There's no question that Kia understands the people mover market. From the compact Sportage crossover to the exceptional Sedona minivan, the Korean company has proven that focusing on design and features can transcend the function-over-form philosophy that predominates amongst practical vehicles. A similar tale emerges with the 2016 Kia Sorento, the all-new version of the brand's flagship SUV and a model that has emerged as a smashing success on both sides of the border.
Time waits for no automobile, and with the constant influx of fresh options in the mid-size space that the Sorento claims as its own - and on the heels of its platform-mate the Hyundai Santa Fe's own renaissance the year before - the Kia SUV was due for some attention. Slightly larger, that much sharper, and certainly more comfortable than it was before, the 2016 Sorento has evolved to maintain its position as a compelling family ride.
The redesigned Kia Sorento has been stretched three inches - both overall and in terms of wheelbase - but you're not likely to notice the vehicle's increased length from the outside, where its pleasing proportions remain similar to last year's model. Instead, look for the benefits of the larger platform within the SUV's cabin, which now offers better legroom in the second row as well as an improved driver's position up front. Some models of the Sorento can even be had with an optional third row of seating, although the vehicle I drove was outfitted for five passengers.
A larger Sorento also means marginally more cargo room, with 2,095 litres available in total behind the first row. I was able to haul home a six-foot tall cat tower with the second row folded forward, and also transport a full set of four race tires without even having to tip the back seat, which is an impressive accomplishment for a mid-sizer like the Kia. If you do opt for the seven-passenger edition of the vehicle, however, you'll have to keep in mind that when fully laden there's very little space between the final seatback and the rear hatch.
As with the rest of Kia's line-up, the Sorento has adopted the more pronounced grille treatment, prominent fog lights, and muscular sheet metal that have come to define the automaker's current design language. It's a welcome change of pace from the older SUV, and one that modernizes the vehicle's personality. The interior of my mid-tier tester straddled the line between nice and utilitarian: a small LCD touchscreen handled entertainment and communications functionality, while a separate pod mounted underneath on the floating centre stack was tasked with climate control.
There were enough hard buttons inside the Sorento that I didn't have to take off my gloves to access features like the vehicle's heated seats, which I always appreciate in colder weather. While it would be a stretch to call the cabin 'upscale' - save that praise for pricier, and more effusively equipped editions of the SUV - the Sorento's materials and interior design were in step with its window sticker.
The Turbo Advantage
A new drivetrain choice joins the Kia Sorento's order sheet for 2016: a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. This motor sits between the carry-over 185 horsepower, 2.4-litre base four-cylinder and the range-topping 290 horsepower, 3.3-litre V6. It's important to note that the six-cylinder is actually a little less gifted in the torque department as compared to the turbo, posting a rating of 252 lb-ft.
I was fortunate enough to snag a turbocharged edition of the Sorento for my yearly pilgrimage down I-87 to New York City to attend the International Auto Show. Over the course of 1,600 kilometres of driving I found myself completely charmed by the 2.0-litre motor, which offered enough gumption to pass authoritatively at highway speeds and rarely, if ever caused the vehicle's six-speed automatic transmission to kick down when ascending steeper grades while under cruise control. I can honestly say that I see little reason to pay more for the V6, which is a shame given that if you're looking for seven passenger capability you'll be forced to step up to the larger motor to get it.
The vehicle was comfortable and controlled during my entire time behind the wheel, and fuel efficiency was also good for such a large automobile: 10 L/100 km was the combined rating I squeezed out of the Kia. The vehicle I drove additionally offered all-wheel drive, which I put to the test during several snowy hours of highway driving and again later in the week when tackling muddy spring roads out in the country.
The 2016 Kia Sorento's 'in-between' status of being a mid-size SUV with seven-passenger pretensions sees it facing off against a long list of potential rivals. Amazingly, when examined from a value perspective, it comes off quite well when looking both up and down the ladder. The model I tested checked in around $32,000, which places it in good standing when compared against the Mazda CX-9 and the Ford Edge, but even if you go with V6 power and three rows of seating you're still south of $34k, which stacks up nicely against larger options like the Toyota Highlander and the Honda Pilot.
If you feel like spending all the money, you certainly can - there's a $46,000 SX+ trim level that installs significant luxuries within the Sorento's already-comfortable confines - but that's true of almost any seven-seater on the market. The point is, with this Kia you don't have to, and you get the same comfortable ride with most of the features you'd want at an affordable price. That makes it practical for your pocketbook, too.