Solid but mild performance has been a hallmark of the Kia Sorento since it was new in 2011, and a pretty stiff ride has been one of its more obvious shortfalls. This year, the suspension's been redesigned and the powertrains have been revamped--and as a result, the Sorento's ride is more mellow, and its V-6 nets nearly 300 horsepower.
The direct-injection four-cylinder is still the base engine on the Sorento, however. As rare as it's likely to be, it's worth a look, given our past experience with it. The carryover four-cylinder has 191 hp and 181 pound-feet of torque, both lean figures for a vehicle weighing in at more than 3600 pounds. Coupled to the standard six-speed automatic, the four-cylinder is offered with front- or all-wheel drive, and hangs on to its slight advantage in price and gas mileage though it's unlikely to break the 10-second 0-60 mph mark with any more than one passenger on board.
The near-mandatory engine in the Sorento is the uprated 3.3-liter V-6 shared with the long-wheelbase Hyundai Santa Fe, and spec'ed out this year at 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain isn't just more powerful, it's more practical given its flexibility with a fully loaded vehicle, and fuel economy not far off the four-cylinder's mark (21 mpg versus 22 mpg combined for front-drive models, for example).
The V-6 works smoothly and efficiently with the six-speed automatic; though there's a sport-shift mode hanging off the shift lever, it's not very likely any Sorento driver will engage athlete mode, especially with six other passengers on board.
Kia's all-wheel-drive system is an on-demand system that can send torque from the front to the back wheels as the fronts slip, and a locking differential fixes the split evenly for tackling the worst weather--not that you'll be going deeply off-road in it. There's also a simulated torque-vectoring application for the anti-lock brakes that clamps down on an inside wheel to help tighten the Sorento's line through corners.
You'll give that some thought, given that the Sorento connects with the road in a more positive way than it did just last year. This year's Sorento gets better handling from a stiffer body structure, through variable-effort electric power steering (on SX models), and from additional bracing and more isolation in the suspension design. All versions have a detectable improvement in ride quality--no more pounding or thumping harshly over smaller road bumps, though new 19-inch wheels cut into that gain--and the SX versions with three-mode steering feel more engaging just from the presence of weight in Sport mode. We'd leave it in normal or comfort most of the time, but sometimes even a token gesture is a welcome one.