On the Road Review: Kia Sorento Limited

Recently, we reviewed the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee — the top-selling midsize crossover wagon/SUV in America. It draws accolades because it works well, comes in a wide variety of packages with numerous engine options, while retaining its coveted Trail-rated status among fans. In practice or theory, the Grand Cherokee is the benchmark for the segment.

Kia, that small Korean automaker linked at the hip with Hyundai that used to sell plain-Jane, entry-level cars in America, has long ago cast that stereotype aside. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Kia now makes stylish, relevant cars. Cars full of value and content. Cars that are frequently built here in America. Like this new 2016 Sorento, assembled in West Point, Ga.

These two vehicles are mentioned together because they are close in size, compete in the same segment, and both are rising stars. Kia will readily admit that the Sorento lacks the Jeep’s off-roading cache, yet the Kia doesn’t lack polish, style, or the accoutrements that lead to customer satisfaction. In the showroom, where the rubber really meets the road, the Kia is winning hearts and minds with a crossover wagon that impresses.

Struggling with that concept? Forget what you used to know about Kia. This is a car-brand that has matured, continues to expand and outsells Subaru, Ram, GMC, Dodge, Lexus and VW in America. This Sorento, with several enhancements for 2016, outsells the Nissan Murano, the Toyota Venza and Mazda CX9 combined while chasing the Ford Edge and Grand Cherokee. Add the Sorento’s cross-town sibling to the sales mix, the Hyundai Santa Fe, and these similar but different twins are like GM’s Equinox and Terrain — dominating their respective segment. And you thought that Kia only built budget cars.

This year’s Sorento comes with three powertrains. A 2.4-liter 185-hp four powers base L and LX trims, while the corporate 3.3-liter 290-hp V-6 is optional in EX and Limited trims along with a 2.0-liter turbo-four that makes 260 hp. All are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while Dynamic AWD is optional on all but base L trim. Otherwise, every Sorento is a front-drive crossover that is usually sold with five-passenger accommodations, while a third row seat is available.

Pricing starts at $24,900 for front-drive L models and climbs no higher than $46,700 for loaded Limited trim with all of the bells and whistles.

Sizing is class competitive: 187.4 inches long on a 109.4-inch wheelbase. Weights range from 3,830 pounds base to 4,393 pounds fully loaded, while the V-6 and turbo motors can tow up to 5,000 pounds in AWD trim. EPA mileage estimates range from 21/29/24 for front-drivers to 18/26/21 for AWD versions. We averaged over 25 mpg in varied use, a better number than the similar Santa Fe, and close to the new Murano in efficiency.

With distinctive styling that leads the pack (thank you, Peter Schreyer, the former Audi stylist who has led Kia’s revival), what other advantages does the Sorento offer besides come-hither looks.

No one-trick pony, the Sorento offers a comfortable and well-stocked interior, packed with the latest electronic driving aids, info-entertainment equipment and safety features. The second-row seating is almost limousine-like, while the cargo hold provides ample space for golf clubs, cases of wine or your next big-screen TV. A third-row seat is optional, yet most buyers will stick with the five-passenger layout.

The view forward is convenient; the view overhead is outstanding via one of the largest panoramic roofs sampled. The car feels like it has a solid glass portal overhead, thankfully shielded on hot days by a power shade. Panoramic roofs have apparently replaced convertible tops in the minds of some buyers, as convertible sales slow and the prevalence of these roofs expands to vehicles that otherwise wouldn’t be considered for such displays. In the Sorento, it surely lends a premium touch to a vehicle that already has a luxury feel in top Limited trim.

From the helm, there is also dynamic laser-guided smart cruise, a side benefit of the latest forward braking systems, blind spot detection, lane change assist as well as surround view monitors when you need to park. Brilliant HID/LED headlamps, one-touch power windows, plus heated and cooled leather seating, and a heated steering wheel for the driver round out the Limited level of creature comforts. Kia also offers a fully encompassing Infinity Sound system that can record music, store music, play your favorite music and everything but make breakfast with your music — if you have the patience to work through the non-intuitive layers of menus to access the system’s incredible talents.

Looks nice, check. Lots of features, check. Priced right, check. Performs well, check. How does it drive? Check that box, too, as the Sorento displayed a level of composure and balance that is now the expected baseline. Steering feel, turning radius, braking, ride dynamics and handling all are class-competitive points in the Kia — no shortcomings were noted in a week’s worth of varied travel. With 25-mpg efficiency from the AWD/V-6 powertrain, the Kia also demonstrated that it has overcome the weight issues that afflicted previous generations of SUV offerings.

The Sorento checks a lot of positive boxes. The fluid way that doors and controls work suggests attention to detail. The spacious interior suggests that real people worked on the layout of the seats and how they would be used. In addition, the level of refinement further suggests that Kia is no longer the budget brand that you bought when you couldn’t afford something better. The Sorento is now that something better.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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