You’ve probably heard it a few times in recent years. There are no bad cars (or trucks) anymore, and with very few exceptions, that’s essentially true. Still, it doesn’t stop automotive reviewers and (ahem) experts from poring over spec sheets, driving the machines beyond their intended performance envelopes and generally just needling the details to try to pick our preferences.
It’s been nearly a year since AutoGuide.com chose the Kia Sorento as the top pick in a highly competitive mid-sized crossover contest. As is the usual occurrence in the auto industry, newer and often better choices are released to the wilds of consumer-dom and our collective preferences ebb and flow, occasionally even following the whims of consumers.
In that last battle, the GMC Acadia earned itself a bronze medal thanks to its fitter mass and more muscular powertrain than its predecessor. But it was derided for its reduced cargo capacity and eye-watering price point.
The Kia Sorento, on the other hand, ran home with the big trophy despite its even smaller cargo capacity. Shrug. Auto journalists are a funny breed.
With GM having unleashed a bigger Acadia this year, cleverly disguised with Chevrolet Traverse badging, it seems only right we let the General take another swing at the Korean champ, so that’s just what we’ve done.
Finished in a deep and sparkling blackcurrant metallic paint, our Chevrolet Traverse is supposed to be a Goldilocks choice between the compact Equinox and gargantuan Tahoe, filling a just-right middle ground. In person, the big Chevy looks like a 7/8ths scale Suburban; this thing is huge. To give a sense of scale, the wheels you see fitted to the test machine are 20-inchers, and yet they don’t look a bit oversized for the Traverse’s profile.
Dimensions notwithstanding, Chevrolet’s stylists have presented a handsome and tasteful machine with great proportions and exercised commendable restraint on trendy flourishes (there’s not a single fender vent to be seen).
The jet black Kia Sorento benefits from mostly tasteful restraint as well. Thanks to renowned design guru Peter Schreyer’s influence, everything that’s come out of Kia in recent years has been stylistically triumphant, though the trademark quad-LED auxiliary lights found on a few top-tier Kias stand out like a couple of acne patches on the Sorento’s chin. And hey, Kia, even GM has moved on from last decade’s chrome-all-the-wheels phase – maybe you could too?
Inside, the Traverse is finished in black and is about as cheerful as a coal mine in November. The overall design makes good ergonomic sense with primary controls managed by a host of sizable buttons and knobs, and information displayed on each the primary gauges or a pair of crisp LCD display screens. It’d just be nice to have a bit of flourish beyond the simple brown stitching on the black leather and much of the surface area is covered in cheaper feeling plastic than in the Kia.
On the other hand, with the sunshade pulled back on the Kia’s panoramic sunroof, the linen-coloured leather nearly requires sunglasses, the interior’s so bright. While great for fending off Seasonal Affective Disorder, owners with children permitted to go outdoors or eat pretty much anything will want to consider how quickly those white seats are going to turn grungy. It’s a shame since the high-contrast finishes look fantastic. Ergonomically, the Kia is every bit as functional as the Chevy’s, again with sensible button placement, crisp displays, and proper knobs for climate and audio controls.
What the photos don’t depict is the tactile pleasures afforded by the Sorento’s interior. Every surface a human might touch is swathed in high-quality materials, and where the Chevy’s leather feels like it comes from heavily synthesized cows, the leather in the Kia both feels – and smells – like real hides. Blind-folded, or perhaps with just the Kia logo covered up, most motorists would surely presume they were in a high-fallutin’ luxury brand when inside the Sorento.
Both machines provide infotainment systems with large touchscreens, intuitive operation and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Chevy, however, has an ace up its technological sleeve: an onboard 4G LTE wifi hotspot, a feature passengers will love.
For what these top-trim rigs cost, there is far more stylish and engaging machinery to buy, but for many mid-size crossover shoppers, the need to haul people and stuff is more than just a rare occurrence. It’s here the Chevy really shines.
With a wheelbase nearly a foot (300 mm) longer than the Sorento’s, the Traverse offers a third row that’s properly usable by grown humans. The Kia’s third row should be relegated to children or grownups who can’t get along with others. It should be said that both SUVs thoughtfully offer climate controls and USB ports for passengers in all three rows of seating.
