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2020 Kia Sorento crossover: hanging on but hanging in?

2020 Kia Sorento

2020 Kia Sorento

What changes will make the 2020 Kia Sorento different?

Likely very little because this midsize crossover just received styling and feature updates for model-year 2019. Other than a new color choice or two, expect the 2020 Sorento to be a rerun of the updated 2019 model.

As part of that refresh, Kia dropped five-passenger seating and the unpopular turbocharged four-cylinder engine option. All Sorentos now accommodate seven occupants on three rows of seats. The available V-6 engine received a new transmission, and key safety features became standard on a wider variety of trim levels.

For those who follow news about South Korea’s rapidly expanding Kia-Hyundai corporate combo, it might be disappointing to learn a diesel-engine option won’t be coming for the Sorento or its Hyundai Santa Fe cousin. Hyundai announced availability of the high-torque turbodiesel four-cylinder as a 2019 Santa Fe option, then withdrew it when sales forecasts showed little demand from North American buyers. That realization also quashed plans Kia apparently had to borrow the engine as a 2020 Sorento option for the U.S. market.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

What you see for 2019 is what you’ll get for 2020 with the Sorento. If, however, you’re interested in a new midsize Kia crossover you might wish to wait for the 2020 model year, so you can audition the all-new Kia Telluride. It’ll be larger, more luxurious, and more expensive than the Sorento, with seating for eight. Like Sorento, the Telluride is a unibody crossover, but its blocky styling recalls that of an old-school body-on-frame SUV. Simple and bold, it’s a harbinger of Kia’s future design direction and possibly a preview of what the next all-new Sorento will look like when it appears, probably for model-year 2021 or ’22.

So, buying a ’20 Sorento nets you a crossover very near the end of is design generation and one whose styling and features may seem dated once the redesigned version arrives.

The 2020 model lineup is likely to be a repeat of the 2019, encompassing base L, better-equipped LX, volume-selling EX, sport-themed SX, and luxury-trimmed SX-Limited (SXL) grades. All would have standard front-wheel drive, with traction-aiding AWD returning as an $1,800 (2019 pricing) option for everything but the L. L and LX would have a four-cylinder engine. A V-6 would return as a $3,800 option on the LX and as standard on the rest of the lineup.

Will the styling be different?

No. When Kia transformed the original 2003-2010 body-on-frame Sorento into a car-type unibody crossover for the 2011 model year, the styling departed dramatically from that of its truck-based predecessor. The look was clean, handsome, and functional, all attributes that contributed to rising sales.

Today’s third-generation Sorento debuted for model-year 2015 and even its 2019 refresh didn’t radically change design themes introduced with that 2011 transformation. As such, the 2020 model will show its age. Among the few design elements that stand out from the generic are Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille and on higher-end models, an “ice-cube-tray” foglamp array also seen on Kia’s Sportage compact crossover. Revised front and rear fasciae were part of its 2019 update, but you’d be hard pressed to spot the differences.

Updates to the interior for ’19 aimed to take it upscale, but as with the exterior, there’s precious little new or revolutionary. The ’20 will be no different, but it should remain comfortable and functional. Kia deserves props for dropping its entry-level 5-inch audio touchscreen in favor of a more modern 7-inch unit that includes built-in support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.

Kia discontinued five-passenger seating because most Sorento buyers opted for the seven-passenger configuration. They must be OK with a third-row seat among the least accommodating in the class.

Sorento has the shortest wheelbase of any three-row crossover in the class. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and a big factor in legroom. Indeed, Sorento’s third row squeezes anyone but small children for knee space, and is short on adult headroom, too. Virtually every rival has more space and easier third-row entry and exit, as well. The relatively short overall body length means cargo volume will also remain near the back of the pack: 11.3 cubic feet behind the third row, 38 with it folded, and 73 cubic feet behind the first two seating rows. Some five-seat compact-class crossovers have nearly as much.

Any mechanical changes?

Some reports speculate the next-generation Sorento may include a hybrid model or even an optional fuel-cell powertrain. But with diesel-engine plans scuttled, the 2020 returns unchanged mechanically.

L and LX grades will again come standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder of 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. It’ll continue to team with a six-speed automatic transmission. As before, this engine will feel overmatched and underpowered in a crossover this size and weight.

Far better is the V-6 that will gain be optional on the LX and standard on the other grades. It’s a 3.3-liter with a class-competitive 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. It furnishes notably smoother and stronger acceleration than the four-cylinder but even V-6 Sorentos will likely still feel sluggish compared to most direct rivals Blame the eight-speed automatic transmission Kia installed in V-6 Sorentos starting with model-year ’19.

