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PowerSteering: 2016 Kia Sorento Review

PowerSteering: 2016 Kia Sorento Review

By Christian Wardlaw, November 25, 2015

Introduction
Despite evidence to the contrary, some consumers still equate Kia’s cars and SUVs with cheap and affordable choices. To some degree, this can be seen in the demographics data associated with buyers of the Kia Sorento, the company’s midsize crossover SUV, according to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

A new Sorento arrives for 2016 that possesses the power to change perceptions, if given the opportunity. Designed to carry 5 passengers in comfort and up to 7 on occasion, the Sorento represents another revolutionary redesign for Kia’s family-sized SUV.

For this review, our expert evaluated a Sorento Limited with all-wheel drive (AWD) and the optional Technology package. The price totaled $46,495, including the $895 destination charge.

What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2016 Sorento, it’s helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this SUV, and what they liked most and least about it.

J.D. Power research shows that compared with the midsize SUV segment average, Sorento owners are more often women (54% vs. 43% segment average); more often members of the Boomer1 generation (52% vs. 45% segment average); and make about $30,000 less annually ($79,605 vs. $109,901 segment average). Compared with the segment average, they are half as likely to identify themselves as Performance Buyers (8% vs. 16%), and are more likely to choose a vehicle for fuel economy (20% vs. 11%). They are less likely to pay extra for the latest safety features than segment average (24% vs. 29%) and less likely to be considered by friends and family as knowledgeable about autos (15% vs. 21%). Otherwise, Sorento owners align with midsize SUV segment averages.

According to the results of the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study, the Sorento ranks 10th out of 18 midsize SUVs in terms of overall appeal. Owners say that their favorite things about the previous-generation Sorento are (in descending order) exterior, interior, driving dynamics, visibility and safety, storage and space. Owners indicate their least favorite things are (in descending order) fuel economy, climate control system, seats, infotainment system, and engine/transmission.


What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the new 2016 Sorento measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study.

Exterior
Adopting softer and more organic forms than the model it replaces, the redesigned 2016 Sorento looks terrific from every angle and more upscale than the previous version. Overhangs are somewhat long, though, giving the SUV a slightly bloated look when viewed in profile.

Interior
When equipped with Limited trim, which includes premium Nappa diamond-pattern leather, fabric-wrapped roof pillars, LED cabin lighting, panoramic sunroof and more, the only suggestion that this is not a luxury SUV is the Kia emblem on the center of the steering wheel. From surface finish and patterns to the textures and tones of the materials, the Sorento Limited exhibits impressive attention to detail.

Seats
Open any of the doors on the Sorento Limited and the scent of supple premium leather wafts out of this Kia. Featuring an upscale diamond pattern for its perforations, the leather exudes quality and is wrapped around exceptionally comfortable front seats with heating and ventilation. The driver’s seat features 14-way power adjustment, while the front passenger can choose from eight different ways to adjust the seats.

Second-row passengers sit on a sliding bench seat, and when it is moved all the way back taller adults have enough legroom. To ensure that the seatback folds flat, however, the bottom cushion is mounted rather low, and it lacks thigh support. Kids are happy enough, though, and the Limited is equipped with second-row side window sunshades.

Sorentos equipped with a V-6 engine include a standard third-row seat. They are uninhabitable by anyone over about 5 foot 6 and the seat’s head restraints and seatbacks are located so close to the rear liftgate that parents likely won’t want to place children in this location because so little rear-impact collision crush space exists.

Climate Control System
A dual-zone automatic climate control system is included for EX, SX, and Limited versions, and the Sorento EX V6, SX V6, and Limited V6 are equipped with second-row air vents and, for the third-row seat, separate vents and a fan speed control. The Sorento Limited also has ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.

Unseasonably hot weather during testing week precluded the use of the heated front and rear seats or the heated steering wheel, but the air conditioning system and ventilated front seats definitely came in handy. They also proved quite effective at combating near 90-degree temperatures.

Infotainment System
Kia’s Your Voice (UVO) infotainment system is user-friendly, and includes connected services that are free rather than available only with a paid subscription. Pairing an iPhone to the system proved easy, and the voice recognition had no trouble identifying contacts. Streaming music from Pandora and iTunes was no trouble at all, either.

The 8-in. touch screen successfully resists glare and fingerprints, and supports swipe and scroll gesture recognition. Knobs adjust commonly used features, such as system power, volume, and station tuning. Music hard-drive storage allows the owner to store tracks directly on the system, and an Infinity premium surround sound system is available, featuring 10 speakers and Clari-Fi music-restoration technology.

Storage and Space
Priced and marketed as a midsize crossover SUV, the Sorento feels just as roomy inside as its 5-passenger competitors. Compared to its 7-passenger competition, however, the Sorento feels smaller inside.

Cargo area measurements bear this out. Behind the 50/50 split-folding third-row seat, 11.3 cu. ft. of space is adequate for a row of grocery bags or a compact folding stroller, and little else. Fold the third-row seats down for 38 cu. ft. of space. Maximum cargo capacity measures 73 cu. ft.

