Less than 24 hours removed from the visual excess that comprised this year’s New York Auto Show (like, where should I start?), awaiting me at the D/FW Airport was – at least in stylistic terms – the proverbial breath of fresh air. In an era when a Camry is working overtime to be ‘bold’ (good luck with that…), and most young design teams connected to an OEM appear to have cut their stylistic teeth with a Transformers poster stuck to their bedroom walls, the clean, nuanced sheetmetal utilized on the 2016 Kia Sorento provides a contrast every bit as sharp as Manhattan’s confined canyons when compared to the vast vistas of North Texas. The new Sorento is one unusually clean design exercise in an era of increasingly ‘Top This!’ executions. And for that, Dear Readers, we’re blessed…and thankful.
To its credit, the Sorento – in any of its three generations – has never been obnoxious. In its original, body-on-frame construct (launched in the 2003 model year) the then-new nameplate displayed a design restraint earlier evident on Kia’s very first stateside model, the compact Sportage. In fact, the Sorento looked to be a Sportage that had successfully escaped its adolescence. And despite the body-on-frame construction, there was little truck-like in its visual demeanor. At a time when Ford’s Explorer prominently displayed its Ranger/F-Series design roots, the Sorento seemed to predict a time when the SUV would become softer, more civilized. Ultimately, the relative inefficiency of its layout, along with growing disinterest among consumers in doing truck-like things in their SUVs, spelled the end of Gen I – and the beginning of a car-based Gen II.
That Sorento, introduced in the U.S. in 2010, seemed to be a visual outgrowth of what Ford was then doing with its midsized Edge. Somewhat angular, the Sorento’s two-box design was not as upright in front as the Ford, but employed a similar profile at the intersection of its roof and rear hatch. And while offering 3-row seating, the tight dimensions suggested but two rows if you were also bringing stuff. The somewhat derivative sheetmetal enveloped an innocuous platform; best described as benign, the 2nd generation Sorento neither offended nor delighted.
Happily, the all-new-for-’16 Sorento is a visual homerun, and the new sheetmetal conceals a significantly improved platform. That was outlined in John Matras’ first drive; we’ll simply note the Sorento’s connectivity – at least that connection between the road and driver – was exactly what you’d hope for in a CUV designed in this decade. With overall design strategy supervised by one-time Audi designer – and now Kia president – Peter Schreyer, we shouldn’t be surprised by the Sorento’s Euro-chic visage. That it makes its showroom debut at roughly the same time as Lexus launches its NX 200t and Infiniti teases with its compact QX30 makes this Sorento the tasteful, restrained outlier. And while ‘bold, striking’ statements may work for a two year lease, we’re inclined to think the Sorento’s clean understatement will serve you far better over 60 easily-managed monthlies.
The stark contrast between the Sorento’s relaxed, casual freshness and more notably extreme takes on the CUV begins at the front, where Kia’s friendly face, distinctive grille and tuck-in overhang almost imply a rear-wheel drive proportion. Kia suggests some of the design inspiration can be found in nature, and while we don’t see that, the car’s organic footprint more closely suggests nature than rage of the machine.
In profile, our SX-trim test vehicle’s 19-inch rims and 235/55 tires provide a stance you’d want from an adult-owned crossover; it ain’t a dune buggy, nor is it a rock crawler. Rather, it’s an urban/suburban family hauler perfect for the commute, carpool or cross-country adventure. In profile we like the Sorento’s generous greenhouse, subtle side sculpting and lack of excess. The roof rails are nicely integrated, and make you wonder why other CUV manufacturers have such a tortured relationship with the roof rail. Should we include? Shouldn’t we? Why not simply design them like the Sorento’s, integrating their installation into the overall lines of the car.
It’s only in the back where we find the smallest of visual disconnects. We like the single exhaust outlet, for no 3.3 liter V6 that we know of would logically require dual exhausts – or the unnecessary weight that comes with them. There are, however, a couple of fake air outlets that seem way unnecessary; sure, they break up the relatively large expanse of the rear bumper cover, but are a glaring departure from the otherwise unruffled exterior. ‘Fake’ is bad, and authentic is good. The Sorento shape deserves to be uniformly good.
Happily, with the surprise and delight greeting you at the curb, you won’t be disappointed once opening the door. The dash design is clean, the infotainment largely intuitive, and plastics are what you’d hope they would be in a CUV costing between $30 and (roughly) $40K. Up front, seats are easy to access while doing a reasonably job of holding your seat in place. In back, the second row is extremely spacious, while the third remains roughly the same penalty box most third rows – short of a Suburban’s – would seem. Fold the third row down, however, and you’ll enjoy enough room for a lawn mower and Budweiser keg.
Our test Sorento SX, with 3.3 liter V6 and AWD, stickered at just under $39K, plus $895 destination. Were we buying one, we’d opt for the leather-equipped EX, get the new 2.0 liter turbo four and AWD. At around $35K it would prove reasonably nimble in town, and fully capable – given the turbo – at any altitude you’d care to drive.
If in the market for a nicely balanced crossover with the right balance of space and capability, visit your Kia showroom soon. The line – as they say – forms there…
Specifications continued on next page…