The first time we saw a Kia Sorento was back in 2003, when it was a body-on-frame SUV with a forgettable exterior and handling straight from the 1990s. But the last time we saw the Sorento -- just a few days ago -- we discovered a premium crossover with far more than just a 100,000-mile warranty to get buyers into the seats.
The 2016 model is very much a product of the company's push upmarket in terms of design, materials and features that also brought us the surprisingly talented and smooth K900 luxury liner. This isn't the Kia of what seems like just yesterday.
With the 2016 redesign, Kia has stretched the Sorento in length and width, adding more than 3 inches to the wheelbase to create more useable space inside while adding soft-touch materials to the clean and uncluttered cabin. On the engineering side, Kia has increased torsional rigidity by 14 percent compared to the outgoing model, while adding plenty of high-strength steel to improve handling.
In terms of design, the front fascia has received the corporate "tiger nose" grille, with the exterior also gaining chrome details designed to add a luxurious feel to the body. The lines of the new crossover try to paint a series of horizontal lines, meant to visually convey motion and stability, with the slabby doors of the outgoing model giving way to more sculptured surfaces. The low-set skirts try to make the redesigned Sorento appear to sit lower visually, while the low-profile roof rails and the rear spoiler cap also work to add a sense of motion to the overall design.
An all-new engine is on board: a turbocharged 2.0-liter GDI four-cylinder good for 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, sending power to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. A naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four continues in the lower trim levels, producing 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque, while at the top of the range, there is a 3.3-liter V6 good for 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. All three engines are offered with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, while it's the V6 Sorento that offers a third row of seats... preferably for smaller passengers since this is still a midsize crossover half a dozen sizes down from the Chevy Suburban.
There are plenty of luxury features on the menu, including heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, premium napa leather surfaces like those on the K900, a panoramic sunroof and a 630-watt, 12-speaker Infinity audio system with Clari-Fi music restoration technology. A 4.3-inch color touchscreen is standard on the Sorento, while an 8-inch capacitive color touchscreen is optional and includes a backup camera, in addition to downloadable apps from iTunes like iHeart Radio, Yelp and Pandora. The infotainment system includes functions like Geo-fencing, Curfew Alert, Speed Alert and Driving Score, the latter of which offers feedback to improve fuel economy.
The third row is coupled only with the V6 version of the Sorento.PHOTO BY JAY RAMEY
In terms of safety tech, the state of the art has evolved since the debut of the second-generation model five years ago, and the 2016 Sorento offers a surround-view monitor, a forward collision warning system, smart cruise control, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert, as well as brake assist, hill-start assist, traction control and electronic brake force distribution. The last four systems are standard on the Sorento, with the all-wheel drive models also featuring cornering brake control and rollover mitigation.
The Sorento is offered in a choice of five flavors: L, LX, EX, SX and SXL, with the base model starting at $25,795 and stretching all the way up to $43,995 for the SXL V6 model. We spent a week with the Sorento SXL equipped with the new turbo engine, and it is this engine that Kia hopes will tempt most buyers by offering a middle step between the older 2.4-liter I-4 and V6.
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The interior is filled with soft-touch materials and possesses an impressive feeling of solidity, similar to what we found in the K900 luxobarge.PHOTO BY JAY RAMEY
What's it like to drive?
The turbo 2.0-liter TGDI is the star of this show, offering smooth power delivery though a very nicely spaced automatic gearbox that behaves in the way all automatic transmissions should. There is a predictable surge of power on the throttle as the turbo seamlessly adds boost, and, coupled with the good chassis response, the Sorento is a surprisingly agile performer on back roads.
The solid feel of the chassis at speed combined with impressive sound insulation give the Sorento the feel of a smaller and higher-riding K900; softer works well here, and we wouldn't expect sports-sedan feedback here or paddle shifters, found on some other midsize family haulers.
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