Last week I joined a group of bloggers and traditional press in Scottsdale, Arizona for a chance to take a test drive and learn more about Kia’s 2014 Sorento (SUV) and Forte (4 door sedan) models. I should probably admit that other than knowing a few people who own or have owned Kia vehicles, I haven’t had much personal experience with the auto brand — unless you count taking a few hair-raising test rides in the Optima Hybrid Carly reviewed last summer! But I digress.
So here are some things you might not have known about Kia: Safety is a priority for them, and every vehicle that Kia has launched since the Soul has been an IIHS top-safety pick; “that’s nine top safety picks”, we were told by Tom Loveless, Kia’s Executive Vice president of Sales. “It’s quickly evolving into a heritage for us as a brand, and it is something that will continue to be a priority for us on a go-forward basis.”
From an IQS (Initial Quality Study) perspective, Kia is ranked 9th out of 22 non-premium brands, and they have outpaced the industry in terms of their growth with a 19 point improvement over the last two years. Kia has launched nine products in a three-year period; continuing to improve their quality will be a central focus for them as they go forward.
Kia’s KMMG plant in Georgia has brought 11,000 jobs to the area; it is the largest economic development project in Georgia’s state history. 40% of Kia’s total volume is actually built in West Point, which produces the Optima and the Sorento. The West Point plant is operating on three full shifts, and building 360,000 vehicles in total per year out of that single plant.
The Optima is Kia’s highest score in company history in terms of JD Power appeal studies; 80% of Optima owners would definitely recommend Kia. Based on what I experienced in my Optima Hybrid ride last summer I can understand why. Kia has seven all-new or significantly redesigned vehicles being brought to market in 2013, and their market-share is on the rise.
Let’s take a look at what will be new for 2014 for the Sorento, and then I’ll tell you about its test drive.
The Kia Sorento debuted in 2003, and that design’s production lasted until 2009. In January 2010, the current model was introduced to the marketplace as a 2011 model year vehicle. In terms of life-cycle, Steve Hirashki (a Kia product strategy manager) said the Sorento is in mid-cycle, and it is now getting a”facelift”.
Some of the things that Kia wanted to achieve with the 2014 Sorrento were to freshen the design and greatly improve the convenience and luxury amenities of the vehicle’s experience, as well as improve the dynamics of the vehicle; they wanted to raise the Sorento to a new level.
This goal would require a few things, including a new platform.
Kia designers in California took on the task of elevating the Sorento’s design; they wanted to improve the level of sophistication and refinement. Those who are familiar with the model will notice that there is a reduction in the level of black trim and there is more surface area of painted body colored components; this is especially noticeable on the rear. The front grill has been thinned out, and styling elements have been added including LED lighting accents. The idea was to widen out the vehicle, and give it a “better, cleaner stance”.
On the inside, the 2014 Sorento has also received an upgrade: Kia focussed on the communication interface points of the vehicle including the center console, the meter cluster, as well as a lot of the “touch points”. Kia adopted nano paint technology on a lot of the trim components, they added satin chrome accents, and they upgraded the leather used on the steering wheel — before it was split-grain, and now it is a full-grain leather.
2014 will bring all new seat fabrics on the LX trim; they will be great for families because they are soil-resistant, anti-static, and anti-microbial. Kia will now offer a new premium Napa-grade leather in addition to the leather they were already offering, and it will come standard on the brand new SXL trim level.
The center console has a large 8″ diagonal screen that features their new UVO eServices, as well as the Infinity by Harman entertainment system. There is a new 7″ TFT LCD meter cluster which has a configurable center, so you can change the info that’s shown.
Kia has changed the “gated shifter” that was on the Sorento (they added it because it was sportier) to a “straight boot” type surrounded by leather and material; they found that consumers wanted a “nice, easy throw, easy operation shifter.”
Here’s where things get interesting. As I previously mentioned, the 2014 Sorento receives an all new platform underneath, which allowed Kia to increase the interior roominess of the vehicle; this translates to an additional inch of leg room in the second row and about a centimeter (9mm) of increased leg room in the third row. I still wouldn’t want to sit in that third row!
With the new platform, Kia was able to rethink the Sorento’s suspension; the basic design remains the same with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear. But changing the platform allowed the engineers the opportunity to rethink the bushing sizes, the controlling link arm designs, etc. What this boils down to — and what consumers will most appreciate — is the improved ride, the improved straight line stability, the enhanced dynamic performance, and an overall roomier vehicle.
Further improvements include Motor Driven Powered Steering (MDPS) to replace the hydraulic system previously used; this reduces parasitic drag. Because of the new MDPS capability, Kia introduced Flex-Steer, a feature that allows the driver to select a steering assist level of normal, comfort, or sport mode depending upon his or her preference. Flex-Steer will be standard on the SX and Limited trims.
