Last year's addition of a new, more advanced four-cylinder engine clouded our Kia Sorento recommendation a bit. In its first year on the market, we overwhelmingly advised you to pick the optional V-6 over the base four-cylinder, even with the slight gas-mileage and bigger price penalty it exacted.
Last year Kia introduced a third way--a new direct-injected four-cylinder with midrange power, excellent fuel economy, and decent acceleration. We still think the V-6 is the best model for those who plan on ordering all-wheel drive, and for those who need the seven-seat model and plan on filling their crossover with passengers and stuff on a regular basis--but the direct-injected four is a good choice for commuters who use their Sorentos a little more lightly.
The base four-cylinder lacks the punch and fuel-economy numbers to make it anything more than a frugal alternative. It's rated at 175 hp, and offered with the six-speed manual or automatic transmission and front- or all-wheel drive. It's sluggish, and not that much less expensive than the updated four-cylinder with direct injection that's offered on the Sorento LX and EX. With 191 horsepower and up to 30 mpg on the EPA highway cycle, this engine turns in a little more noise--a typical DI-induced ticking--but also juices the Sorento slightly more than the base engine. The relatively lightweight Sorento feels a little more responsive with it, and seems well capable of 0-60 mph runs of less than 9 seconds.
Anyone planning on moderate to heavy-duty use with the Sorento should spend up to the 3.5-liter V-6. With either front- or all-wheel drive, the 276-horsepower six pairs with the six-speed automatic for ample power, smooth and eager shifts, and brisk trips to the redline that enable clean-and-jerk maneuvers to highway speeds without much protest. Gas mileage isn't even that bad, compared to some of the five-seat competition, as long as all-wheel drive remains an option, not a foregone conclusion. If you don't live through more than a few weeks of winter each year, think twice before adding all that weight to the bottom line.
If you think you need it, the optional all-wheel-drive system sends most of the power to the front wheels, but when traction changes, it can send 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. Drivers can also lock the differential at a 50:50 power split, and Kia includes downhill descent control and hill-hold assists, but no true low range (or any real need) to make this a true off-road vehicle. However, the Sorento can tow 3,500 pounds in some trims.
The Sorento’s ride quality is a touch more rumbling than you might expect on construction riddled interstates, but you'll mostly notice noise and a light impact feel. It’s more softly sprung than the RAV4 and CR-V, with steering that’s willing but not exceptionally quick, and a whiff of torque steer for front-drive models. It’s the kind of benign handling you look for in family vehicles.