When shopping for a large family vehicle, you have more options than there are germs in a preschool classroom, from two- or three-row SUVs to what’s likely the subject of many marital counseling sessions: the love-it-or-hate-it minivan. Kia’s newest SUV blends attributes of all these with versatile seating for five or seven, a generous cargo area and plenty of creature comforts for carpooling, road trips and everything in between.
The 2016 Kia Sorento is an all-star family-hauler with standout styling and a comfortable, feature-filled cabin; pleasant road manners are marred by minor imperfections.
For 2016, the Sorento is bigger, has a revised control layout and a new, optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Like its predecessor, the new Sorento is available with standard seating for five, and it can seat seven with an optional third row; compare the 2015 and 2016 models here.
The Sorento competes against two-row SUVs like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Jeep Grand Cherokee; compare all four here. If you want a third row, compare the Sorento instead with the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot, though the Kia is smaller than those models.
When Kia’s first car hit the U.S. market in 1993, style was not on the brand’s radar; the Sephia didn’t have much going for it aside from a rock-bottom price. Twenty-two years later, the automaker has arguably one of the best-looking lineups in the industry, with the eye-catching Sorento in the flagship SUV spot.
The SUV’s new face is dramatic, with an upright, studded grille; available quad-LED fog lights; and sweeping LED-accented headlights. Sculpted body sides add some muscle to its profile. The brand’s newly redesigned minivan wears the same styling (actually, from the front, it’s hard to tell the Sedona from the Sorento), giving both vehicles a commanding presence.
Power from the new, optional turbocharged 2.0-liter is surprisingly robust once you get past a minor acceleration delay, aka turbo lag. Even loaded with adults, it never felt strained around town or on the highway. The 240-horsepower four-cylinder is EPA-rated at 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive, good for a vehicle this size but down from the standard 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder’s 21/29/24 mpg rating. The Ford Edge with its turbocharged 2.0-liter is rated a touch higher at 20/30/24 mpg.
There’s a third engine choice, an optional 290-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 that’s rated 18/26/21 mpg, lower than the Nissan Murano’s 3.5-liter V-6 (21/28/24 mpg) but a touch higher than the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its 3.6-liter V-6 (17/25/20 mpg).
Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional on all Sorento models except the base L. All the engines team with a six-speed automatic transmission, the performance of which is hit or miss. A standard selectable drive mode system alters power steering assist, shift points and acceleration response. In Sport mode, transmission upshifts were abrupt and harsh, and the accelerator pedal was too touchy. Eco mode goes in the other direction entirely: Plunge the pedal and the needle barely moves; it’s lethargic both in overall acceleration and transmission responsiveness. The default is Normal mode, which should be called “Comfort”; everything felt just right in terms of responsiveness and smoothness.
On the highway, the cabin is impressively hushed. Wind and road noise are well-checked. The steering needs work, however. I found it light and imprecise, requiring too much correction, though other editors weren’t bothered by it. Sport mode supposedly firms it up, but the Sorento still exhibited a nonspecific feel in that mode.
The Sorento’s ride and handling have come a long way; this generation maintains better composure over bumps and takes corners with less lean. Maneuverability is also good around town; a tight turning circle makes it easier to park than several other vehicles of its size.
While the Sorento’s exterior is bold, the interior plays it a little too safe. The cabin’s materials feel pleasant, with plenty of soft, textured plastic on key touch points, but the design is nothing special. The black-on-black plastic theme in my test car was broken up by bits of matte chrome and glossy black paneling, but the overall look was uninteresting. The lone premium touches in my upscale SXL test model were optional patterned leather seats; they look and feel high-end and are very long, making for good thigh support. Juice-box-proof stain-resistant fabric from YES Essentials is the standard upholstery.
Overall, passenger comfort is exceptional, with plenty of headroom and legroom in the two front rows. The Sorento comes standard with a second-row bench; captain’s chairs are not available. My test model didn’t have the optional third row, so my family of five couldn’t fit because three car seats do not fit across the second row. The Jeep Grand Cherokee can fit three, but the Nissan Murano can’t quite manage it. We have not yet tested the Ford Edge.
