Getting to market first definitely helps. It explains the rush, the ever-shortening model year vs. calendar year. You’ll get attention if only because the others aren’t there to look at yet. But you need more than “new” … more than “2016” rather than “2015” … to keep people’s attention.
WHAT IT IS
The Sorento is Kia’s medium-almost-large crossover wagon. It slots in between full-size models like the Toyota Highlander and mid-sized models like the Ford Edge and Hyundai Sante Fe Sport – offering a smaller overall footprint than the Highlander with the option of three rows of seats and seven passenger capacity, which the Edge and Sante Fe Sport do not.
It’s also the only vehicle in this class that currently offers three-rows and all-wheel-drive with either of two four cylinder engines (one turbocharged, one not) and a V6.
The Toyota Highlander offers just one four and one six – and the four is is not offered with AWD. To get it, you must buy the optional V6. Another possible cross-shop, the “big” (three-row) Sante Fe comes only with a V6. With – or without – all-wheel-drive.
The new (2015) Ford Edge is probably the greatest direct threat to the ’16 Sorento. It will offer a variety of engine/drivetrain options – including a very strong four cylinder/AWD combo – in a similarly sized package.
However, the updated 2015 Edge, though larger than the outgoing model, will (apparently) still be a two-row-only deal, emphasizing sportiness and technology more than utility.
And Hyundai will still have the “edge” when to comes to cost vs. either the Ford or the Toyota.
The ’16 Sorento starts at $24,900 for the base L trim with 2.4 liter engine and FWD – vs. $29,665 for the least expensive (four cylinder and FWD) version of the Highlander and $28,100 for the least expensive (also four cylinder/FWD) version of the-soon-to-here 2015 Edge.
The Kia does get pricey on the other end of the scale, however:
$43,100 (lawsee!) for a top-of-the-line V6/AWD Limited – about what you’d pay for a top-of-the-line Highlander ($44,040) and significantly more pricey than a top-of-the-line Edge ($40,095).
The works. New chassis, new body and interior, new engines, new features. The ’16 Sorento is about 3 inches longer overall vs. the previous model and rides on an almost-three-inches longer wheelbase. The punched out dimensions allow for a roomier third row and make the Kia a viable Highlander cross shop.
Also new is a 2.0 liter turbo four option, available with all-wheel-drive or without. This gives buyers a mid-range choice between the value-priced base (non-turbo) four and the top-of-the-line V6. Formerly, the Sorento only offered the base (non-turbo and low-powered) four – or the powerful (but expensive and thirsty) V6.
Big – but not too big. Ideal for a family that needs a third row occasionally but not the full-size footprint all the time.
Wide range of drivetrain options; base engine is offered with AWD (making this the most affordable vehicle so equipped in its class).
Outstanding ride; supple – but not stiff. Very quiet interior.
Easy to use (and fold flat) third row. One tug is all it takes (headrests cleverly auto-fold out of the way as the seats drop down).
Second row also folds – and slides and reclines.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
If you want the turbo four, you’re restricted to the five-passenger seating layout.
The V6, meanwhile, is only available with the seven-passenger seating layout.
Turbo four is as thirsty as the V6 – or virtually so.
Base touchscreen is on the small side (4.3 inches).
Most crossovers offer two engines – an economy engine (typically, a smallish four without a turbo) and a performance engine (typically, a larger V6).
The Sorento offers you those choices, too – plus one more.
The standard-issue engine (in five-row versions) is a 2.4 liter four, no turbo, generating 185 hp – exactly the same output, it turns out, as the current Toyota Highlander’s standard 2.7 liter four (also 185 hp). The big difference, Kia-wise, is that you can pair this engine with all-wheel-drive. It’s extra-cost, of course – but it costs a great deal less than it does over at the Toyota store. If you want an AWD Highlander, you must buy the V6 and the base price climbs to $30,970 before you buy the still-optional AWD. With AWD, the MSRP climbs to $32,430 – whereas you can buy an AWD-equipped Sorento (with the base four) for $28,000 – a difference of almost $4,500.
