Crossover SUVs come in many sizes, and shoppers don't always compare vehicles with exactly the same attributes.
So we weren't too surprised when research showed two of the most-often-compared crossovers on The Car Connection are the Kia Sorento and the Honda CR-V.
After all, both are aimed right at the families who need the space to cart people and gear, and are more concerned with safety than sporty manners. Which one's better for you?
The Honda is one of the top sellers in the compact SUV segment, along with the Toyota RAV4 and the Ford Escape. The larger Sorento is more of a competitor to the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Nissan Rogue. The Sorento offers an optional third row with two more seats, whereas Honda has the larger Pilot to fill that role.
Both cars rank fairly high in our scoring, but the Sorento beats the CR-V with higher scores for performance and features.
From the outside, the redesigned Sorento is so evolutionary that it’s easy to let your mind fill in the lines, if you knew the previous model. The Sorento’s proportions look familiar, with a more prominent version of the Kia grille, some cleaned-up and more mature, upscale details in front and in back, and more softly rounded lines for most of what's in between.
The update is far more obvious inside. The 2016 Sorento's cabin has been dramatically tidied up and made more sophisticated, with soft-touch trims all around—wherever front occupants might happen to touch—and climate and navigation/audio controls that are cordoned off into neat, intuitive control pods.
While the CR-V got new front and rear styling last year, the basic shape is now in its fifth model year. The updates tidy up the appearance, but the CR-V can look bulky, especially from the rear, where Honda masks the tall cargo bay with an upswept, triangular window. It's fine for family duty, but the overall shape lacks the flair and detail of some newer utilities in the class.
Inside, the freshened-up cabin uses better plastics and finer graining than it did in earlier years. A simple, functional dashboard serves occupants well, with climate controls just below audio controls, and an enlarged seven-inch touchscreen display for the audio system on all but the base model.
The Kia Sorento carries over two engines from the previous model. A 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder is the base powertrain, and a 290-hp 3.3-liter V-6 sits at the top of the line. But for 2016, Kia added a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four making 240 hp. All three are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission and can be ordered with front- or all-wheel drive. We preferred the 2.0T model for its perky feel in most types of driving, even if its off-the-line acceleration wasn't the fastest of the three.
From the driver's seat, the latest Sorento responds and performs much better than its predecessor. The steering tracks better on center, the suspension provides a firm, composed ride, and the stiffer body structure gives a heftier, more confident feel and a vault-like German ride. Fuel economy is about par for the class, with the highest at 24 mpg combined for the 2.4-liter with front-wheel drive, down to 19 mpg for a fully-loaded AWD with the V-6.
The Honda CR-V has just a single powertrain, with middling straight-line performance. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder has direct injection and is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for very good fuel economy--up to 33 miles per gallon highway. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive as an option. It's not particularly fast, nor is it remotely sporty, but that's seemingly fine with hundreds of thousands of buyers a year.
The Honda's handling, too, is only average, but that hasn't held the CR-V back. The suspension prioritizes a softer ride over crisper responses, and the steering is predictable and unaggressive. It's even-handed, even slightly bland--and the optional all-wheel-drive system is more for all-weather reassurance than any kind of trail duty, as you might find with the systems in the Subaru Forester or the Jeep Renegade.
The Sorento wins the comfort and utility race by a slim margin. The Sorento's driver’s seat now has extendable thigh bolsters—definitely of use to taller drivers. Second-row space is essentially the same for two- and three-row versions, although two-row models include an underseat storage system.. Adults will find the third row too short and hard to be comfortable over a long day—although it's just fine for a quick dinner outing with those under 5’10”.
The CR-V designers put their best and highest efforts into space and utility, providing excellent interior space combined with impressive back-seat comfort and good ride comfort in general. The rear has one of the most clever folding seats in its class, with the pull of a strap tumbling the lower cushion forward into the footwell, angling the headrest forward, and flipping the rear seatback forward, leaving a completely flat load floor with a low cargo liftover height of just 24 inches.
Both the 2016 Sorento and the 2016 CR-V earn five stars overall from the NHTSA, with five stars overall. The IIHS dubs the CR-V a Top Safety Pick+, indicating not only good test performance but also a full array of standard and optional active-safety systems. But while the IIHS rates the Sorento "good" on every test, and awards it a Top Safety Pick designation, the Kia misses out on the "+" addendum due to a less capable forward-collision warning system.
Both the CR-V and Sorento offer lots of interior space, good safety scores, and a suitable set of features for family-hauling duty. But the Sorento wins our comparison for its superior performance and a higher-quality interior.