The words bold and premium have attained prominent places in autodom's marketing mantra. Wherever you turn, there's an emphasis on bold exteriors and premium interiors. At the moment, Toyota is running a big ad campaign that extols the bold persona of the new Camry. Nissan is underscoring for car writers the more premium nature of the new Murano crossover's cabin.
Not to be outdone, Kia keyed on both qualities when it showed its redesigned 2016 Sorento crossover at a recent press introduction. The automaker's flagship crossover SUV now commands "a bolder presence," declared Orth Hedrick, vice president for product planning.
As for the interior, well, "We focused on making it more premium," he said.
As it turns out, Hedrick's contentions were not really exercises in hyperbole and hyperventilation. The Sorento headed for the showrooms next month is another handsome head-turner from a company that has been trying to run the table with stylish offerings like the Optima midsize sedan. And the interior of this third-generation, five- to seven-seater is indeed more upmarket than its predecessor, particularly in the top-of-the line altitudes.
The interior is an airy, comfortable place, where soft-touch surfaces have replaced hard plastic. High-quality Napa leather will be available in the upper-echelon models, as will 14-way power driver's seats and eight-way perches for the front passenger's. There's also an available 12-speaker, 630-watt stereo on steroids, and a full menu of electronic safety devices, like blind-spot alert and forward-collision warning.
The Sorento redesign goes beyond aesthetics, safety, and comfort. There have also been a plethora of structural and mechanical upgrades, notably the addition of a third engine choice. The latter is a new 2-liter, turbocharged four that develops 240 horsepower and a hefty 260 pounds of torque. It joins the base 185-horse, 2.4-liter four and the 3.3-liter V-6, which keeps 290 horses in its corral.
I like the torque-rich turbo, whose factory-estimated mileage of 20 city and 27 highway is a tad better than the V-6's. But if you plan to tow, the V-6 is probably the ticket. It will pull 5,000 pounds - 1,500 more than the turbo.
The Sorento is available with a "Drive Mode," whose "sport" setting holds the six-speed automatic in gear longer for maximum acceleration, while shifting sooner in "eco" to maximize mileage. A "Lock Mode" provides maximum traction at low speeds.
Other changes include a significant increase in structural rigidity occasioned by the use of more high-strength steel. The additional strength means better ride and handling, less noise and more collision safety.
Suspension tweaks and revised damping have also improved handling, which, like braking action, is now right on the money. Steering feel also gets a boost. It ain't quite an Audi, but it's a marked improvement over its relatively numb predecessor.
The new Sorento's overall dynamic message is one of competence. At no time on curving, backcountry roads did I feel the need to make the Sorento take a timeout.
The Sorento range includes four models: the L, LX, SX and SXL. Pricing starts at $24,900 for the base L, which is powered by the 2.4-liter four and is available only with front-drive, and goes up to $43,100 for the SXL V-6 with all-wheel-drive. AWD is available only on the SX and SXL models, and adds $1,800 to the tag and knocks one to two m.p.g. off the mileage numbers.
I drove the Sorento in two forms: The SX V-6 AWD in the seven-seat configuration, whose optional floor mats and shipping charges raised the $39,700 base price to $40,820, and the five-seat, Napa-leathered SXL turbo AWD, whose electronic safety devices helped drive the $41,700 base price up to $45,305.