Hey big contender

BY Haney Louka. Apr 28 03:00 am

Kia’s on the move. The Korean automaker is often thought of as Hyundai’s cheaper cousin. And for those still having trouble recognizing Hyundai as a serious alternative to more traditional mainstream brands, well, Kia isn’t even on the radar.

But the brand is not-so-quietly making headway into every market segment it enters. And, contrary to what you might think, it’s not doing it on price alone. If that were the case, this $47,095 Sorento would be difficult to take seriously. But not taking it seriously would mean missing out on potentially a very good fit for your crossover needs.

The Sorento is Kia’s three-row crossover; about the same size as a Mazda CX-9 and a half-size smaller than the likes of the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. It’s a crowded, competitive field to be sure, but our week with the Sorento showed that it has the chops to be a contender.

Sorento pricing starts at $27,695 for the front-drive LX. A naturally aspirated four-banger provides motive force and notable standard equipment includes rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloys, chrome body accents, windshield wiper de-icers, heated front seats and automatic headlights. All-wheel drive is a $2,200 option.

The $33,095 LX Turbo gets a bump in power thanks to a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, push-button start and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The Turbo has a 3,500-pound towing capacity.

If you need more towing, it’s a small jump to the $34,295 LX V6, which can drag 5,000 lb. worth of toys behind it. It’s also the entry to the seven-passenger models; the lower trims have seats for five only.

There’s also a mid-level EX trim that can be had with either the turbo four or the V-6, with more creature comforts and prices in the mid- to high-$30s.

But Kia sought to show us how it can outfit its Sorento with its most premium features so we got our hands on the top-trim SX+ V6. The SX line starts with the five-seat Turbo at $42,495, and includes 19-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, adaptive HID headlights (new for 2017), LED taillights, leather upholstery, cooled front and heated rear seats, a power liftgate, and an eight-inch display with navigation.

Our $47,095 SX+ nets the V6 engine, autonomous braking (new this year), 360-degree cameras, lane departure warning, Nappa leather upholstery, and adaptive cruise control. This is as loaded as the Sorento gets; there are no factory options available.

Part of the reason Kia makes a compelling case in a crowded market segment is the style it brings to the table. With former Audi design chief Peter Schreyer still at the helm of Kia design, the Korean company has found a way to make its products look much more expensive than they are. Four LED fog lights on each side arranged in a square is reminiscent of recent Porsche running light designs. The overall shape is blocky yet clean; free of frippery in the bodywork.

Our tester’s Snow White Pearl paint looked particularly striking against the contrast of its deep tinted windows.

The success story continues inside, where the dash design is uncluttered. With more and more capability incorporated in new vehicle designs, the biggest challenge comes in making the technology accessible and intuitive.

Step one: know which functions require hard buttons and which ones can be accessed through the display. In the Sorento’s case, the eight-inch touch screen is flanked by hard buttons for audio, navigation, phone, and setup functions. That means each of these are a single button push away. There are knobs for volume and tuning, and the whole works is situated above intuitive climate controls.

Below these are buttons for heating and cooling of the seats and heat for the steering wheel – things that other brands require multiple touch screen commands to get to.

Step two: redundancy is king. The steering wheel controls duplicate the dashboard audio functions on the left spoke, alongside the voice and phone buttons. The right spoke is for the radar-based cruise control, and Kia makes use of rubber toggle and rotary selectors in the spokes in a way that just makes sense.

Other upscale touches inside include a diamond pattern for the seat perforations, attractive stitching on the leather and an unusual amount of attention paid to rear seat accommodations: chrome accents, glossy trim, and a 115V outlet alongside USB and 12V connection points.

On the road, the Sorento provided a solid, refined ride. While it wasn’t as floaty as the Toyota Highlander we drove shortly after, it doesn’t possess the sophisticated control and handling of the Mazda CX-9. I’ll take its slightly harsh suspension over the Toyota, but the nimbler Mazda is king in this regard.

Regardless, it’s a capable vehicle that moved the four of us and our stuff down the road in comfort. The Sorento’s 3.3-L six-pot uses variable valve timing and direct gas injection to produce 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, and puts it to good use through a six-speed automatic transmission. While I’d argue that it feels more powerful than the Highlander with its equal horse count, it can’t touch the Toyota’s thrift at the pump: 14.0 L/100 km and 10.1 on the highway to the Toyota’s 12.0 and 8.9. In the real world, I prefer the responsiveness of the Kia.

Provided buyers can get past the idea of a near-$50K Kia, this loaded Sorento gives nothing up to its more pedigreed competition.



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