2012 Kia Sorento SX - Seven beats Two and matches Five

Ever hear of a seven passenger crossover that can match or better the fuel economy of some cars which go by the heading of "fuel efficiency champs?" No joke.

We at "Drive...He Said" realize that on the road, your average SUV is often carrying no more persons than your typical pint-sized Smart For Two.

But just imagine for a moment...Heaven forbid...that your seven occupant SUV is really carrying Seven Occupants. Does it really deserve an efficiency rating based on single occupant occupancy?

That's where the 2012 Kia Sorento SX mid-size crossover- sport utility vehicle with third-row seating comes in. At $23,100 the Sorento has about the lowest price of admission into the seven occupant mid-crossover segment. Fans of  "Made-inAmerica" take heart: the Kia Sorento is assembled in West Point, Georgia.

Second row seats, which handily tilt and fold,  enable skirt-clad women (or kilt-clad men) to access the third row without the risk of embarrassing exposure.  If getting into the tail section of the Sorento is easy for three adults, sprawling out will be a might harder with 31" of strictly economy class legroom. Extracting all that passenger room out of an overall length some 13" shy of a full-size Explorer results in a scant 9 cubic feet of cargo space. City dwellers can rejoice over the easy to park wheelbase and length, respectively, of 106" and 183." A trans-continental-bound Sorento laden with seven will dictate either a U-haul trailer or a roof carrier. Less likely to complain about capacity were the twenty 20lb. sacks of manure we hauled upon folding the 50 /50 split third row seatback in the Sorento. (Careful to avoid inhaling excessively noxious odors, we didn't venture past a low dung mix from cattle poop.)

With only an inch of greater ground clearance than most passenger cars, the Kia Sorento drives a lot like a lightly sprung front-drive platform car /wagon. Mostly. At 3800 pounds (add another 200 lbs. for the AWD version) the Sorento is the light flyweight of mid-size crossovers, some 500 pounds down on an AWD Acura MDX.  The transverse mounted power- and drivetrain configuration, which buys all that cabin space, begets nose-heavy traits such as plow and dive.

True to Kia form, pressing the brake pedal is akin to crushing grapes. Some heaving over Midwestern frost-heaves is the concession to a front strut /rear multi-link suspension tuned for compliance. If only the uni-body were rigid enough to shake off the occasional shudder. On the straights, steering is satisfactory, if you can forgive some on-center numbness. In turns the Sorento is more ambiguous. Optional and meaty 235/60 Kumho Solus tires on 18" wheels react deliberately to inputs. Mix in a fair amount of sway and all of a sudden you feel at the helm of something far more massive. While our all-wheel drive tester featured hill descent control and even an ersatz rear skid-plate, the lack of meaningful clearance, a rugged suspension and all-terrain rubber kept us "on" rather than "off road."

Optional all-wheel drive in our Kia Sorento SX model requires the 3.5L V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 276 rated horsepower, a boost of 101 over the base 175 horse-strong 2.4L inline-4,  rarely left us wanting for more during freeway passing.  What might leave boaters wanting is just 3500 pounds of towing capacity compared with the 5000 lbs. an Acura MDX can pull. Lacking direct injection or direct valve throttling, and bereft of a transmission with more cogs, combined fuel economy ended up at 20 miles per gallon.

Where your Kia Sorento is at home is gently cruising the 'burbs and  interstates. The cush driver's seat has power adjustments to suit most builds and the steering wheel features tilt and telescoping settings. Outward visibility is quite good, such that when backing the rear-view camera seems superfluous. Instrumentation and the 7" touch multi-media screen interfaces are laid out with a Teutonic level of logic and visibility. Switchgear is within easy reach, even if the movement isn't quite Swiss precise. Voice command recognition seems a work in progress. Overall there is an appearance of understated luxury, with contrasting stitching on hides, splashes of chrome on hardware and sills, perforated leather, pebble grained soft touch dash padding and some simulated wood appliques. While some upholstery trim and exposed hardware seem doubtful, we muse how many five occupant compact crossovers crowd the loaded seven-occupant Kia Sorento SX AWD's $37,000 as-tested price.

Now for some simple math.

Kia Sorento SX   VW Jetta TDI   Smart For Two

20 mpg                   32 mpg               36 mpg             combined fuel economy

7                                  5                             2                       max. occupants

3.6                               3.1                         7                      gal./ 500 mi. /person

Talk about an argument for Capacious Crossovers.


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