Crossover SUVs come in many sizes, and shoppers don't always compare vehicles with exactly the same attributes.
So we weren't too surprised when research showed two of the most-often-compared crossovers on The Car Connection are the Kia Sorento and the Honda CR-V.
After all, both are aimed right at the families who need the space to cart people and gear, and are more concerned with safety than sporty manners. Which one's better for you?
The Honda, freshly redesigned for 2017, is one of the top sellers in the compact SUV segment, along with the Toyota RAV4 and the Ford Escape. The larger Sorento is more of a competitor to the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Nissan Rogue. The Sorento offers an optional third row with two more seats, whereas Honda has the larger Pilot to fill that role.
Who wins on points? It's not a fair fight since they're not direct rivals, but we give the edge to the CR-V. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
From the outside, the redesigned Sorento is so evolutionary that it’s easy to let your mind fill in the lines, if you knew the previous model. The Sorento’s proportions look familiar, with a more prominent version of the Kia grille, some cleaned-up and more mature, upscale details in front and in back, and more softly rounded lines for most of what's in between.
The update is far more obvious inside. The 2017 Sorento's cabin has been dramatically tidied up and made more sophisticated, with soft-touch trims all around—wherever front occupants might happen to touch—and climate and navigation/audio controls that are cordoned off into neat, intuitive control pods.
The CR-V is also not all that different than its predecessor, but its new front fascia juts out with a little more sculpted precision and its tall tail lamps add a dash of style. Inside, the CR-V represents a big upgrade with nicer materials and the return of the volume knob; last year's model had haptic volume controls that were a consistent source of complaints.
The Kia Sorento carries over two engines from the previous model. A 185-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder is the base powertrain, and a 290-hp 3.3-liter V-6 sits at the top of the line. But for 2016, Kia added a new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 making 240 hp. All three are paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission and can be ordered with front- or all-wheel drive. We preferred the 2.0T model for its perky feel in most types of driving, even if its off-the-line acceleration wasn't the fastest of the three.
From the driver's seat, the latest Sorento responds and performs much better than its predecessor. The steering tracks better on center, the suspension provides a firm, composed ride, and the stiffer body structure gives a heftier, more confident feel and a vault-like German ride. Fuel economy is about par for the class, with the highest at 24 mpg combined for the 2.4-liter with front-wheel drive, down to 19 mpg for a fully-loaded AWD with the V-6.
CR-V LX models utilize a largely carried over 2.4-liter inline-4 engine rated at 184 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. All other trim levels, including the EX, EX-L, and Touring, make use of a more advanced 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that checks in with 190 hp and 179 pound-feet, the latter of which is spread across a much wider range of the engine's revolutions. That translates to far quicker acceleration and passing power with from the turbo model than from the standard engine in the LX. Both models make use of a CVT.
Honda estimates that about 75 percent of CR-Vs will feature its 1.5-liter turbo-4, which means that EX, EX-L, and Touring models with front-wheel drive are rated at 28 mpg city, 34 highway, 30 combined. The all-wheel drive version is rated at a still impressive 27/33/29 mpg.
The Honda's handling, too, is only average, but that hasn't held the CR-V back. The suspension prioritizes a softer ride over crisper responses, and the steering is predictable and unaggressive. It's even-handed, even slightly bland—and the optional all-wheel-drive system is more for all-weather reassurance than any kind of trail duty, as you might find with the systems in the Subaru Forester or the Jeep Renegade.
The Sorento wins the comfort and utility race by a slim margin, especially considering that it's a larger veicle. The Sorento's driver’s seat now has extendable thigh bolsters—definitely of use to taller drivers. Second-row space is essentially the same for two- and three-row versions, although two-row models include an underseat storage system. Adults will find the third row too short and hard to be comfortable over a long day—although it's just fine for a quick dinner outing with those under 5-feet-10.
The CR-V designers put their best and highest efforts into space and utility, providing excellent interior space combined with impressive back-seat comfort and good ride comfort in general. The rear has one of the most clever folding seats in its class, with the pull of a strap tumbling the lower cushion forward into the footwell, angling the headrest forward, and flipping the rear seatback forward, leaving a completely flat load floor with a low cargo liftover height.
The 2017 Sorento is highly rated for its safety, but the CR-V goes a step further by including automatic emergency braking on all but the base LX trim level.
Both the CR-V and Sorento offer lots of interior space, good safety scores, and a suitable set of features for family-hauling duty. But the Honda wins our comparison for its superior value and a higher-quality interior.