The recipe for a compact crossover SUV has been pretty much cast in stone now. It needs to be car-based, available in front- or all-wheel drive, with four- or six-cylinder power, and suitable for soft-road use. The first-generation Kia Sorento, a tough body-on-frame truck design with real off-road capability, didn’t quite meet that description, so the new generation of Sorento has been completely reworked to give buyers in this segment yet another choice to look at. And they should, as it is fully up to competing with the established models.
Built in an all-new, one-billion-dollar state-of-the-art plant in rural Georgia, the Sorento is really all-new, and Kia looks for it to continue to gain the company the attention and respect it feels it deserves in the marketplace. After a day driving it around Georgia, we see no reason why it shouldn’t do that, as it felt very solid and handled everything including torrential rain with no problems.
We spent the day in six-speed automatic V6-powered AWD and FWD models, with the 276-horsepower 3.5L engine built just down the road a piece at the Hyundai plant in Alabama. Yes, the Sorento is the cousin of the Hyundai Santa Fe made there. This powertrain combination is expected to be the top seller in the line, and it was everything one could want in performance and refinement. The full-time AWD set-up has a locking centre differential that apportions power 50/50 front/rear when slippage is detected. Also available is a new 2.4L four cylinder, available with six-speed manual in front-drive models.
The size of these compact CUVs has been creeping up, and the new Sorento jumps right into the bigger end of the spectrum, with all that implies for interior room. It is one of the few to offer a third row seat, if that is something you think you’d need. Like some other Korean-made cars we have driven recently, the driver’s seat doesn’t quite go low enough for the full comfort of taller drivers (like this writer), reducing the available headroom, but otherwise, the Sorento is roomy, especially in the cargo department, an impression magnified by the flat load floor with the rear seats folded.
Sorento is nicely turned out and well-equipped in either LX or EX trim levels. Standard equipment includes technology like Bluetooth, satellite radio and AUX/USB connectivity, plus all the expected safety gear like Electronic Stability Control, side curtain bags, ABS brakes and active head restraints. All the tech goodies you can think of are optional, including navigation, upgraded audio and automatic A/C.
Fuel economy reflects the latest in drivetrain technology, with a best of 6.9L/100 km on the highway for the four-cylinder FWD automatic, up to 7.9 with the AWD V6.
Sorento prices start at $23,995, but figure on getting more into the $30,000 range to get the V6 and AWD. Any way you go, the new Sorento is a solid new contender in the compact CUV fray.