The 2016 Kia Sorento grows a little bit larger, and grows up a lot.
Though the Kia Sorento has been completely redesigned and re-engineered for 2016, it looks like the exterior only modestly evolved. The 2016 model is both significantly roomier and more refined in nearly every way.
There’s some meaningful change all around the 2016 Kia Sorento actually, with every bit of sheet metal and every piece of trim changed. A new body structure, an available turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and redesigned seating—plus some new active-safety features—add up to tremendously meaningful change once you take it all in.
The 2016 Sorento still offers a third-row seat, to bump its capacity from five up to seven if you so desire. And the Sorento should be a bit more usable now whether you opt for it or not, as all models are about 3 inches longer, with a wheelbase more than 3 inches longer, and slightly taller, than the 2015 model. Call it a realignment, as Kia pulls the Sorento away from the odd-one-out size where it’s been for a number of years—a tweener that was only slightly larger than "compact" crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4—and focuses it directly at the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota Highlander.
The Sorento melts right into its area of the family-crossover tapestry, and that could be a positive or a negative depending on your own priorities. It’s understandable why someone, not knowing that, would step up to the new Sorento and think that the 2016 model gets merely some new shine on an old design. From the outside, the redesign is so evolutionary that it’s easy to let your mind fill in the lines, if you’re familiar with the outgoing 2015 model. From all but the side, the Sorento’s proportions look quite familiar, yet with a more prominent version of the Kia grille, some cleaned-up more mature, upscale details in front and in back, and a little more softness to everything in between.
Inside, the redesign is a lot easier to see at first glance. The cabin of the 2016 Sorento has been quite dramatically tidied-up and made more sophisticated, with more soft-touch trims all around—wherever front occupants are expected to typically touch—and climate and navigation/audio controls are cordoned off into nice, neat control pods.
From the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel that there’s been major improvement in the way this re-engineered model responds and performs. Steering is much-improved versus the previous Sorento, and previous Kias in general, and in particular there’s better tracking on center, plus better brake feel, a suspension that keeps a firm, composed ride, and an all-new body structure that’s far stiffer, with more than double the high-strength steel. Altogether, the Sorento has what Kia set out to achieve: a vault-like, German-style ride and the a heftier, more confident feel in general—even though the lineup has lost some weight.
The Kia Sorento carries over its two engines from last year—a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-4 and a 290-hp, 3.3-liter V-6—but for 2016 it adds a new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 making 240 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. All three powertrains include a 6-speed automatic transmission and can be equipped with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. While the V-6 might have 50 more horsepower, the 2.0T model is the one that actually felt perkier in most types of driving—all but off-the-line acceleration.
Off-roading isn’t entirely in the Sorento’s playbook, but it has all the right moves for "soft roading" or snowy conditions—including 7.3 inches of ground clearance, and a diff-lock mode that splits the power 50/50. All models of the Sorento are up for towing; and for V-6 models, that’s up to 5,000 pounds.
Seats have been redesigned all around, and in front the driving position relative to the dash has changed. In top SX and SX-L models, the driver’s seat now has extendable thigh bolsters—definitely of use to taller drivers. Second-row accommodations are essentially the same for two- and three-row versions, although you get an underseat storage system in two-row models. In any case, it’s a little too hard and short for adults to be comfortable over a long day—although the third row will do just fine for a quick dinner outing for those under 5-feet-10-inches tall.
Value and features for the money have always been a big deal for Kia. Yet with the introduction of the Cadenza and K900 sedans, and with upper trims of the Sorento, Sedona, and even Optima as of late, Kia is clearly reaching upmarket. There’s still a base Sorento L, offered only with the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive, but it’s a different animal than the upper-trim models, omitting things like UVO audio, roof rails, and acoustic glass entirely; but it’s offered for a very low $25,995. LX and EX models are the heart of the market, it seems, and EX models can be had with the new turbocharged inline-4 or the V-6. SX models are only offered in V-6 trim, while top Limited models are built in 2.0T or V-6 versions. At the top of the lineup, the Limited gets a Nappa leather interior, a leather-and-piano-black steering wheel, and 19-inch chrome-finish wheels
SX and SX-L models get a new Infinity 10-speaker sound system that’s been tuned to get the best sound out of digital files, while upper trims get a full navigation system with live traffic and most models in the lineup come with UVO eServices capability, with apps for Yelp, Pandora, and other services. Lane departure warning, frontal crash warning, surround-view cameras, and adaptive are all available, but only in a package on the top Limited.
The most fuel-efficient, front-drive, four-cylinder Kia Sorento manages 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined, according to the EPA. The least efficient, V-6, all-wheel drive Sorento scores 17/23/19 mpg. In the middle, the turbocharged four manages 20/27/23 mpg with front drive. Fuel economy generally dips by 1 mpg by adding AWD.