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Seven-seat 2018 Kia Sorento pauses between 2017 updates and 2019 re-engineering. Should you keep it on your shopping list?

2018 Kia Sorento

2018 Kia Sorento

What changes will make the 2018 Kia Sorento different?

Likely nothing except new paint colors and higher sticker prices. The 2018 edition of this midsize crossover SUV is still relatively new, having been fully redesigned for model-year 2016 and enhanced for ’17 with a host of high-tech safety aids and availability of Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto connectivity. The updates will continue for model-year 2019, with styling tweaks, revised drivetrains, and more features. As such, model-year 2018 will be quiet as engineers and marketers prep for the freshened ’19.

Kia is a partner of fellow South Korean automaker Hyundai and the Sorento is one of its longest-running nameplates. First introduced for model-year 2003, the original version was a fairly small (though still midsize) five-passenger SUV with traditional, truck-type body-on-frame construction. Even among old-school SUVs, Sorento didn’t drive particularly well. This changed with a model-year 2011 redesign that adopted a crossover design with car-type unibody construction. As it is to this day, many of its components were shared with the Hyundai Santa Fe.

Today’s Sorento seats up to seven, is enjoyable to drive, and features the generous warranty coverage and features-per-dollar value that underpin the Kia (and Hyundai) brand. It’s been a strong seller, though its 2016 numbers were essentially flat as the midsize-crossover market plateaued in a buyer’s rush to compact crossovers.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

You shouldn’t. It will almost certainly be a rerun of the ’17, with the same styling and the features-upgrades. It’ll cost more, and its looks and features will have a shorter shelf life, given the freshening coming for model-year 2019. Sorento isn’t quite as roomy as seven-seat rivals such as the Honda Pilot or Nissan Pathfinder, but it should still be plenty comfortable for more crossover buyers.

You’ll again choose from among four-cylinder-engine 2.4 models, turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0T models, and trims with a V-6. The 2018 Sorento lineup should again climb a price ladder beginning with L 2.4 and LX 2.4 models and ascending through the LX V-6, EX 2.0T, EX V-6, and SX V-6 to the flagship SXL V-6 grade. All should again come standard with front-wheel drive. Traction-enhancing all-wheel drive (AWD) would return as an $1,800 option on all but the L.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you like the cut of its jib, there’s little reason to wait. There’s plenty of strong competition, and most seven-passenger competitors have roomier third-row seats. But this is a handsome, capable, and affordable crossover with a wide variety of trim levels, engine choices, and amenities.

Unlike some rivals, Kia doesn’t restrict key comfort and safety features to Sorento’s most expensive trim levels. For example, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection is available only on the top-line Elite version of the Honda Pilot, which lists for more than $47,000. Kia offers this important safety feature on the volume-selling Sorento EX as part of a $1,600 Premium Package that also includes a programmable power liftgate. You can buy a Sorento so equipped for less than $37,000.

All Sorento models except the L are also available with other important driver aids, including forward-collision warning; lane-departure warning; radar-based adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set following distance; and autonomous emergency braking. That last aid can automatically stop the Sorento to mitigate a frontal collision.

Will the styling be different?

No, since Sorento will likely be freshened for 2019. The 2018 model will look the same as it did when it was redesigned for 2016. It sports a variant of the “tiger nose” grille that is the face of the Kia brand. This was the biggest change to the Sorento’s exterior appearance for 2016. From the front roof pillar back, the vehicle retains the same basic silhouette that dates back to its 2011 transformation. That’s not a knock against it, though, since this is still a decent-looking crossover.

Interior room and comfort are class competitive, save for the available third-row seating area. It’s tight even for children, and access is more awkward than in rivals such as the Traverse, Pilot, or Toyota Highlander. The L and some versions of the LX and EX don’t have the third row, limiting passenger capacity to a maximum of five. Controls are logically arranged, the instrumentation is crisp and bright, and materials quality is ranges from very good to outstanding, depending on trim level selection. The top-line SXL is particularly luxurious with it standard Nappa-brand leather upholstery.

Any mechanical changes?

Probably not until its model-year 2019 updates, which some sources say could go beyond the typical midcycle refresh and include deeper alterations to the vehicle structure. In a quest for higher fuel economy, it could also see elimination of the available V-6, meaning 2018 may be your last chance to buy a Sorento with something other than a naturally aspirated or a turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

For ’18, the L 2.4 and LX 2.4 would reprise their 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. EX 2.0T versions would have a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. All V-6 versions would use a 3.3-liter unit with 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. Each engine would pair with a 6-speed automatic transmission. We expect Kia to replace this with an 8-speed automatic for 2019.

