JUNE 10, 2015
REMEMBER when Kia was all about cheap generic economy cars? Today, its design team is led by former Audi and Cadillac rock stars (Peter Schreyer and Tom Kearns ), and among its most popular vehicles are the family-size Optima and Sorento.
Kia has tested its upward mobility with the Cadenza and the K900, perhaps aiming too high. The third-generation Sorento squarely hits its target market. Front-drive versions can be had for as little as $25,795. Budget buyers shouldn’t test-drive the higher-end SX Limited model. Dialing back to lesser models once the luxury touches are experienced will be tough. An all-wheel-drive edition with the Technology Package is a significant bump at over $45,000.
If that seems steep, the math works out when comparing the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Toyota Venza. An SXL with Technology Package includes a huge panoramic roof, vented seats up front, radar-assisted cruise control and an around-view camera system that simulates a small helicopter hovering over your car (without the fuss and paranoia of a real one). Kia’s iPad-like user interface can teach a thing or two to the luxury brands.
Pay twice as much and you won’t get better design. Neighbors shouted from across the street, “Whoa, fancy car!” One morning in a neighborhood littered with Lexus and Mercedes, a robe-clad woman burst out of her house determined to find out what the “beautiful car was.”
If she test-drives a Sorento, she will find a very comfortable and quiet vehicle with room for five passengers (a third row is available on V6 models). The cabin is richly trimmed and cargo space is generous, but the back pillar creates a blind spot the size of LeBron James. Spirited maneuvers summon some body roll, but it’s a crossover, not a Porsche Cayman.
Kia has added steering feel, something the outgoing model desperately needed. The Sorento’s size slots in nicely between a CR-V and a Highlander, perfect for parents who want room but not a bus.
The Sorento offers three engine options and comes with a refined 6-speed automatic. The naturally aspirated 4-cylinder with 185 horsepower seems anemic on paper. The V6 with 290 horsepower is the tow champ, tugging up to 5,000 pounds. I’m driving the 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that pumps out 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A sprint from zero to 60 m.p.h. in 8 seconds is punchy enough for many drivers. The government rates the all-wheel-drive turbo model at 19 miles per gallon city, 25 highway. That is right in the middle of the other two engines, though I’m seeing 19 m.p.g. in mixed driving.
Equipped with all-wheel drive, the Sorento will venture into places that, quite frankly, most owners will never go. For daily commutes involving boulders, deep water and locusts, buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Kia is no longer about bargain-basement pricing, and the Sorento has value and design that sure look good.
A version of this article appears in print on June 12, 2015, on page B6 of the New York edition with the headline: With the Sorento, Kia Moves to the Top Shelf.