Blog Editorial Cartoons

Cartoon: Trump Riots

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 7, 2021

Cartoon: Trump Riots

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 7, 2021

Cartoon: Capitol Police Mob

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 7, 2021

Cartoon: Capitol Police Mob

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 7, 2021

Payne: Sorento SUV is luxe ute in Kia clothing

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 7, 2021

Kia is on a roll these days with the sensational Stinger Sportback and Telluride SUV. Mainstream products with premium flair, they beg the question: Why pay 70 grand for a luxury brand when you can have the same vehicle for $45,000 under a mainstream badge?

Kia asks the question again with its all-new, mid-size Sorento SUV.

Remade from bumper to bumper, the fourth-generation Sorento takes its cues from big brother Telluride and offers a brawny bod with a brainy interior. Kinda that bearded Hugh Jackman lumberjack look.

The Telluride did it so effortlessly. You remember the ads. The three-row Telluride roguishly running with the bulls while a narrator intoned: “When we designed Telluride we asked ourselves: Would it be ruthless or beautiful? Muscular or sophisticated? Down to earth or a work of art? The answer was simple: Yes.”

Oh, we swooned over that one. And the Telluride flew off the shelves. Its value equation was absurd — a three-row SUV that looked liked a Cadillac but priced five grand less than a comparable Ford Explorer. Kia was giving away candy.

“By aiming high, Kia has created a premium product at nonpremium prices. It’s what we call a (Lexus) LS400 moment and that’s significant. Get one before Kia realizes what it’s done and raises the price,” writes Car and Driver this year in naming Telluride one of its 2020 10 Best.

Sorento copies the same formula. Not that the last-gen Sorento was a dog. It scored 11 on value, too. But with Telluride halo raising the bar, mid-size Sorento rises with it. It’s slotted between the compact Kia Sportage and Telluride and targeted at the Ford Edge, Chevy Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Murano and Honda Passport among others.

For 2021, the Kia Sorento gets a more aggressive front end.

As automakers try to slake our SUV thirst, the differences between multiple segments are thin. Kia is particularly adept at slicing the roast with a buffet of choices including Soul, Seltos, Niro, Passport, Sedona (minivan), Sorento and Telluride.

But Telluride has really changed the game for the brand.

It’s enormous popularity — “we are getting customers trading in Land Rovers, Mercedes and Volvos for this SUV,” says product manager Mark Sovino — has forced Sorento to re-imagine its personality. Once Kia’s three-row family SIV, Sorento has surrendered that mantle to Telluride.

It’s now tasked to pitch empty nesters like myself and Mrs. Payne. No longer in need of a big family hauler, folks like us still covet the room of a big SUV but don’t want to show up at the dinner party driving the same ol’ Ford Explorer/Chevy Traverse/Telluride family bus.

My Sorento SX and X-line testers looked hot.

Not as hot as the Chevy Blazer RS — which appears to have been designed by Marvel Comics as Iron Man’s daily driver — but certainly a step above Passport or conservative Korean cousin Santa Fe. Gone are the rounded edges (love handles?) of the previous generation, replaced by a sculpted, high belt-line and gritty, full-sized grille. Off-road, X-line trim? Check. Sexy black wheels? Check. Distinctive LED light front and rear? Double check.

Frankly, the family Telluride still looks better, its signature square headlights and vertical taillights noticeable from miles away. I wish Sorento got the latter just as every Volvo gets vertical taillights. Where Sorento really channels Telluride’s vibe is under the sheet metal.

The 2021 Kia Sorento options a panoramic sunroof on this $43,000 SUV.

Indeed, it laps the Telluride when it comes to powertrain options.

Where Telluride offers a competent 291-horse, 3.8-liter V-6, little brother Sorento has a toolbox of 2.5-liter 4-banger, turbo-4, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid. This is a luxe-worthy lineup. Speed-addled monster that I am, I prefer the turbo-4 with 311-pound feet of torque that exceeds even the Telluride’s 262 number. Heck, it’s even on par with the Mazda CX-9 and its stump-pulling four (more on the Mazda in a moment).

But for those without my size 15 lead foot, the Sorento hybrid is just $39,000 — $5,000 less than a comparable SX turbo-4 model that I tested. Both boast front-wheel drive, panoramic sunroof and interior amenities galore, but the hybrid model gets a whopping 650 miles of range.

That’s on par in price and range with a Toyota RAV-4 hybrid that is a class smaller. Under the roof, Sorento brings Telluride refinement.

A slick, available digital instrument panel bleeds into a wide infotainment dash display. Clever details abound like abundant console storage and six USB ports throughout the cabin, including one each on the front seat sides so they are accessible to front and rear passengers depending on need. Soothing media sounds lurk in the console touchscreen — Lively Forest, Calm Sea Waves, Warm Fireplace — for when the news of the day just gets too nuts.