The 2014 Sorento has a reduced steering ratio which gives it a quicker response; the turning diameter is now 30.5 feet, so it is one of the best in its segment. Wheel width has been increased by half an inch to give a stiffer ride and improved responsiveness. The front brake rotor size has been increased from 11.9″ to 12.6″ for shorter stopping distances – going 100 kph (or about 62 mph) to 0, the stopping distance has been shortened by 4 to 8 feet, which could be enough to make the difference in certain situations; the strut tower has also been stiffened.
With the new platform, Kia’s engineers were able to look at the overall body design, to examine the cross members and adjust them so that there was better absorption in a crash. They also increased the number of weld counts and basically stiffened the body overall — by about 18%; a stiffer box allows for a more solid road feel.
Three engines are currently offered on the 2013 Sorento — a 2.4 Multiport Injector (MPI) 4 cylinder, an optional 2.4 Gasoline Direct Injected (GDI) 4 cylinder, and an optional 3.5 MPI V6. For 2014, Kia is dropping the entry-level 2.4 MPI engine, so for 2014 the standard will be their 2.4 GDI engine, which adds greater efficiency and power.
Kia is also introducing a new, more compact 3.3L V6 (Lambda Series engine) which will offer greater horsepower (290 over the 276 that the 3.5 liter engine produces) with more torque and greater efficiency. This is the engine that is also being used on the just introduced Kia Cadenza, so this represents the Kia line’s premium V6.
Besides being more efficient and more powerful, the new 3.3L V6 engine is exceptionally durable; it was tested at over 300 hours at wide-open throttle, and then for another 20 at extreme engine speeds. When it was torn down, it showed very little wear.
2014 will see the addition of “Torque Vectoring Cornering Control” to the current AWD system. This adds an additional safety dimension to the all-wheel drive experience, because when the sensors pick up that the car is starting to understeer greatly, it applies the inside corner brakes to get the vehicle right.
Kia has also added a power liftgate to the new Sorento; it is programmable — meaning that if the person using it is of a shorter stature, or the garage where the Sorento is being stored has a height limitation — you can set the pull-open condition.
Available on the LX grade, and standard on the SX and Limited models, will be a second row window blind for passengers in the back seat. The panoramic sunroof has been redesigned to a one piece, with power-operated shade. Dual ventilated and heated front seats are now offered, and front door pocket illumination has been added so that (with the remote keyless entry) when you walk up to the car welcoming lights will come on.
Unique in its class is the heated second row cushioning, which now also has a 40/20/40 split configuration.
Kia wanted to make sure that the Sorrento remained technologically advanced, so they are now offering blind spot detection with 2-mode operation so that when you are driving at speeds above 18 mph the indicator will light up when it senses a vehicle approaching from behind; if you turn on your turn signal, it will give out an audible warning as well.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 550 watt Infinity by Harman sound system: 12 speakers in 10 locations, and amazing sound; it is included with the Kia Sorento navigation system.
The Sorento starts at $24,100 for the LX, which now comes standard with the 2.4 GDI engine; some of the upgrades mentioned are also available for that basic level. Kia is also introducing the SXL trim level for the more demanding Kia customer who wants even more gadgets and more luxury; SXL will have the standard Napa leather seating, the front headlamps have the Xenon HID headlights, heated second row seats, and heated steering wheel.
So the 2014 Kia Sorento has had a facelift, but with 80% new components, it is really much more than that. The Sorento has been thoroughly re-engineered with enhanced safety, more comfort, better ride quality, more room, with new premium features, and with cutting edge technologies.
But here’s the best part …
Henry Bzeih, Kia’s Chief Technology Strategist, was on hand to introduce his technological masterpiece, UVO eServices. Three years ago, Kia introduced UVO powered by Microsoft, which gave drivers the ability to command and control their music and telephone — all the basic things one does while driving — a touch away from the steering wheel. Now this system is available on most of Kia’s vehicles. Rather than rest on their laurels, Kia wanted to continue to improve and continue to add value with technology that makes sense for Kia owners.
UVO eServices (short for “Your Voice”) Infotainment System with Voice Command Navigation is available in the 2014 Sorentos rolling off the line; it is what Henry considers to be a great achievement for Kia. “It took a lot of work and a lot of effort to make this happen”, he said, and the ‘secret sauce’ is telematics.
Telematics is a hybrid word combining Telecomunication and Infomatics; telematics include the navigation, diagnostics and other convenience services that customers are used to paying for in services like OnStar. Now don’t get me wrong, OnStar and UVO are different services based on different platforms, but some of their services — like emergency assistance, diagnostic information and parked vehicle locator services — are quite similar.
As the original UVO did, the upgraded eServices system will offer its users a hands-free mobile phone solution as well as hands-free music control. UVO eServices will also be used to control the 2014 Sorento’s on-board navigation system through voice commands.
Kia want to “reinvent and disrupt” the industry. As we all know, to get any kind of telematic services today, we have to pay. Services like OnStar and Ford Sync have yearly subscription rates that are anywhere from $60 (Sync) to hundreds of dollars (OnStar); in order to access all of their benefits once the initial trial period is over, you must pay.
UVO eServices will be available to Kia owners for 10 years, or 100,000 miles, for FREE.
How can Kia do it?
