DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: “This car smells like Ikea!” shouted my daughter within 10 seconds of buckling herself into the 2016 Kia Sorento SX Limited.
“Yeah, Ikea and cucumbers!” her younger brother chimed in.
“You mean ‘a Kia’?” I asked, impressed that they could already tell brands by smell, but they both insisted they were indeed referring to the Swedish home superstore.
Thus it was determined that the Sorento smells of flat-pack furniture, cinnamon buns and salad, and that we as a family should spend less time wandering the halls of Ikea on snowy winter days.
Further pummeling the metaphor, the Sorento parallels Ikea in more than just its scent: This Kia SUV also delivers a convincing aura of quality and premium features in an unassuming shell. Problem is, there’s not much of a value here -- the $45,000 MSRP of our admittedly loaded tester is well into top-shelf Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilotterritory, which forces me to wonder out-loud to whom Kia is planning to sell this Sorento?
Thing is, it’s pretty good. On the road the Sorento never lacks for power, and the engine note is far better isolated than it has been in past Korean four-cylinder efforts. Ditto road noise; things are more refined inside, both in terms of NVH and material colors and choices, and there’s little about which to complain even if the overall design doesn’t exactly scream “luxury.” It’s more purposeful utility.
I had our Sorento out in some pretty hairy Detroit February weather, and even sans dedicated winter tires, a quick press of the AWD Lock button kept things pointed in the right direction. The Kia had excellent traction accelerating away from stoplights in the snow, and with traction control disabled, it was easy to use some light throttle to point the nose in the right direction.
The fundamental problem with this loaded Sorento is that Kia seems to assume there are “Kia intenders,” folks who want to move up in the brand hierarchy and will conceivably pay more than $45K for the privilege of driving one of its four-cylinder SUVs. We suspect those buyers defect from their Fortes and Optimas into more premium mass-market brands rather than lay out long green for a Kia (witness dismal sales of the brand’s upscale Cadenza and K900 sedans for further proof of this hypothesis).
Brand perception is powerful and difficult to change -- no matter how good a car smells.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I’m impressed with this new-for-2016 Sorento. I like the new, boxier exterior and the new front end. It looks good to my eye. Handsome. The interior’s increased soft-touch plastics are a big improvement, they look like good quality and the controls are intuitive. Frankly it’s a nicer interior than I expected. At this stage in the calendar, I’m just happy with heated seats and a heated steering wheel. This car has both, thank goodness.
I’m also impressed with the way it drives. The four-cylinder turbo makes it scoot, and it’s a refined, quiet driver. The steering feels connected and the suspension strikes a nice ride/handling balance even on the winter potholes.
Stoy makes an interesting point about the $45,000 MSRP. Yes, this car is loaded, but as he writes, $45K gets you a loaded Explorer, Traverse, Pilot…not to mention a Mazda CX-9 and/or Jeep Grand Cherokee.
It might be a moot point, though. Look on the Kia site one sees there are incentives on this, from low-interest financing to cash back to a smokin’ lease price depending on trim level. All that on a car that’s been on sale for a month.
Still, this Sorento is a good SUV. Better than I thought it’d be overall.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: There are a couple of words or phrases I’ve come to associate with Kia, none bad, though none particularly exciting: Value-oriented. Perfectly adequate. Aspirational, even; the K-900 is, if nothing else, an ambitious move by the brand.
Here’s another one: Solidity. I’ve felt it before in a Kia -- in that K900, which seemed intentionally overbuilt. And again, to my surprise, here on the 2016 Sorento. The doors seemed weightier than they needed to be. The dials and knobs were all remarkably wiggle-free. The shifter, exceptionally snug.
The exterior, I could take or leave. There are touches of Acura MDX on the A- through D-pillars, plus the Cadenza’s grille and oddly stacked quad fog/running lights up front. The proportions seem slightly off from some angles -- maybe the beltline’s too high (here’s one vehicle where the risky black plastic cladding, found on lower-trim Sorentos, looks good) -- but its profile is fairly sleek.
I guess it’s technically an SUV, but the catchall “crossover” seems like a better fit here, all-wheel drive notwithstanding. Functionally, it’s a minivan minus sliding doors.
The interior, however, is far more coherent. Whether or not you like the red leather-ish surfaces found on this tester, you’ll have to concede that the dashboard design is exceptionally clean and the layout eminently practical. Even the steering wheel-mounted controls have a good feel, with well-weighted detents on the dials for, say, radio volume adjustment. I’m impressed -- these little things go a long way toward justifying the $46,000 sticker price.
About the only interior complaint was that the seat heaters, steering wheel heater and overall HVAC system seemed to take longer than average to really fire up (this tester was not equipped with remote-start, a $425 option). It was an exceptionally cold weekend, though.
How does it drive? I never would have guessed there was a four-cylinder up front, and that’s a compliment. The Sorento doesn’t buzz or wheeze like a Rio; in fact, it’s fairly quiet on the road, and it doesn’t want for power despite a 4,300-pound curb weight. “Sport” mode is, as you might imagine, nothing to really write home about. Anyway, this is supposed to be comfortable, but I found body roll to be fairly well controlled -- it doesn’t float around, completely disconnected from the road.
The price tag might seem hard to stomach, but this is a well-equipped example of the model. Though you could boost the price even further with the addition of a V6 and options like remote-start, you could also sacrifice some of the exterior flash and give up that premium napa leather interior to save 10 grand with the Sorento EX. Its exterior looks a little more rugged and better-balanced to my eyes, anyway.
Either way, the other editors’ objections to the cost of this tester seem to stem from Kia’s perceived position in the market, not the quality of this particular vehicle. These things change over time, and well-executed vehicles like this Sorento can drive that change. Perhaps the K900 will never be a credible luxury contender, but it’s just a matter of time before Cadenza- and Sorento-level vehicles start to make sense at this near-luxury price point. Certainly, the quality and amenities are there.
For added luxury, also available are heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, 14-way power driver and 8-way power passenger seats, dual-zone HVAC and Kia’s panoramic sunroof.PHOTO BY KIA
Options: SXL technology package including xenon HID headlights, lane departure warning system, forward collision warning system, electronic parking brake, surround view monitor, smart cruise control ($2,500).
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