Imagine driving through the desert on a solitary dirt road…
Last week, Kia launched two all-new versions of its Sorento crossover utility vehicle in the beautiful, scenic Lake Tahoe. The 2016 Kia Sorento gets a full-body makeover with offerings for every type of buyer in the mid-size CUV segment, including the price points that will attract consumers at each trim level.
The new Sorento gains a more svelte appearance than its 2015 predecessor. We like how Kia’s design team has smoothed-out the exterior lines on the 2016 model, resulting in a more cohesive aesthetic and the aerodynamics to go with it.
Need a third row of seats that can accommodate normal-sized humans? Kia has pushed the corners of the Sorento interior as far and wide as possible, bringing more leg room to all three rows thanks to three inches more in the wheelbase. There’s also better head room; my towering co-driver (nearly 7 feet tall!) had plenty of room for his noggin. Resting legroom was a challenge, but he’s on the extreme end of the height spectrum.
The V6 is unchanged from the outgoing 2015 model, which we enjoyed putting 1,000 miles on earlier this year. On the twisting uphill roads surrounding Lake Tahoe, however, we felt the 3.3 Liter-powered Sorento struggled to identify which gear it should pick. There was quite a bit of lag upon pressing the accelerator when ascending mountains. We believe adding a few more gears into the automatic transmission, which currently has six switch points, would help improve the feel. On flatter terrain, however, the V6 performed as expected.
SXL V6 or 2.0L Turbo?
If you forced us to pick, we’d go for the 2.0 Liter turbo-charged Sorento. It’s a little livelier, ideal for the younger – likely childless – CUV buyer. We found that the Sorento corners well and has incredible performance…for a Kia (a statement that currently seems to follow a lot of legitimate compliments the brand receives. Hopefully that perception and disclaimer will disappear soon because Kia is building good, reliable products).
It truly depends on your needs, though. The Sorento SXL – with its V6 engine and seven passenger capacity – is well-suited for the family who needs to cart around the kids and grandparents, or the business person who needs to take clients around comfortably (think real estate agent showing properties).
Kia has a Sorento for every buyer – but is it too much?
The Korean automaker is offering eight trim levels in the 2016 Sorento. These options range from the base model 4-cylinder engine to the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine to the 3.3L V6 – all of which are gas-direct injection (GDI). This approach obviously hits a wide range of budgets, from the entry-level price of $24,900 all the way to the topped-out model at $43,100 (not including the $895 destination charge). That’s 15 options for pricing on one vehicle.
We believe that so many options is overkill, but like any automaker, Kia’s goal here is to match a potential customer with the vehicle that fits their needs (i.e. selling lots of cars, duh!). For us, we think consumers face enough decision overload–a more simplified process may be more appealing to the decision-wary customer.
How’s the Ride?
The Kia Sorento’s ride is quiet – impressively so. Even on rougher patches of road, the 2016 Sorento stayed the course, refraining from tossing passengers around like a washing machine. The front seats are quite comfortable and come with heated and ventilated options on several trim levels. The driver also gets a 14-way adjustable seat, including extended thigh support, and the front passenger gets an 8-way adjustable seat.
The transmission seems to be more fluid in the turbo – drivers would hardly notice the shift points. As mentioned earlier, the V6 seemed to struggle a bit to find the right gear when ascending and descending steep inclines and declines.
But it’s a Kia…
Unfortunately, there is still a hill to climb before Kia becomes a fully trusted brand in America. It’s not that Kia makes a terrible car – it’s just that consumers haven’t been thinking about it “first”, as we do when considering entry-level vehicles from Honda or Toyota. The fact is, Kia has gone beyond producing good-quality entry-level cars; they produce some of the best built vehicles on the market, and often at a fraction of the cost of their competitors. After 20 years in the U.S., it’s time American consumers reconsider Kia.
The brand’s representatives admit openly that brand perception remains one of their biggest challenges, but as Kia continues to improve and grow its product base, we believe time and experiences first-hand with Kia will change the public’s perception.
“September capped off the strongest summer selling season for Kia in its 20-year history, and with the launch of two all-new vehicles now underway, we continue to introduce the brand and our outstanding products to new customers who turn to Kia for our world-class quality and design, advanced technology and tremendous value,” said Michael Sprague, executive vice president of sales and marketing, in a press statement from October.
Kia has been the fastest-growing brand more than five years in a row. We can’t say this for all brands, but Kia truly values its customers’ opinions and input on what can make their product better. Trust us, your feedback very well could get back to Korea, possibly even showing up in a mid-lifecycle improvement.
Disclaimer: Kia Motors America paid for one contributor to attend and cover the launch of this vehicle. Travel, accommodations, meals, and branded gifts (“swag”) were provided as part of this event. While we appreciate all that manufacturers do to ensure our safe travels and creature comforts while participating in such a program, we remain committed to sharing our honest opinion on and evaluation of their vehicles.
Updated 12/22/14 to clarify our perspective on V6 performance.