2015 Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

The Kia Sorento debuted in 2003 as a midway point between smaller crossovers and midsize SUVs, giving buyers yet another SUV option to choose from. The model underwent its first redesign in 2011, when it received a healthy set of changes that gave it a more refined and sporty look to better match the changing crossover realm. In 2014, the Sorento underwent very minor aesthetic changes, but it gained an all-new chassis, and these changes brought about the third generation for the crossover. Only minor changes make their way into the 2015 Sorento, including an updated UVO system and the new SXL trim.

I spent a week behind the wheel of the range-topping 2015 Kia Sorento SXL, and got a really nice feel for what it offers buyers. Overall, the Sorento SXL is an oddity in the crossover SUV realm, as its size and seven-passenger capacity make it hard for small crossovers to match its usefulness and its premium features are typically reserved for luxury SUV s. On the flip side, it does not have the badge notoriety or the driving dynamics to rival the luxury SUVs.

So, does the Sorento have a place in the market?

Click past the jump to read my full review and find out.

Walkaround Video

Exterior

Kia Sorento SXL - Driven
Kia Sorento SXL - Driven
Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

The Sorento received a much-needed redesign in 2011 and a refresh in 2014 that brought all kinds of new goodies, but no huge exterior changes. But it didn’t need many changes, as it was still nicer than most other smaller SUVs on the market, so there are no complaints from me on the 2015 model that I tested.

Despite lacking the classic looks of the German luxo-SUVs, the Sorento SXL has plenty of aesthetic niceness to it.

The issue with the 2015 Sorento SXL is that it plays on both sides of the fence, as it is too expensive to play in the same field as the Dodge Journey Dodge Journey or the Ford Ford Edge, but it is not quite classy enough to battle the Mercedes Mercedes GLK-Class or BMW X3. So that creates a narrow niche for the SXL trim level to survive in, but there is obviously a market for it.

Despite lacking the classic looks of the German luxo-SUVs, the Sorento SXL has plenty of aesthetic niceness to it. The chrome door handles, body molding, grille, roof rails, emblems, and front and rear lips all give it a little blinginess, while not being too overbearing. Chrome also makes its way to the standard, 19-inch, alloy wheels to really tie it all together.

The body is just angular enough without looking too futuristic. This allows the Sorento to look like it belongs in this century without becoming outdated in just a few years — something Hyundai Hyundai and Kia both are guilty of through the 2010s. The front end features a stylish grille graphic, vertically mounted fog lights and a splitter that adds a touch of sportiness. From a straight-on angle, the wheel wells bulge out slightly to give is a little bit of aggressiveness.

From a profile view, the roofline has a mild swoop to it, the xenon HID headlights wrap around the fender nicely and the scalloped doors give the Sorento a more premium look. The small rear spoiler is a nice touch, but the body lines around the wheel wells are just a little too pronounced for my liking and may not age well.

My favorite part of the Sorento SXL was its standard power liftgate.

Around back, the taillights have a nice and modern look without going all space shuttle on me. The vertically positioned reflectors and the bumper insert mimic the look of the front end, tying it all together.

My favorite part of the Sorento SXL was its standard power liftgate. You don’t realize just how useful this feature is until you get to use it for a week. As I walked up to the vehicle, I just held down the liftgate button on the keyfob and the liftgate automatically came up. Press the button again, and down it came.

On a whole, the Sorento is a very approachable SUV and gives buyers a `tweener look that bridges the gap between the wildly styled Murano and the relatively bland X3.

Interior

Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

As you all know, I like to focus heavily on audio systems, and I found the Infinity Surround Sound system great all the way up to about nine-tenths.

Where the Sorento SXL really earns its keep is on the inside. In here, about 95 percent of the Kia is absolutely perfect for the price range. Finding the perfect seating position in the standard premium Napa leather seats was easy, ventilated seats kept the Florida heat in check (there’s heating too), the steering wheel fell perfectly in my hands, all of the buttons were well placed, the full-length sunroof provided a feeling of unlimited headroom, and the faux-wood trimming was pleasing from a distance. It really was a nice place to spend a lot of time.

