First Drive

2016 Kia Sorento First Drive

Third-generation Kia Sorento is more polished and competitive than ever

2016 Kia Sorento

MONT TREMBLANT, QC – The third-generation Kia Sorento has arrived for 2016 and the end result offers a level of features and refinement that its first-generation grandfather couldn’t imagine possible.

My first encounter with that original Sorento also included my first encounter with the service department of a Kia dealership after the driver’s-side window regulator stopped working on the press vehicle I had for a week.

That was way back in 2003 when the Sorento was a rear-drive-based, body-on-frame ‘real’ SUV with shades of Lexus and BMW in its muscular lines. Despite the scrappy attitude of the company, that basic machine never caught on with people increasingly searching for refinement and luxury.

The second try in 2010 was a much more polished affair, with a more modern front-drive-based unibody chassis and Kia’s new styling philosophy. It proved to be a real success, thanks to different engine choices and an available third-row seat for growing families.

The third-generation Sorento is more polished and competitive than ever, raising the ante even further.

"Just right" sized

Kia is trying to split the difference between the compact and intermediate SUV segments with the latest Sorento, which fits just about perfectly between the regular Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and larger XL, whose platform and mechanicals it shares.

It’s a different philosophy among the related Korean companies, although one that should pay off. Why? Badges aside, there’s now a Three Bears approach that increases the chances that one will be “just right.”

Compared with its predecessor, the 2016 Sorento is about 75 mm longer overall, with an 80-mm stretch in wheelbase. While width has increased marginally, there’s a 55-mm reduction in height, which not only aids in aerodynamic efficiency, but makes it easier to step into as well.

Evolved styling

Visually, the 2016 is a nice evolution from the current generation with an overall shape and several Kia design cues that are easy to identify, like the angled D pillar.

At the front, the Sorento owes much to the new Sedona, including the ringed grille, angled headlights and large fog-light openings. Depending on trim levels, everything from those quad-bulb fog lights to the rear tail-/brake-light units are lit using LEDs, and top models use HID Xenon units for added brightness.

Upper trim levels get shinier different treatments for the grille, bumper plates, wheel arches and wheel designs, the latter ranging from 17-inch alloys on LX, 18-inch on EX and polished 19-inch on SX.

Comfortable cabin

The cabin on the mid-grade LX models is well designed, although the non-nav-equipped radio gets lost in the enormous black instrument panel. There an abundance of soft-touch materials used throughout, and a nice mix of gloss-black and metal-effect pieces to brighten things up a tad.

Leather seats are standard on EX and up models, although the SX gets nicer Nappa grade skins that are perforated. The passenger seat is comfortable, although it's only four-way adjustable.

However, the 14-way adjustable seats on the SX are seriously luxurious, with awesome heating elements – including in the rear seats – that worked very well. The chairs are also ventilated, but given the near-Arctic conditions weren’t nearly as popular.

General ergonomics are good too, with easy-to-understand locations for major controls, and the HVAC uses big knobs for adjustment. Plus, there's a plethora of 12-volt, USB and 110-volt plugs strewn throughout the cabin for the modern battery-powered family.

Capacious cargo hold

There’s just about 1,100 litres of available cargo space that’s expandable to over 2,080 litres with all seats down in five-passenger models, and the 40/20/40 split rear seat offers tons of practicality. Space under the rear floor is nicely separated into several foam-lined bins if one doesn't opt for three-row seating.

An available active power rear tailgate can be programmed to open just by detecting the key fob in your pocket, without needing to do the Hokey Pokey under the rear bumper.

Other available niceties include a 360-degree camera system, camera-based active cruise control that can slow the Sorento to as low as 10 km/h without needing input from the driver, lane-departure and forward collision warning systems.

Three engine choices

There are three engines available, all featuring direct fuel-injection. A base 2.4-litre four-cylinder offers 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, which also reduces its thirst for fuel. It now drinks 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 on the highway for front-drive and 11.4\9.2 for all-wheel drive.

The newly available mid-range 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is shared with the Optima sedan, although tuned differently for SUV duty. Here it pushes out 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque with consumption figures of 11.7 L/100 km in the city and 8.6 highway, for front-drive, and 12.3/9.3 with AWD. Both four-cylinder engines are restricted to five-passenger duty.

The seven-passenger Sorentos get Kia's carry-over 3.3-litre V-6 with 290 horses and 252 lb-ft of torque and standard all-wheel drive. Fuel consumption is expected to be 13.4 L/100 km in the city and 9.4 highway.

All engines use six-speed automatic transmissions and have three drive modes to choose from: normal, Eco and sport. Depending on your selection, the electric power steering, throttle sensitivity and transmission shift points alter as you'd expect, although not as dramatically as some competitors.

The all-wheel drive system defaults to 95/5 front/rear during cruising conditions, but can vary up to 50/50 when needed. Unlike some competitor systems, this one won’t vary torque across the axles, only front and back. There's also a locking function that forces a 50/50 split for more intense situations, but won't operate over 30 km/h or if the driver applies too much steering lock, to protect the mechanicals.

Behind the wheel

Kia didn't have base models to try during its event here, but both the turbo and V-6 were well represented. On the road, the turbo's punchy character really shone, especially given its full torque peaks from a low 1,450 rpm to 3,500 rpm.  

Dispatching dawdling vehicles on the rare passing opportunities that existed on the twisty, broken tarmac around Mont Tremblant was a simple flex of the foot away.

Although Kia has done an impressive job of adding extra sound insulation both under the body and with laminated glass, the four-cylinder is understandably less refined than the V-6. It is not only smoother, but also offers a more pleasant sound when pushed and is happy pulling towards its redline.

Acceleration between the two feels aimilar, with no noticeable gap between them, at least around the various road loops selected. Fuel economy will likely be similarly close. On paper, the turbo has a significant advantage over the V-6 in that regard, but in practice the four-cylinder was averaging around 11.3 L/100 km during mostly highway stints. As ever, though, it's the driver who has the biggest impact on consumption.

Those who haven't driven recent Kia models will be very impressed with the refinements made to not only the handling but also to the overall ride. No longer are potholes and road imperfections to be avoided because of over-tight suspension pieces.

There’s a more mature setup that’s comfortable on long cruises, with light, accurate steering, although with little feedback to speak of. The brakes are equally good with good stopping power and adjustability, and the well-tuned traction and stability control stays remarkably subtle in its operation.

Broad price range

With the new turbo engine thrown into the mix, there are now 11 separate Sorento models, ranging from $27,495 for base front-drive LX models all the way to $46,695 for the SX with seven seats, V-6, AWD and all the extra active safety gear. That’s a huge range, although most sales will likely come from the LX and EX models. That also explains why Kia figures they’ll attract buyers looking at vehicles like the CR-V and RAV-4 on the lower end and the Edge, Murano and Highlander on the top.

It will be interesting to see how customers like the one-size-fits-all approach to sizing, although having nearly a dozen permutations to choose from will certainly help customers find the right one.

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