2014 Kia Sorento Road Trip - Smokey Mountains

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By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Off-season play has been a part of our lifestyle for many years. By that I mean traveling before or after the typical busy time of a particular destination. The Smokey Mountains and surrounding areas are one of our regular venues early spring and late fall, but we wouldn’t even consider going in the summer because of the ungainly crowds. This lovely November week we’re exploring the Gatlinburg and Smokey Mountain National Park areas again, this time in a new Kia Sorento SX Limited.

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We’re traveling again with our regular cohorts Rick and Kim who have been to the Smokies but not nearly as often as we. Rick and my pretty wife are siblings and their parents introduced us to this beautiful environment many years ago. It was their favorite place to stop when transitioning from wintering in Florida to summering in Michigan. In fact, they loved it so much they insisted that upon their demise we should strew their ashes in the high valley of the Smokey Mountains National Park called Cades Cove. We’ll visit them there this week.

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Sorento is Kia’s large crossover available with two or three rows of seating. The basic Sorento with cloth interior and no extras starts at just over 24 grand and our SX Limited, loaded with content shows a base price of almost 40 grand. For that bigger price we get all-wheel drive, leather seating and trim, a panoramic sunroof, navigation with premium Infinity audio, flashy 19-inch chrome wheels, dual zone climate control, power tailgate, blind spot detection, heated steering wheel, and plenty more. The only option listed on our test car is the third row seat costing $1,000.

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We easily packed all our cargo in the generous 36.9 cubic-feet of space back there behind the folded third seat. That’s more than double the largest full-size sedan trunk space. With third seat up that space is significantly reduced but still very usable. If we fold the second row seat backs as well we would have a van-like 72.5 cubic feet. The power tailgate is handy and appreciated as is the provided cargo net.

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On the road we ease into a 9-hour drive down I-75. Powering our Sorento is the larger of two powertrains, this direct injected 3.3-liter V6, variable valve timing and lots of sophistication making solid 290 horsepower and a modest 252 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a smooth and efficient six-speed automatic transmission it feels like everything we need to get down the road as quickly as we like. Even on the long pull up onto the Cumberland Plateau just south of the Kentucky-Tennessee we feel like we have plenty of power. The engineers at Kia insist it will tow a 3,500-pound load but that might be a bit optimistic on the long up-slopes but will certainly be strong enough on the level.

We rave often about the beautiful environment of east Tennessee but that refers to the mountains and the wilderness, not the uber-touristy, ex-urban area around the park where mile after mile of commercial, entertainment and other businesses dominate the landscape. Exiting I-40 east of Knoxville, TN we pass through Sevierville (Dolly Parton’s hometown), then Pigeon Forge and finally to our destination an older resort tucked into the mountainside at the edge of Gatlinburg. Saturday evening traffic is oppressive on this warm fall weekend. As it turned out those must have been day-trippers since by Monday we had the area nearly to ourselves.

Getting away from the glitz and glitter of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg is a challenge we take seriously and we have discovered some

The EPA rates the Sorento with V6 at 18 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway using regular fuel. Moving with the quicker flow of traffic, in the rain, with just a few stops we managed 22.5 mpg on the drive down. With a smallish 17.4-gallong tank it seems we stopped for fuel often with just a 350-mile range, and that’s if you run it down until the low fuel light has been on for some miles.

Sorento’s conventional independent suspension design with struts up front and mulit-link arrangement in the rear takes the tightly winding roads in the foothills of the Smokeys exceptionally well. Firm and compliant, the calibration and balance of the whole platform keeps it entirely poised as we explore the back roads where dozens of artists, artisans and craftspeople ply their skills and display in their own galleries. Steering offers a firm, predictable feel and brakes (with cool red calipers we can see through the chrome wheels) felt fully up to the task of managing the mountains.

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Our memorial visit to Cades Cove provided the only opportunity to evaluate the ride over rough roads. They have recently repaved the main park loop road but the gravel crossover road is still pretty rough. If you regularly ply really rough roads you may find the Sorento a bit too stiffly sprung. Otherwise it is tight, tough and quiet. The spot where the family ashes lay strewn offers the loveliest view in the valley and with few folks up there mid week it offers an amazing serenity we could sit and soak up for hours if we so chose.

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