Four Things I Learned After a 4,000-Mile Road Trip in Our Kia Sorento

Four Things I Learned After a 4,000-Mile Road Trip in Our Kia Sorento

01/25/2022

Consider this the torture test for our long-term Kia Sorento. Over the course of 17 days and 4,059 miles across seven states and seven national parks, I nearly doubled the miles of our golden go-getter, all while facing the elements nightly in a rooftop tent. Even though it wasn’t as extreme as our 7,000-mile off-road trip with Rivian across the Trans-America Trail, you get to know a car pretty well when averaging nearly 240 miles a day.

1. I’d Rather Sleep on the Ground

I’ll admit, a rooftop tent has its advantages. The built-in mattress is larger and more comfortable than any traditional sleeping pad, there’s little chance of waking up to a bear outside your door, and it looks ultra rad. It kept me safe and dry in a heavy storm, too. I still wouldn’t buy one.

They’re tricky to install in the first place (ours weighs about 100 pounds), and even once it’s up there and I had erected the thing 10 times, it still took at least 20 minutes of climbing around on the roof to set up. The added wind noise is a drag (get it?), especially with long hours on the highway. Not to mention, you have to find a perfectly flat parking spot, and you can’t drive anywhere until it’s folded up.

Our Thule Tepui Explorer Kukenam 3 didn’t hold up all that well, either; after a couple weeks of hard use, plastic pieces cracked and fell off, some metal tent supports became permanently bent, and one window fastener fell off altogether. For the near $2,000 asking price, we’d much rather have an easy-setup conventional tent and an air mattress, plus probably a wad of cash left over.

2.  The Infotainment’s Hidden Gem

Our long-term Sorento SX rocks a 10.3-inch touchscreen in place of the base model’s 8.0-inch system. The display is large, bright, and positioned high on the dash, but my favorite feature is easy to miss.

Throughout the majority of my trip, the screen was displaying Apple CarPlay. Thing is, CarPlay doesn’t occupy the entire screen—there’s a 2-inch-wide strip of real estate on the far right of the screen. It displays the outside temperature by default, but swipe up or down, and it has other functions, including a compass and altimeter.

An altimeter would not have excited me a few years back. I lived in Rhode Island, a state entirely devoid of mountains where the highest elevation is a paltry 812 feet at Jerimoth Hill. Yes, hill. But watching the altitude reading climb higher as I ascended to the 12,183-foot tundra along the historic Trail Ridge Road running through Rocky Mountain National Park was a novelty I won’t soon forget.

3. Off-Road Surprise

For a mainstream three-row crossover, I was pleasantly surprised with the Sorento’s performance away from pavement. Our long-termer is fitted with AWD and a factory lift that affords 8.2 inches of ground clearance; we put them to work.

Nightly trips to national forests for free camping meant driving down rutted, occasionally muddy dirt roads for at least a few miles, and the Sorento handled them like a champ. One slick trail up the side of a dam in southern Idaho required selecting AWD lock and Snow mode, but with a bit of wheelspin, the ‘Toe and I were rewarded with a tranquil sunset over the lake.

The family hauler proved fun, too. Kia allows the driver to disable both traction and stability control. The nannies still limit power with the tiller angled more than a few degrees off-center, but they’ll allow for little four-wheel drifts on the slippery stuff if you want to play rally driver. Another impressive note: After hours driving lumpy washboard trials, the Sorento didn’t develop a single squeak or rattle.

4. Driver Assist Features Aren’t Perfect

We’ve already spilled digital ink on how useful the Sorento’s Highway Drive Assist active safety features can be. I’d estimate I had the lane centering and adaptive cruise system active for at least 75 percent of my miles, and the trip was better for it. The HDA suite even managed to keep itself centered on a road without any lane lines. Until it didn’t.

One major flaw in the system is that it doesn’t issue any audio or sensory alert when it can no longer read the road—only a tiny green light turning off in the dash. Had I not been actively watching the road, hands and feet at the ready to take control, I might have found myself upside down in a ditch in central Wyoming.

No matter how much you trust these systems, they do not assume your responsibility as a driver. Rather, your responsibility shifts from controlling your inputs to monitoring the road and the system.

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