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Kia SorentoKia Sorento a compelling crossover in a crowded niche

By Jim Bray
February 4, 2016

Any carmaker who doesn't yet get it that the South Koreans are not only here to stay but are taking them on head to head need look only at the new Kia Sorento. It's a terrific SUV/crossover that should have the more established brands sitting up and taking notice.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

Even at Kia Canada's sample's all-in (sans fees, etc.) price of $46,695 it seems like an excellent value considering what you get. And with a base price of 27,495 it almost seems like a bargain- you still get a lot of loot for the looney, just not as many toys.

Kia's sample was of the top line SX+ trim level and came fitted with the company's 3.3 litre V6 engine, but Sorentos start out with a 2.4 litre four banger Kia rates at 185 horses. There's also a two litre turbo putting out 240 horses. The sample's V6 had a rated output of 290 horses and 252 lb.-ft. of torque and 5000 pound towing capacity.

Kia's sample also featured the company's "Dynamax" all-wheel drive system, which came in very handy during the cold and snowy week in which I had the Sorento for review: it handled the snow and ice of the roads beautifully.

Lesser Sorentos come with front wheel drive and two rows of seats, but the review unit was pretty well loaded, so it not only had the AWD option but also "sported" one of the best third row seats into which I've ever shoehorned my protuberant posterior.

Power from all of the engine choices goes through a nicely shifting six speed automatic transmission, with paddle shifters and a decent sport mode.

The Sorento's exterior is one of the more handsome ones for an SUV/Crossover, due undoubtedly to the design influence of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer. The rear looks a bit like a big Golf, which shouldn't really be surprising considering where the designer used to work, but overall the car looks like a modern Kia, from its "tiger's nose" grille and HID headlights right back to its new LED taillights.

It may not look quite as luxurious as some of the other higher end, three row SUV's available, but it's definitely no slouch. The exterior is very up to date and the cabin features a beautifully designed and rendered interior that's also up to date - yet easier to use than much of the competition thanks to its wonderfully well thought out interfaces.

Heck, I'd stack up the Sorento's interior against supposedly "more premium" units. I kept comparing it mentally to the Acura MDX, a lovely and luxurious, three row SUV/Crossover that I like a lot, and I came away from the experience knowing that if I were buying in this price range, I'd plunk my after-tax income on the Kia before the Acura, thereby getting a vehicle I like better while saving cash in the process. I wouldn't have thought that about Kia a few years ago, which shows just how far the company has come.

The Sorento also feels a lot like a Lexus RX 350, except that the Lexus doesn't offer a third row. I haven't tried a German competitor recently but I'll be darned if Kia (and Hyundai) aren't starting to have that "German feel" I've come to know and love - as if the vehicle were carved out of a single block of metal. That's high praise.

I rode in the third row on a highway trip of about 90 minutes in duration and, while I wouldn't want to do that every day, I was impressed with the roominess and comfort back there - and even found getting in and out to be better than with most third rows. One downside to the test unit was that the sun would come in through the beautiful panoramic sunroof, dazzling my eyes so much I asked that the covering blind be closed so I didn't have to squint so much. That certainly isn't much of a criticism.

You also get big, easy to use buttons and a central LCD that's very straightforward. I didn't particularly like how you can scroll up and down radio presets as if it were a smart phone - it takes too much attention from the road to use it as designed (and sometimes I'd hit the wrong preset rather than scroll, such is the nature of using an LCD in a moving vehicle). This isn't a Kia thing, however; it's becoming a common affliction on current vehicles.

I'm also not a fan of the red illumination because I find it harder to read than lighter colours (my Schreyer-designed Audi suffers from the same problem, alas), but I seem to be a voice in the wilderness here - and that said, the interfaces  are executed very well overall.

There's a nice sport mode and the Sorento will even let you play a bit, thanks to traction control and ABS that tend to stay in the background unless you do something really stupid (Yep, I tried that!). The 360 degree "rear view" camera works well and, since it was very cold when I had the Kia, I appreciated the heated steering wheel.

The SX+ trim level also gives you an abundance of luxurious touches, such as seat heating and cooling up front (the middle row gets heat only, while back in Steerage you can darn well freeze - not that I expect that row will be unfolded often; besides, I can't remember anyone offering third row seat heating).

There's also an abundance of thoughtful but subtle touches, such as a rear window washer that sprays from above, thereby using gravity to help spread the water over the window. This is a clear indication that Mr. Schreyer learns from the past, since my Audi wagon's washer fires from the bottom and that works against it.

You also get plenty of connection and charging points, the huge panoramic sunroof and even "built in rocker panels" on the doors, which helps keep your pants clean as you get in or out of the Sorento during sloppy times of year. That also came in really handy during my test period. And there's a 4wd lock mode that could be useful if you're going off road.

There are even little touches such as lights in the outside door handles that illuminate as you approach the vehicle, making it easier to find your way to the door handle at night. The sample also had retractable blinds for the second row side windows.

Pairing my phone to the Kia's Bluetooth was very easy - another area in which I wish some other makers would take note. And the LCD between the tach and speedo meters changes to inform you of various things happening with the vehicle - for instance, when you turn on the windshield wipers, a notice appears on the LCD; I guess this is for drivers who don't actually look out through the windshield…

I've been a fan of recent years' Kias and would definitely have their products on my short list were I shopping for a new vehicle. And at a loaded price (sans pounds of government mandated flesh and other cash grabs) of just shy of $47,000 Canadian, the new Sorento offers very good value.

Are you looking over your shoulders yet, "mainstream" carmakers?

Copyright 2016 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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