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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Kia Sorento

1. What’s new for 2016?

A bigger, better-looking body, a more sophisticated interior, and addition of a turbocharged four-cylinder-engine option. This is the first all-new version of this midsize crossover since model-year 2011 and the South Korean automaker aims to take it upmarket with styling and solidity it says compares with more expensive European SUVs.

The new Sorento is available with seating for five or seven passengers, pitting it against the likes of the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Chevrolet Travers. A choice of seating for five or seven is also true of the crossover with which it shares powertrains and underbody design, the Santa Fe from Kia’s corporate partner, Hyundai. However, Hyundai divides the Santa Fe line into the shorter-length five-passenger Santa Fe Sport and the longer, three-row Santa Fe. Sorento’s single body length splits the difference, sizewise. It hits showrooms the first week of January 2015.

2. How much does it cost and what kind of deal can I expect?

Base prices begin at $25,795 for the entry-level, front-wheel-drive L model, a five-seater, and top out at $43,995 for the flagship all-wheel-drive seven-passenger SX-L V-6. Among offerings in between are the four-cylinder LX, starting at $27,095, the V-6 LX at $29,195, and the turbocharged EX 2.0T at $31,995. All-wheel drive (AWD) adds $1,800 to the front-drive models. These prices include Kia’s $895 shipping fee but do not include options.

The ’16 Sorento is priced competitively with comparable midsize crossovers, though unlike some rivals, it probably won’t benefit much if at all from factory incentives because it’s brand new. Still, falling gas prices are lifting demand for vehicles of this sort. Sales in the class should remain healthy and some manufacturers may respond by maintaining prices to take advantage, others by incentivizing them to gain an edge. Bottom line: don’t expect huge discounts on 2016 editions of this redesigned SUV.

3. When will the next big change be? 

Not until model-year 2018 or so with minor styling and features updates as part of a midcycle update. The next all-new Sorento isn’t likely until 2020. Meantime, you might wait for model-year 2017 to see whether some desirable features migrate to Sorento’s less expensive trim grades.

For now, such features as adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, an around-view monitor, and xenon headlamps are options exclusive to the SX-L turbo and V-6 models. And blind-spot warning and rear-cross-traffic alerts aren’t available on the L or LX. Kia says these limitations are mainly pricing and early production issues and that a more liberal distribution of features could well be in the cards.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Most buyers of the outgoing Sorento chose a midline LX with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Its 2016 equivalent is a good choice if you prioritize pricing and fuel economy over snappy acceleration. We’d recommend AWD, for a starting price of $28,895, and then add the $1,000 Convenience Package. It upgrades the standard power driver’s seat with extra adjustments and adds heated front buckets, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an automatic-dimming rearview mirror, and carpeted floor mats. A rearview backup camera is standard on all but the L model, and this package enhances that with rear-parking alerts.

If you’re looking for more luxury, the top-line SX-L versions are the way to go. They come standard with sumptuous Nappa leather upholstery, a 14-way power memory driver’s seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row outboard seats, blind-spot and rear cross- traffic detection, distinctive quad-LED fog lamps, and a power liftgate that can open automatically as you approach the vehicle. The SX and SX-L also have fancier interior and exterior trim and 19-inch alloy wheels, versus 17-inch alloys on L and LX and 18s on EXs.

5. What engine do you recommend?

The outgoing Sorento was slightly smaller and lighter than this replacement, and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder actually loses some horsepower and torque for 2016, now making 185 and 178, respectively. So acceleration that was satisfactory before will now be merely adequate at best.

The 2.0-liter turbo four is a real step forward, at 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. You’ll endure a half-second hesitation off the line but enjoy impressive thrust and response once underway. It’s certainly an interesting choice, though it’s available only on EX and SX-L models and only with two rows of seats. The least expensive turbo model would be an EX at $31,995 with front-drive and $33,795 with AWD.

The best all-around choice is the V-6 with its 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. It’s the smoothest engine of the trio, has the most linear power delivery, and can tow 5,000 pounds. It’s available on all but the base L model, so your choices range from a front-drive LX starting at $29,195 to an SX-L priced from $42,195.

6. How is the fuel economy?

Official EPA ratings were not announced in time for this review, but based on Kia’s projections the Sorento could be among the most fuel-efficient crossovers of comparable size, power, and passenger capacities. All models use a six-speed automatic transmission and are tuned to run on regular-grade, 87-octane gas.

The projected mileage is 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined for the 2.4-liter engine with front-wheel drive and 21/27/24 mpg with AWD. Projections for the turbo four are 20/27/23 with front-drive and 19/24/22 mpg with AWD. For the V-6, they’re 18/26/21 mpg with front-drive and 18/25/20 with AWD.

7. How does the Sorento handle?

Quite well for a vehicle this type. Turbo SX-L versions border on sporty thanks to their good power, the extra grip of their 19-inch tires, and the balance benefits of relatively little weight over the nose. Every model feels stable in changes of direction and body lean in turns isn’t excessive. The biggest demerit is steering feel that’s a little numb and artificial in straight-ahead cruising, prompting more course-corrections on the Interstate than we’d like.