I traveled with two adults in the back and they were very comfortable. The second row reclines quite a bit, and the outboard seatbacks and bottom cushions are bolstered for a cozy fit.
The Sorento really delivers in the features department, with plenty of optional creature comforts for both rows: heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, manual roll-up sunshades for the second-row windows, and plenty of first- and second-row connectivity options (USB port, auxiliary input jack, 115-volt outlet, 12-volt outlet). Heated second-row seats are an option my Sorento didn’t have, but my 5-year-old especially loved the available giant panoramic moonroof and very bright reading lights above the outboard seats.
The control layout is new this year, and audio and climate controls are grouped into separate planes. On top is the available UVO multimedia system’s 8-inch touch-screen. The system’s quick response time, large buttons and logical menu structure make short work of changing audio presets or inputting a navigation destination. Its swipe functionality has a natural, smartphone-like feel. I quickly and easily paired and connected my Android phone and launched Pandora internet radio. Two handy knobs separate the volume and station-tuning functions from the touch-screen. The climate controls are totally separate below the screen, and the large, clear buttons are ergonomically placed.
UVO also includes some interesting services, like a parking minder and My Car Zone. With the former, the vehicle’s location is sent to your smartphone after you park. With the latter, parents can set curfew, location and speed limits for other (teen) drivers and get alerts if (when) those boundaries are breached.
The cargo area is tall and wide, and the optional power-opening hatch adds convenience, automatically opening when you stand behind it with the key fob in your purse or pocket.
By the numbers, space behind the second row (38.8 cubic feet) is competitive with the Edge (39.2), Grand Cherokee (36.3) and Murano (39.6). The second row folds easily with the flip of a lever and is extra versatile thanks to its 40/20/40-split folding setup. Cargo volume jumps to 73.5 cubic feet with the seat folded, a tad more than competitors offer. In models so equipped, space behind the third row drops to an almost useless 11.3 cubic feet — much less than most three-row crossovers.
At first glance, the Sorento’s cargo area doesn’t look like anything special, but wait. In models without the third-row option, you can pop up the cargo floor to reveal a few different deep bins, great for organizing smaller loads and tucking valuables out of sight. The liners are made of plastic or dense foam, depending on the section, for easy containment of muddy shoes and wet bathing suits. The Sorento’s cargo-corralling features, from the underfloor storage system to its many tie-downs and grocery hooks, make it really tough to be messy.
Other storage highlights include mesh-style map pockets on the seatbacks that expand to hold several items (I stashed a couple kid books and a tablet); a two-tier center storage console large enough to carry a compact purse; and a small bin, good for mobile devices, that’s handily located near the USB and auxiliary input outlets.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2016 Sorento a Top Safety Pick. It earned top scores in most tests, plus a basic rating for its forward collision warning system. IIHS has not yet tested the 2015 Nissan Murano or the 2015 Ford Edge. The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee earned a marginal score in the agency’s small-overlap frontal test, disqualifying it from Top Safety Pick status. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet tested the 2016 Sorento.
Installing two child-safety seats in the Sorento’s second row was easy thanks to plenty of room and accessible Latch anchors; for details, see our Sorento Car Seat Check.
The Sorento has six standard airbags, but its side curtain airbags cover only the first two rows of seats — a disappointment especially in a fully redesigned model. A backup camera is standard on all models except the base L; an Around View Monitor camera system is optional on the top SX Limited trim. This standout feature displays multiple-angle views and parking guidelines, handy for parallel-parking maneuvers and backing up in a crowded parking lot.
A blind spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert system are optional on midlevel versions and standard on higher trims. Forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems are also optional on the SX Limited but unavailable on other trims. You can see all the Sorento’s safety features here.
The Kia Sorento is the value leader in the segment, with a base price ($25,795) that’s well below the Edge ($28,995), Grand Cherokee ($30,990) and Murano ($30,445), though the latter two have standard V-6 engines; all prices include destination charges.
With the 2016 Sorento, you don’t have to sacrifice style, safety or comfort for affordability. Aside from some minor on-road refinement issues, it delivers everything a family could want and need in an SUV.