A hybrid Volvo XC60 in my driveway at the same time I tested the $43,000 Sorento noticeably lagged in tech and interior amenities despite its $70,000 price tag. The Kia is that good.

The 2021 Kia Sorento comes standard with front-wheel drive, left, or optional all-wheel drive, right. The AWD version includes an X-line appearance package for a tougher, off-road look.

Sorento’s natural enemy is Mazda, another mainstream brand that has vaporized the gap between mainstream and luxury. Mazda’s affordable, capable CX-5 compact is my pick of the compact segment, but Mazda doesn’t not offer a tweener, mid-size SUV like the Sorento. Its CX-9 dimensions compete with Telluride.

Still, Sorento could learn a thing or two from the voluptuous Mazda, primarily in the engine room. Both Kia and Mazda offer responsive, torquey turbo-4s, but the Mazda responds instantly to my right foot, its 6-speed tranny smooth as silk. The Kia is rougher, less confident.

And the CX-9, loaded to the gunwales like the Kia with standard adaptive cruise control, leather seats, blind spot assist and invisibility shield (kidding abut that last one) comes in two grand south of the Sorento.

Apple to apples, Sorento is the value pick of the mid-size SUV litter with a volume, front-wheel-drive model with all the goodies clocking in at $42.2K — or about $2,000 less than comparable chariots from Nissan, Ford and Honda. And, ahem, Sorento still offers a useful third-row that the others don’t.

But the real eye-opener here is the apples-to-caramel apples luxury comparison.

My favorite, $43,960, X-line trimmed Sorento goes toe-to-toe with the best-selling mid-size SUV, the Lexus RX350. With similar horsepower and more torque from its turbo-4, the Sorento matches a $55,595 Lexus with panoramic roof, heated-cooled front leather seats, all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise, heated steering wheel, even 20-inch alloy wheels — while offering a more satisfying touchscreen infotainment experience.

Sorento asks if you want affordable or luxurious? The answer is yes.

The 2021 Kia Sorento is edgier, more upright than the outgoing model. The new wardrobe brings the Sorento up to speed with Kia's range-topping, popular Telluride.

2021 Kia Sorento

Vehicle type: Front- or all-wheel drive, four-door, six- or seven-passenger SUV

Price: $30,560, including $1,170 destination charge ($42,205 FWD SX Prestige and $43,960 AWD SX Prestige with X-line package as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, 2.5-liter turbo-4, Hybrid 1.6-liter turbo-4 mated to FWD electric motor

Power: 191 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque (2.5-liter); 281 horsepower, 311 pound-feet of torque (2.5-liter turbo-4); 227 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque (hybrid)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic; 6-speed automatic (hybrid only)

Performance: 0-62 mph, 7.6 seconds (mfr., X-line); towing, 3,500 lbs.

Weight: 4,120 pounds (X-line as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/28 highway/24 combined (AWD turbo-4); 39 mpg city/35 highway/37 combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Sexier Sorento; affordable, multiple drivetrains

Lows: Drivetrain hiccups; handsome big brother Telluride can be had for similar price with same options

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Democrats Gender Language

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: Democrats Gender Language

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: Red State Bowl Games

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: Red State Bowl Games

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: California Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: California Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: DeBlasio Time Square

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: DeBlasio Time Square

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 5, 2021

Cartoon: Shrinking Trump Exit

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 31, 2020

Cartoon: Shrinking Trump Exit

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 31, 2020

Cartoon: New Year’s Baby 2021

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2020

Cartoon: New Year’s Baby 2021

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2020

Cartoon: Dr. Birx Do as I Say Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2020

Cartoon: Dr. Birx Do as I Say Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2020

Payne review: Toyota Avalon gives richer Lexus cousin a run for the money

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2020

It’s hard to miss the Toyota Avalon. It’s the sedan with the biggest grille on the planet.

How big is the Avalon’s kisser? On the car ferry across Seattle’s Puget Sound, two whale-watchers mistakenly identified it as a humpback whale. In the Seattle Seahawk stadium parking lot, two fans asked if they could cook brats on it. Parked next to a mega-grille Lexus RX350, you won’t notice the Lexus.

I get it. Mainstream sedans need to stand out in an SUV-dominated world, and the Avalon demands attention. It’s a strategy followed by Avalon’s close competitor, the VW Arteon sedan. Indeed, the stunning, all-wheel-drive Arteon gives a comparable Audi A6 a real run for its money. More affordable. More hatchback cargo room. More powerful turbo engine.

Speaking of intra-family squabbles, the Avalon demands attention next to its luxury sibling, Lexus. Because Avalon’s fancy face is just the beginning.

