Quick Summary The 2016 Kia Sorento represents a complete redesign for this family crossover, which sees it growing up both literally and figuratively. It is bigger in most dimensions, increasing room for passengers (especially those in the third row), while also boasting more sophisticated styling, driving manners and interior trappings. As a result, what was previously a bigger, more spacious alternative to compact SUVs is now a smaller, less cumbersome alternative to some of the larger three-row vehicles in the segment.
What Is It? The 2016 Kia Sorento is a midsize SUV available in five- and seven-passenger configurations as well as five trim levels: L, LX, EX, SX and SX-L. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is standard on the L and LX trim levels. A 3.3-liter V6 is an option on the LX, standard on the SX and one of two available engines on the EX and SX-L. The other available engine is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Note that all V6-powered Sorentos come with seven-passenger seating, while all turbo Sorentos and the base L are five-passenger. The four-cylinder LX can be had as either. All-wheel drive is available on every trim level and even the most basic trim comes with generous feature content.
How Big Is It? In many ways, the previous-generation Sorento could be viewed as a slightly bigger alternative to compact SUVs like the Toyota RAV4. For 2016, the Sorento moves up in the world and in many ways can now be viewed as a slightly smaller alternative to larger three-row crossovers like the Toyota Highlander. With 3 inches added to its wheelbase and overall length, the 2016 Sorento gains some welcome interior volume that moves it well clear of so-called compact SUVs (most of which aren't that compact anymore anyway).
The second row gains 2 extra inches of legroom, while still reclining for added comfort and sliding to bring the kids closer up front or to provide extra legroom for the folks in the third row. As for those folks, they no longer have to be children to occupy the Sorento's aft-most quarters. A pair of 6-footers will technically fit back there with their knees awkwardly pointing toward their chins due to the low-mounted seats, but adults of average height will be good for short trips and more importantly, kids will be more comfortable. Plus, there are air vents back there to prevent things from getting stuffy.
Behind that 50/50-split folding third row are an additional 2 cubic feet of cargo space, creating a more useful space for a pair of small suitcases or several grocery bags. Folding the seat down or opting for the five-passenger configuration yields 38 cubic feet, which is basically on par with bigger compacts like the Honda CR-V and midsizers like the Ford Edge. With all seats folded, the Sorento provides 73 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, which is bigger than both of the above.
Now, the Highlander is still longer and wider, boasting 10 extra cubic feet of maximum cargo space and enough room to squeeze a middle seatbelt into its third row for eight-passenger capacity. However, the distance between it and the Sorento has noticeably shrunk, and for families in search of a three-row vehicle, the Sorento should certainly be cross-shopped against Toyota's big crossover that netted a top "A" rating from the Edmunds editors.
What Is the Interior Like? Although the last-generation Sorento's dimensions differentiated it from compact SUVs, its interior design and quality were in keeping with that less expensive segment. Plastics were hard, the design was rather plain and even when loaded up with every leather-lined and heated extravagance possible, the cabin never attained a truly luxurious feel.
You can see where this is going. The 2016 Sorento moves up in the world figuratively as well. Although the $25,795 base L trim is a shell of the fully loaded SX-L we drove, every Sorento nevertheless gains an abundance of soft-touch materials with richer textures on its dash and doors. Like an increasing number of redesigned vehicles, stitching has been applied to the dash top to supply a degree of elegance, while available two-tone color schemes (including those that feature a tasteful light gray across the lower dash portion) create a much warmer, distinctive environment. The top-of-the-line Sorento SX and SX-L models we drove give up nothing in terms of luxury compared to other optioned-out competitors (the title of class best is certainly possible) and really aren't that far away from luxury-branded models.
The same could be said of its interior design, which is interesting to look at without sullying Kia's reputation for user-friendly controls. The Sorento LX and EX trims come standard with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, while the 8-inch screen you see here in photos includes a navigation system and is optional on EX trims and standard on the SX ones. Based on past experiences with other Kias, both are intuitive to use, with the latter in particular benefiting from large virtual buttons.
What Engines Are Available? The Sorento is once again available with four- and six-cylinder engines, but for 2016 it gains an intermediate 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that provides better fuel economy than the V6 along with a smooth power delivery that some drivers may prefer. It produces 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. As with every Sorento, a six-speed automatic transmission is standard. The EPA estimates that it will return 23 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway) with front-wheel drive and 22 mpg combined (19 city/25 highway) with all-wheel drive.
In Edmunds testing, an all-wheel-drive Sorento with the 2.0-liter turbo reached 60 mph in a rather slow 8.7 seconds. In order to accelerate with any authority, drivers will feel the urge to floor the pedal, which negatively affects fuel economy. As a result of this, we only achieved an 18.4-mpg average in its time with us. On our highway-heavy evaluation loop, we averaged 23.6 mpg.
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder now features continuously variable valve timing for improved efficiency. It produces 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque, which is a bit less than the last Sorento, but is on par with the four-cylinder available in the Highlander. We didn't get a chance to drive a Sorento with this engine, but given that the vehicle weighs 110 pounds more than the last version, expect it to be slightly slower than before. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 24 mpg combined (21/29) with front-wheel drive. This would be 1 mpg combined better than the last Sorento and 2 better than the four-cylinder Highlander, but is 2 mpg shy of the Toyota RAV4 and 3-4 mpg lower than other bigger compact SUVs. Again, it falls somewhere in between the two segments.
