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Motoring: Sorento: Affordable and luxury an oxymoron?

Credit: NAUMAN FAROOQ

It's the entry-level luxury SUV that rivals most models in its class, but oh so affordable.


Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | April 13th, 2015



The original Kia Sorento was the first upmarket offering from this Korean manufacturer in North America. Being an entry-level luxury vehicle, the Sorento showed that the Korean manufacturers could play ball with just about anyone when it comes to quality and driving dynamics.

Its impressive list of features and favourable reviews lead to the firstgen Sorento selling in large numbers. A mid-cycle facelift arrived in 2007, and in 2009, a few more tweaks were made to keep the model fresh.

Rather than just resting on its recent upgrades for a few years, Kia offered an all-new Sorento for the 2010 model year. This model took quite a leap when it came to refinement, equipment and build quality, and the customers surely noticed, as this model went on to become the second most popular vehicle in Kia showrooms. Then, in 2013, the second- gen Sorento also got a facelift while gaining even more technology features.

I love this face-lifted second-gen Sorento. I like the way it looks, I love the interior, and on a long highway cruise, it is quiet, reasonably efficient and provides great road holding. Driving on a frozen highway in January 2014, the Sorento performed remarkably well. This updated second-gen Sorento is just about perfect and will be difficult to improve upon.

Kia begs to differ because the company has now come out with an all-new, third-generation Sorento for the 2016 model year. Has Kia made a good thing even better?

I spent some time with it in Mont-Tremblant to find out. The region was quite frozen. Kia could have flown us all down to a nice, sunny paradise, but the company wanted journalists to drive this vehicle like Canadian owners would and test how it handles on icy roads.

One thing Kia worked on was to improve the strength of the frame of this vehicle. It was a well-known fact that the old Sorento with the V6 motor could tow more than 3,500 lbs. but was limited due to its frame. The 2016 model can tow up to 5,000 lbs. with the same motor, and it can do that because the new shell is much stronger.

The 2016 Sorento can come equipped with the around-view camera system, which turns parking into a video game, and while a regular reversing camera is found on most models, it is unfortunately not offered on the base LX trim model.

There are three trim levels on the 2016 Sorento – the LX, EX and SX. The base engine is a 2.4 litre, four-cylinder motor that produces 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Power is fed to the front wheels on the base model, although an optional all-wheel drive model featuring a Dynamax system is also available. Next motor up is the turbocharged 2.0 litre, four-cylinder motor that produces 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This model is also available in front drive or all-wheel drive configuration. The top motor, the 3.3 litre V6 makes 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, and is only offered with the Dynamax all-wheel drive system and is also only offered in the seven-passenger layout. In fact, if you need a seven-seat Sorento, you have to have this V6 motor.

All Sorento models are only offered with a six-speed automatic gearbox. Kia says that the gearing ratio of its box is good enough to compete with the eight-speed and nine-speed gearboxes found in competitor vehicles. I never once wished I had more gear ratios to play with when I drove the new Sorento.

I tested a 2.0 litre model with allwheel drive and the 3.3 litre model, which only comes with all-wheel drive. The thing that made a good impression early on was how nice the interior style is. This is the kind of interior you’d expect from an Audi or Lexus, not from a Korean manufacturer that many people think of as an econo-car brand, but you will find it here. In fact, the only cheapish looking trim bit is the plastic cap on the steering wheel that houses the airbag, but that was after trying to find any flaw.

You certainly won’t find many flaws in the top trim Infinity infotainment system that features an eight-inch touch screen system. The screen is extremely clear and easy to work with.

The last Sorento was good at covering distances because it was smooth and quiet – the 2016 is even quieter. To do that, Kia employed thicker glass and sound-absorbing aprons in the fenders. You can have a conversation with your passenger, even if you’re whispering.

My passenger wasn’t whispering when I started tossing the vehicle on an icy, twisty stretch of road, but its traction and stability control system works well, so you have to be a bit crazy to get it to over-steer with all systems on. The feel from its electric power-steering system is a bit lacking in feedback, but the communicative chassis – especially in Sport mode – does tell you what the vehicle is doing underneath you.

Pricing is good also, as the 2.4 LX model can be yours under $30,000. Just keep an eye on the options, however, as the SX+ V6 AWD model will require $46,695 plus fees and taxes. In short, the top model is yours for about $50,000 and that is a lot of money.

My prediction is that most Sorento buyers will spend just under $40,000 for their vehicle, and for that, you still get one seriously well-equipped vehicle.

Kia has proven that it knows what it’s doing; after all, the company has won 50 design awards in the past five years alone. In 2012, Kia sold 77,800 vehicles in Canada. Will the 2016 Sorento be successful in our market? I have no doubts that it will be.
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