Review: Kia's new Sorento hauls big without driving big

Kia's 2016 Sorento has grown 3 inches longer and picked up a bigger third row of seats

Kia's Sorento is growing up. And getting bigger.

With the 2016 model, this crossover is doing what peers Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer have already done: It has grown 3 inches longer and picked up a bigger third row of seats.

And in the process, Kia has turned one of its top sellers into a refined leader of the pack.

The new Sorento starts at $25,795. Like its brother Kias, it's an appealing, reliable ride.

The extra length is well-deployed, especially in the middle row of seats, where full-size adults will fit comfortably. Unfortunately, things get a little tighter for long trips in the third row, and folding the middle seats for access isn't as easy as it should be.

The second and third rows fold completely flat when not in use, which opens up room on par with other large crossovers.

We put the cargo area to good use. On separate trips, the Kia hauled a massive oak dresser and a stackable washer and dryer unit without leaving the tailgate hanging open to terrorize drivers behind us.

More impressive, the Kia hauls big without driving big. It's easy to maneuver and park in tight situations, and the steering and handling were surprisingly responsive. Both Limited models we tested came with the optional 360-degree camera for sneaking the Sorento into ultra-tight parking spots.

Buyers have a choice of three engines in this Sorento.

The base model comes with the previous model's 185-horsepower four-cylinder engine.

Also carrying over is the top-end V-6, starting at $29,195 and generating 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque.

The new kid on the block is the turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It starts at $31,995, and is good for 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque (curiously, the third row of seats isn't available with the turbo).

The engines we tested – the V-6 and the turbo — make this Kia a good-looking workhorse. The V-6 can tow 5,000 pounds, and even when fully loaded its power comes on steady and strong. The turbo has less punch but gets kudos for being one of the smoothest engines we've tested recently.

We walked away favoring the extra grunt of the V-6.

All engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drive adds another $1,800. Though the AWD option on our test models blended in nicely on the warm, dry roads of Southern California, the transmission could benefit from smoother and quicker shifts.

Both models we tested were priced above $46,000. That's high, but on par with what others in the segment ask.

Highlights included a panoramic moon roof, Nappa leather seats — heated and cooled up front — adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, LED fog lights and a navigation system.

Those options were enclosed in quiet, comfortable cabin that felt more refined than any of Kia's competitors.

Things are equally upscale on the outside, with a sporty European flair, sleek headlights and an assertive, athletic stance. And that part doesn't cost extra. The $25,795 base model looks as good as the expensive iterations.

The turbo is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway, and we averaged 20.2 mpg with mostly highway miles. The V-6 is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, and we averaged 19.2 mph with most city driving.

Kia, which sells about 100,000 of these U.S.-built Sorentos a year, has said it expects the new turbo and V-6 models to account for 65% of new Sorento sales.

The 2016 Sorento joins the Soul, Cadenza and Forte models on Kia's growing list of vehicles that have helped it shed a reputation for making shoddy, utilitarian econo-boxes. This crossover looks great and performs well, doing the tricky balancing act of hauling the family while still holding its own on date night.

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