Kia expects the base four-cylinder to once again be the volume choice, but given the 2016 Sorento's clearly more upscale positioning, it also expects the more powerful engine options to gain in popularity. And given the base engine's power deficiency, we'd certainly recommend at least opting for the turbo-4 or (especially if you want the third row) the 3.3-liter V6, which produces 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. Kia estimates it'll return 21 mpg combined (18/26) with front-wheel drive, which would match the combined figures of the V6-powered Highlander and larger three-row Hyundai Santa Fe.
How Does It Drive? A stiffer structure for 2016 and numerous improvements to the suspension have resulted in a more comfortable, composed and sophisticated ride. The Jeep Grand Cherokee was tabbed as a benchmark for ride quality by Kia's engineers, and although it can't match the heavyweight Jeep's feeling of road-crushing solidity, it certainly contributes to the overall sensation that the Sorento now belongs in a different, higher-priced segment. Even with the optional 19-inch wheels, the Sorento did a good job of soaking up rugged pavement.
Every 2016 Sorento comes standard with Driver Mode Select, which alters transmission shift points and steering effort in Normal, Sport and Eco settings. Although we noticed the more eager downshifts and later upshifts in Sport, it was difficult to tell much of a difference in the steering (it's much more noticeable in Hyundai's multimode steering settings). This is more of an observance than a problem, as the Sorento SX's steering proved to be precise, competent and seemingly vice-free for the segment.
It's important to note, though, that the SX trims we experienced have a different steering system than the other trims, with the electric motor mounted to the steering rack rather than inside the steering column. This typically results in improved steering feel, so it's safe to assume that the SX and SX-L will be better to drive than their lesser brethren.
The overall handling is solid, and the Kia's smaller dimensions and commendable visibility make it feel less cumbersome to drive than a Grand Cherokee or Highlander. On a variety of surfaces, the interior remains impressively quiet, to the point of rivaling true luxury SUVs. Braking ability is also praiseworthy, stopping from 60 mph in a short 118 feet while remaining very composed and controllable.
What Features Do You Get? The base L trim for $24,900 isn't luxurious, but it does provide welcome features like alloy wheels, LED running lights, stain-resistant fabric, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. The LX trim adds a few extras like an acoustic windshield for a quieter cabin, two rapid-charge USB ports, a rearview camera, a 4.3-inch touchscreen and UVO eServices (Siri hands-free, numerous smartphone apps and secondary driver security functions like geo-fencing and speed warning), but it's in the EX trims where the Sorento begins to truly resemble a high-end SUV.
Bigger wheels, more interior sound-deadening, dual-zone climate control, leather seating and steering wheel, and heated power seats are some of the items standard on the EX, while many of the SX trim's standard features like a panoramic sunroof, push-button start, navigation, 10-speaker Infinity sound system, second-row sunscreens and power liftgate (with proximity hands-free opening) are optional. The SX and SX-L essentially add power-adjustable driver thigh support and a variety of exterior and interior trim upgrades, while the SX-L in particular opens the door up to the Tech package that includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure and collision warning systems, and an "around-view" multi-angle parking camera.
How Much Does It Cost? The five-passenger Sorento essentially splits the price difference between the pricier midsize SUVs like the 2015 Ford Edge and smaller, less-equipped compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V. Seven-passenger versions also start off between $1,000 and $3,000 less than bigger models like the Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe. In general, it represents strong value.
However, that doesn't mean its upper trim levels are inexpensive. A fully loaded SX-L V6 with the Tech package hits the register at $46,720, which is actually slightly more than a similarly equipped Highlander. Now, most other loaded competitors are on par or even more, but that price tag still speaks to Kia's belief that its redesigned Sorento is a higher-quality product worthy of a higher price. All-wheel drive can be added to any trim for $1,800.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? The ToyotaHighlander is presently our highest-rated three-row family crossover, boasting a well-rounded blend of road manners, passenger space, interior quality and feature content. The fact that we've compared the Sorento so heavily to Toyota's big crossover speaks to how good it has become.
In terms of its exterior and interior dimensions, the Sorento fits between its two corporate cousins: the five-passenger Hyundai Santa Fe Sportand seven-passengerSanta Fe. The Sorento's base price and feature content are similar to the smaller Sport, while its third-row and cargo space are less than the bigger Santa Fe. Both Hyundai models can't quite match the cabin quality of the newer Kia.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the five-passenger midsize SUV that Kia used as a benchmark for the new Sorento. Although the Jeep's greater weight, tremendous off-road capability and more powerful available engines make it considerably different, it is another comfortable, composed and thoroughly competent choice for those who don't need three rows (and if they do, the mechanically related Dodge Durango is a good alternative as well).
Why Should You Consider It? Its improved driving manners, classy design and elevated cabin quality make the Sorento a viable competitor to the best crossovers in the class. A wide range of features and configurations make it flexible enough to meet most budgets.
Why Should You Think Twice? The price point of its base model may seem appealing, but the base four-cylinder engine doesn't possess a lot of power for such a large vehicle. On the other end of the spectrum, a loaded Sorento tops $46,000, which puts it deep into luxury territory.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.