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The Traverse measures an additional 17 inches (429 mm) in overall length, which helps create a cargo hold behind the third row of seats that’s more than double the Sorento’s. With the seats folded, the Chevy’s space contains nearly 9 cu-ft (223 L) of more stuff.
While our Traverse was fitted with second-row captain’s chairs (that cleverly fold forward allowing third-row access, even with a child seat in place), the Chevy can be had with two rear, three-person bench seats if so desired. Kia doesn’t offer that kind of flexibility, providing only a second-row bench seat.
The 3.3-liter V6 found in the Kia Sorento (and its Hyundai Santa Fe cousin) is a very good mill. Cranking out 290 horsepower, it’s a smooth operator that provides the Kia with enough power for easy passing, and in all-wheel-drive models like this one, it can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
The Chevrolet’s 3.6L V6 dispenses with 20 more horsepower for a total of 310. There’s more torque too – 266 lb-ft versus 252 in the Kia. Even more impressive is that the Traverse needs barely more than half the revs to reach its peak twist, making it surprisingly quick, and like the Kia, the Chevy will tow 5,000 lbs.
The Traverse utilizes Chevy’s new nine-speed transmission that’s wonderfully smooth in its operation. Conversely, the Kia’s V6 is mated to a six-speed automatic that’s also decently smooth, but seemed to occasionally become confused in terms of which gear was necessary when a judicious prod of the throttle was called for. These hiccups were rare, mind you, and speak more to computer programming than any specific quality concern.
That nine-speed paired with auto-stop/start functionality helps the larger Traverse eke out a slight win in fuel efficiency over the Sorento. The Chevrolet is rated at 17 mpg city, 25 highway and 20 mpg combined (13.7 L/100 km, 9.4 and 11.8 in Canada), versus 17 city, 23 highway and 19 mpg combined for the Sorento (14, 10.1 and 12.2 L/100 km).
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The Chevrolet’s softer suspension (and longer wheelbase) conspired to provide occupants with a downright supple ride. The Sorento – in no way harsh – features a stiffer and better-composed suspension normally associated with European machinery.
The stiffer suspension and smaller footprint translate to better on-road manners for the Kia, which maintains its composure better at high-speed lane emergency lane-change maneuvers than the Chevrolet. But beyond its composure, the Kia provides a greater sense of refinement, with a very solid-feeling, well-built and quieter machine.
From the perspective of the front or second-row seats, the comfort, sophistication and all-around decadence make the Kia seem like it should wear a European luxury brand badge. This is a vehicle that feels like it plays at a higher level than the Chevy, and that it could reasonably cost $10,000 more than the Chevrolet.
But the Kia doesn’t cost $10K more than the Chevy. In fact, it costs less. Our Canadian-spec test vehicles priced out at $49,235 for the Sorento and $54,790 for the Traverse. Comparatively equipped units in the U.S. ring the register at $48,740 and $45,340, respectively (all prices include destination fee).
But it’s the little details that Kia’s engineers have considered that make the Kia feel like a better value and make long-term ownership more enjoyable. Details are found on the Sorento like auto up-and-down window switches for all four windows, not just the driver’s as in the Chevy. Or the fact that the pull straps on the back of the third-row seats have little Velcro tabs to keep them tidy in the Kia, versus the Chevy’s that flap around. And one more: both rigs offer hands-free liftgate opening, but the Traverse requires a kicking motion, whereas the Kia just senses if the key holder is present, then opens without the song and (literal) dance.
The Verdict: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse vs Kia Sorento
For buyers whose need for a mid-sized crossover includes regularly transporting six or more adults, or a particularly large pile of luggage, this is no contest; the Chevrolet Traverse is the best bet.
But by the end of the week-long comparison test, it was the Kia Sorento that had amassed an extra 650 miles, while the Chevy collected far fewer. This is a testament to how refined and truly luxurious the Kia is. Plus, when not carrying around a half-dozen hockey players or oversized cargo, the Sorento’s tidier dimensions are a boon in urban driving. Recognizing the Kia’s better value reaffirms our previous decision to vote the Sorento best of the bunch in the mid-size crossover category.
There’s definitely no bad machine in this pairing, but we still prefer the Kia Sorento.