Buying Used: 2016-2019 Kia Sorento
Buyers adore the Sorento’s sensible size, roomy and hushed cabin, and high feature content for the money.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Sensibly sized, quiet highway cruiser, high feature content for the money
- What’s Worst: Cramped third-row seating, underpowered four-cylinder, engine bearings woes
When consumer research firm J.D. Power asked 76,000 Americans how their new car or truck held up after 90 days of ownership, they made one automaker a familiar sight at the top of the quality charts.
Kia has been the highest ranked mass-market brand for five consecutive years, with only Genesis – the new premium marque from the Hyundai-Kia family – squeaking ahead of it this year and last.
Granted, three months is hardly enough time to form an opinion about a coffeemaker – “meh” sums up our own at home – let alone a new automobile you’ve bought or leased at considerable expense.
Kia owners reported just 70 problems per 100 vehicles in J.D. Power’s 2019 Initial Quality Study, quite an accomplishment for a mainstream brand (the industry average is 93 problems). Consider that pricey Land Rover and Jaguar ended up in the rankings basement with 123 and 130 problems, respectively.
Kia’s Sorento sport utility earned an honourable mention in the report as a model that has among the lowest defect rates in its midsize class. However, just because it didn’t exhibit problems in the first 90 days it doesn’t mean the Sorento is not without its faults.
The third-generation Sorento was released very early in 2015 as a 2016 model, so shoppers beware: that used Sorento might be a year older than you think. Surprisingly, it shares its platform with the Sedona minivan and, unsurprisingly, with Hyundai’s Santa Fe crossover ute.
Kia claims its unibody rigidity improved by 14 per cent, thanks to more high tensile steel, construction that helps the Sorento earn a good evaluation in small overlap crash testing by the IIHS and five stars in U.S. government testing. Every newer Sorento came standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, and front- and second-row side curtain airbags.
The 2016 Sorento is about 10 cm longer overall than the previous generation, but rides lower to yield better handling. That extra length is sufficient to make room for optional third-row seating, but barely. Engineers could only squeeze two jump seats back there, suitable for children and wayward dogs.
“Getting that third row not only gives you a couple of seats that only an 8-year-old could sit in, you also lose some handy storage bins,” advised one owner. “If you want a third row, get a minivan.”
Most cabin materials are textured and soft to the touch, and there’s enough of a premium feel that higher trim levels appear properly luxurious. While some reviewers like the appealing Kia design ethic inside, we’re not quite as impressed by the layout. At least the interface controls are user-friendly with big virtual buttons and clear labeling (amen).
While larger than before, cargo capacity behind the third row is still really only good for a couple of small travel bags or some groceries. Big family? There may be a rooftop luggage carrier in your future. Or kick the tires on a Sedona minivan.
POWERTRAINS AND UPDATES
Motivating base models of the Sorento is a direct-injected 2.4-L four-cylinder engine that produces 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard issue, while all-wheel drive is optional.
Kia’s 3.3-L V6 engine is the step up in higher trims, producing 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. New to the Sorento line in 2016 is a second optional engine, a 2.0-L turbocharged four cylinder that makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s capable enough to tow 1587 kg (3,500 lbs), while the V6 can pull 2268 kg (5,000 lbs) when equipped with all-wheel drive.
Most trims included a rearview camera, rear parking sensors and Uvo eServices (geo-fencing, speed alert and curfew alert for secondary drivers). An optional technology package added all the expected driver’s aids, including lane departure and collision warning systems.
The Sorento got a refresh for the 2019 model year, marked with some exterior styling tweaks and more features including the third-row seats now standard. The big change mechanically is a new eight-speed automatic transmission, but only with the V6 engine. Kia dropped the turbo four, presumably due to insufficient demand.
DRIVING THE SORENTO
What differentiates the third-gen Sorento from its older kin is the level of refinement it now offers. Its quiet demeanor is remarkable – it could double as a serenity chamber – as it coddles its occupants in a cocoon of luxury, all at a decent price point.
It also provides a degree of agility and responsiveness to rival some German competitors, principally Volkswagen. The steering is light, the ride is pillowy and it generally manages lumpy pavement with aplomb. Better body control and more steering feel would be appreciated, however.
Not surprisingly, the base 2.4-L four banger works hard to move the hefty Sorento with any authority. Zero to 97 km/h takes an underwhelming 9.0 seconds. The V6 models can do the deed in a speedier 7.2 seconds, although it’s hardly a laudatory performance from a 290-hp engine. The 240-horse 2.0-L turbo four roughly splits the difference, taking 8.0 seconds to reach highway velocity. If it feels quicker, it’s because the turbo’s ample torque is accessible and immediate.
Where the Sorento lags is in delivering respectable fuel savings, especially when equipped with the naturally aspirated four-cylinder, which owners expect will drink less deeply than the V6.
“Fuel economy is not that great right off the bat. I really have to watch what I am doing, driving wise to get 23 or 24 mpg (12 litres/100 km) around the city,” advised one owner of a 2017 model with the 2.4-L four.
Buyers adore the Sorento’s sensible size, roomy and hushed cabin, and high feature content for the money. Liabilities include the cramped third-row seating for two, compromised cargo space behind that third row, and lacklustre power from the standard four-cylinder engine.
Owners talk about four potential reliability issues with their Sorentos. First and foremost, the Theta II 2.4-L four-cylinder engine may be subject to metallic debris that restricts oil flow to connecting rod bearings, which can cause the bearings to wear and fail. The engine can stall and even seize abruptly, or catch fire. An ominous sign is a knocking sound from the engine.
A Kia engine warranty extension affecting nearly 1.7 million models equipped with 2.4-L gasoline direct injection (GDI) engines and 2.0-L turbocharged GDI engines will reportedly provide lifetime coverage for repairs to the engine assemblies due to bearing damage on 2012-2018 Sorentos, as well as 2011-2018 Optimas and Sportages.
A second issue reveals a problem with the electric power-steering system, which introduces unnerving wandering at highway speeds requiring continual correction. In some instances the power steering shuts off momentarily, causing the steering wheel to become heavy and unwieldy.
“The car pulls left and right and must be constantly corrected. The power steering becomes more and more difficult to manage as the car heats up. Kia finally agreed there was a real problem and replaced the entire steering column,” reads an account by a 2017-model owner.
Another annoying trait involves the headlights, which can reportedly shut off at night with the headlight control in the Auto mode. They usually come back on automatically after a moment or two. Dealers are inclined to charge big money to change the lamps’ wiring harnesses.
Finally, there’s a significant number of Sorento owners who have reported sunroofs that spontaneously shatter. It’s a big issue related to the way tempered glass is manufactured and installed, and some automakers have bigger problems than others, including Kia.
Other faults include batteries that mysteriously run down after sitting for a few days, failed door lock actuators, and eight-speed automatic transmissions that exhibit “jerky” shifting in the 2019 and newer V6 models. In addition, some owners have documented oil consumption by the 2.4-L GDI engine. The Automobile Protection Association recommends changing the motor oil every 8,000 km and monitoring the dipstick periodically.
Despite all this, 2016 and newer Sorentos have pleased a lot of owners, especially those that elected to buy the V6 models. Fortunately, Kia is extending its already generous warranty to cover issues with the 2.4-L Theta II engines. After all, the automaker has a reputation to defend.