At its core, Kia’s UVO infotainment system hits all the right buttons. Literally. Because there are buttons. And knobs. And steering-wheel controls and a touchscreen.
Main functions are all accessed via shortcut buttons, and there is a tuning knob and volume knob within easy reach for both driver and passenger. The quickest way to tune stations is with a knob, that’s why I like them.
This is one reason the Kia system ranks in our top five infotainment systems.
At its core, Kia’s UVO infotainment system hits all the right buttons. Literally.
Redundant buttons make these systems so much easier and it’s great to see Kia understand that more than just the driver uses the car audio/nav, people want to scan through multiple stations/menus with pace, and that not everyone controls their screens the same way.
This is not a luddite though. Central to the whole unit is a touchscreen, they all are these days. What sets some touchscreens apart and makes others utterly infuriating to use is the world’s most simple concept: a ledge. A small, tiny protrusion of plastic that allows you to anchor your hand before you go prodding at the screen.
It’s the omission of this that makes some touchscreens (I’m looking at you Honda) so infuriating to use when you’re in motion. “Okay, my finger is lined up… aaannndd….”
“Oh look, now I’m getting directions to Mexico.”
A ledge to brace your hand to a fixed position takes that frustration away. The Sorento has well-sized icons for most features too, and we’ll drill down on those below.
Audio, navigation and more can all be seen and partially controlled in the instrument cluster display using the steering-wheel controls.
UVO’s greatest trick is playback recording for SiriusXM channels, and in this way UVO outperforms even UConnect. See, UVO automatically records and stores the songs played on your six top favourite stations from the moment the car is started.
You know that moment when you tune to a station just in time to hear the last 5 seconds of Snow’s Informer? Isn’t that frustrating? With UVO, you hear that, hit the “back” icon in the touchscreen and BOOM! You’re magically transported to the beginning of the song. “In-fooormer….”
Tuning is not as easy as UConnect’s back-of-the-wheel buttons, and there is no setting to alter what the steering wheel tuning buttons do as there is in the Volkswagen products, but if you like tuning through presets the buttons are perfect. If you like running through all the stations like I do, the tuning knob is easy to reach and spins quickly through stations when you want it to.
The ability to direct tune to a channel is handy too, and you can do it (or your passenger can) even when the car is moving. All this is positive.
Negatives? The channel list only shows channel titles, not current song information, which many other systems do.
The XM antenna is a bit soft and cuts out frequently when downtown, moreso than any other car I’ve been in recently.
Lastly, the only way to get to the audio setup for balance, fade, bass, treble, etc. is via the Setup menu. You can’t get there through the audio menu.
When streaming audio via Bluetooth, UVO will pick up the track information from your phone, which is something not every system does well.
Kia might well have my favourite navigation system on the market right now. It all starts with two big plusses:
1. You can enter information while the vehicle is moving, so your passenger can get it done immediately.
2. You can enter the whole address all at once on one screen. No jumping through a series of screens, just put it all in one line, then search. It’s much, much, much more intuitive and Kia deserves big points for this system.
There are other small details that make this system great. Things like a one-button mute for the voice guidance, so you can shut the bossy nag up and just look for the visual cues on the map.
The zoom in and out buttons are brilliant to use, and the single menu button opens up an intuitive icon-based menu split into two tabs, one for setting your destination and the other for setting route options – even after a route has been input. A second, more detailed route menu makes it hyper-simple to change preferences, like turn on and off tolls, freeways etc.
The system is fast and accurate, re-calculating the next route almost before I realize I’ve just missed my turn.
Best? You can get the navigation commands in the large central TFT screen right between the gauges. Bueno.
The Bluetooth system connects phone to car or car to phone depending on your preference, it connects quickly and easily, and you can store up to five phones. Scrolling contacts is similar to how you’d do it on a smartphone but a pop-up icon allows you to scroll much faster if you want. The sound is clean and clear even for the person on the other end – which is important.
Best? The buttons to accept or reject calls are enormous, making them easy to use.
The Nanny State
Nanny-state intervention is very limited in the Kia, thank goodness. The only thing it locks out when the vehicle is moving is Bluetooth pairing. This is understandable, but if the car detects a passenger (which it does to turn the airbag on or off) then it should allow that passenger to perform Bluetooth functions for you. Especially if you want to listen to your passenger’s music or make a joint phone call.
It’s a function that shouldn’t be hard to implement in future generations, so hopefully we see it. In the meantime, kudos to Kia for making this a mostly permissive and intuitive system.