GREG JAREM Almost fully-loaded, equipped with the optional 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 and all-wheel-drive, this Sorento had a price firmly fixed in the mid-$40K range. The 2016 model year is officially in full swing and one of the stand-out of all these new cars and trucks comes from an unlikely source. That’s because, despite years of strong sales and a range of vehicles seismically different from when the brand first arrived in the U.S. market in the mid-1990s, South Korea’s Kia Motors still has something of an image problem. Go ahead, close your eyes and think of three things that come to mind when I say “Kia,” or “Kia sport-utility.” Now, what immediately sprang to mind? Maybe it was value, or fuel economy, or even a strong warranty (Kia has one of the best in the business). Chances are good, however, that one of the words that crept into you head was “cheap.” Am I right? When it comes to the 2016 Kia Sorento SXL sport-utility I recently tested, cheap was the last thing that came to my mind. Part of the reason is because this Kia is many things, but cheap it ain’t. Almost fully-loaded, equipped with the optional 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 and all-wheel-drive, this Sorento had a price firmly fixed in the mid-$40K range. This alone might cause some readers to head for the hills, or abandon all hope of taking the new Sorento for a meaningful test drive. It shouldn’t, and here’s why. GREG JAREM The base 2016 Sorento starts at a much more affordable $24,900. When it comes to test vehicles, car companies love to load them with every available option. Part of the reason is to spoil auto journalists, I’m sure. But one very real and helpful reason is because ‘Automaker X’ wants to show off the latest gadgets, luxury touches, and safety features available in its newest car or truck. Well, maybe Kia didn’t want me testing the airbags or traction control in the Sorento. Though it’s safe to say the company wanted me to at least know they are there, if needed. And remember, minus any options, the base 2016 Sorento starts at a much more affordable $24,900. Even a range-topping version like this one represents an excellent value when you consider how much is included in the Sorento. The cabin is spacious, quiet, and extremely comfortable during all types of driving situations. German luxury brands get all the credit for having world class dashboards and precise layout of all controls. Let me tell you, this Kia is running them very close! I especially loved the heated and cooled front seats, the matte-finish soft touch plastic covering the dash, along with the absolutely massive panoramic glass roof. The high seating position gives a commanding view of the road, yet the Sorento doesn’t feel or behave like it’s a lumbering road-hog of an SUV. The only interior strike against the Sorento is the snugness of the third row seating. It’s not a nice place to be, plain and simple. Kia The cabin is spacious, quiet, and extremely comfortable during all types of driving situations. When talking about the driving dynamics of the Sorento, I’d tell you it’s much more along the lines of a Buick, Lincoln, or Lexus. Think hushed cabin, cosseting ride, and a stress-free driving atmosphere. A BMW X5 M it’s not – and would you expect it to be? It’s also not as nimble and edgy as the Infiniti QX70 I recently drove. That’s absolutely fine, especially because not everyone aspires for their SUV to be a racecar-on-stilts. This is one very relaxed ride, and it’s an SUV that left me astounded at the quality and refinement offered by a Kia product, especially one that doesn’t need to wear a fire-sale price tag to lure you in. The V-6 engine delivers smooth and linear power when you need it. A turbocharged 4-cylinder is also available, as is standard front-wheel-drive if you want to save a few bucks. I could live with slightly less power with the 4-banger, though I’m always reluctant to recommend an SUV and not tell the prospective car shopper to add AWD. After all, isn’t that go-anywhere grip kind of the point of any SUV? GREG JAREM From its LED front lamps (that cluster of four lights in each corner is so cool looking!) to its crisply tailored tail, the 2016 Sorento looks really, really good. This is also one of those rare vehicles where I left the available Sport driving mode pretty much alone and turned off. Okay, I pressed it on occasion and the steering gained the artificial, electronically-induced heft that so many automakers confuse for “sport” handling. No, the Sorento is better when you steer around NYC traffic with your fingertips, not manhandle the thing like you’re wrestling alligators. Speaking of swamp creatures, the new Sorento thankfully doesn’t look like one! I know, weak transition, but I wanted to keep the reptilian theme going. In fact, from its LED front lamps (that cluster of four lights in each corner is so cool looking!) to its crisply tailored tail, the 2016 Sorento looks really, really good. I’ll go relatively easy on the adjectives because, lucky me, I get to drive some incredibly pretty cars with this job. But let me give credit where credit is due, Kia did a fantastic job of making the Sorento a class act in the SUV segment. There is some real heft and presence to the exterior, I like it a lot. And if you’ve read this far, you’ll know that I like the rest of this Kia a whole lot, too. The ride and handling still earns a B rating – it’s fine, but there is always some room for improvement with pretty much any new vehicle. That still places the Sorento right in the thick of the field, and it’s definitely on par with a number of models carrying prestigious luxury badges (and even higher prices). What’s exciting is that Kia has maintained its core values while upping it’s game in so many other departments. The value and economy is still there. So is safety, thanks to superb crash test ratings, along with Kia’s stout 5 year/60,000 mile limited warranty and 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Quite frankly, you’re getting a ton of truck for the money, no matter how wild you go with the options or your preference of powertrain.