Soft can be good or bad. When it’s used to describe cookies, couches, or puppies, it’s good. When applied to people, it’s usually bad. The refreshed 2019 Kia Sorento is soft. That can be good or bad too.
It’s a lot like the Sedona minivan but in crossover fashion. The styling is refined on higher trims, the interior is spacious like a minivan, yet it has the more athletic look of a crossover — last redesigned for the 2016 model year.
The refresh is modest but necessary to stay relevant in the cutthroat three-row crossover class. The LED lighting is slightly modified front and back, and three-row seating comes standard.
The powertrain gets a more efficient eight-speed automatic transmission that replaces the old six-speed, helping boost fuel economy 2 mpg to 21 mpg combined in the V-6 AWD Sorento.
Since most Sorento buyers opted for the 290-horsepower V-6, the small turbocharged four-cylinder engine has been discontinued. The 185-horsepower four-cylinder is the budget buy, but it will feel strained with passengers or cargo.
The V-6 has plenty of power but accessing it requires a heavy foot. This is where the bad soft comes in. Unleashing that horsepower requires too much pedal travel. Even at highway speeds the throttle seems to be sleeping. And like a sleeping teen, push it hard enough and it’ll spring to life. This quality is expected in comfort or eco or even smart mode, but the drivetrain is soft in sport mode too.
The Sorento feels sluggish, but it’s on par with the AWD competition. That heft is a benefit when it comes to Kia’s AWD system. We had the chance after our weeklong loan to test the Sorento off-road on the Continental Divide in Colorado, where most Sorento owners won’t go. Of the handful of crossovers tested on this steep, rutted mining road, the Sorento felt most planted and sure of itself. It has a locking center differential to send torque equally to both axles. So if the rear wheels are stuck in mud or slipping on ice, for instance, then the front axle is still getting at least half the torque. Without that differential, torque would favor the path of least resistance at the rear.
In short, the Sorento’s complex AWD system is capable for most inclement road conditions, like the icy driveway down to the lake house, but also off-road capable if the hunting grounds need a scout.
With the differential unlocked, or open, the suspension is soft, too, so the body rolls around ramps, and the high, cushy seat position gently wafts you from side to side. Best to make soft turns.
This is a good thing for what the Sorento is meant to do: haul families in comfort. The interior is luxuriously soft, especially in the top level SXL trim.
The seven seats include two in the third row over the axle, so your heels are just a tad lower than the seat bottom. It’s best for grade schoolers or tweens. Third row 50/50 seats are easily folded down from the gate with pull straps that also collapse the headrests. Side latches accessible by standing at the rear of the car can be pulled to lower the 40/20/40 midrow seats, which is super convenient.
Accessing the third row is best done from the passenger side, where the 40 part of the 40/20/40 seat slides forward by pulling a latch on the top of the seat. You can do it from the driver’s side, too, but then have to move both the driver’s side and middle seat forward. The middle row seats recline, and unlike the third row, there is plenty of room for two tweens to stretch out on a road trip, play cards, or establish a barrier so they don’t have to bicker.
The range-topping SXL trim nudges the Sorento into premium refinement like some Lexus, Lincoln and Infiniti models, but all the makes are offering such decked out trims that blur the lines between premium and mainstream. The AWD capability and interior refinement keep the Sorento a comfort and an assurance, which is what you want out of soft things.
2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD at a glance
Vehicle type: 3-row crossover
Base price: $46,490
As tested: $47,775 (excluding $990 destination)
Mpg: 19 city, 24 highway, 21 combined
Engine: 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Competitive rank: Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Chevy Traverse