Buyers typically don't associate Kia with luxury, but its 2016 top-level Sorento SX-Luxury model is so robust in its looks, pleasing in its ride and stocked with features that it feels like a luxury SUV.
All of the Sorentos are larger than its predecessors, and come with new, handsome and refined styling. But it's the SX-Luxury model that brings everything to the table: Nappa leather seat trim, panoramic roof, 14-way power driver seat, heated steering wheel and a new "e-services" that can alert the owner's cellphone when the SUV is driven outside a predetermined geographic area or out past a pre-set curfew. Plus, the newest engine — a 240-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder — produces more torque than the Sorento's capable V-6.
There is a luxury-like price, however, starting at $40,795 with the turbo four and two-wheel drive. That's $15,000 more than the $25,795 starting retail price for the base 2016 Sorento L with cloth seats, 185-horsepower, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine and two-wheel drive. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The larger of Kia's two SUVs, the Sorento until this model year straddled the compact and midsize competition. But its new length — 15.6 feet — and enlarged cargo area puts the Sorento within 0.7 inches of the midsize Ford Edge SUV and 8 inches longer than the compact Honda CR-V.
The test Sorento with the 2-liter, turbo four-cylinder and all-wheel drive maneuvered well. It weighed some 4,000 pounds and felt substantial, but merged quickly and delivered steady power. Kia's 3.3-liter V-6, which has 260 horsepower, wasn't missed in the test SUV, as the smaller engine generates 260 foot-pounds of torque starting at a low 1,450 rpm and carries it to 3,500 rpm for ready response. In comparison, the V-6's peak torque of 252 foot-pounds comes on at 5,300 rpm.
The appeal of the turbo four is supposed to be fuel economy. But testing both the V-6 and turbo four-cylinder showed both averaged about 19 miles per gallon in combined city and highway travel — far below the federal government ratings that averaged 21 mpg to 23 mpg. The tank holds 18.8 gallons, so the travel range was a mediocre 357 miles.
Kias have a reputation for value, yet rearview camera is not offered as an option on the base L; buyers must move up to the LX, which starts at $27,095.
The Sorento interior is quiet and appealing with well-placed controls, easy-to read gauges and nice-looking plastic trim. Seats were comfortable and at a good height so passengers get good views but don't have to climb high to get inside.
Road bumps were better managed by the suspension and strengthened 2016 platform, and steering feel is improved.
All V-6-powered Sorentos come with third-row seating for a seven-passenger maximum. All four-cylinder models except the LX have five seats. LX buyers can add the third row for an extra $1,200 plus a convenience package. It can be difficult for adults to get to the third row and legroom remains at 31.7 inches, small compared to the newly generous 44.1 inches in the front seats.
Maximum cargo capacity now is 73 cubic feet behind the first row seats. Cargo space behind the third row now is 11.3 cubic feet.
The 2016 Sorento earned an overall five out of five stars in U.S. government crash tests but has been the subject of two U.S. safety recalls.