It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Optima is Kia’s best selling vehicle.
According to numbers just released, Kia sold 11,647 Optimas in September, which was down slightly from September 2012 but still clearly No. 1 in the lineup.
Year-to-date sales are up, however, which is understandable since the Optima is a very strong competitor in the popular family sedan segment.
What may be a bit surprising, though, is the No. 2 seller in the South Korean automaker’s stable.
It’s not the less-expensive Rio or Forte, not even the hip-hit Soul.
Kia introduced the Sorento as a truck-based, body-on-frame SUV for the 2003 model year. It was bigger and more versatile that Kia’s compact Sportage, which at the time was taking some hits for some safety issues. It had received a “marginal” overall rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2002. The Sorento checked in at a grade higher at “acceptable” a year later.
As it moved into its second generation in 2009, the Sorento was a car-based, unibody crossover to capitalize on the segment’s growing popularity. More people simply wanted a vehicle with a smooth ride and handling along with more hauling capability than even full-size sedans offer with their often mammoth trunks.
For 2014, Kia designers and engineers have given the Sorento a major makeover with over 80 percent of the parts either all-new or significantly redesigned, according to a company news release.
That redo includes a new, 3.3-liter V6 engine that gives the Sorento a 99-horsepower advantage (290 hp) over the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with just a slight drop in fuel economy.
Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic (which allows for manual selection of gears), the V6 is rated at 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 mpg highway over the four-cylinder’s 20/26 in two-wheel-drive configuration. With AWD, numbers for the V6 are 18/24, for the four-banger 19/24.
Torque is up as well to 252 pound-feet for the V6 compared to the 181 lb.-ft. with the four. Both the V6 and four-cylinder run on regular-unleaded fuel, so that’s not an issue.
In addition to the extra oomph you get from the V6 in everyday driving, you’re also going to want the advantage it provides in towing capacity, more than double to 3,500 pounds to 1,650 for the base’s four-cylinder.
Of course, the extra power comes at a price. The base Sorento LX with two-wheel drive is listed at $24,950 including the destination and delivery charge. To get an up-the-line EX trim you’re talking just under $31,000, and the top-of-the-line SX-L starts at just under $41,000.
The Sorento may lack the overall pizzaz the Optima and the new Cadenza have in Kia’s sedan lineup, but as a family vehicle, it serves its purpose quite well.
It’s a nice, comfortable driver, offering not particular much in the way of sporty characteristics, but, though there are exceptions with some much more expensive brands, that’s not the main purpose of crossovers any way.
Its ride is quiet and smooth, and the seats are comfortable. The optional third row that boosts seating from five to seven is roomy enough to handle adults, but it cuts down considerably on room for luggage or other cargo items.
The interior overall, however, is quite roomy, and putting down that third row results in nearly 37 cubic feet for storage to handle trips down to the local home-improvement store.
The V6 provides enough power to give it adequate acceleration. We didn’t test drive the four-cylinder, but some of those who have think it’s a bit underpowered and lacks needed punch.
The Sorento does score well when it comes to technology with many of the features, such as Hill-start Assist Control, electronic stability control, four-wheel antilock brakes, Sirius satellite radio, auxiliary and USB audio input jacks, Bluetooth wireless, duplicate steering wheel-mounted audio controls, rear tail lamps with LED inserts and wood insert trim are standard across the line.
Upgraded models have even more standard equipment, and the SX and SX-L get a navigation system with a backup camera and a nice, easy-on-the-eyes 8-inch monitor as standard. It’s also a very intuitive system to operate.
One other significant upgrade: The Sorento now gets an overall “good” safety rating from the IIHS, the highest the institute awards.
For a look at the Sorento, check out the accompanying slide show.