You can haul up to seven people (two small kids only in the third row, please) and have almost no space for luggage, and maybe not even enough for a week's worth of groceries. Or, you can fold that third row into the floor and have room for four or five (child in the middle of the second row, please) and lots of cargo. You can't have both.
The size compromise is a consideration throughout the galaxy of family-friendly, mid-size utility vehicles, although some are a bit better than others in combining passenger space and luggage room.
The subject of this examination, the 2014 Kia Sorento SX, will fill most needs most of the time, but it offers one of the tighter fits. Consider it best suited for the family with two adults, two growing children and, perhaps, one tot. Stow away that two-seat third row for emergency use only.
That said, the significantly upgraded 2014 Kia Sorento SX has considerable charms to recommend it, most of which are not visible at first glance.
The obvious exterior design changes involve the front and rear ends. The revised grille and tail help the Sorento to better stand out in a crowd and have the added benefit of separating model year 2014 from 2013. Close observers might also be able to spot the new 19-inch wheels on the SX test car.
But that's only a small part of the 80 percent of all-new or upgraded parts that define the 2014 Kia Sorento. And that 80 percent gives the Sorento a whole lot more than one might expect from what is normally considered a mid-model update.
Most importantly among the new or redesigned parts are an all-new chassis and a new 3.3-liter direct-fuel-injection V-6 engine, which is standard on the top four trim lines and optional on the bottom two.
The chassis, with an 18 percent increase in torsional rigidity, includes a new independent font suspension and was engineered to improve ride and handling.
The V-6 engine, smooth and quiet, produces 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. It replaces a 3.5-liter V-6 that produced 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability, the new engine can move the 3,894-pound, all-wheel-drive Sorento from a stop to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds.
The EPA estimates fuel efficiency of the new engine at 18 mpg in the city and 24 on the open road. I averaged 22 mpg overall in a week of relatively calm motoring and actually managed 25 mpg on one 50-mile stretch of highway driving.
The standard engine in lower echelon vehicles is the returning aluminum 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine which puts out 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. It returns an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Out on the road, the Sorento SX handles and rides well for a utility vehicle. You wouldn't want to enter it in a hill climb, but it is quiet and comfortable for long-distance highway travel, and relatively maneuverable in tight urban traffic.
With 7.3 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive, the Kia should perform well in the snow belt. It will take the passengers along the dirt trail to the weekend cabin, but it is not meant to be a true-off-road vehicle.
Front seat passengers in a 2014 Kia Sorento SX will be coddled on comfortable front bucket seats that are heated and ventilated. No more sweaty backs on the summer sojourn to Disney World or, for that matter, Disyneland.
A close inspection inside the lavishly equipped 2014 Sorento SX reveals upgraded materials throughout and a redesigned instrument cluster . Within the speedometer arc is a panel that displays trip and vehicle information, as well as navigation updates if the vehicle is so equipped.
The navigation-equipped test car has an 8-inch screen in the center console that also displayed information for the vehicle's infotainment and voice-activated telematics functions and doubles as a rear-view camera.
Getting back to the question of space, the second-row outboard seat folds and moves forward to allow access to the third row. Entry might be easy for an agile kid, but these aging bones decided not to give it a try.
For the record, the Sorento offers a scant 9.1 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 36.9 cubic feet with the third row down and 72.5 cubic feet with the third and second rows folded forward.
The upscale Sorento SX --- one small step below the Sorento SX Limited --- comes equipped with a lot of comfort and convenience features.
In addition to the previously mentioned amenities, they include a surround-sound audio system, Bluetooth hands-free telephone technology, satellite radio (3 months free), 40/20/40 split second-row sets, dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate and keyless lock and ignition.
Safety features include a full complement of airbags and side curtains, a blind-spot monitor, back-up camera, antilock brakes, traction, control stability control and hill-start assist.
Add $1,000 to the $36,700 base price and you will get rear air conditioning and a 50/50 split third-row seat. With the $850 delivery charge, the total comes to $38,550.
Picking just the right mid-size utility vehicle for a family's needs is no easy matter. All are similar, yet different in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. If you are part of an average-size family, the Sorento should be on your shopping list. The 2014 Kia Sorento SX has a lot to offer, a generous warranty and a competitive price.