Crossovers used to mimic the look and feel of big SUVs.
Full-size crossovers in particular — those with three rows of seats and large, roomy bodies — often have the soft, luxurious feel of their giant, V8-powered SUV ancestors, even though they're built like cars and have smaller engines.
The new Kia Sorento, though, takes a different approach. It's a big, family-friendly vehicle, but it comes with a suspension that's nothing whatsoever like the Fords and GMs that dominated the kid-hauler market years ago.
It still feels plenty heavy, even though its curb weight is a relatively slim 3,781 pounds — significantly less than a Mazda CX-9, for example — but it has a firm, slightly sporty suspension that is stiffer and more responsive than you usually find in three-row crossovers.
Personally, I'm not a fan. I want a super-stiff suspension on my sports car and a super-soft suspension on my family car, the kind that makes it feel like you're driving on a road made of marshmallows.
I can see the appeal to some people, though. The new Sorento has a driving feel more akin to a mid-size Japanese car than a minivan. It's going to feel very familiar to people who drive sedans, even if it's significantly bigger and taller.
Another thing it has in common with smaller Japanese cars is its efficiency, helped by a direct-injected four-cylinder engine that makes 191 horsepower.
This is the new base engine in the Sorento, and it works beautifully. It uses the same direct injection concept that has mainly been available in more expensive luxury and performance cars until recently.
The end result is an engine that delivers silky smooth performance and excellent gas mileage. It's rated for 32 mpg on the highway, which is impressive for a vehicle this size.
The downside is that this smaller, efficient engine just doesn't produce the kind of grunt I like to feel in a big crossover. It seems wheezy compared to the V8-powered family haulers of the past.
If you want more power, Kia is still offering a V6 engine that makes 276 horses, which is way more than adequate.
Both engines are coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission that feels spectacular for a car in this price range. The shifts are short, crisp and almost unnoticeable.
You can also get it with all-wheel drive for extra traction.
Style-wise, the Sorento looks clean and modern, but so do virtually all its competitors. It looks similar to every other crossover on the road and could benefit from some more individual visual personality.
It draws inspiration from good places, though — including the upscale, always popular Lexus RX — which makes it look more expensive than it is. The starting price is $23,150, which is an awful lot of space for the money.
In another plus for a family vehicle, the Sorento was named a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2011.