The 2012 Kia Sorento is a carryover from the all-new crossover SUV that debuted in 2011, but there are a few nice improvements.  Mainly, Kia has added an optional “GDI” direct fuel injection engine, increasing the power from 175HP to 191HP and increasing the fuel economy by a couple miles per gallon at the same time!  In front wheel drive trim, the new 4-cylinder engine delivers an impressive 22 city, 32 mpg highway and 25mpg overall based on EPA estimates!  The Sorento is a little roomier than its typical competition in the compact SUV class and almost as big as the smaller midsize SUVs.  Is that big enough for your family?  Read on!

I tested the EX AWD version with the Premium Package, including the third row seat, leather trim, power folding mirrors, power seats with memory, NAV with traffic, Infinity sound and a few other perks.  The downside of opting for AWD and/or the V6 engine is the lower fuel economy.  Mine was rated at 21/28/23 but managed only around 15-17mpg around town during my short time driving it.  Granted, this was for a very short number of miles in cold weather, based only on the trip computer.  Hardly scientific, I know.  If you get both the V6 and AWD, the price and fuel economy become similar to larger midsize SUVs.  For example, even with the 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder GDI engine, my AWD tester had a sticker price of $32,300.

Size is both a benefit and drawback of the Sorento.  The benefit is that the Sorento maneuvers around town and into parking spaces better than most midsize SUVs.  The price is right, too, so you get a little more space and an optional 3rd row of seating for no more money than most compact SUVs like Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.  The drawback compared to midsize SUVs (like Buick Enclave or Honda Pilot) is that the shorter length comes right out of the legroom and cargo space in the 2nd and 3rd rows.  That means some seating compromises compared to midsize sport utes.

 

The second row of seating is barely larger than what you’d find in most compact cars.  There are shoulder belts and adjustable head restraints in all three seats, but no rear shoulder belts offer a height adjustment.  Three-across is going to be rather difficult here, but it may be possible with the narrowest carseat models and some effort.  The center seat is relatively small and the seatbelt arrangement could pose difficulty for adjacent carseats.  There is no LATCH in the center position, but there is a top tether.  The problem is that a wider carseat installed in the middle effectively prevents you from tumbling forward the passenger side seat to allow access to the third row.  A narrow model like a rear-facing Diono Radian series just barely allows you to flip that seat forward with some effort (see video above).  My 6-year old liked to climb in back through the rear hatch, so that is one alternative for an older kid.

The second row does not adjust fore or aft.  Unlike most midsize SUVs, the Sorento’s second row is fixed to the floor.  That means you cannot take legroom away from the third row to increase room in the second row, or vice-versa.  Legroom is already limited in the second row.  It won’t be adequate for tall adults on a longer trip but should be fine around town for most.  Also, a rear-facing seat installed behind the driver or passenger will compromise the legroom in the front seat for anyone above average in height (video, below).  At 5’10″, I had barely enough room with a Graco Snugride 30 installed behind me in the passenger side seat (I had a photo but the handle was in the wrong position for a child in the vehicle like in the video below, sorry!).  Again, adequate for around town, but not on a long drive.  Installing a rear-facing seat in the center seating position gives you decent legroom up front, if you don’t mind potential issues with 3rd row access.

 

Speaking of the third row, it’s small, too.  There’s just enough legroom for a child in a larger combination seat or for younger kids in seatbelts (like my 13 and 6-year olds in the photo, right).  Don’t be fooled by some other reviews claiming it’s fine for adults, they must be writing from Lilliput.  Though better than compact SUV third row seats, a taller teen or typical adult will not be comfortable back there in terms of legroom or headroom for anything but short trips.  Also, there is no LATCH and no top tether anchor for either side, so it’s best suited for kids in boosters and pre-teens in seatbelts.  Most rear-facing seats will simply not fit at all due to the lack of space.

