Family Car Review: 2016 Kia Sorento

By Paul Karchut of Family Wheels on October 29, 2015

The basics

Base price: $27,500 + taxes
As tested: $46,700 + taxes
Highway fuel economy: 8.2-9.4 L/100 kms, depending on engine
City fuel economy: 11.1-13.4 L/100 kms, depending on engine
Competition: Dodge Journey, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Sante Fe
Made in: America

The 2016 Sorento is a completely redesigned take on what has become the company’s second best selling vehicle in Canada. There is a very interesting sea change happening right now in the auto industry. Korean brands – Kia and Hyundai – were historically considered the bargain choice for people who want a cheap car and are willing to forego refinement and features. But the latest JD Power and Associates report is reflecting the Koreans’ commitment to changing that mindset – dethroning the Japanese and European brands of their long-coveted initial quality ratings. But is this mid-sized 7-passenger SUV just a dolled-up version of the Kia’s of old? Read on.

Performance

Kia isn’t short on trim levels, engines and options with the Sorento. And depending on how you decide to kit it out, you can be looking at a $27,500 base model or a higher-end $50,000 vehicle that has the likes of the Acura MDX or Lexus RX in its sights. And depending on where you are on the price spectrum, it changes which engine you’ll have under your foot: the base model has a fittingly basic 2.4-litre 4 cylinder, the mid-range Sorento trims have a new 2-litre turbocharged engine (that doesn’t need premium fuel), and the higher trims come with the same 3.3-litre V6 that the last version of the Sorento had as an option as well. The V6 in our tester was plenty powerful, but even still, I found that the 6-speed automatic transmission that comes standard on all Sorentos spent a little bit too much time searching around for gears when I put my foot down to pass traffic on the highway. Although the turbo engine is a first for the Sorento, it has actually been putting grins on Hyundai Sante Fe owners’ faces for a couple of years now. Not many people realize that both Kia and Hyundai share the same ownership and often share much of the same underpinnings. And while the old Sorento and Sante Fe were very similar vehicles in the past, this newest Sorento is forging its own path with a completely new chassis and layout.

Interior

Kia has done a remarkable job of upping its game with the interior finishes of its cars. With the exception of a few hard plastic surfaces that seemed a little bit cheap and out of place, the flagship SX+ model that I was driving felt truly premium from the driver’s seat. Air conditioned seats, an oversized sunroof and 360 degree camera were just some of the features that stood out. The central entertainment system is easy to use and has some unique features that are great for parents of teen drivers. The geo-fencing, for example, allows you to know if another driver left a previously determined zone. All this information was channeled back to me on an 8-inch touch screen, but lower end models have a much smaller (even puny) display to use. And if you go for the base model Sorento, there is only a good old fashioned radio with no touch screen to speak of.

The second row of seating is fairly spacious with seats that recline slightly for longer car trips. One feature I really appreciate is the built-in sunshades that retract right into the door on higher models. There are also three outlets in the back seat that allow passengers to charge their electronics with a cigarette lighter port, a USB jack or a proper 115v household style outlet. I’ve seen this in pick-up trucks before but it’s great to see a feature like this in an SUV. The shortcomings came when our rear-facing car seat test revealed a short supply of space in the back seat – which meant the front passenger seat had to slide forward quite a lot, leaving things very cramped if you have kids who are still in the rear-facing position.

Which brings me to the third row – which is only available on the highest trim levels in the Sorento. One thing I discovered is that you can only access the third row from the passenger side. On the driver’s side, the second row doesn’t slide forward, making access to the third row really challenging. One problem that this will cause for families with a kid in a car seat is that the preferred placement for a car seat is on the passenger side – so you can keep an eye on your child more easily as you drive. But since this is the only side that you can access the third row from, access would essentially be cut off when a car seat is in place. This seemed like a strange oversight. Then when you get in the third row, it is basically unusable for anyone beyond preteens. Headroom and legroom are very limited. It would be a tough place to be for more than a quick drive around town. However, one thing I really liked about the third row is that it has its own dedicated climate control so passengers back there can choose whichever temperature they like.

Finally, our trunk test revealed a fantastic amount of storage provided you don’t have the third row in place. Once that third row pops up, we couldn’t even fit our standard amount of gear into the trunk for our test. If you’re carrying seven passengers, there won’t be much extra room for more than a few bags of groceries.

Safety

Kia doesn’t mess around with safety. The 2015 Sorento was a top safety pick form the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the 2016 has just improved upon that. One thing that makes the Sorento stand out is its use of very high grade Posco steel. This is a Korean company that’s better known for supplying the military and very high end Porsche sports cars… but you’ll find it in this new Sorento, too. It’s known for being 20-30% stronger than conventional automotive steel and will not only make the vehicle stiffer and a better performer but it also improves its safety greatly.

One thing that I find strange about the Sorento is that all wheel drive is an option. You’ll have to tack around $2,000 more onto the price of the base vehicle to kit it out with what is standard equipment on most SUVs sold in Canada these days.

The takeaway

Kia has done something really interesting with the Sorento. It has straddled two segments – the more basic SUVs on offer from the likes of Ford and Hyundai, and the luxury brands like Acura and Lexus. And when you consider that a Lexus RX starts at $51,000 while the Sorento is kitted to the gills at $46,500, you can see why the luxury companies would be a little spooked by the rather meteoric rise of Kia. In fact, Northland Kia – the dealership that gave us this tester for the day – told me that many long-time Acura and Lexus owners are taking Sorentos out for a test drive to see what all the fuss is about. My thought is, if you have a regular, consistent need for a third row, the Sorento may not be for you because it is tight and hard to access while creating a real shortage of trunk space. However, if the third row is something you plan to use only on occasion, the redesigned Sorento is a safe, luxurious and comfortable new option to consider.

Family Wheels pros:

  • Top safety marks
  • Comfortable to drive
  • 100,000 km warranty
  • High end finishes at a good price

Family Wheels cons:

  • Third row access only from passenger side
  • Third row legroom and head room limited
  • Second row a tight fit for rear facing child seats
  • All wheel drive is a $2000 extra

Family Wheels target: two (maybe three) kid families, preferably out of rear facing child seats

Family Wheels driver comfort score: 4/5

Family Wheels rear passenger score: 3/5

Family Wheels trunk test score: 2/5 (third row in place), 4/5 (third row stowed)

Family Wheels driveability score: 4/5

Family Wheels fuel economy score: 3.5/5

Family Wheels value score: 4/5

~ Paul Karchut is an award-winning journalist based out of Calgary. For reviews, giveaways or to contact Paul, visit FamilyWheels.ca or find him on Twitter: @FamilyWheels.


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