From a telematics perspective, UVO eServices uses the customers smartphone as the means of transporting and conveying information. This means that there are no additional subscriber fees and no additional contracts for the customer; everything is done through their existing smartphone subscription. I love the idea of not having another data bill to pay — I already pay for internet access at home, on my iPhone and on my iPad. Enough already, right?
Kia has enabled this information ecosystem to make information available on the web and on the customer’s mobile device, so they will always have access to the information at home as well as in their vehicle.
Some of the services that UVO eServices will do for free include:
• 911 connect – if you get in an accident, an automatic call will go to 911 directly upon airbag deployment.
• Roadside assistance – push the button, and a guy on the other end at the call center will know where you are and what is wrong with your vehicle.
• Automatic Diagnostics – know in real-time what is wrong when a check engine light goes off or you get some other system warning. Not only that, with the push of a button you can make a reservation for service at your dealership.
• Maintenance – Usually you’ll get a reminder notice every 90 days from your dealership telling you it is time to come in for an oil change, at the very least you’ll have a static cling reminder in the upper left hand corner of your windshield. With UVO eServices, the Kia dealership will know exactly when you need service based on feedback from the vehicle, not based on assumptions. You’ll receive a notification through the web (and through your mobile) so you can schedule the exact service that’s needed when it is needed.
• Mapping – Through a Google partnership set up only a month ago, you will be able to go to Google maps, select Kia, and send the destination from your maps to your car’s navigation system; this will work from your iPhone, iPad, or the web.
Customers have told Kia that they want these services, but they don’t want to have to pay another bill on top of their car payment and insurance. Kia, through Henry and his team, decided to get creative and figure out a way that these services could be given to people for free. And make no mistake about it, these are just the initial services that UVO will offer — Henry and his team are already working on introducing more features and more content.
A question was asked regarding whether UVO would work with Siri; Henry said that later this year they will roll the feature out where you will be able to push a button in the car to activate Siri through your iPhone or iPad. Well! I can’t help but think of how this method of doing things compares to the way Martian Watches handles data services. The result is a watch that works because it isn’t trying to be the computer; I don’t see why that same principle couldn’t work just as well — but with even more capabilities — in a vehicular setting. It boggles the mind. The only downside will be what happens if you live in a dead-zone, but the good news is that cellular networks are constantly expanding and improving in the US; perhaps my concern will eventually be a moot point.
UVO will work with iPhones at launch, and an Android app is coming in the second quarter of 2013.
The Test Drive
Helena from Chip Chick and I partnered up for our test drive, which started in the 2014 Forte; you can read about that experience by clicking, here. We drove about ~115 miles for the first part of the day, and then we stopped for lunch at the Copper Bistro in Miami. After one of the biggest burgers I’ve ever attempted to eat (half of, anyway), it was time for us to swap vehicles into the Sorento.
Henry Bezieh came along with us for the ride, and it was great having him along to answer any technical questions we had about UVO and the navigation system. I was excited to drive the Sorento; my usual vehicle is a GMC Denali XL, which is a big SUV. I wanted to see if I felt crowded in any way inside the Sorento, or if it seemed to make any obvious compromises. Other than the loss of storage room in the rear compartment of the Sorento due to the third row of seats — and the obvious child-size leg room in said third row — I didn’t feel like I was in a much smaller vehicle.
I had an incredible amount of legroom in the driver’s seat — in fact I had to move my seat up! The Sorento we drove was also keyless entry, but after driving the Forte, I was finally accustomed to the system. I could get used to that luxury, as a matter of fact. Granted, the Sorento is five model years newer than Kev’s and my family wagon, but it was slightly disheartening to see that the options inside the Sorento that I was driving were as — good or – than what I am used to.
Heated front and rear seats? Check. Heated steering wheel? Check. AWD? Check. Premium leather? Check. Holds seven? No … the Sorento can hold eight. OnStar? UVO. satellite radio? Check. Automatic rear lift gate? Check. But then, the Sorento also has navigation, keyless entry, ventilated front seats, and a full length sunroof. Sticker price on a fully loaded 2014 GMC Denali XL? I’m guessing that it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $76 – $80K. Sticker price on a fully loaded 2014 Kia Sorento? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $34 – $36K, from what I can gather.
Ouch. That’s an eye-opener.
I drove the heck out of the Sorento, and as I told Kev tonight, it is an SUV that I would be proud to drive. But I don’t think I could have always said that. Similar to the perception evolution that those of us who grew up in the 70s had to undergo as Toyota Datsun/Nissan and Honda went from being tin can economy cars to top of the line imports with luxury lines, I feel like Kia has crossed the line in the sand. It’s still economical, but Kia seems determined to make a product that is as good or better than the others available; I can’t help but respect that.
The Kia Sorento is made in the USA at a plant that employs Americans who live in an economically stressed area. The Sorento has every amenity I could want and then some, and the tech it incorporates is awesome. If I had to make a short list of vehicles that I would consider when our Denali is ready for replacement, the Kia Sorento would definitely be on there.