money, be sure to take a look at the 2019 Kia Sorento.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL V6 AWD
BASE PRICE $47,480
PRICE AS TESTED $48,785
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.3L/290-hp/252-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,282 lb (56/44%)
WHEELBASE 109.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 189.0 x 74.4 x 66.5 in
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.8 sec @ 89.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 116 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.83 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.9 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 19.6/29.8/23.2 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/24/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.93 lb/mile