The Sorento’s base four is paired with a six-speed automatic, can pull 2,000 pounds and (preliminary data) rates 22 city, 29 highway with FWD. Kia says the AWD version will manage around 21 city, 27 highway. These are good numbers for the class. To compare, the FWD-only Highlander with the 2.7 liter four’s mileage is 20 city, 25 highway.
That is to say, worse than the AWD-equipped Sorento’s.
Next up is a 2.0 liter four – smaller in displacement but much stronger in output, thanks to the turbo force-feeding it air. It’s the same basic engine that’s used in other Kias (and Hyundais, including the 2015 Sonata). Power is pegged at 240 – with 260 ft. lbs. of torque available by 2,000 RPM, giving it low-end power the base (non-turbo) four lacks. This engine is also available with – or without – all-wheel-drive and uses the same six-speed automatic transmission.
While the base/2.4 equipped Sorento needs 9.5 seconds or so to get to 60, the turbo’d Sorento gets there in in about eight flat. It also gets about the same gas mileage as the 2.4 liter engine: 20 city, 27 highway so there’s no at-the-pump penalty to be paid for choosing this engine. You’ll also get stronger towing capability: 3,500 pounds (an uptick of 1,500 pounds over the base Sorento).
However, the 2.0 engine is only offered in five-passenger Sorentos.
At the pinnacle is Kia (and Hyundai’s) 3.3 liter V6, tuned to 290 hp (20 hp stronger than the Highlander’s optional 3.5 liter, 270 hp V6) and again available with – or without – AWD. Kia says the FWD version can nail 60 in 7.3 seconds, which if accurate makes the new Sorento one of the quickest vehicles in this class.
Now, the Ford Edge is a wild card.
It’s not out yet (at the time this review was written in early March). But this writer is on his way to test drive one with Ford in Arizona next week – and a full report will follow.
Reportedly, the ’15 Edge will establish a new (and high) bar by coming standard with a 240 hp 2.0 turbo engine (one-upping Kia and Toyota) and offering an optional turbo 2.7 liter V6 making at least 315 hp (which would easily smoke both the Sorento and the Highlander’s top dog engines.
The Ford will also offer a mid-range 3.5 liter V6.
Truthfully, the Sorento’s base engine is adequate for family-hauling duty. Don’t listen to the gloved ones of the automotive press. They’ve lost touch, are addicted to horsepower. Not that there’s anything wrong with hp in excess. But the 2.4 engine is adequate. Anything that can get to 60 two full seconds quicker than a Prius makes the cut. The base Sorento does – and it’s a bargain. Go back and re-read those MSRPs again. For less than $25k, you can drive a new Sorento.
The Highlander and Edge both “edge” close to $30k to start.
Now, the big debate – Kia-wise – is between the new turbo 2.0 engine and the 3.3 V6. Both are more than adequate. Note that the V6 – which is the (much) bigger engine makes less torque – and farther up the RPM dial. 252 ft.-lbs. vs. 260 for the 2.0. Though the smaller four makes less hp, it’s the punchier – the sportier – of the two powerplants. Which is probably why Kia decided to offer it only with the two-row/five-passenger version of the Sorento.
The V6 is a less revvy engine, suited to family hauling… as opposed to hauling.
Which, by the way, the Sorento is fully capable of doing. I don’t mean just the straight-line stuff, either. I made (cue Iron Sheik) several sport sedans humble coming up the two mile asphalt anaconda that is Bent Mountain Road here in The Woods of rural SW Virginia. Either those dudes were on ‘ludes – or the Kia was more capable than they were skilled, despite their putatively superior equipment. That’s the beauty – one of the few – of the modern car. Any of them are so capable, you can do things with them that would have been damn hard even for a seriously skilled wheelman to pull off in a dedicated sports car back in the ’70s or ’80s.
Trust me, I was there.
More real-world relevant is that the Kia’s not-too-big size (especially relative to the humungous – and heavy – Highlander) and its adroitly tuned suspension – compliant and grippy – end results in a surprisingly fun-to-push family truckster. The pending Edge will no doubt be as good and possibly better at such shenanigans but – again – it’s less a family truckster and more of urban hipster/sportster, closer in layout and demeanor to something like a BMW X5.
