Although it was getting a little tired later in its life, the original Kia Sorento was a well-executed SUV. The body-on-frame chassis was strong, the V6 engines competitive with rivals, and its style was ahead of the pack. After eight full years of service, it was quietly put to pasture.
|1. The 2011 Sorento has traded in its off-road capable SUV platform to become a car-based crossover.
2. With a standard 4-cylinder, the optional 3.5L V6 makes 276-hp.
3. Fuel economy ranges from 21/29 mpg (city/hwy) for front-drive 4-cylinder models to 19/25 mpg for AWD V6 models like our tester.
4. Pricing for the 2011 Sorento starts at $19,995 and tops out at $29,095.
The all-new 2010 Sorento only shares its name with its predecessor. In response to customer input and the current market, gone is the clunky truckish SUV and in comes a full-blown crossover in its place. The Sorento does fill the same size-niche as before – the middle ground between the small Sportage and bigger Borrego. It also makes history by being the first Kia to be built in North America at the company’s massive new assembly plant in West Point, Georgia.
KIA’S NEW STYLE CARRIES OVER TO CROSSOVERS
What’s most striking about the 2010 is its style. The latest in a run of designs created by Kia’s Peter Schreyer, the Sorento features a pretty dramatic face. However, the aggressively raked windscreen and big chunky C-pillar highlights a fairly generic crossover profile, while large taillights provide jewellery to an otherwise drama-free rear. The dark lower cladding helps disguise the Sorento’s height, and the 18-inch wheels, (standard on most models), could have come out of Audi’s design studio.
The interior has fewer surprises, with most of its themes taken from the larger Borrego. But its execution is clean, and the materials are of a higher quality than those used in most of the competitors. The four-spoke steering wheel is nicely sized, and the redundant audio and cruise controls are easy to use.
Our loaded EX V6 tester had all the current toys to keep everyone comfortable and entertained on long hauls including dual-zone automatic climate control with separate controls for the rear seats, an auto up/down driver window, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, push-button keyless start, a comprehensive trip computer and backup warning system.
Of special note are the optional touch-screen navigation system, which works better than most, and the 10-speaker Infinity sound system, which has no problem reading MP3 players through the standard USB port. These tasty features are packaged together with niceties like heated leather seats, a rear-view camera, panorama moonroof, chrome wheels, and more for $4,500, but you can get the latter grouping without the nav or upgraded stereo for only $2,700.
THIRD-ROW AVAILABLE, BUT POINTLESS
Nominally a five-seater, the Sorento can be equipped with a third row, but it’s only large enough for small kids. And the normally generous 37 cu.-ft. of cargo space with it folded drops to only 9.1 with the third row raised. Fold both rows down, and the 72.5 cu.-ft. is enough for most bulky items, although the trunk opening isn’t wide enough to accommodate a standard sheet of drywall.
THRIFTY NEW 4-CYLINDER, BUT V6 POWER TOO TEMPTING
For the first time, the Sorento can be had with two engines: the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 175-hp and 169 ft-lbs of torque, but our tester’s upgraded 3.5-liter V6 pushes out 276-hp and 248 ft-lbs. The only transmission available is a six-speed automatic, but it does its job well, happy to downshift when needed and getting the V6 easily into its powerband.
Our Sorento also featured Kia’s revised all-wheel drive system, which uses a lockable center differential to distribute torque equally to all four wheels when in severe weather or off-road. But beware: ground clearance is only 7.5 inches, meaning you’ll have to be careful on truly rough terrain.
Fuel economy is fair at 19/25 mpg (city/hwy) in the AWD model, mainly because its curb weight hovers near 4,000 lb. That rating improves to 20/26 mpg for front-drive models.
QUIET, SMOOTH RIDE
Driving the new Sorento is an excellent experience. The V6 is strong, despite the hefty weight, and cabin noise is remarkably isolated. It’s happy to cruise on the highway without any fuss. The steering ratio – a mere 3.02 turns lock to lock – is sharper than you might expect for such a large vehicle, and some extra feedback through the wheel would be appreciated.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Sorento’s ride. Kia obviously worked very hard to tune the suspension to keep the brand’s sporting side in the picture without subjecting passengers to a jarring journey. The front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link do an excellent job of soaking up road imperfections without resorting to overly cushy dampers like, say, a Ford Edge or Dodge Journey.
Pricing starts at $27,395 for an EX V6, while selecting all-wheel drive brings that up to $29,095. Our tester featured the $4,700 Premium Package with Limited Package 2, which includes all the previously discussed toys and brings the sticker to $33,775 before destination.
The Kia has some pretty varied competition, from the aforementioned Journey to the Mitsubishi Outlander, to the seven-seat Toyota RAV4. The Sorento’s pricing falls right in the middle of them all, but its superior interior quality and driving response put it out in front. Those few who mourn the old Sorento and its simple, rugged construction will certainly be outweighed by the much larger group of customers looking for a great value on a good looking, well-equipped crossover.
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