The 2014 Kia Sorento I recently drove bore little resemblance to the long-term 2011 model that was the bane of the Motor Trend fleet two years ago. That car, as I learned on a trip to Las Vegas, was plagued by darty, disconnected steering and a punishing ride over anything but glass-smooth pavement. After listening to input from customers -- and Truck Trend, we'd like to think -- Kia overhauled the midsize crossover with a comprehensive refresh just three years after it hit the market. The resulting vehicle distances itself greatly from the Sorento I begrudgingly remember.
The front-drive 2014 Kia Sorento EX served as transportation to a Kia event at Comic-Con in San Diego, and the changes were apparent as soon as the refreshed crossover was dropped off. The headlights retain their sharp, angular shape, but receive new LED accents within the housings. In back, the taillights are vastly improved from their previous dull, boxy shape. When I went to load my things, I was happy to find a power liftgate, something our long-termer lacked. With the third-row seats folded, cargo space was more than adequate for a weekend's worth of clothes plus all of my Comic-Con swag.
Inside, the changes are again apparent, with the seven-inch in-cluster TFT display -- the same one in the Cadenza sedan -- greeting the driver with a brief Sorento animation sequence and pleasant jingle. That screen also serves as the speedometer once the car is started, and the graphics were sharp enough to fool me into thinking it was a mechanical dial for the first 10 miles or so. The center stack design looks more modern, though I wish the surrounding dash used soft-touch materials instead of the same hard plastics. Our tester had the optional navigation system and eight-inch central touch screen that helps the standard UVO eServices infotainment system really shine. Controls were responsive, and the menus adhered to the golden "three-click" rule, an ideology in Web design that states anything should be accessible within three clicks. If more infotainment systems were designed around that principle, perhaps we'd complain about them less. If you don't have a free hand to use the touch screen, voice commands are easily recognized.
The biggest surprise was how the 2014 Sorento drove. With memories of bad steering and subpar ride and handling still fresh in my mind, I was admittedly not thrilled initially to get behind the wheel. Once we got underway to San Diego, however, the difference was pretty clear. What was once a rubbery steering wheel that barely felt connected to the wheels was now a linear, more direct-feeling interface with the road. All Sorento models received electric power steering for 2014, and the steering wheel's heft felt good in the hands, if not slightly artificial. The old 3.5-liter V-6 has been replaced with a direct-injected 3.3-liter V-6 producing 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque (up 14 hp and 4 lb-ft). With that powerplant, the Sorento has no trouble passing at highway speed, though throttle tip-in is still on the aggressive side. The ride is much improved, thanks to a new chassis subframe, retuned dampers, a revised rear multi-link suspension, and beefier bushings. Long stretches of highway are also made more tolerable by comfier seats.
The Sorento's optional blind-spot monitoring system was a welcome piece of the $4400 Touring package, as it made navigating downtown San Diego's Comic-Con-clogged streets less dicey. While the feature was helpful in the city, the blind-spot detection would sometimes trigger for no apparent reason, and continue to chime even after the turn signal stock was returned to its normal position.
Just as it was with the pre-refresh model, the 2014 Kia Sorento is high on value. Our tester rang up at $35,375 including destination, and didn't leave me wanting for many features. If you need all-wheel-drive capability, that can be added for $1700. If a 2014 Kia Sorento somehow found its way into the Motor Trend garage, odds are it wouldn't be the eternal last pick our 2011 model was.