Sorento’s AWD system is a slight step ahead of most rivals, if still short of the off-road-ready Grand Cherokee or 4Runner. Operating mostly in front-wheel drive until sensors detect impending wheel slip, it’s primarily an aid to getting moving on snowy pavement. But it does feature a center-console button that locks in a 50/50 front/rear power distribution up to 20 mph for an extra measure of traction in really slippery conditions. And the system’s torque-vectoring software enhances dry-road handling by selectively applying braking to counteract noseplow in fast turns.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

The cabin design is among the best in the class, with a dashboard of contemporary shapes and switchgear that’s generously sized, clearly identified, and smooth-working. Most every surface you’ll regularly come in contact with is nicely padded. And Kia has met its goal of carefully matching colors and grains to create an ambience that would be at home in a more expensive vehicle.

Every Sorento gets Kia’s updated UVO telematics, now with the ability to send mobile alerts if you’ve loaned it to a driver who violates geographic or speed perimeters you’ve set. A curfew alert is in there too. Siri interface for iPhones is also part of the update. All models come with Bluetooth and USB connectivity; a household-type 110-volt plug is standard on SX and SX-L and optional on the EX.

That distribution holds for a navigation system that replaces the standard 4.2-inch dashboard screen with an 8-inch display. The graphics are notably crisp, but the system is no better than midpack at understanding voice commands. And adding it to an EX is a pricey proposition, requiring both the $2,500 Premium Package and the $2,900 Touring Package.

9. Is it comfortable?

Yes – except for the tiny third-row, which has child-sized legroom and a claustrophobic feel because the rear roof pillars block most of your outward view. Seven-passenger seating is standard on V-6 models and available on the 2.4-liter LX as a $1,200 option in conjunction with the $1,000 Convenience Package.

Otherwise, first- and second-row occupants get generous room on firm, supportive seats. The cabin is notably free of wind, road, and mechanical ruckus. And the ride quality is good, with the suspension quelling unwanted float over high-speed dips and the 17- and 18-inch tires easily absorbing bumps and potholes. The 19s on the SX and SX-L generate more road noise and transmit additional impact harshness on broken pavement; it’s not a deal-breaker, but try before you buy.

There’s precious little luggage space behind the third-row seat and while overall cargo volume is slightly below average for crossovers this size, the seats fold to create a nearly flat load floor and the cargo bay nicely finished, with carpeting running partway up the rear sidewalls.

10. What about safety?
The ’16 Sorento hasn’t undergone third-party crash tests but the outgoing model earned the maximum 5 stars overall in government crash tests and we’d be surprised if the redesigned ‘16, with its stronger underbody structure, doesn’t fare as well. The closely related Santa Fe – which is assembled alongside the Sorento in the same joint Hyundai/Kia plant in Georgia — hasn’t been government-tested either. But Santa Fe does earn the highest “Good” crashworthiness rating from the influential insurance-industry-sponsored Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

That’s an indication Sorento is also likely to earn “Good” ratings in the IIHS’s assessments, which include the demanding “moderate overlap front” test designed to determine occupant protection when vehicle collide front-corner to front-corner. (Santa Fe has not yet been tested in the equally demanding “small overlap front” test designed to replicate a left-front-corner collision with a pole or tree.)

It’s notable, however, that the ‘16 Sorento does not offer some safety adjuncts available on top rivals. These include front-collision prevention in the form of automatic braking. Neither can you get lane-departure mitigation to automatically steer you back if you inadvertently wander from your intended path. As noted earlier, such features a forward-collision warning are limited to options only on the most expensive SX-L trims. So is adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

The ’16 Sorento’s too new to have a track record for dependability, but the outgoing version ranked above average in initial quality in owner surveys compiled by J.D. Power, the leading automotive-consumer-assessment firm. Predicted reliability was average, although owners rated the crossover below average in performance and design. Owner-satisfaction scores for the Kia brand have generally been on the rise, though J.D. Power still rates it below the industry average for dependability (ranked just behind Audi and ahead of Volvo).

As for resale value, the ‘14 Sorento is about average, scoring three of five stars for depreciation from the residual-value-tracking firm, ALG. With its fresher styling and upgraded appointments, the redesigned model may retain more of its value.

12. Is it better than the competition?

Grand Cherokee and 4Runner beat it for off-road prowess, Pilot and Highlander for dependability and resale value, the Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer for available power. And some competitors are more democratic with safety features.

But the redesigned Sorento is emblematic of Kia’s continuing transformation. Since its arrival in the U.S. in 1994, the brand has gone from chasing entry-level buyers with ugly, cheap — and cheaply made — vehicles to a carmaker firmly in the American mainstream. Today, the automaker boasts a pacesetting styling staff led by Audi’s former chief designer. And it outsells such rivals as GMC, Dodge, Chrysler, Buick, Mazda, and Volkswagen

Put the ’16 Sorento on your shopping list if you’re a satisfied Kia owner looking to replace your old model or move up in the automaker’s lineup. Kia is also counting on the reborn Sorento to attract new buyers to its showrooms. We think the crossover’s combination of sharp design and competitive pricing will do just that.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]