2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD first drive review: Upping the notch

2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD

2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD

Think of the new 2016 Kia Sorento as the Korean carmaker notching up its game. Well, yes, again. But for the third generation of Kia’s crossover, it means bigger, stronger and a lineup of three engines, and it’s improved in just about every way.

It’s something that shows up behind the wheel. The 2016 Kia Sorento feels like it’s been wrapped in felt, warm, cushy and quiet. There’s firmness without being harsh, and there’s a feeling of calm and hush. And yes, this is Kia we’re talking about. Kia isn’t—or at least it shouldn’t be—the butt of cheap jokes, or jokes about being cheap.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD dash

The 2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD dash is well laid out and easy to use, but oh that fake stitching. (click to enlarge)

Kia’s corporate goal has been to build cars you want to own, rather than cars you own because you have to. And the 2016 Kia Sorento meets that challenge.

Unlike the 2014 Kia Sorento (reviews here and here), which was a heavy facelift rather than a new generation, the 2016 Sorento is new from the chassis up; fifty-three percent of the unit-body consists of advanced high-strength steel, a 115 percent increase over the outgoing model. Kia credits a lot of industrial strength adhesives, “dual-seal lip joints” along with large diameter and laser welding techniques.

Kia refined the Sorento’s front suspension with an “H-shaped” subframe, four-point bushing mountings, and Hydraulic Rebound Stopper-type shock absorbers. Optional electric motor is mounted on the on the steering rack, for less slop and a more direct steering feel.

The rear suspension include a longer redesigned rear cross-member that improves wheel travel for a smoother ride over rough pavement (or lack thereof), and the Sorento gets new rear suspension bushings that help reduce road noise. Rear shock absorbers were also vertically mounted, which Kia says improves ride.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD engine

The 2016 Kia Sorento 2.0-liter engine is available on the SX and SXL trim levels. (click to enlarge)

Whatever does it, works.

A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is new for 2016. The direct-injection 2.0-liter is added to the engine lineup between the base 2.4-liter four and a 3.3-liter V-6. The turbo engine is rated at 240 horsepower and a healthy 260 lb-ft of torque that spreads over a wide rev range, from 1450 to 3500 rpm. The low-end torque provides a ready dose of acceleration always available, and it makes the Sorento easy to drive around town or out on the highway without having to rev it like crazy for anything more than leisurely acceleration.

The V-6 is rated at 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. The latter doesn’t peak until 5300 rpm, but with all-wheel drive, the V-6-powered Sorento is tow rated at 5000 lbs, and with standard front-wheel drive 3500 lbs. Whether front- or all-wheel drive, the 2.0 turbo Sorentos can pull up to 3,500 lbs, while a Sorento with the 2.4-liter four is rated at 2,000 lbs.

2016 Kia Sorento badge

This badge on the hach of the 2016 Kia Sorento idetifiees it as an SXL with the 2.0 turbo. Whether it has all-wheel drive is a secret. (click to enlarge)

The 2.4, like the other Sorento engines, has direct injection, just smaller than the V-6 and not turbocharged like, well, the turbocharged 2.0-liter. At 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque to move more than 3,700 lbs, whiplash shouldn’t be a problem, at least from acceleration.

We didn’t have the opportunity to drive the non-turbo four, though we did have seat time in both the turbo and the V-6. Surprisingly enough, our seat of the pants meter didn’t detect a big difference in acceleration between the two, while the 2.0 didn’t yield a perceptible turbo lag. Neither engine should cause anxiety in merge-into-traffic situations.

The 2016 Kia Sorento trim levels start with the base Sorento L, available only with the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive. The 2.4 is also the standard engine for the LX trim, available with front- or all-wheel drive. The Sorento LX can also be powered by the V-6, and the EX comes with either the V-6 or the turbo 2.0-liter. An SX trim level is offered with the V-6 only, while the SX-L can be powered by either the turbo motor or the V-6.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD

2016 Kia Sorento SXL 2.0T AWD (click to enlarge)

More model muddling: The Sorento L and the Sorento with the 2.0-liter engine are available as five-seaters only, while the LX with the 2.4 is available as wither a five- or seven-seater. With the V-6, you get seven seats. Period.

With either seating configuration, however, the second and third row seatbacks fold to make a flat load floor, something not all SUV/crossovers have. The flat floor, however, makes all the reported volume fully usable, particularly large items that need to be slid in.

With second and third row seatbacks folded, the 2016 Kia Sorento has 74 cubic inches of cargo space (lined with carpet up the sides) but with the third row in use, the Sorento has only 11 cubic feet, and that by the EPA’s generous measuring procedure. Loading groceries, particularly in plastic, will be difficult with the third row up. Cargo space goes from 72.5 cu.-ft. to 74 cu-ft, and behind the third row from 9.1 cu.-ft. to 11 cu-ft. It’s still limited behind row number three, however.

The rear seatbacks do fold 40/20/40 for the second row and 50/50 for the third, so long items can be loaded with room still for a couple of passengers in the rear. But while the second row is comfortable for two, the third row seating is typical for midsize crossover/SUV’s, with the seat bottom close to the floor and minimal legroom, and less than graceful entry and exit—though Kia brags of an additional 1½ inches of room to squeeze through to get into the back. Consider the third row usable in a pinch for standard-size adults, or by the smaller of fry. Or it’s them or the cargo. Take your pick.