FIRST DRIVE

Redesigned 2016 Kia Sorento steps up ride and ambience

Carving a niche between small and midsized SUVs

Published: January 29, 2015 03:00 PM

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Photo: George Kennedy

Don’t confuse the redesigned 2016 Kia Sorento with the outgoing 2015 model. Even as the new version trickles in, Kia dealers are offering screaming deals on leftover 2015s. (Tempting as they may be, do note that 2015 lost its CR recommended status due to poor performance in one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash tests.) We just took delivery of a 2016 and as before, it straddles the small and midsized SUV categories, occupying a sweet spot in size and price. We opted for an EX V6 with all-wheel-drive with a third-row seat; it stickered at $37,915.

The 2016 Sorento shares a platform with its good-scoring corporate cousin the Hyundai Santa Fe, and like the SF, it’s built in Georgia. With a 109-inch wheelbase, the Sorento slots in between the Santa Fe Sport and three-row Santa Fe. The old Sorento’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.3-liter V6 engines carry over; a new 2.0-liter turbo has been added. Front- and all-wheel-drive versions are offered. The price starts at $24,900 and rises to over $40,000, allowing the Sorento to compete with both compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 and with three-row, mid-sized SUVs such as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

We really like the civilized, polished, 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 powertrain. It’s a peach, with strong, effortless acceleration and slick, appropriate shifting from the six-speed automatic.

The Sorento’s powertrain was never a problem, though. It was the ride that needed an upgrade and the 2016 redesign shows a marked improvement. It now takes bumps with much more dignity, and the suspension absorbs ruts and craters without getting itself bent out of shape. Not only that, but the cabin stays very quiet under way, imparting a solid, premium feel.

Agility has never been the Sorento’s strong suit, and while the new model corners soundly and predictably, with well-judged steering effort, it’s not particularly exciting to drive. Sportiness may not be top-of mind for Sorento buyers, though.

Cabin furnishings and trim are well constructed, with mostly soft-touch surfaces for the dash and door panels. Perforated leather seats, standard on the EX, are nicely shaped and we really appreciated the seat heaters on cold winter days. All four power windows have an auto-up feature—a nice touch. The rear seat is roomy, but the third row is predictably small, sized to accommodate a couple of extra kids in a pinch.

Controls are straightforward and easy to master, but the small touchscreen in our EX shows only three radio presets at a time, which is a little frustrating. You need to move up to the top-trim Limited version to get a larger and better screen. That's surprising, given Hyundai/Kia’s usually generous feature set. At least phone pairing is a breeze. Unfortunately our EX V6 does not have a sunroof. A panoramic sunroof is optional, and it is standard on other trim levels. The blind-spot detection system emits a pleasant enough warning chime if you signal a turn while another car is lurking in the lane next to yours.

We don’t know yet how well the new Sorento will do when the IIHS crash-tests it, but it would be reasonable to guess that Kia has taken the opportunity to upgrade the structure to perform better.

The new Sorento is a distinct step up in terms of ride comfort and quietness. This is a family-friendly vehicle that offers a lot of functionality in a handy size that’s easy to maneuver. Check back with us once we’re done testing it to see how it ranks among its peers.

Gabe Shenhar

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