The 2021 Toyota Avalon is available with sunroof and tan leather seats.

“You brought a Lexus,” said my son as I rolled up to his Seattle apartment for a Thanksgiving visit.

My $44,000 Toyota tester was certainly worthy of the Lexus badge. Except a comparably equipped, all-wheel-drive Lexus ES250 sedan costs $3,800 more. Buy the Toyota. Avalon matches the Lexus inside with caramel leather, leather-wrapped console, quilted leather door insets, sunroof and head-up display.

But it’s the ergonomics that seal the deal. Perched high on the dash, the tablet infotainment screen is operated by touch, a vast improvement over Lexus’ cursed, mouse pad-controlled system. Operating it will drive you to drink. Mrs. Payne threw holy water on the last Lexus I drove.

The big screen on the 2021 Toyota Avalon is rich with features including Apple CarPlay for precise directions.

She much preferred the Toyota. Quick to the touch, easy-to-use buttons, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for navigation. She didn’t spend much time in the front seats, though. The palatial rear thrones were outfitted with seat warmers — perfect for blustery, drizzly Seattle weather — and my son and I toured mom around town like she was royalty.

Bordered by warm Pacific waters, Seattle is hardly a challenging winter climate. Snow is rare, but as you head east into the Cascade Mountains, the white stuff threatens. Just like in Michigan, all-wheel drive is a good thing to have.

I headed south down I-5 to PGP Motorsports Park. But not to do any four-wheel drifting in the Avalon.

My drifting would all take place on Pacifica’s go-kart track. In Honda-powered Birel karts. On a wet course (is there ever a dry day in Seattle?). No, the Avalon is a sedan for transport — not for fun.

Rear view of the 2021 Toyota Avalon at the Seattle Pop Art Museum.

“This looks like something I would be picked up in for work,” continued my businessman son. Or to ferry the family to the go-kart track.

No one will mistake it for an athlete, but the 16-foot-long Avalon benefits from sitting on Toyota’s versatile TNGA chassis, shared with Camrys, Corollas, even Highlander SUVs. Seattle has rollercoaster streets like San Francisco, but the big sedan never felt out of place. That’s a big plus in a world where high center-of-gravity crossovers can often feel disconnected from the road.

Climbing the on-ramp to I-5 South, I jumped on the throttle, and … the four-cylinder engine under the hood shouted back. Yes, a four-banger in a full-size sedan.

I’ve grown accustomed to Toyota’s ubiquitous V-6 over the years (it’s available in the Avalon, too, but only with front-wheel drive), so the 2.5-liter four is a surprise. With 205 horses, it never labored to carry the Avalon’s fit, 3,700-pound bod.

It’s an engine shared with the Lexus ES250, so for that $3,800 savings you get the same drivetrain paired with Toyota’s superior infotainment interface. Typical of Toyota, Avalon is stuffed with standard goodies: blind-spot display, adaptive cruise-control, automatic brake-assist.

I relied on them all. With the car keeping an eye on blind spots behind and monitoring vehicles ahead, the round-trip to Pacifica was effortless. Avalon boasts about 400 miles of range, and I never filled up in my five days of hustling around Metro Seattle. The city has a healthy electric-car culture, and a comparably sized all-wheel drive Tesla Model S Long-Range Plus also boasts 400 miles of range. But it will set you back $72,120.

In Seattle’s gridded streets, parallel parking is essential. The Avalon has park-assist sentries to aid its long bod. Avalon does not (ahem) have a hands-free automatic park feature — but it does automatically brake when you get too close to another car’s bumper.

Avalon will be outsold 10-to-1 by Toyota’s flagship Highlander SUV this year. But if you think outside the SUV box, Avalon gives up nothing in rear cargo room (16 cubic feet like Highlander), and offers a more dynamic ride.

And a waaaay bigger grille.

The 2021 Toyota Avalon is big. Big grille, big interior room, bit comfort. In a SUV-dominated world, it also provides better handling than the Toyota Highlander.

2021 Toyota Avalon

Vehicle type: Front- or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $36,870, including $995 destination charge ($44,728 AWD Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder; 3.5-liter V-6; hybrid, 2.5-liter inline-4

Power: 205 horsepower, 185 pound-feet of torque (4-cylinder); 301 horsepower, 267 pound-feet of torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.3 seconds (Car and Driver est. as tested); top speed, 130 mph

Weight: 3,704 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 25/34/28 (four-cylinder); 22 city/32 highway/26 combined (V-6); 43/44/44 (Hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Superior interior to Lexus; yuge grille

Lows: AWD only comes with 4-cylinder engine; yuge grille

Overall: 3 stars