Lake Tahoe and the redesigned 2016 Kia Sorento

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(February 25, 2015) I'm not the kind of guy who jumps to a conclusion about a new or redesigned vehicle based on where the carmaker decides to host its media debut. That's a good thing for the renovated 2016 Sorento that Kia previewed in Lake Tahoe. The last vehicle introduction I attended there was the Pontiac Aztek; we all know how that turned out. Nope, the Sorento is no Aztek, not even close.

Months in the writing, I've finally gotten around to publishing my early December Kia Sorento adventure. Too much travel, as well as too little motivation conspired to divert my short-attention span to other interests, projects and extended periods of goofing off. I apologize to those readers who have been perched on the edge of their seats awaiting this epistle. And so it begins....

Straddling Nevada and California, the Lake Tahoe area is breathtakingly gorgeous. Its landscape is dotted with a network of smaller cities and towns. Most of us flew in and out of the Reno Airport. Kia then shuttled us the 40 miles or so to the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe in Truckee, Calif. Yes, sometimes we stay in very high-end joints; well, often we stay in very high-end joints. The Ritz in Truckee being one of the them. Please don't hate me.

On the Sorento ride and drive on day 2, we had ample opportunity to get a little familiar with both this crossover and the Lake Tahoe area. I was dazzled by both. Unseasonably warm, there wasn't much snow lingering about. In fact, one of the optional activities offered to us – tubing – was canceled for lack of snow. Half of the stuff in my suitcase was for this little side adventure. Disappointed!

Here's what I discovered about Sorento: Kia worked not only to make a Sorento a bit bigger, but to make it more refined as well. Pricing starts at $24,900 for the entry-level “L” trim. As any student of Kia will suspect, there is a lot of value packed into that number. It's loaded with full-power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control, a fold-slide-recline rear seat, and an audio system with iPod interface.

Depending on the trim, one of three engines power the front wheels. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-banger that delivers 185 horsepower. Upper trim levels use either the new 240-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four or a 290-horsepower V6. AWD is optional on Sorentos armed with the 2L four or the V6. A six-speed automatic shifts the gears regardless of the engine. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in combined driving for the 2.4L and 23 mpg for the 2L. The EPA rated the V6 at 21 mpg in combined driving.

Inside, much of the hard plastic in the previous Sorento has given way to soft-touch surfaces. With prices escalating to as much as $41,000 for the top-end Limited V6, one would expect, at the very least, a near-luxury passenger experience. Sorento delivers that and more. The audio upgrade is a 12-speaker Infinity system. Available technology includes Kia's Uvo eServices that includes Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert and Driving Score, all engineered to keep teen drivers on the straight and narrow.

All in all, the Sorento provides a quiet, stable, comfortable ride. This next-generation crossover certainly advances the Sorento experience not just a few steps, but by leaps and bounds.

Kia mapped a terrific ride-and-drive route that exposed us to a variety of Lake Tahoe scenery and roads. By noon we were lunching at Heritage in Reno. It's part of the Whitney Peak Hotel. My cheeseburger was wonderful. Historically, I eat way too much on these events, but I'm only human. While a salad would have made more sense; I simply couldn't walk away from the beef.

On the way back from the ride and drive, my driving partner and I made a quick detour to the FiftyFifty Brewery in Truckee that, as fate would have it, was just a few miles from the Ritz. This is a major craft beer maker distributing its beers at least as far as San Diego because several weeks later we found it at that city's The Taproom. I sampled a Donner Party Porter that was quite wonderful. I was also impressed with the Eclipse Barrel Aged Imperial Stout that Kia let us sample at dinner.

 That night Kia swept us up to the top of Northstar mountain via a ski-lift tram to the Tahoe Ski Resort for libations and dinner. This was an entertaining and informal evening. Pre dinner, there were some tasting stations sprinkled around the area. One was the aforementioned FiftyFifty that had three of its beer makers dispensing tastes of a few of its brews.

Part of the evening's festivities included the time-honored Kia contest. Usually these competitions are among driving teams. This time, though, it was mano a mano with an ugly sweater contest. I must admit, there were some seriously ugly ones.

I managed to snag my third or fourth honorable mention in these competitions with mine. Of course when it's an ugly sweater contest and your entry consists of a head-shot photo of Kia's director of corporate communications (and the contest judge) screen printed on the front of a sweatshirt, you can't really expect to win. After I signed it, my entry wound up in the hands of Kia's VP of sales and marketing.

A first-drive of the very impressive Sorento, craft beers, first-class accommodations and the beauty of Lake Tahoe: what was not to like?