The current generation of the Kia Sorento has been offering up well-rounded and thoroughly competent but relatively mild performance ever since it was first introduced in 2011. Although its relatively stiff ride has been one of its more obvious shortfalls, that issue was soothed somewhat last year, and especially in V-6 versions we now think the Sorento is a strong, sophisticated-driving crossover.
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.
Nearly all versions of the Sorento come with a 3.3-liter V-6, as shared with the long-wheelbase Hyundai Santa Fe. Here it makes 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, and it has plenty of gusto to move this family vehicle quickly, even with a full load. Fuel economy isn't far off that of the four-cylinder models, either.
As for that entry engine, it's perky enough most of the time, with 191 hp and 181 lb-ft f torque, but it can feel overwhelmed with a full load, and the six-speed automatic transmission doesn't feel quite as quick to react.
The V-6 works smoothly and efficiently that transmission; though there's a sport-shift mode hanging off the shift lever, it's not very likely you'll need to use it--especially with six other passengers.
Kia has made some meaningful improvements to how the Sorento connects with the road; last year the Sorento got better handling from a stiffer body structure, through variable-effort electric power steering, as well as additional bracing and more isolation in the suspension design. 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.
If you get one of the models with all-wheel drive (keep in mind this isn't an off-road-oriented system), the on-demand system can send torque from the front to the back wheels just as the fronts slip, with a locking differential fixes the split evenly for tackling the worst weather.
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.