Mountain Wheels: Kia shows off its progress with standout Sorento, speedy K5 sedan
It’s been a remarkable couple of years for Korean automaker Kia, which is very steadily moving into its own as an established and award-winning brand — despite what your cranky uncle still says about them. Their hard-to-get Telluride SUVs are worth more used than new, and the all-new, all-electric EV6 is one of 11 new electrified models planned over the next five years.
Let’s focus on two of Kia’s other recent, heavily reinvented models, each of which comes in a variety of powertrain options. That includes two versions of the all-new 2021 Sorento three-row SUV and some time I spent in the impressive, almost European-styled K5 sports sedan.
There are a lot of choices for Sorento models, but the most interesting are the Outback-targeted X-Line AWD edition and the hybrid. I drove a $44,285 X-Line very much identical to the one pictured here. I enjoyed its slightly lifted chassis, its brawny and blacked-out features and wheels and all of that ahead-of-the-curve styling, a la Telluride, its bigger cousin.
The much-evolved Sorento gains a 2.5-liter turbo choice that packs 281 horsepower and a hill-eating 311 pound-feet of torque, nearly a 100-horsepower gain from the previous engine — but still capable of over 25 mpg. It’s also got an eight-speed, dual wet clutch transmission like you’d find on an expensive Euro import.
Poised as a super-capable summertime trail machine and solid, all-wheel-drive snow performer, a new dedicated snow traction mode, lockable central differential and even torque vectoring also mean it’s sophisticated and a little more fun to drive. With a totally flat dash and thin window pillars, visibility is also at a Subaru level of safety.
Really, it’s the ton of very un-American little touches inside and out that make Kia an interesting choice, beyond its reputation for solid build quality and competitive pricing. The air vents have smaller “tweeter” styled sub-vents, the seats have discrete built-in USB plugs (versus 400 pounds of electronics like Dodge/Chrysler seatbacks) and there’s unusual and angular design in and out — all pretty cool for an otherwise boring industry category. The old-fashioned tube radio-style display readout is especially strange and cool. It also offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The second row seems like the Sorento’s ideal spot in its captain’s chairs configuration, with doors that open almost 90 degrees, a comfortable loading height and a vastly elevated view of the road. Plus those odd, open-topped door/elbow rest cupholders. A smallish third row will accommodate the kids.
Looking back to an extremely frigid midwinter test drive I got in the Sorento’s hybrid version, this sunny, lightweight, front-wheel-drive California-Korean sadly got pretty sketchy on its plane-jane summer tires.
But, on drier roads or properly shod, it was also a pleasant, capacious vehicle that bordered on minivan convenience. And its hybrid setup is quite remarkable, as one highway trip pushed me into 40 mpg territory, 34.5 mpg being the average in 16 degree weather.
Even better, this is a turbo-powered hybrid, a rarity in the industry, with its 1.6-liter engine and 44 kW electric motor combo generating 227 combined horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It absolutely hauled along headed uphill, entirely overcoming the sometimes fey character associated with older hybrid vehicles. There is also a plug-in hybrid version on the horizon that jumps to 261 horsepower, which will be equipped with more winter-friendly AWD.
Another Kia option is the new K5, a reinvented mid-sized replacement to the Optima that’s pushing a lot of boundaries with options including all-wheel drive and a high-performance package.
I spent more winter time in a practically Audi-styled (and certainly Audi-colored) GT-Line AWD model, priced at just $31,300, and found that the total reinvention from a debatably dowdy mid-sized sedan to a performance-oriented machine is quite effective. It’s two inches longer overall, with a 1.8-inch-longer wheelbase, transforming it into quite the looker.
The car has enough aerodynamic features, all-inclusive extras (panoramic sunroof, LED headlamps, heated seats and wheel, stop-and-go cruise control) and enough added length and depth to make you think you’re getting a half-priced A7 clone. Well, sort of.
That might be more the case with the ultra-zooty 2.5-liter turbo like the upscale Sorento, here tuned to generate 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. The standard engine on my tester was a 1.6-liter making 180 horsepower.
Still, with the all-wheel assistance, I was able to carve corners in a firmly planted style, and notice all the expansive room in the back seat for passengers. It could use some paddle shifters and the turbo’s start-up noises are a little raw, but it’s pretty well sorted for a vehicle of this price.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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