Is a four-cylinder engine enough for an SUV? Kia thinks so, offering not one, but two four-cylinder engine options for its 2016 Sorento model. To make an engine usually associated with compact cars practical for Kia's largest SUV, the Korean automaker applies direct injection, a technology that achieves more precise and efficient combustion.
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine manages 185 horsepower, but I drove a 2016 Kia Sorento Limited trim model, its smaller 2-liter four-cylinder engine using direct injection and a turbocharger to make 240 horsepower. Not once while driving the Sorento did I feel a need for more power.
Kia gave its largest SUV, or crossover utility vehicle in Kia parlance, a major update for the 2016 model year, incorporating new styling, similar to what I saw on the, new drivetrain options and interesting connected cabin tech. This new Sorento comes in five trim levels: L, LX, EX, SX and Limited. The three engines available are the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder and a 3.3-liter V-6. You can also get front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
In the US, the Sorento L will only set you back $24,900. Step up to the Limited model with standard navigation and its turbocharged 2-liter engine, and you're looking at $39,900. The model I looked at included the Technology package and all-wheel drive, pumping up the price to $45,095 total. UK buyers are looking at £28,795 for the base model, and that comes with a 2.2-liter diesel engine. Australian pricing isn't yet available for this new generation of Sorento, but it should be in the ballpark of the previous model, at AU$39,990 base.
The three gasoline engine options can make for a difficult decision with the Sorento, especially as you can get the all-wheel-drive option with each. The 2.4-liter has the lowest output but the best fuel economy, posting an EPA average of 23 mpg in the all-wheel-drive model. The 3.3-liter V-6 makes 290 horsepower, but its average fuel economy comes in at 19 mpg. The turbocharged 2-liter is the sweet spot, making 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, and hitting 21 mpg for average fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive versions average 1 or 2 mpg better.
What may be the deciding factor is that you can get three-row seating in the V-6 Sorento, good for seven passengers, but only two rows in either four-cylinder version.
I was roundly impressed with the turbocharged four cylinder in the Sorento I drove. Half-throttle from a stop was enough to launch ahead of other traffic, and the acceleration was surprisingly linear. Any turbo lag was likely mitigated by the six-speed automatic transmission, the all-wheel-drive system and the Sorento's 4,303-pound curb weight. Full-throttle starts were strong and controlled, even when facing up a hill. While the front-wheel-drive version would likely squeal the front tires, this all-wheel-drive version offered no drama.
Rolling acceleration was tepid due to the automatic transmission, which was slow to shift down.
Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes didn't change the Sorento's feel substantially. In Sport, the steering felt a little tighter and the throttle was slightly more responsive. Throttle difference between Eco and Normal modes was almost negligible.
Mostly, I found the Sorento an easy and comfortable driver, not requiring a whole lot of thought when taking off for the daily commute or running weekend errands. Drivers looking for this type of SUV aren't likely to pay much attention to the drive modes or the transmission's manual shift mode. As a modern family vehicle, the Sorento emphasizes ease of use and a nice, pliant ride.
There were no surprises as to handling. The Sorento felt a little top-heavy in the turns and tended to understeer, as you would expect an SUV of this size. The all-wheel-drive system didn't seem to positively affect the handling, and seemed more designed to handle slippery road conditions. Unlike many all-wheel-drive systems, Kia lets you lock the differential, ensuring a 50:50 torque split between front and rear wheels. That feature will come in handy if you get stuck in mud or snow.
Further contributing to stress-free driving, this Sorento came with the same driver assistance features as I saw on the Sedona minivan. The adaptive cruise control system successfully took over braking and acceleration when I got onto the highway, and even brought the Sorento to a complete stop when traffic stopped ahead. Kia opts for a relatively conservative program here, so that the Sorento came to a stop when a car in front of me slowed for a right turn, then got out of my way. It takes driver intervention to get the Sorento moving when the system brings it to a halt.