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2022 Kia Sorento: Taking Aim in the SUV War

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2022 Kia Sorento: Taking Aim in the SUV War

2022 Kia Sorento:

Taking Aim in the SUV War


Talk about audacious. 

Kia Motors, the child of Korean-based Hyundai Motor Group, aims to control 40 percent of the worldwide SUV market by 2030. How many vehicles that might be isn’t easy to say because the numbers are shifting.

In the U.S., for example, buyers are moving away from passenger cars in favor of the room, comfort, and elevated driving position of SUVs. In 2020, Americans bought 5.9 million compact, midsize and full-size SUVs, roughly 41 percent of the market, according to data compiled from goodcarbadcar.net.

That was the year COVID hit and Americans bought some 14.5 million new vehicles, a sharp decrease from the previous few years when sales hovered around 17 million. SUVs and light-duty pickups dominated new-vehicle sales, while passenger cars represent less than a fourth of all new-vehicle sales in the U.S., down from half a decade earlier. And that ratio is dropping precipitously, partly because fewer Americans want them, partly because American manufacturers have quit trying to compete with the Camry and Accord.

Please allow a momentary digression. Escalating oil prices might affect this trend. Because of superior aerodynamics and reduced mass, cars are far more fuel-efficient. Modern ones, anyway – which leaves out Dodge. Buyers might well decide it is wiser to buy something that gets 50 mpg instead of 15. Just spitballing here, but the EPA fuel economy estimate is found on the window sticker.

So, in 2020 in the U.S., Kia sold 300,000 crossovers, which includes the Niro, Seltos, Sportage, Sorento and – everybody’s favorite – the 7-passenger Telluride.  Kia’s marketing material includes the Soul and Carnival among its SUVs, but to me, the former looks more like a boxy subcompact car and the latter a minivan.This year Kia adds a battery-electric vehicle (BEV, in the vernacular), the upscale EV6. 

Niro already comes in an EV version based on a vehicle designed for an internal combustion engine (ICE), but the EV6 is Kia’s first dedicated BEV, and signals the U.S. launch of Kia’s ‘Plan S’ strategy that will deliver 11 new electric models around the world by 2026. All will be named “EV” followed by the number the vehicle holds in the lineup. I think that means the EV6 represents the flagship of Kia’s SUVs, but we’ll see. 

In any case, if Kia plans to capture 40 percent of the North American SUV market it will need to increase production from its plant in West Point, Ga., by a factor of eight. The stated capacity of the $1 billion, 2.2-million-ft2 is 360,000 cars a year, so more likely Kia is already looking to expand its American footprint.

Two of the vehicles built in West Point, the Sorento and Telluride, were named this month by Car and Driver editors as top picks for 2022. In all, six Kia vehicles were cited. The Sorento has also earned a top rating in the 2022 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. Indeed, three of the top four manufacturers were Hyundai Holding subsidiaries: Hyundai Motor Group and its luxury arm Genesis were on it, as was Kia, which was ranked highest in the study. Buick was second.

The awards had to come as good news for Hyundai and Kia, which have undergone an embarrassing set of setbacks relating to massive fines and civil settlements for problems with engine fires dating back six years.

Most recently, the companies recalled nearly 500,000 vehicles. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, owners of select model year 2014-2016 Kia Sportage, 2016-2018 Kia K900, and 2016-2018 Hyundai Santa Fe vehicles were urged to park their vehicle outdoors because of a fire, even if the vehicle is turned off. NHTSA said the cause – this time – was not the engines but perhaps a faulty electrical component. Dealers will install a fuse to eliminate the problem, so it’s not that serious. Still, it’s 어색하다, pronounced o-see-Kada, Korean for “awkward.”

Related to quality control or not, Kia and Hyundai instituted a massive change of the guard among design and engineering executives, pushing out the old and ushering in a new generation versed in the ways of electric vehicles. And by the way, Tesla this week recalled more than 817,000 vehicles over a seat belt reminder glitch. 

Sorento points the way

Though the latest generation Sorento began life on the drawing board as an ICE machine, it has a few aspects that hint of things to come. Compared to the top-selling SUV in America, the Toyota RAV4, the Sorento is longer, wider, roomier, faster, has a third row, and properly equipped, gets much better fuel economy.

Starting at $30,805 delivered, the Sorento positions itself nicely between a compact SUV and the $34,345 Telluride, the unanimous critics’ choice as the best seven-passenger vehicle on the planet. These are starting prices and come with two caveats. One is that Kia and Hyundai come with complex model and option trees, meaning that prices can quickly soar.

The other is that when one compares sales figures pre- and post-COVID, there is about a 5-million-unit disparity between what manufacturers would have sold and what they could. That’s a lot of pent-up demand at a time when median checking account balances are up sharply, especially among the upper quartile that typically buys new vehicles, according to JPMorgan Chase.

The single greatest reason that car prices are having an inflationary effect is that people are paying them. Manufacturers are doing all they can to halt price gouging, but the market will bear what it bears. I would advise you to wait until the market returns to normal, but I doubt it ever will. 

Oh, the chip shortage will most certainly end because manufacturers are starting to build their own plants, but COVID has taught manufacturers and dealers that smaller inventories result in higher transaction prices and greater returns on investment. It’s like I once heard a motorcyclist friend say while recuperating from his third wreck: They’ll get you better, but they’ll never get you like you were.

If you can get a fair price, the 2022 Sorento is a great buy. Our top-of-line X-Line Prestige, $45,120, had the premium feel of $50,000 top-of-line Sorento. The third row is distinctly kid-sized, but perforated leather seating throughout, heated seats in front and amidships, surround-view, Bose 12-speaker sound, and a rich array of safety and comfort features made it a pleasure.

An important option available on Sorento is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Plug it into a 110 outlet overnight, and it will give you 32 miles of electric-only power before switching over to gas-electric power. If your commute is less than 32 miles, you’ll only buy gas on long trips. Want more range? Just stop by any gas station.

The EPA estimates the typical user will average 78 mpg in a car that is smoother, more powerful, and more durable than ICE-only counterparts.

Kias come with one of the better warranties in the business, with caveats. A 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty is not transferrable. A 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty is generous but includes no free maintenance.

Unless, of course, there’s a recall. Recall repairs are always free.

In four decades of journalism, Bill Owney has picked up awards for his coverage of everything from murders to the NFL to state and local government. He added the automotive world to his portfolio in the mid '90s.

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