2016 Kia Sorento Limited V6 Review - Not Your Father's Kia [Video]

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
Fast Facts

2016 Kia Sorento Limited V6

3.3L DOHC V6, CVVT (290 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 252 lbs-ft @ 5,300)
6-speed Automatic
17 city/23 highway/19 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
19.2 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price
As Tested
* Prices include $895 destination charge.

Kia gained a well-deserved reputation in the ’90s for cheap and nasty transportation, but lately they are the greatest social climber since Cinderella. “2016 Kia” and “1996 Kia” are totally different from one another. Even “2006 Kia” seems like a distant memory.

Unusual for a car company, Kia doesn’t shy away from its troubled beginnings in America, which can be seen both in its marketing toward the press and in its product portfolio.

The 2016 Sorento is a perfect example. While the model we were lent for a week is a solid contender to the Ford Edge, Toyota Highlander and even the Acura MDX, Kia also sells a model priced at $24,900, just above the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

Does this make the Sorento conflicted? Or is the Korean born, German designed and American built crossover the “just right” CUV?

Before we go further, let’s talk about the elephants in the room: the Hyundai Santa Fe twins.

Obviously, with Kia and Hyundai joined at the financial and technical hip, the Sorento is related to the 3-row Santa Fe and the 2-row Santa Fe Sport. However, instead of creating Kia copies of those models (like GM would do), the engineers split the difference and gave us a CUV between the Hyundai pair in size, available as either a 2-row or a 3-row crossover.


Kia has long been accused of copying styles and jamming discordant cues into one product. The pinnacle of this was the unloved Kia Amanti, mercy killed a number of years ago. That model had Mercedes E-Class headlamps, a Jaguar-meets-Chrysler grille, Lincoln tail lamps and a decidedly Town Car profile. This is a different kind of Kia building a different kind of car.

The Korean marque’s latest modus operandi also includes updating products heavily and frequently, and so is the case with the Sorento.

Back in 2010 when Kia launched the new Sorento, it was the first Kia built in the United States and the first Sorento that didn’t look like an awkward copy of a first generation Lexus LX. For 2014, massive changes were made that turned the Sorento into a strong value alternative to the Edge, but with restrained exterior styling. For 2016, Kia brings yet another Sorento with massive mechanical changes and a much more stylish and dramatic exterior. While I still see a little Volkswagen-meets-Audi styling in the Sorento’s tail lamps, this kind of homage is more flattery than imitation — or maybe heritage considering Hyundai-Kia’s current head of group design. The front end is dominated by Kia’s distinctive three-dimensional “tiger nose” grille that uses protruding plastic “fingers” instead of slats or bars like most other crossovers.

Although the 2016 model receives a three-inch stretch over the 2014 Sorento, this is still a “tweener” crossover at 187.4 inches long. The Sorento is just about the same size as a 2-row Ford Edge despite the availability of a third row. That means the 7-seat Sorento is 4- to 5-inches shorter than the likes of the Toyota Highlander or Dodge Journey, but 8-10 inches longer than the average compact crossover, such as the RAV4.


Many vehicles with broad competitive sets like the Sorento start with building blocks suited to their base price and add features as you climb up the ladder. You can see this in vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit where you’ll find stitched leather goodness sitting immediately next to hard injection-molded plastics. With the 2016 Sorento, Kia charted a different course. The engineers started with an interior well suited to our $46,495 fully loaded model and cut deep to get down to $24,900. This means base models ditch seat-back storage pockets, floor mats, auto-up/down windows, power seats, automatic climate control, USB charging ports, roof rails, leather wrapped anythings and even A-pillars get stripped of their fabric coverings. (The good news is that much of this returns in the $26,200 LX model.)

Base model front seats lack power adjustment or adjustable lumbar support. LX trims can option up to a 10-way driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support that’s standard on EX. SX and Limited trims get a 14-way seat with a power-extending thigh cushion and 4-way lumbar. Base seats are as comfortable as most entry compact crossovers, mid level seats are as comfortable as you find in the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Edge, and the top-end seats beat the Lexus RX and Acura MDX when it comes to comfort and adjustability.

The Sorento’s second row features thickly padded seats in every version with a practical 40/20/40 split-folding design. While the seats themselves are among the most comfortable in every class the Sorento competes, and headroom is generous, the crossover’s compact dimensions mean legroom is tighter than options such as the Edge, Highlander and Grand Cherokee, not to mention the full-sized options like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. This means with the front seat adjusted for my 6-foot frame, I had about two inches of legroom in the middle row — adequate for sure, but not expansive like the larger crossovers where you will find several more inches of room. The reason for the less expansive midsection is that Kia reserves a surprisingly generous amount of legroom for the way-back.