If you have more than a couple young kids, you will have to decide if there is enough room for your family in this vehicle.  If most or all of your kids are in a harnessed carseat, there could be some challenges.  Even so, I installed a Recaro ProSport combination seat and a rear-facing Cosco Scenera in the second row (photo, left), leaving enough room for an average height male in the driver seat and an average height female in the passenger seat.  For families with a few older kids, like ours, you should be able to find a good arrangement for boosters and those in seatbelts.  Plus, it drives quite well for an SUV.  The handling and steering seem quite good compared to all of the larger midsize SUVs I’ve driven recently.  I’d stop short of saying it was fun to drive, but it had none of the “boat” feel of some of the largest competitors.  The tradeoff seems to be more road noise and a ride that isn’t as smooth as other models.  Power seemed very reasonable from the improved 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic.  I would think this engine is a good choice for most families, especially in urban areas.  The Sorento had a modest amount of road and wind noise when cruising at highway speeds, enough to make conversation somewhat difficult from front to third row, as is the case for some minivans.

As for creature comforts, the seats were comfortable.  The driving position is good with adjustable seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel.  The ventilated front leather seats heated up very quickly in cold temperatures and had 2 other settings so you don’t roast.  I wasn’t real impressed with the Infinity audio system, but it was certainly better than generic OEM audio.  I did not get to play with the UVO voice-activated infotainment system much, but overall the controls seemed pretty well organized for easy access to features.

How about safety?  The Sorento does quite well in terms of crashworthiness.  It is a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS for 2011.  Since the 2012 is essentially identical, I expect it will perform similarly.  In the NHTSA tests, the Sorento received a 4-star overall rating.  It apparently just missed a 5-star overall rating, with top 5-star results in all three side impact tests and the frontal test for the driver.  The only 4-star individual crash result was the frontal crash test for the passenger.  That is quite good.  I note that the 2011 Sorento had a 3-star rear seat passenger rating that was improved to a 5-star result in 2012, so there may indeed be some changes to the structure or restraint systems.  In terms of crash avoidance, the handling is quite good for an SUV, subjectively better than any of the midsize models I’ve driven so far.   Braking seemed quite good, too.   That is probably aided by the high quality Kuhmo Solus H-rated all-season tires, a step above lower rated tires used by some other brands, like the somewhat larger Toyota Highlander.  The front and rear pillars do create some blind spots, but it is still good for visibility and driver position overall. 

Top 10 Likes:

  • Very good crash test results so far
  • Relatively inexpensive for its class
  • Sporty handling for an SUV; good braking
  • Sharp styling, inside and out
  • Nice touch screen NAV system
  • Decent acceleration with new 2.4L, 4-cylinder engine
  • Decent visibility, but wide front and rear pillars create a blind spot
  • Interior quality is OK, but won’t remind you of a BMW
  • AWD and third row available
  • Very good EPA fuel economy with FWD and 2.4L engine

Top 10 Dislikes:

  • Second Row is not adjustable
  • Only 2 LATCH positions
  • Third row has no LATCH or top tether anchors
  • Forward mounted third row shoulder belts (photo, right)
  • Rear seat legroom; rear-facing seats may be a challenge
  • Tumble forward seats may conflict with carseat in center
  • Some lower LATCH anchors are difficult to access
  • Modest engine and road noise, not the smoothest ride
  • No crash warning system, lane departure system or crash notification
  • Quirks?  Amber readouts distracting.  Can see airbag opening through dash material.  Dash location of rear wiper control.

Conclusion:

If you don’t need the space of a larger midsize sport utility vehicle or minivan, the 2012 Kia Sorento is a strong contender.  Roomier than compact SUVs, you can buy a FWD LX model with the Convenience Package (GDI engine, backup warning, backup camera, heated seats and fog lamps) and the optional 3rd row package with a street price under $25k after rebates.  Not bad for a 7-passenger vehicle with EPA estimates of 22mpg city and 32mpg highway!  The only drawbacks are typical of any compact SUV or car: limited legroom, limited 3-across carseat capability and limited room for rear-facing seats.  Aside from that, Kia has put forth a great value with solid crash avoidance and crashworthiness.  If you have a small family, it’s definitely a great choice to consider to keep your precious cargo safe.

Thank you to Kia USA and DriveSTI for providing the Kia Sorento used for this review.  No compensation or content of any type was received.