In an attempt to boost fuel economy, the transmission strives for the highest gear as soon as possible. This robs the V-6 of strong midrange acceleration, which can make for some tense moments when merging into fast-moving traffic. Kia provides a drive-mode adjustment, but even its Sport setting does little to improve throttle response.

Hyundai and Kia share many engineers and they’ve made great strides of late with suspension tuning. Gone is the sloppy rebounding over bumps that plagued earlier Sorentos. Even the 19-inch tires that’ll again be standard on the 2020 SX and SXL detracts little from the controlled, compliant ride. Handling is fine for a three-row crossover, too – not as sporty as a Mazda CX-9, certainly, but plenty confident for its intended duty.

Sorento isn’t designed as a true off-roader; ground clearance is a relatively modest 7.3 inches. As is the custom in this class, its AWD system will continue to normally operate in front-wheel drive and automatically shuffle power to the rear when sensors detect front-tire slip. Sorento doesn’t offer the multi-terrain traction technology available on some rivals but does give drivers a console button to lock the AWD system in a 50/50 front/rear torque split at low speeds, which can be a help on deep gravel or in the snow.

Will fuel economy improve?

With 2019 powertrains returning unaltered, expect 2020 Sorento EPA ratings to be unchanged – and to remain in the heart of the class. Four-cylinder models should again rate 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 21/26/23 with AWD. Look for 2020 V-6 Sorentos to continue at 19/26/22 mpg with front drive and 19/24/21 with AWD. All will continue to use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

Unlikely unless Kia elects to expand its full suite of safety features to the L and the LX grade. Otherwise expect a repeat of the 2019 for standard and optional amenities.

Expect 2020 Sorento LX and higher grades to again come standard with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection and for EX and above to include forward-collision warning, adaptive radar cruise control, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, autonomous emergency braking, and drowsy-driver alert. None of these valuable aids has been available on the L or LX. The L is meant mostly for rental fleets, but we’d urge Kia to at least offer an option package for 2020 LX models containing most of these safety items.

Beyond that, look for the 2020 L model to return with only the most basic standard equipment, save for the inclusion of CarPlay and Android Auto on a reasonably sized infotainment display. The LX grade should again include such amenities as extra USB power points. LX models with the V-6 engine will also have a power driver’s seat and dual-zone automatic climate control.

EX buyers would again gain the full suite of driver assists, plus fog lights, 18-inch wheels (up from 17s on L and LX), rear-obstacle detection, keyless entry, programmable hands-free power rear liftgate, pushbutton engine start, leather upholstery, and heated front seats.

Expect 2020 Sorento SX grades to again add to all that 19-inch wheels, a power panoramic sunroof, imbedded GPS navigation with 8-inch display screen, upgraded Harman/Kardon audio system, front-obstacle detection, wireless smartphone charger, 14-way power driver’s seat with memory positioning, and 10-way power front-passenger seat.

The range-topping 2020 SXL will again upgrade the leather seating surfaces to premium heated and ventilated Nappa-brand hides. Other extras would include a surround-view camera, automatic high-beam headlights, heated second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Will 2020 prices be different?

Expect them to increase, but probably not too much, considering the carryover nature of the 2020 Sorento. Our base-price estimates include Kia’s destination fee, which was $990 on the 2019 model.

With front-wheel drive and the four-cylinder engine, expect the L grade to start around $27,000 and the LX around $28,500. With the V-6, estimated base prices are $32,300 for the LX, $36,700 for the EX, $41,000 for the SX, and $45,750 for the SXL. AWD would again return as a roughly $1,800 option for all but the L. Some grades would offer extra-cost paint colors for about $400. L and SXL would again offer no factory options.

Likely returning will be the $2,000 LX Convenience Package, which would add rear-obstacle detection, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, and a leather steering wheel and gearshift lever. Should Kia offer these drivers assists on the 2020 LX, it would probably cost about $1,000 and require the Convenience Package.

The $3,400 EX Touring Package for 2020 would likely again include most of the SX’s standard features, including imbedded navigation, upgraded audio system, and panoramic sunroof. The $2,500 SX Touring Package would net full LED headlights with automatic high-beam control, surround camera, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and power-folding exterior mirrors.

When does it come out?

Expect a 2020 Kia Sorento release date in summer 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas

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]