Our tester’s third row actually sported more legroom than that found in the Toyota Highlander and only a hair less than found in the Acura MDX. This is the prime reason we find less room in the second row, but it does strike me as an unusual choice since the Sorento doesn’t gain any room in the second row if you delete the third. Although the third row bench is practically on the floor, Kia compensates with one of the plusher third row benches available. In top end models, they also grant the third row the same perforated nappa leather covering as the rest.

Infotainment and Gadgets

As you’d expect with a low starting price, base L models get basic infotainment with a CD player, iPod interface and Bluetooth standard. The next step up is UVO with eServices, which adds a four-inch color LCD along with 911 assistance, Pandora integration, vehicle diagnostics and other SYNC/OnStar like services delivered via your paired cell phone.

Our model had the top-of-the-line 8-inch UVO navigation system paired with an Infinity surround sound speaker system. UVO still lacks the voice command functionality of your media library that you’ll find in most of the mass-market competition, but this is the only serious omission in this software. The UVO interface is snappy, supports scrolling/drag motions with your fingers, and the voice recognition software is intuitive. The display is large and easy to read in strong daylight and the user interface is sleek and modern. Although Kia has not released an official statement to this effect, it was implied that 2016 Sorentos will likely have an upgrade path to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto when I was at the Optima launch event a few weeks ago.

The new Sorento is available with all of Kia’s latest gadgets and gizmos brought down from their flagship sedan, including a 360-degree camera system a la Infiniti, full speed range adaptive radar cruise control, a 7-inch partial LCD instrument cluster, forward collision warning and auto brake hold. Coupled with the heated/ventilated seats, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, the Sorento had arguably more luxury features than the Acura MDX I’m driving right now.


Under the hood you’ll find one of three direct-injection engines mated to a Hyundai/Kia 6-speed automatic. The L model, with a 2.4L naturally aspirated four cylinder, cranks out 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. LX keeps the same engine but allows you to add all-wheel drive for $1,800. The next stop, and perhaps the most popular engine, is the familiar 3.3-liter V-6 from the Cadenza. In the Sorento, that engine makes 293 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 252 lb-ft of torque at a lofty 5,200 rpm. The 2-row versions of the EX and Limited come with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo rated at 240 horsepower when it spins up to 6,000 rpm. This is less powerful than their old 2.0-liter turbo because the new design favors low-end torque (260 lb-ft from 1,450 RPM) over high-revving horsepower, meaning 0-60 times are slower but you’ll experience less downshifting while hill climbing with the new turbo mill. It is worth noting that Kia tunes their turbo to run on regular unleaded while Ford’s published power numbers in the Ecoboosted Edge require 93 octane.

The engine bay is another area where the “tweener” status of the Sorento is obvious. The Nissan Murano, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Edge don’t feature naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines. On the flip side, the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and other compact crossovers don’t offer turbo or V-6 options. Towing capacity ranges from 2,000 pounds in the base model to 5,000 pounds if you add the V-6 and all-wheel drive, putting the Sorento on essentially the same footing as most 3-row CUVs. Unlike most of the other crossovers, Kia includes a “lock” button that can lock the center clutch pack at low speeds. Although the differentials remain open units, engaging this mode makes the Sorento’s all-wheel drive system behave more like the always-on Subaru systems below speeds of 20 mph.


So it looks good and is packed with all the latest. How does it drive? Just like a near-luxury crossover actually. The Sorento’s power steering is well weighted (albeit numb) in all versions, lacking the overboosted feeling of the Escape and Edge I tested back-to-back. The tiller lacks the precision and feedback you get in the Mazda CX-5, but then again the Kia is larger and heavier so that’s not unexpected. What was unexpected was how much the Sorento reminded me of the MDX all the way around. Both vehicles have 60/40 weight balances and the MDX does get a mechanical torque vectoring rear axle rather than the less expensive brake-based system we see in the Sorento. However, on my favorite mountain highway, the hot-shot MDX driver in front of me couldn’t shake the plucky Kia.

That bodes well for the Sorento in the mass market segment because Toyota’s latest Highlander is no slouch. Toyota shoes their mid-sized pony with 245 width tires even in the base four-cylinder model and no Highlander is marshmallowy soft anymore. Following form, Kia puts 235 width tires on all Sorento models (the Kia compensates by being several hundred pounds lighter), which is a big differentiator between it and the RAV4 crowd.