Storage space is adequate, and most areas are lined to quell noise, vibration, and harshness. Kia missed an opportunity to include storage bins in each door panel armrest, especially important to parents so that children have additional space for juice boxes, snacks, or small toys.

A “smart” power liftgate is available for the 2016 Sorento, designed to detect when the SUV’s keyfob is within close proximity and then to open automatically to assist owners who need to load armloads of stuff into the cargo area. If this feature is not desired, it can be turned off using the proper driver information display menu selection.

Visibility and Safety
Safety is one benefit of Sorento ownership. This family-friendly crossover gets top crash-test ratings from both the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, it is not available with an automatic emergency braking system, which means it is ineligible for a “Top Safety Pick+” designation from the IIHS.

Optional for the Sorento LX and standard for the EX, SX, and Limited versions, Kia’s UVO eServices technology includes a collision-notification and emergency calling service. Additionally, the eServices technology allows parents to program speed, curfew, and boundary alerts to help them monitor teenaged driver behavior when the Sorento is away from home.

A blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert is standard for the SX and Limited, and optional for the EX. To obtain a 360-degree surround-view monitoring system, lane-departure warning system, and an adaptive cruise control system with forward-collision warning, buyers must choose the Limited and then add the optional Technology package.

Without automatic emergency braking as a part of the Technology package, it’s difficult to justify the $2,500 expense.

Engine/Transmission
Kia offers three different engines for the 2016 Sorento. Less expensive trim levels have a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or a 3.3-liter V-6. More expensive versions have a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or a 3.3-liter V-6. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard for all of them, with an AWD system available as an option.

The 290-horsepower V-6 is strong, feeling powerful and responsive, and is nicely isolated from the cabin. Throttle tip-in and response off the line is progressive rather than linear, ensuring a smooth launch and feeling similar to how top-end luxury cars with enormous engines respond. Accelerating down a freeway on-ramp to prevailing freeway speeds is not a problem, even with 6 people aboard.

Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes are available, with predictable yet subtle changes in terms of powertrain response. Eager upshifts and delayed downshifts are expected in Eco mode, but in Normal mode residual evidence of this behavior proves occasionally irritating. Even in Sport mode, when climbing a mountain grade, the transmission tends to upshift and downshift rather than hold a gear. A manual shift mode with an intuitive shift pattern does help to resolve this, however.

Fuel Economy
Like other midsize crossover SUVs, the 2016 Kia Sorento is expected to return fuel economy in the high-teens or low 20s, depending on the engine choice and type of driving.

The EPA says a Sorento equipped with a 3.3-liter V-6 engine and AWD should deliver 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 19 mpg in combined driving. The test vehicle averaged 19.1 mpg on the test loop, and by the end of a week that included plenty of highway driving the Sorento had averaged 21.1 mpg.

Driving Dynamics
Kia has come a long way in terms of driving refinement. From its soft, progressive launch character when accelerating from a stop to its syrupy steering, smooth ride, and hushed cabin, the Sorento Limited broadcasts sophistication. Cruising down a freeway, the Sorento effortlessly absorbing irregularities in the pavement, you’d never guess how satisfying this SUV is to drive when the road starts to bend and kink.

Sitting on 19-in. wheels wrapped in 235/55 Michelin Premier LTX tires, the Sorento provides impressive grip and the brakes are easy to modulate and fade-resistant. Kia’s Dynamax torque-vectoring AWD system certainly contributes to a sense of athleticism, but long front and rear overhangs, a shallow breakover angle, and 7.3 in. of ground clearance make the Sorento a soft-roader at best, rather than an off-roader. Over bumps and dips, the Sorento can exhibit a hint of body sway, but the suspension quickly quells excess motion.

Around town, the Sorento feels solid, secure, almost heavy, yet thanks to its robust V-6 engine and responsive handling proves nimble and easy to maneuver. It is easy to bring the Sorento to a quick and clean stop thanks to its expertly calibrated braking system.

Final Impressions
The redesigned 2016 Sorento possesses the power to change perceptions about Kia. Stylish, sophisticated, and safe, the Sorento easily competes with 5-passenger crossover SUVs such as the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Murano, and Subaru Outback.

While it is equipped with an available third-row seat, the Sorento is not a good choice if you regularly need to shuttle more than 5 people. Adults will resent that seat assignment, and children sitting in the rearmost seating position will have their heads placed 15 in. away from the rear window glass.

In attempting to appease crossover SUV buyers who require a third-row seat, Kia ultimately compromises comfort for all occupants except for people sitting in the front seat. Placing the second-row seat on a sliding track is a good idea, but it should offer a greater range of adjustment combined with better thigh support to supply class-leading comfort for the people sitting upon it.

Otherwise, aside from the omission of an automatic emergency braking system, the new 2016 Kia Sorento is difficult to fault.

Kia Motors America supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Kia Sorento review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.

1J.D. Power defines generational groups as Pre-Boomers (born before 1946); Boomers (1946-1964); Gen X (1965-1976); Gen Y (1977-1994); and Gen Z (1995-2004).

Additional Research:
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