As you all know, I like to focus heavily on audio systems, and I found the Infinity Surround Sound system great all the way up to about nine-tenths. If I cranked is up all the way, the highs washed out a little. It could have been a setting on the stereo that was wrong, but I couldn’t find anything obvious except too much power for the tweeters to handle.

Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

Also included on my tester was navigation with an eight-inch display. The display was clear and crisp, and the navigation got me where I needed to go with nearly no errors. The touchscreen, on the other hand, was a little finicky and the system was slow to respond to my input.

The back seats are also a nice place to hang out, as they are also coated in premium cow hide and have heat for those of you who live in cooler climates. Unfortunately, the rear seats do not have ventilation.

The rear seats also have well-built cup holder assembly that opens and closes to custom-fit your cup. For those of you with kids, you know how annoying rear-seat cup holders can be with oddly shaped sippy cups, and these hold my son’s cups just fine. The rear seats also have a 115-volt household plug for various gadgets, and there is also a switch in the front that turns this socket off, so younger kids don’t get shocked should they cram something in the socket — a subtle, but wise addition.

The Sorento SXL really shines in terms of cargo-hauling capabilities, which I highlighted when I did a write up about my mulch-hauling experience.

The third row of seats is not a place that an adult over 5’9" wants to spend much time, but it is okay for smaller adults. Kids, on the other hand, fit nicely in the third row and there is an independently controlled A/C system so they aren’t starved of cool airflow.

The Sorento SXL really shines in terms of cargo-hauling capabilities, which I highlighted when I did a write up about my mulch-hauling experience. Kia Kia advertises 72 cubes of maximum cargo room, and I can verify that it has that and then some. Plus, the maximum capacity is easily accessible by completing just four steps.

Now there is about five percent of the cabin that I don’t care for. I already mentioned the finicky navigation input, but I also have to add in that though the dash is partly covered in leather, there is still a whole lot of plastic going on. Granted, this plastic has a soft coating on it, but it is still not very great. Additionally, the faux-wood trimming is a little too "faux" when I look a little closer.

Drivetrain

Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

Under the hood of the 2015 Sorento SXL sits a familiar, 3.3-liter, V-6 engine that produces a tidy 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 252 pound-feet of twist at 5,200 rpm. This is about average output for an SUV this size, and its six-speed auto transmission with Sportmatic and full-time all-wheel drive make acceleration more than adequate.

In terms of time at the pump, the SXL returns a respectable 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.

In terms of time at the pump, the SXL returns a respectable 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. The latter number was right on the nose after a week with the vehicle and about 500 miles on the clock. This is pretty typical of Kia, as it learned in the past to understate fuel economy to avoid possible issues in the future.

This is not the only drivetrain setup available on the Sorento, however. The standard setup includes a 191-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine mated to AWD, which I would suspect feels a little underwhelming. Fortunately, you are stuck with this engine only if you go with the base LX trim.

Driving Impression

Other than the comfort side of the Sorento, it is also a pretty good performer in a straight line.

At one time, driving a Kia was almost a last resort that often resulted in unsatisfactory or just-barely-good-enough driving pleasure, but that is not the case with the Sorento SXL. The cabin is super-quiet, the cow hide is soft and supple, the ventilated seats keep your back from getting all sorts of sweaty, and the ride is far above what you would expect from a Kia SUV. Is it absolutely perfect? No, not at all. Is it great for the price? No doubt about it, yes.

Other than the comfort side of the Sorento, it is also a pretty good performer in a straight line. Thanks to the AWD system and a decent-shifting transmission when you row your own via the Sportmatic feature, the Sorento hits 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. This makes it slightly faster than the Dodge Journey and Ford Edge Sport, but slower than true luxury SUVs, like the base X3 and Acura RDX.