Even with the 235/55 tires and 19-inch wheels our model wore, the ride was well composed and didn’t feel upset until pressed hard in corners on broken pavement. Although the rear became momentarily upset in these situations, it was predictable, required effort to achieve and quickly settled down when I was done. The composed theme is furthered by the hushed cabin. As with other items on the Sorento, the sound deadening is another cost cutting measure on lower end models; LX-and-below trims lack the acoustic glass found in our tester. Looking on this another way, however, Sorento models over $31,000 (which is incidentally where the V-6 Highlander starts) will have sound blocking windows. This is something you normally don’t get until you step up to the likes of the Lexus RX and Acura MDX.

When it comes to the numbers, the Sorento scored exceptionally well in our braking tests, stopping from 60 mph in 118 feet with minimal fade in the second panic stop. The one significant thing that changes from the lower- to upper-end models: Kia swaps out the Kumho tires for some quieter and slightly grippier Michelins which help handling and braking distances. The one thing the tires can’t fix is the decidedly average 6.92 second 0-60 run or the disappointing 19.1 miles per gallon I averaged during my week. Admittedly the Sorento beat the V-6 Highlander to 60 and yielded exactly the same fuel economy average Kia claims, but the heavier Highlander and Pilot both manage to be slightly more thrifty with the gas card. Of course, Kia does have the more efficient turbo engine that gives up 2/10ths on the 0-60 run and the third row in exchange for a 22-percent improvement in fuel economy.

And that’s the rub with the engine selection: you can’t get the mother-in-law row with the boosted four, only the V-6 and rare 2.4-liter LX model with a $1,200 option box checked.

The Sorento’s biggest advantage is, as expected, the value proposition. At the high-end it is nearly $10,000 less than an Acura MDX despite having a longer powertrain warranty. In the midline trims, you get more features than a Highlander for the same price and, again, a longer warranty. Even at the bottom of the Sorento food chain, where it’s a step up from the Escape and RAV in terms of price, the Sorento compensates with a bigger cargo area, optional third row, and, you guessed it, a longer warranty. This is the biggest change for Kia over the last 10 years. They went from justifying their cheap interiors and me-too styling with “we’re cheaper!” taglines to giving you an ostensibly better product than the competition for the same dollar. That is perhaps the truest version of value.

Short-term value was Kia’s hallmark last decade with low starting prices and below average reliability. However, this seems to be a different Kia. The Korean company’s predicted reliability metrics are now at traditional Japanese levels with even Consumer Reports projecting a happy ownership experience. For the less badge conscious, the Sorento is a screaming deal. For folks like me watching from the peanut gallery, I’m wondering how long it will be before Kia starts pricing their wares like the frankly impressive cars they are today. If Kia keeps this up, they won’t have a problem jumping the last hurdle: convincing Toyota/Honda shoppers to visit a Kia dealer.

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 6.92 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.25 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Alex L. Dykes
Alex L. Dykes

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24 of 65 comments
  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Nov 10, 2015

    This car makes no sense at $46,000. When you load up a Kia to top spec like this, you may as well get something else that'll have better resale value and a non-discount badge.

    • See 20 previous
    • Bd2 Bd2 on Nov 13, 2015

      Actually - the top 2 specs of the Sorento sell well not only in the US but in the UK (and in Australia, the top spec Santa Fe Highlander sells very well). Buyers these days want not only all the convenience features, but all the added safety tech. Many buyers would rather do that these days than get a lower-trim luxury badged vehicle w/o most of the modern day conveniences and tech.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Nov 10, 2015

    I saw one of these for 49 large. I'm sorry but that is insane money for any Kia crossover with average performance, fuel economy and steering. The 32-35K versions make a lot more sense. For 50 large I would much rather have the new XT5 or even the MDX with far more luxury pedigree and superior more powerful engines.

    • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Nov 10, 2015

      Once you get into that price range the MDX SH-AWD is sort of the nuclear weapon of the crossover segment. It makes a lot of other vehicles look kind of silly, between the SH-AWD, the reasonable-for-kids third row, and the high feature content and build quality. Acura's product planning is a bit lost on sedans right now, but they are absolutely nailing crossovers.

  • MaintenanceCosts Looks like the best combination of capability, interior comfort, and subtle appearance can be achieved by taking a Laramie (crew cab, short bed, 4x4 of course) and equipping it with the Sport Appearance, Towing Technology, and Level 2 packages as well as a few standalone options. That's my pick.Rebel is too CRUSH THAT CAN BRO and Limited and up are too cowboy Cadillac.
  • Xidex easier to buy a mustang that already sounds like that. love the coyote growl
  • Oberkanone Shaker motor on an EV. No thanks.
  • Oberkanone Crew Cab 6'4" box, 4x4, BighornInterested in midsize truck from Ram. Our fleet includes fullsize truck as well as Maverick compact and something midsize could replace both. Ram is 1st choice of the current full size offerings, with Ford in 2nd place.
  • EBFlex Nice truck, but it needs a proper engine.