Kia may receive the second mention in the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, but this once very plain Korean brand is anything but boring, especially with the products it has been serving up in recent years. Indeed, nearly every model put forth by Kia has been lauded for its outstanding style, generous standard equipment, and superior build quality. No wonder Kia has received high marks in surveys conducted by J.D. Power and Strategic Vision.
Kia’s utility vehicle offerings are thin, at least compared to Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, and Ford, to name a few. Even so, the manufacturer makes good use of the products it does offer, including the compact Sportage and the midsize Sorento. Kia also sells the Sedona minivan, staying in a segment long abandoned by Ford and Chevrolet.
A 2016 Kia Sorento EX AWD (all-wheel drive) model was a recent weekly test drive subject. This model is all new and begins the third generation for this five- or seven-passenger model. Although it shares its platform with the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Sorento is sold only in a longer wheelbase configuration. You can choose two- or three-row models among the eight trim levels available.
For 2016, the Sorento gains a third engine choice — a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder making 240 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. The new engine provides middle of the model range performance — the base 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine makes 185 horsepower and 178 foot-pounds of torque. The V-6 delivers 290 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque. As tested, the EX edition came with the V-6 and I must say it delivers excellent performance. All models come paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
You’d be forgiven if the Kia looks more expensive than it is. At $37,045 delivered, the test model has a premium look, marked by its handsome tiger nose fascia along with sleek wraparound headlamps and stylish embrasures housing the available fog lamps. Approach this vehicle with the key fob on your person and the side mirrors fold out and the door handles illuminate. A very classy feature and what you would find on comparable luxury models.
Across its profile, the Sorento features character lines around the wheel wells and across its body. Body sculpting, chrome wheels, and a sloping roof line contributes to a look that is at once upscale as it is sporty. From the rear is a liftgate spoiler, wraparound combination lamps, chrome embellishments, reflectors, and an exhaust tip.
Inside, Kia does not let up on the premium look and feel. Dual stitching runs across the dashboard, on the door inlays and across the front storage console as well as on the seats. Soft touch materials, brightwork trim, leather touches and a minimal use of plastics (mostly of the hardened variety) give this model a premium look.
Only the V-6 model provides three rows of seats and each seating position is usable. Access is attainable by sliding the second row seat forward and tilting same. A better arrangement is found in the Nissan Pathfinder, as its second row seat folds and tumbles forward.
The front bucket seats are heated and ventilated in the EX and come with 14-way power for the driver and 8-way power for the front passenger. The 40-20-40 middle seat position (the outboard positions recline and are heated) is followed by a 50-50 split folding bench seat in the third row — not the most roomy area for adults, but doable for teenagers. If you need to maximize your people carrying room, then the Kia Sedona is the better choice of the two models.
The Sorento’s instrument panel features an oversized circular display dominated by the speedometer and digital driver information set within it. A “half pie” analog display to the left represents the tachometer; to the right is an additional “half pie” with a fuel oil gauge on top and the fuel gauge below that.
The most surprising and even disappointing feature is the 4.3-inch backlit display that punctuates the center console. It simply is too small for this SUV and seems out of place — where competing models have much larger displays, Kia went with the tiniest screen size possible. At least switches on either side of the screen are of a normal size and make operating the audio system and controlling the included eServices app a breeze. This system can be controlled by touch or voice activation. Navigation is extra, but it also does something that should please drivers — it brings in an 8-inch color display.
Underneath the screen are switches and knobs to manage climate control as well as for ventilation and the heated seats. At the base of the console is a large, enclosed storage area — suitable for holding your small portable device and connecting to the auxiliary input plug or USB port.
A deep storage compartment between the seats houses a removable tray and a second USB port. In addition, the transmission shifter and three switches (i.e., drive mode, AWD lock, and parking guidance) are present, along with two cup holders. The front doors come with drink holders and storage pockets; the rear doors have drink holders only. Two more drink holders and open storage compartments are found in the third row. Front seat back nets are also present.
Kia provides a USB port, a 110-volt power inverter, and a 12-volt outlet for the second row seat along with vents. The third row seats have a switch to manage climate circulation in that area.
The very rear of the vehicle comes with a nifty compartmentalized storage area located under the floor. I like these for two reasons — for squirreling away emergency kit supplies and for hiding valuables out of the sight of prying eyes. As for the spare, a full-size tire and wheel is located underneath the rear of the SUV.
This SUV shines in several areas — it is hard to know where to begin. For starters, the V-6 engine is potent and with all-wheel drive present, the Sorento has a 5,000-pound towing capacity. Moreover, adding the turbo engine brings in a level of on-the-road performance missing in the base model.
As for the V-6 it offers very good off-the-mark acceleration and is a champion on the highway. The transmission shifts smoothly through all six forward gears and all turns are accomplished without drama. Kia says the new model is stiffer with torsional rigidity increased by 14 percent over the previous model. I give this model high marks in the NVH — noise, vibration and harshness — category. You get living room comfort in a model that should give the Buick Enclave a run for the money, but at a lower price point.
Choose the $2,500 premium package and your model brings in a long list of amenities, including some that were already mentioned here. That list includes the power folding side mirrors, second row shade screens, welcome door illumination, and a “hands free” power liftgate. Blindspot detection and rear traffic alert are also included. Additional safety features, a panoramic sunroof, and HID headlights are also available, depending on the trim selected.
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