Our long-term test Kia Sorento is gone, and with it all three rows of its generous space, adaptability, features and even genuine driving enjoyment. We put it through its paces on our daily grinds, a road trip or two, even some towing. And while I won’t admit this in person to anyone, ever, the Kia Sorento might even have been set loose on a large snow-covered expanse of flat pavement. Repeatedly. Because skids are fun. For science.

In our now customary comparison test the Kia Sorento shone:

“Not only did our Sorento offer up more luxury than pretty much everything else in the group, but it did so with the second-lowest price, reminding us that Kia is still a value-leading brand,” Jeff Wilson wrote in our huge three-row SUV comparo.

“But where previously Kia would offer up loads of content and a low price, it was often at the expense of refinement in the drivetrain and suspension.”

That is no longer true. We found the 3.3L V6 to be a stout and unfussy performer producing adequate acceleration and gusto without coarseness. The Sorento’s 290 hp and 252 lb-ft are figures in the upper echelons of its colleagues with the grunty Pentastar the only better.

The steering feel isn’t sports-car direct but it’s more than a match for most of the competitors in this segment and the body rides stoically through turns. Big bumps are absorbed, dispatched and settled in short order and road noise is insignificant. It might shock you to read that not only did Kia’s Sorento score the best for handling in our comparison, it also scored best for road comfort and steering feel. A Kia, outscoring anyone on steering feel was unheard of not too long ago. This is how far they’ve come.

And that’s really the tone of our time with the Sorento. Everybody we spoke to and everyone who drove the big red wagon was surprised by the quality level inside. The styling, the materials, the feature list were all significant.

It was only when probing the feature list a little deeper I realized that many of the features we laud are more for comfort, convenience and style than for safety and future-proofing. When it comes to things like lane keep assist, forward collision warning and hill descent control the Kia is lacking. In this not-quite-fully-loaded trim we were only running the basic cruise – not adaptive, and there was no steering or braking assistance, only lane keep warnings and that system is not as reliable or refined as others in the class. While it’s worth noting not everyone wants driver aids and nannies intruding in their daily drives, it shows where some of that value savings comes from – these systems are expensive to develop and to implement. Heated steering wheels are luxurious but (relatively) cheap to develop and install.

The Short-Term Test: 2016 Kia Sorento Test Drive

Still, those are the features I like most and I’m not alone. Despite having every imaginable driving aid and nanny all executed to a high degree of sophistication, the Honda Pilot scored poorly next to the Sorento when our judges were asked to assess its feature offering. The tangible is what sticks, Kia has worked that out.

Not that Kia has thrown a lot of superficial junk at the cabin and hoped we’d be happy. The Sorento continued to impress us with its thoughtful execution of not only fit and finish but ergonomics too. The infotainment system is top notch, and in fact is one of our five favourite systems on the market right now. That may change in the future as other makes begin to integrate Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – it’s the one thing missing from Kia’s deck.

Contributor Justin Couture was impressed by the interior lighting during his road trip to Montreal. “Somewhere between Kingston and Montreal, in the depths of the night, I reached for the dimmer. I was delighted to find that it isn’t just the instrument cluster that dims, but all the various buttons and indicator lights, too,” he said.

The seats were comfortable for all but Jonathan Yarkony, who found the headrest intruded too far forward and pushed his head forward awkwardly – even when adjusted back. Otherwise all three rows of seats performed well with the second-row chairs easily the best seats in the house. Our kids all loved the third row, which was spacious enough for them to be comfortable and cozy enough for them to think of it as a fort.

My daughter Maddie spent a great deal of time ducking behind the second-row seat and pretending I’d left her at the supermarket. I hadn’t, I promise!

Fuel economy–wise Jonathan noted a discrepancy between the digital readout and his hand-calculated readings early in the test but by the end they started to match up. We consistently saw 13.1 L/100 km when measured by hand and ultimately 13.2 L/100 km is what was reading on the dial. Notably the Sorento showed equal-best observed fuel economy during our comparo.

The all-wheel drive system was called into question by one of our readers during the term of our test after they’d found themselves stuck in a snow drift. Having tested the Sorento in a range of circumstances including deliberately bogging it in a drift, spinning down to ice and then trying to rock it out we can’t replicate his results. In fact, with the bare minimum of fuss I was able to extricate the Sorento time and time again. If you’re on decent winter tires the Kia’s slip-and-grip AWD is more than capable of getting you out of the parking lot and back home safely.

As far as three-row SUVs go the Kia Sorento is a clear front runner.

Its mix of value, comfort, sophistication and legitimately fun-for-the-segment driving dynamics, plus the Schreyer-touched styling make it a compelling argument. All three-row SUVs suffer from a compromise in terms of cargo capacity but I have to say that with the back row folded down space was ample. A few times I found myself folding just one of the split third-row seats down, which suited longer items.

If you need three rows of seating and cargo volume I’d still recommend a minivan, but if you’re looking for a stylish, comfortable, and capable multi-purpose hauler for your family – make sure you took a look at the 2016 Kia Sorento.

Pricing: 2016 Kia Sorento SX
Base Price (LX 2.4L FWD): $27,495
Base Price (SX V6 AWD): $43,195
Options: $476.98 ($200 Paint charge; $276.98 trailer hitch)
Destination: $1,715
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $45,486.98

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