Kia’s thoroughly modern Sorento aims for a broader audience |

Kia’s thoroughly modern Sorento aims for a broader audience

2016 Sorento
Courtesy of Kia |

2016 Kia Sorento

MSRP: $41,700: As tested: $45,095

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission

EPA MPG figures: 22 combined (19 city, 25 highway)

The long-awaited great leap forward for the South Korean auto industry is in full swing and the new Sorento SUV — direct competition to a crowd of powerhouse players like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the soon-to-be-updated Ford Explorer — is demonstrating some very positive moves for that nation’s carmakers.

I got to briefly sample the Sorento during a pre-Christmas launch event but had a longer stretch with the attractive and futuristically appointed SUV, and can report that the machine would be ideal for those looking to cope with this year’s seemingly endless winter conditions.

This is a vehicle that really does embody Japanese-inspired technology and American ruggedness and people-hauling capacity, but is priced well below that of its primary competitors (starting at $24,900, actually).

Not kidding about the accommodations: the back seat is gigantic and the third row survivable for short jaunts, and a full-cabin sunroof is also a pleasant way of providing more light and openness to rear-seat riders.

The new Sorento also includes three engine choices, a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 290-HP 3.3-liter V-6, as well as a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, providing 240 horses and middle-of-the-range fuel economy.

I spent my extra time in an SXL-level AWD model with the smaller turbocharged engine, and hit about 23 combined MPG, much as advertised — enjoying the added off-the-line boost the Sorento gets with that engine.

Power overall is quite good and I especially enjoyed Sorento’s stature while literally crashing through the snow. Feel is poised overall and it’s certainly comparable to its domestic competitors in ride quality.

However, the looks are so striking and futuristic and heavily chrome-laden that they might cause a few potential buyers to shake their heads. We hope that they’ll also evaluate the entire package and find them to be a pretty cool move, rather than a deal-breaker.

It’s certainly a lot of bling to deal with up front, including those unusual four-lens fog lamps, a bubbly grille and even an aluminum plow blade-styled strip on the lower bumper lip.

Inside, the hard plastics of the old days have been replaced by soft-touch materials, and the thoroughly modern cabin is designed very much like a huge version of the new Kia Soul — with a broad dash broken up in the middle by an oversized pod, looking like a 1950s TV set, containing the navigation and audio head unit.

My SXL had red-ish Nappa leather throughout, plus glossy highlights on the steering wheel, very comfortable ventilated and heated leather seating (even in the second row). A tasteful blend of piano black surrounding panels and other flat black plastic makes it all look quite nice, contemporary and maybe only just a little overwhelming in the button department — drive modes, the 4×4 lock, emergency brake, parking sensor and multi-camera view controls.

Most of the latter are part of a $2,500 technology package that also includes xenon headlamps, lane-departure and forward-alert collision warning systems, predictive cruise control and a handy around-view camera system.

It’s absolutely quiet on the inside and the precise feel of the steering and the muted balance of the suspension really does make it feel like a whole new deal for Kia.

Size is up overall — about 3 inches longer, and a 3-inch-longer wheelbase — and by dropping the floorpan about 2 inches, the whole vehicle has become roomier.

Some new touches are more subtle than others — like the carpeted walls of the rear cargo area, making it a more secure spot for carrying all of your stuff.

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