Unless you’re on a very tight budget, skip the 2.4-liter engine; it’s barely adequate enough to move this nearly two-ton crossover with any kind of authority. The V-6 is stronger, of course, but the turbo four-cylinder might be the best of the bunch. It makes less horsepower than the six, but it delivers more torque at lower rpm, which will make it feel quicker in the daily driving routines that most shoppers are likely to experience. It’s also more fuel efficient than V-6. No Sorento challenges the Pilot, Ford Explorer, or Dodge Durango for road manners. The Kia is capable overall and rides well, but can feel ponderous in anything but gentle driving. Steering that feels artificial is a major demerit.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no expected powertrain changes, Sorento’s 2017 EPA fuel-economy ratings should carry over into 2018. That means with the 2.4-liter engine, the ‘18 Sorento would rate 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 21/25/22 with AWD. With the 2.0-liter turbo, 2018 Sorentos would rate 20/27/23 mpg with front drive and 19/25/22 with AWD.

LX and EX V-6 models would rate 18/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 18/25/21 mpg with AWD. Note that the heavier AWD models get a greater combined rating here. SX and SXL V-6 versions would again be the heaviest 2018 Sorentos and would rate 18/25/20 mpg with front drive and 17/23/19 mpg with AWD. All models would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will it have new features?

Probably not, but the Sorento will remain a well-equipped crossover for the money. The L is essentially a rental-fleet special. Offered only in three colors, it has basic power accessories and Bluetooth connectivity as standard. A rearview camera isn’t offered on 2017 models, but Kia could include one on the ’18 edition.

The overwhelming majority of buyers will start with the LX, which adds the backup camera and several extra-cost option packages, which we’ll detail below. Note that the four-cylinder LX seats five while the V-6 model includes a third-row bench.

The five-seat EX 2.0T and seven-passenger EX V6 include leather upholstery with heated front seats, 10-way power driver seat, and upgraded audio system with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. EX V-6 models add blind-spot alert with rear cross traffic detection, which is optional on the 2.0T.

The SX adds larger wheels on low-profile tires, programmable power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, and a 14-way power driver seat with memory positioning. At the top of the heap, the SXL V-6 has LED foglights, Nappa leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, and a heated wood/leather steering wheel.

How will 2018 prices be different?

Base prices will probably be marginally higher, maybe $100-$300 above those of 2017, depending on model. Kia doesn’t offer a la carte options, other than dealer-supplied accessories. Any factory options come in the form of packages with prices likely to be change for 2018. Note that estimated 2018 base prices listed here include Kia’s destination fee, which was $895 for the ’17 Sorento. Also, AWD should return as a $1,800 option on all but the base L.

Estimated base price for the 2018 Sorento L is $26,500 and it’ll not available with any option packages. Expect the LX 2.4 to starts around $27,800, while its V-6 counterpart starts around $31,100. The LX Convenience Package should return with a 10-way power driver seat, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and rear-obstacle detection among its features. Expect it to again cost $1,800 on the four-cylinder and $2,500 on the V-6. Ordering the Convenience Package should again open access to the LX Advanced Technology Package (figure $1,500 on the four-cylinder, $1,000 on the V-6). It should again add CarPlay/Android Auto and the previously mentioned suite of driver-assistance technologies (emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, etc).

For ’18, the LX V-6’s standard third-row seat should remain a $1,490 option on the four-cylinder. Further, expect the four-cylinder LX to again offer the $695 Essentials Premium Package, which adds leather upholstery and keyless access with pushbutton ignition. Strangely, these features have not been offered on the LX V-6. We figure things will stay that way unless Kia stops assuming buyers who want these items will be looking at an EX anyway.

As for the 2018 Sorento EX, estimated base price is $32,700 for the 2.0T and $34,200 for the EX V-6. Expect both models to again offer a Premium Package. For $1,600 on the 2.0T, you’ll again get blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, programmable power liftgate, and an upgraded instrument cluster. The V-6’s $1,200 version is also likely to again include the power liftgate, along with power folding outside mirrors; blind-spot alert is standard on this model. Look for both EX variants to again offer a $2,500 Advanced Touring Package, which includes the driver-assistance suite, along with a panoramic sunroof.

Estimated base price for the 2018 Sorento SX is $39,700. Expect its $2,000 Advanced Technology Package to gain add autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision alert, high-intensity discharge headlights with Kia’s Dynamic Bending Light that automatically adjusts the headlights when the vehicle approaches a corner. At an estimated $45,000, the loaded SXL should continue sans option packages and represent one of the most affordable flagship models in the midsize-crossover segment.

When will it come out?

Look for a 2018 Kia Sorento release date in the second quarter of 2017.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander

What change would make it better?

Expanded availability of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an upgrade to an 8-speed automatic from the current 6-speed automatic would top our list, along with sharper steering feel. All are probably on Kia’s to-do list for Sorento’s model-year 2019 re-engineering.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]