Compared with the Highlander, the Sorento feels – is – more nimble. Its turning circle is nearly two feet shorter (36.3 feet vs. 38.7 feet for the Toyota) and because it is shorter overall, there’s less backing up and forward (repeat) to get it into – and out of – parking spaces.
The Drive Mode Select (standard in all trims, with all engines) has Sport and Eco and (default) Normal settings but it’s hard to tell much difference between them. In Sport, the transmission kicks down to fifth (and out of sixth/overdrive). In Eco, throttle response is slightly dulled, but only just slightly. It’s not a problem, though, because the Sorento drives well in whatever mode you select.
There is no “snow” mode but AWD Sorentos have a driver-selectable center differential lock that is very helpful in… snow. Torque vectoring – power can be kicked to individual wheels as necessary (and will be done automatically) is part of the deal, too.
I had an opportunity to test it during the week I had the Kia. We got a messy ice-freezing-rain-snowstorm. The Kia proved to be an excellent companion; as secure feeling as the Audi Q5 TDI Quattro I had the same week – and as quiet on the inside, too.
That’s high praise.
AT THE CURB
Kia went larger, but the ’16 Sorento still occupies that sweet spot between small fry like the Honda CR-V, the Sante Fe Sport (and the outgoing Ford Edge) and full-size lunkers like the Highlander.
The new model is 187.4 inches long (vs. 184.4 for the outgoing – yes, already! – 2015 Sorento) and 191.1 inches for the Highlander.
The stretch job (which includes the wheelbase – now 109.4 inches vs. 106.3 before) noticeably opens up the interior. There’s 44.1 inches of legroom in the first row now (vs. 41.3 before) and the second row boasts almost as much legroom (39.4 inches) as the previous Sorento had up front. These stats stack up impressively vis-a-vis the Highlander. Which, remember, is a much larger-on-the-outside vehicle. Yet it has virtually the same legroom up front (44.2 inches) and slightly less legroom in the second row (38.4 inches).
The new Edge, as it turns out, bests them both – second-row-wise, with a class-best 40.6 inches.
But, there’s no third row – standard or available.
Speaking of which. The Kia’s third row is perhaps the easiest folding and stowing third row around. Because the headrests drop out of the way automatically as the seats fold forward, which they do at the tug of a strap on the back of each seatback. The second row seats slide forward and aft and recline.
While there’s bot a lot of footwell space for third row occupants, they are definitely kid-usable and adult viable for short trips.
Total cargo capacity is 73.5 cubic feet – a bit less than the Highlander’s 83.2 cubic feet and the full-size (three row) Sonata’s 80 cubic feet, but more than smaller-overall (and two-two-row-only) crossovers like the Honda CR-V (70.9).
The seat heaters finally heat.
For the longest time, Japanese and Korean cars had inferior seat heaters that merely warmed – and (often) not for long (they’d cycle off the moment they did get warm). No such worries anymore. There are twin 12V power points and a USB plug-in where you can see them (and access them) ahead of the shifter on the front console. Plus a USB charger port in the (good-sized) center console storage cubby.
An interesting option is Kia’s “eService” system, which includes electronic teenager countermeasures such as geofencing and curfew alert. Some of the Kia’s systems can’t be accessed or adjusted while the Sorento’s in motion, though. Thank the Safety Cult for this pre-emptive idiot-proofing.
You can spec your Sorento out with manual side privacy shades, a full-length panorama sunroof and a handsome upgrade LCD display (8 inches) that is among the best-looking and easiest to use such system currently available.
Update your hard drive. Kias are still great values, but they’re more than just great values. The latest models – like this Sorento – do not exude second best from any pore. They look sharp, seem to be well put-together and have outstanding warranties. That they also offer more stuff (and more choices) for less money is now an additional plus, the final inducement that will sway people who’ve shied away from Kias in the past to give them a serious look now.
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