JEREMY CATO, MT. TREMBLANT, QUE. — Special to The Globe and Mail (Published Saturday, Mar. 07 2015).
The ideas behind 2016 Kia Sorento sport-utility vehicle are genius, a foolish gamble or insanity. Regardless, the execution is superb.
Who’s gonna buy it? Goldilocks? Kia’s hope is the genius behind its “just right” rig will answer the prayers of families who find the five-passenger Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue too small and seven-passenger Hyundai Santa Fe XL and Honda Pilot too big.
Certainly it’s a gamble. The car market is not often a place for hard-to-classify products. Kia’s strategy: Canadians bought 400,000 compact SUVs last year and another 157,000 mid-sizers. Why not play in both places?
I mean, all SUV types want four/all-wheel drive, value and reliability. That’s all here and more. For an extra $2,000, you can turn a base $27,495 front-drive Sorento into an AWD mudder. As for value, we compared five uniformly equipped rigs and found the Sorento had from a $2,200-$7,400 price advantage over the Pilot, Santa Fe XL, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander.
For reliability, Consumer Reports’ brand report card has Kia ranked ninth-best over all, ahead of BMW and 19 others. Kia is making solid vehicles, period.
This Sorento is the perfect illustration. From that in-your-face grille to sculpted sides, chrome door handles and rear spoiler, it looks expensive. On some models, you can get LED lightbar taillights, 360-degree camera monitoring, quad LED fog lights and even 19-inch polished alloy wheels.
Inside, the Sorento has more space, though not as much as the Santa Fe XL, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Highlander. The differences are marginal. What the Sorento lacks in room is more than made up for by the sophisticated cabin.
You won’t struggle to decipher the infotainment system and the seats are comfortable for hours. Five-passenger versions have a clever under-floor organizer in the big cargo bay. At high speeds, the silence is deafening.
Yes, Kia’s suspension engineers need to catch up with the best, but ride quality is all right. If you care about precise steering, pay extra for the rack-mounted power steering. The best compromise for power and fuel economy is the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (240 hp/260 ft-lbs torque) over the base 2.0-litre four (185 hp) and the 3.3-litre V-6 (290 hp).
The third-generation Sorento is good. Now Kia must overcome the brand’s still-downmarket image. This rig will help.
Base price: $27,495
Engines: 2.4-litre four-cylinder, 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged, 3.3-litre V-6.
Transmission: six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) for AWD versions: 11.4 city/9.2 highway for the 2.4; 12.3 city/9.3 highway for the 2.0-litre turbo; 13.4 city/9.4 highway for the 3.3-litre, all using regular fuel.
Alternatives: Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport/XL, Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Flex, Dodge Durango, Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Outback and Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan.
Looks: This Sorento looks the part of a pricier SUV and is a huge leap from the first-generation (2003) version.
Interior: Cabin space is not as great as key rivals, but on the key points of headroom, legroom and hiproom, the Sorento holds its own.
Performance: The most effortless power comes from the V-6, but the best compromise for power and fuel economy is the turbo four.
Technology: Quad LED fog lights, available? Check. A 360-degree camera? Check. Smart power rear liftgage? Check. And smart cruise control, advanced infotainment, 115-V rear charging ports and air cooled front seats? Check, check, check, check.
Cargo: More space than Murano and Edge, less than Santa Fe XL and Highlander.
The Sorento looks good, does what it should, should be dependable and you get more features for the money than key rivals.