Road tests in warm sunny climes are generally preferred for winter-weary auto writers. However to experience the full measure of the 2016 Sorento, Kia selected a cold, crisp venue in Canada with plenty of snow- and ice-covered back roads to play on. Uh, thanks, Kia?
Staging frigid-venue press events is commonplace for many automakers, particularly when showcasing their vehicles' all-wheel-drive capabilities. The Canadian province of Quebec, which specializes in bone-chilling winters, is becoming a popular playground for these activities.
Fortunately, the 2016 Sorento test vehicles were suitably attired with Continental's latest snow "shoes" that helped give the vehicle added purchase over some of the region's less hospitable thoroughfares.
The winter skins, plus the Sorento's optional all-wheel-drive, literally kept things moving during two days of mixed-road driving that included partially slippery four-lane "Autoroutes" and two-lane mountainous roads that were generally well-groomed, although still snow-covered.
Prior to setting out, a walk-around of the latest Sorento showed a strong similarity to the previous iteration. Most noticeable is a larger honeycomb grille and lower air intake, revised headlights and fog lights and an enlarged roof spoiler, and new taillamps. Less obvious is the distance between the front and rear wheels that has grown by more than three inches. Width is about the same as before. The increase amounts to a bit more cargo space, whether the second- and optional third-row seats are folded (almost) flat or are left in their upright positions. Second-row legroom has also increased, as has access to the optional third row.
The dashboard now appears less cluttered with easier-to-use/find (larger) knobs and dials and bigger fresh-air vents. Kia pretty much left the oversized gauges alone, which is find since they're plenty easy to read.
The Sorento uses a modified platform that's more rigid by 14 percent and is built using more laser welds in key spots. There's also greater use of industrial-strength adhesives, which provides added stiffness. Added sound insulation means a cabin that is almost devoid of outside road and wind noise.
For 2016, the Sorento's base powertrain consists of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. That's a bit less than the previous 2.4's 191/181 numbers, but fuel economy improves to 21 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway for front-wheel-drive versions (previously 20/27).
A newly available turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder increases performance to the tune of 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, while returning unchanged is a 3.3-liter V6 that puts out a healthy 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. Note that the V6 is mandatory if you want to outfit your Sorento with the third-row seat.
Regardless of engine choice, the gears will be shifted for you via a six-speed automatic transmission.
The front-wheel-drive Sorento L that's priced at $25,800 (including destination charges) is strictly the front-wheel-drive price leader, while the LX, EX, SX and max-loaded SX Limited can be had with all-wheel-drive that splits the torque 95:5 (front:rear) when roads are flat and dry. When tire slip is detected - or during hard acceleration - front-to-rear torque split is 50:50. Additionally, depressing a "Lock" button on the control panel holds the split at 50:50 at low speeds for maximum traction.
The base 2.4 Sorento wasn't available for testing, but the turbo four-cylinder and the V6 (both with AWD) certainly gave a good accounting of themselves, although the turbo's raucous engine doesn't feel nearly as refined as the V6.
With numerous updates and luxury/safety amenities, the 2016 Sorento isn't afraid to play with the more established segment leaders including the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Toyota Highlander.
In short, the Sorento competently coddles its passengers while keeping its composure over a variety of road and climactic conditions.
What you should know: 2016 Kia Sorento
Type: Four-door, front-/all-wheel-drive, five- /seven-passenger wagon
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (185); 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (240); 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (290)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic
Market position: It has come a long way from its humble 2004-model-year beginnings. With regular upgrades in space, and new comfort and performance, it now ranks among the top wagons in the mid-priced, mid-sized class.
Points: 2016 redesign is modest, but adds considerable refinement in ride and content; Three engine choices is more than most competitors offer, but how about a hybrid option?; Suspension improvements alone add to vehicle's competitiveness; Basic platform is shared with Hyundai Santa Fe, but each takes its own styling direction.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 21/29 (2.4); Base price (incl. destination) $25,800
Base price: $21,300
Modestly priced wagon offers a wide range of trim and powertrain options.
Base price: $30,400
Easy on gas plus excellent road manners makes this a fun-to-drive rig.
Base price: $24,000
Lacks competitors' power, but is nicely turned-out inside. Opt V6 and AWD.