By Frank S. Washington
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (NNPA)–Although it should be sunny by the time you read this, we ran into real world conditions while here to test drive the new 2016 Kia Sorento. Wind gusts were up to 50 mph and sometimes more; precipitation varied between rain and sleet and a bunch of snow was expected that night.
We felt some relief when we were told that Kia had brought all-wheel-drive versions of the 2016 Sorento utility vehicle, front-wheel-drive versions are available. Although we were at altitudes that ranged from 5,000 to 7,000 feet, the roads were not narrow two-lane affairs. Still, driving at those altitudes with not much room for error kept us more alert than usual.
Kia has completely revamped the Sorento. The utility had a longer wheelbase by three-inches; it was slightly wider and a bit lower. Overall, it looked sleeker, the hood looked longer and it looked a lot lower than the one half-inch that Kia said it was.
The front end was more aggressive and narrower, while the tiger grille seemed taller. Its quad diode fog lamps were very distinctive and they are becoming the face of the brand, never mind the grille.
New for the third generation of the Sorento was a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 240 horsepower. Thus, there are now three engine choices: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that made 240 horsepower, a 2.4 liter normally aspirated four-cylinder that made 185 horsepower and the 3.3-liter V6 that made 290 horsepower.
Kia brought the V6 and the four-cylinder turbo. We sampled the turbo first. It ran smoothly, the engine was quiet and the six-speed transmission was sure. The torque was the secret at these altitudes.
The turbo made 260 pound-feet of torque at 1,450 rpm while the V6 that we sampled after lunch made 252 pound-feet of torque at 5,300 rpm. It made a difference. The Sorento’s six cylinder engine, though it made 30 horsepower more than the four-cylinder turbo, worked harder to get up and over the mountains here and the transmission downshifted often searching for gear induced torque.
The turbo on the other hand was a more effortless drive. By adding the four-cylinder equipped with a blower to the lineup, Kia has given the Sorento a model choice for just about any terrain in the U.S.
With the base four-cylinder engine, the Sorento can tow 2,000 pounds, the turbo can pull 3,500 pounds and the V6 can pull 5,000 pounds. The towing figures are for all-wheel-drive version of the utility vehicle.
The ride attributes of both Sorentos here were identical as well they should have been. The suspension had been revised, steering was relatively quick, for a utility vehicle the Sorento was fairly nimble, and a new “H” shaped subframe gave it a solid ride.
Overall, the Sorento was quiet, really quiet. That was surprising since the vehicle sat a bit higher than the average car. We felt the wind gusts more than we heard them. The Sorento was so quiet we kept eyes on the tree limbs and branches to gauge how hard the wind was blowing.
Improved too was the interior of the 2016 Sorento as Kia tries to uplift it into the ranks of premium utility vehicles. Occupants could have a tactile experience with the soft touch surfaces, especially the instrument panel, center console and door panels. The door grips were so soft they felt padded.
The Sorento had a 50-50 folding third row seat that was standard on the V6 and optional of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder. It is not available on the turbo. The second row was a 40-20-40 folding seat and the front row seats were heated and cooled, the second row seats were heated and the front row can have a 14-way power driver seat and an eight-way power passenger seat.
There was a stretch of California 70 East that was lined with wood frame houses, each sitting on a half-acre or more of land that looked like they were populated by a no-nonsense crew of people. This is where we got a chance to test the Sorento’s Clari-Fi audio technology.
It rebuilds sounds that are lost as music is compressed for digital storage. In other words, it will read the sound that is there and reconstruct the sound that got lost. The first application in a motor vehicle, Kia said the sound was cleaner, crisper, wider and more dynamic. We found it to be different and to sound better.
The Sorento’s UVO system continues to be improved. Apps can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play. Content can include Soundhound, Pandora and iHeart radio. For sure, there was satellite radio, voice controls and features such as local weather, fuel prices and sport scores in our test vehicle. The Sorento, like other contemporary vehicles, can operate as a semi lap top computer on four wheels.
Safety features on our turbo four-cylinder as well as the V6 included an electronic parking brake, smart cruise control, surround view monitor, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, a rearview camera, a backup warning system and Bluetooth.
New does not necessarily mean improved. But in the case of the 2016 Kia Sorento both meanings apply. Prices start at $24,900 and range up to $43,100.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.