The 2016 Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport serve slightly different parts of the crossover SUV market. That’s because the Sorento offers a third-row seat and a 2016 redesign makes it larger. The two come closest when outfitted with five-passenger seating. In this guise, they compete with the likes of Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Add that third row to the Sorento, however, and it competes with larger vehicles like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.
Both models serve families well, with a nice balance of comfort, space, and value.
While every bit of the Kia’s sheet metal and every piece of trim have changed, it’s understandable that someone may not see too much difference between the 2016 and 2015 models. From all but the side, the Sorento’s proportions look quite familiar, yet with a more prominent version of the Kia grille; some cleaned-up, more mature, upscale details in front and in back; and a little more softness for everything in between. The cabin of has been quite dramatically tidied-up and made more sophisticated, too, with more soft-touch trims all around—wherever front occupants are expected to typically touch—and climate and navigation/audio controls cordoned off into nice, neat control pods.
Similarly, the Santa Fe Sport has an attractive shape that looks modern and grown-up. Updated for 2017, its sharp edges and tight creases wrap around the glassy wagon body in interesting ways, and the grille presents a handsome hexagonal face. Between the Tucson and larger Santa Fe, we say the Santa Fe Sport wears the new corporate SUV style the best. The interior is another bar raised for Hyundai, with a shield of controls surrounded by the usual swoops and fluid curves. It’s all trimmed in two-tone materials, an upscale touch that looks better when it’s capped in glossy trim than in faux wood.
Of the two we give the styling nod to the Sorento for its slightly more upscale look.
We also prefer the Sorento’s performance. From the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel that there’s been major improvement in the way the re-engineered Sorento responds. Steering tracks well on center, the brake feel inspires confidence, and the suspension keeps a firm, composed ride. Altogether, the Sorento has what Kia set out to achieve: a vault-like, German-style ride and a heftier, more confident feel in general—even though the lineup has lost some weight.
The Santa Fe Sport’s driving experience is mostly effortless and smooth. Ride quality is probably the Santa Fe Sport’s best feature—it’s almost always calm and collected—but its three-mode steering is mostly there for technological flourish. We’d just as soon leave it in Normal or Sport, because Comfort’s just too slow to respond.
The Sorento also offers a wider range of engines and more towing capability. Kia offers a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter inline-4, a 290-hp 3.3-liter V-6, and a new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 making 240 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. While the V-6 might have 50 more horsepower, the 2.0-liter turbo feels perkier in most types of driving—all but off-the-line acceleration. The Sorento can tow up to 5,000 pounds with the available V-6 and it offers all-wheel drive with a differential lock that locks in a 50/50 front/rear split.
The Santa Fe Sport, by comparison, has a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-4 making 190 horsepower, or a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 with 264 hp. The turbo four provides an altogether more pleasant driving experience, with acceleration to 60 mph in the seven-second range. Its all-wheel-drive system lacks a differential lock, and the maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
The Sorento offers the better fuel economy of the two. With front-wheel drive and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, fuel economy reaches 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 overall. With the V-6 and all-wheel drive fuel economy is as low as 18/26/21 mpg. By comparison, the Santa Fe Sport tops out a 21/27/24 mpg with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but falls as low as 19/26/22 mpg with the 2.0-liter turbo four and all-wheel drive.
Inside, the Sorento offers a third-row seat, to bump its capacity from five up to seven. The cabin is also a bit more usable than both the last model and that of the Santa Fe Sport thanks to three more inches of wheelbase and three more inches of overall length. In top SX and SX-L models, the driver’s seat has extendable thigh bolsters—definitely of use to taller drivers. Second-row accommodations are essentially the same for two- and three-row versions, though you get an underseat storage system in two-row models. The third row is best for kids, but it it will do just fine for a quick dinner outing for a pair of adults under 5-feet-10-inches tall.
The Santa Fe offers plenty of utility, too. The front seats are supportive, but the second row is where the action is: on some models, the second row slides on a 5.2-inch track for better flexibility. The seat also reclines and folds on a 40/20/40 split, making way for longer objects while preserving four seating positions. There’s also some storage space below the cargo floor. Overall, the Sorento offers better interior flexibility, but the Santa Fe Sport’s second-row seat is the better choice if a third row isn’t needed.
The safety story is also in the Sorento’s favor. It is available with Hill-Start Assist, a back-up warning system, a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, an around view monitor, and adaptive cruise control, though most of those features are only available on the top-of-the-line model. The Santa Fe doesn’t offer the forward collision warning system, the around view monitor, or adaptive cruise control. It also hasn’t been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, even though it gets a top five-star rating from the federal government. The Sorento gets a Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS, as well as a five-star overall government crash rating.
Value and features for the money have always been integral to both brands, though the Sorento is beginning to move upscale. It starts at a reasonable price of roughly $26,000, but the high-end SX-L with the 2.0-liter turbo or the V-6 tops $42,000. LX and EX models are the heart of the market, and EX models can be had with the turbo four or the V-6 for about $32,000.
With a base price of about $26,000, the Santa Fe Sport makes the usual Hyundai case for value. It gets plenty of features at that price and doesn’t rise much above the low $30,000 range when sensibly equipped.
All things considered, the Sorento is our higher rated vehicle and it has some advantages even where our ratings are the same. However, pricing for the Sorento rises into premium territory for the higher trim levels, and it’s easier to keep the Santa Fe Sport’s price in check. We can happily recommend both of these vehicles, but we prefer the additional space, available third-row seat, and greater level of refinement of the Kia.