The Kia Sorento isn’t all roses and rainbows though, as its top-heavy nature and soft ride made it testy in turns. It wasn’t overly scary, but it wasn’t anything that you’d want to push hard on a windy road.

All that dead cow hide, the comfy seating position and all the premium features were quick in making you forget about the uninspiring handling of the Sorento SXL though.

Pricing

Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

If you were to jump onto Kia’s website, you may be baffled by the fact that the site doesn’t list an SXL model. For some reason, the SXL is called simply "Limited" on the site. Technically, this trim level is the SX-Limited, but I’ll spare you the confusion...

In its base setup, the Sorento’s entrance fee is fairly low at $24,100, but things quickly jump up as you wade your way through the options. Picking the exact model I tested will relieve you of $42,595 (including the $895 delivery fee). That price is rather high for a Kia SUV, but that also loads you up with all the premium features you expect out of a true luxury SUV for a bargain price. A fully loaded Dodge Dodge Journey R/T is about $10k cheaper, but you’re missing the full-length sunroof, the premium Napa leather, ventilated seats, rear A/C and the Infinity sound system. You can even squeeze into a base BMW X3 BMW X3 xDrive28i for about $2k less, but you’re getting fake leather, five-person seating, no sunroof and a standard audio system — don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the Kia trumps a Bimmer, just giving a comparison...

Competition

Chevrolet Equinox LTZ

Chevrolet Equinox

The Kia Sorento SXL kind of sits in an awkward spot between the Chevys and Ford of the world and premium models from Acura, Lexus Lexus and BMW BMW . To keep things fair, let’s keep the competitors to those in the lower end of the spectrum, like the Equinox. Fully loaded, the Equinox LTZ checks in at $37,365, which is about $5k cheaper than the Kia. Though it is cheaper, the Chevy lacks the premium feel and look of the Sorento, plus it only seats five, doesn’t have ventilated seats and lacks a true premium sound system. Additionally, the Equinox is rather boring to look at.

In terms of power, the Equinox slightly beats the Sorento, thanks to its 3.6-liter V-6 that cranks out 301 horses and 272 pound-feet of twist. this power allows the Equinox to beat out the Sorento in straight-line speed at 7 seconds, plus its sport-tuned suspension will make it out handle the Sorento.

Ford Edge Sport

Ford Edge

The Edge will get a new face and new powerplants for 2015, but much of the required information is still unavailable (as of 7/7/2014), so we’ll go with the 2014 model. The Edge Sport is the best trim to option against the Sorento SXL, and it bases at $39,550 with AWD. The Edge Sport comes well-equipped as standard, but to match the Sorento SXL you have to add in the panoramic sunroof, lighted door sills, Driver Entry Package (power liftgate), the Vision Vision Package (blind spot monitor) and the Voice Activated Navigation System. This took the price up to $42,755, and you’re still missing the ventilated seats, but you gain 22-inch wheels and a sexy look.

With the Edge, you miss out on the third row of seats, but its 305-horsepower V-6 beats out the Kia with ease.

Conclusion

Kia Sorento SXL - Driven

The 2015 Kia Sorento SXL certainly surprised me with how many premium features it included at such a low price. Sure, hearing about a $42,000 Kia a decade ago may have made your eyes water a bit, but this isn’t the same Kia brand as we all knew and tormented 10 years ago. Kia has made a name for itself, and it is prepared to give fringe buyers more wallet-friendly options. And this loaded-up Sorento SXL is one that can give the Acura RDX or Lexus RX 350 a fight in terms of value.

LOVE IT
  • Three useable rows of seating
  • Great sound system
  • Premium features at a good price
  • Quiet cabin on most surfaces
LEAVE IT
  • A $42,000 small crossover without a Roundel is a tough pill to swallow
  • Lacks the cache of premium brands
  • Sharp looking body, but not gorgeous
  • No lane keep assist, blind-spot monitor or lane departure warning

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