Redesigned for 2016, the Sorento represents an ongoing effort on the part of the brand and its Peter Schreyer-led design team to keep moving forward. Let's see if it has been a successful journey so far.
What is it?
Kia's version of a premium grade, mid-sized CUV, the Sorento is re-imagined based on a 2013 concept vehicle. Because ours is equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas direct injection engine that makes 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, it is a five-passenger vehicle (other engines can be paired with a third-row bench). That four-banger is married to a six-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic capabilities for those who like to row it themselves. We do think the addition of steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers would be a welcome addition.
The unibody structure that makes up the Sorento now boasts of 53-percent high-strength steel. Through its high-strength bondings and new sealing techniques, Kia claims the vehicle is stronger and quieter than ever.
Our SXL sampler was mated to a full-time all-wheel-drive system that featured "torque on demand," with a locking center differential. The Dynamax system features continuous traction monitoring to move the grip around, as needed, up to a 50:50 bias. Another welcomed bit is the inclusion of Torque Vector Cornering Control, which uses inside rear braking to tighten the turning circle when it senses understeer.
The SXL rides on a widely used MacPherson strut front/Multilink rear kit that by now is nearly the standard of the industry. Dual-flow dampers help to smooth out the ride, while the console-mounted Driver Mode Select button with its Normal, Sport and Eco settings allow operators to tailor the shift points and steering feel from the motor-driven power steering system.
Like the story of Goldilocks, the Sorento comes in three sizes — of engines. The base offering is the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder that makes 178 horsepower. There is our 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot engine in the middle, while those needing a third row for seating up to seven-passengers must opt for the 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6. While only the L model includes the base 2.4-liter, all others can be equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo four or the 3.3-liter V6. All models may be outfitted with a choice of front or all-wheel-drive.
Our SXL has a towing capacity of 3,500-pounds. Those needing capacity up to 5,000-pounds should select the V6 optioned CUV.
What's it up against?
At one time the Sorento squared off against such luminaries as the Toyota RAV4 and Jeep Cherokee. With this latest generation, it steps up to the big boy table to face off with the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Toyota Highlander.
How does it look?
This third-generation Sorento is gifted with a more mature appearance than previous models, which tended to veer more in a curvy direction rather than the soft box look we see today. Instead, what we have is a five-door hatchbacked SUV with a prominent proboscis and adequately wide shoulders at the rear. Lacking in flash, it instead conveys a feeling of competence that some other manufacturers tend to destroy with a flourish here or some bling there. Don't worry, they've included some bling here too, in the form of LED fog lamps and taillights.
But if bling ain't your thing, you have other choices. The Sorento can be had in five degrees of trim ranging from the base L, LX, EX, SX and our SX-Limited version.
Dimensionally, the Sorrento has grown as well. Designers stretched its wheelbase by 3.1 inches to 109.4 inches. It is now 74.4 inches wide and 66.3 inches tall. It now stretches from 187.4 inches, bumper-to-bumper. Measure your garage out for yourself, and don't say we didn't warn you.
And the inside?
While the inside seems rather conservative and actually more retro in its appearance, there's no denying that the materials used have raised the bar, as far as Kia interior design is concerned. Soft touch material is everywhere, from door panels to the dashboard and other locations. Our Merlot-hued Nappa leather seats offered all day comfort during extended drive times behind the wheel. While both seating rows were heated, we really appreciated the cold air ventilation up front that helped to keep the flop sweats at bay during an August in the southeast.
Tuneage from the 630-watt, 10-speaker Infinity audio system with Clari-Fi technology was on board that actually rebuilds the audio signal that is lost in the digital compression process. Our Sorento included the SXL Technology package with such extras that included lane departure warning, smart cruise control, an around view monitor, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and forward collision warning. Oh, and then there was a huge panoramic sunroof.
Kia's sweep-foot technology allowed us to open the rear hatch with their new smart power lift gate. Using no kicking, sweeping or waving, we simply walked within a zone for it to lift on its own. Once opened, the hatch exposed us to 36.9-cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, which grew to 72.5-cubic feet when that row was folded forward.
But does it go?
Acceleration from the Kia Sorento's four-pot turbocharged 2.0-liter engine was a smooth operator, depending on which drive mode we used. With Normal as the, uh, most normal of the drive modes, it was generally smooth sailing from launch. It was only when selecting Sport mode that things began to get a bit choppy. By that, we felt the transmission was harsher than we would have liked, when starting or coming to a halt, perhaps jumping a cog or two on purpose.
Extremely quiet inside, there was virtually no interior noise present, save for the swoosh sound that seemed to be a by-product of the Sorento's 19-inch all-season tires. The CUV's MacPherson struts and multilink rear suspension offered a competent ride without harshness and side travel that sometimes occurs while traversing over railroad grade crossings, for instance.
Still the nature of the beast is that it's not a sports car, nor would we expect it to handle like one. Having said that, we were impressed with the ability of the Sorento to handle quick right-left-right maneuvers without upsetting the vehicle and its occupants. Credit the motor driven steering for that. At the end of the day, the SXL was well-composed with a cushiony ride that seemed lifted from a vehicle twice as expensive.
The EPA estimates our 4,004-pound Sorento could achieve 19-city/25 highway, with a 22 mpg average. We managed to best that, hitting 23.6 mpg combined.
Leftlane's bottom line
South Korea's second brand proves it's no slouch when it comes to features and technology. Through a variety of engine choices and trim configurations, it can match, feature for feature, virtually any brand in the segment, including its own Hyundai sibling. So capable, we think it should be on most buyers' short lists.
2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD base price, $41,700. As tested, $45,095.
SXL Technology package with Xenon HID Headlights, Lane Departure Warning System, Forward Collision Warning System, Electronic Parking Brake, Surround View Monitor, Smart Cruise Control, $2,500; Nappa Leather seating, N/C;
Destination Fee, $895.
Photos by Mark Elias.