2017 Hyundai Santa Fe SportEnlarge Photo
The 2017 Kia Sorento and 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport serve slightly different parts of the crossover SUV market. That's because the Sorento offers a third-row seat and a 2016 redesign makes it larger. The two come closest when outfitted with five-passenger seating. In this guise, they compete with the likes of Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Add that third row to the Sorento, however, and it competes with larger vehicles like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.
Both models serve families well, with a nice balance of comfort, space, and value. Using our new rating system, the Sorento scores a 7.2, the Hyundai a 7.3—so it's a close battle. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
While every bit of the Kia's sheet metal and every piece of trim have changed, it’s understandable that someone may not see too much difference between the 2016 and 2015 models. From all but the side, the Sorento’s proportions look quite familiar, yet with a more prominent version of the Kia grille; some cleaned-up, more mature, upscale details in front and in back; and a little more softness for everything in between. The cabin of has been quite dramatically tidied-up and made more sophisticated, too, with more soft-touch trims all around—wherever front occupants are expected to typically touch—and climate and navigation/audio controls cordoned off into nice, neat control pods.
Similarly, the Santa Fe Sport has an attractive shape that looks modern and grown-up. Updated for 2017, its sharp edges and tight creases wrap around the glassy wagon body in interesting ways, and the grille presents a handsome hexagonal face. Between the Tucson and larger Santa Fe, we say the Santa Fe Sport wears the new corporate SUV style the best. The interior is another bar raised for Hyundai, with a shield of controls surrounded by the usual swoops and fluid curves. It's all trimmed in two-tone materials, an upscale touch that looks better when it's capped in glossy trim than in faux wood.
Of the two we give the styling nod to the Sorento for its slightly more upscale look.
We also prefer the Sorento's performance. From the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel that there’s been major improvement in the way the re-engineered Sorento responds. Steering tracks well on center, the brake feel inspires confidence, and the suspension keeps a firm, composed ride. Altogether, the Sorento has what Kia set out to achieve: a vault-like, German-style ride and a heftier, more confident feel in general—even though the lineup has lost some weight.
The Santa Fe Sport's driving experience is mostly effortless and smooth. Ride quality is probably the Santa Fe Sport's best feature—it's almost always calm and collected—but its three-mode steering is mostly there for technological flourish. We'd just as soon leave it in Normal or Sport, because Comfort's just too slow to respond.
The Sorento also offers a wider range of engines and more towing capability. Kia offers a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter inline-4, a 290-hp 3.3-liter V-6, and a new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 making 240 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. While the V-6 might have 50 more horsepower, the 2.0-liter turbo feels perkier in most types of driving—all but off-the-line acceleration. The Sorento can tow up to 5,000 pounds with the available V-6 and it offers all-wheel drive with a differential lock that locks in a 50/50 front/rear split.