Driving NW: The 2011 Kia Sorento

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on December 2, 2010 at 1:36 PM

The 2011 Kia Sorento is a perfect example of how global the auto industry is.  Drawn up by a Bavarian, engineered in Korea, and christened with an Italian name, it’s the first Kia to be assembled in the U.S.  Available with seating for 7, it can take the whole gang out for Mexican food.   

Kia has been on a tear lately, being one of the few brands reporting month after month of increased sales this year (another brand is corporate cousin Hyundai).  Part of the reason for the success is product.  It’s pretty darn good these days and the second generation Sorento is no different.  The only thing it shares with the outgoing model is its name and the fact it rolls four tires.  The body on frame truck chassis is out, an all-new car-like unibody chassis does wonders.

Longer, Lower and Roomier

Americans are big on crossovers and this one hits the market’s sweet spot.  My wife is looking for a new vehicle and Sorento caught her attention because of two attributes: It’s priced well and can seat 7.  Doesn’t matter that we no longer schlep our kid’s entire soccer team around every weekend, for her that third row is still a big draw. Well played Kia.

The second gen Sorento is 3.7 inches longer and an inch wider. So while there’s not much more room for those in rows one and two, the optional small third row is a huge asset when it comes to marketing.  There’s a 2 inch drop in the center of gravity that helps the unibody chassis achieve an even more car-like ride.  At a few hundred pounds lighter it’s gone through the Jenny Craig automotive program. 

Choose Your Engine

2009 models (there was no 2010) had two engine choices, both V6s.  Reflecting an industry trend, Sorento adds a 4-cylinder, a 2.4-liter unit making 175 horsepower.  My well equipped EX model gets its scoot from the 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 276 HP, decent considering the outgoing 3.8 V6 only mustered up 262. Base 4-cylinder vehicles can be had with a 6-speed manual transmission, all others get a 6-speed automatic. With an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 city, 25 highway it’s a whopping 25 percent more efficient now.

Acceleration is brisk with 0-60 spooling up in 7.5 seconds. Since the 4-cylinder gets only slightly better fuel economy, go with the V6 if you can swing the $2,400 premium (though Kia throws in the $700 third row for that price).

Sometimes It’s Better to be Lucky

The Sorento was dropped off just before Seattle’s Thanksgiving blast of snow and ice.  Lucky me.  I had little trouble getting up and down the hill I live on, though I couldn’t park in my driveway since a stuck car blocked it.  The AWD system can be locked for continuously nasty conditions and there’s hill decent control.  Just be careful on Seattle’s icy roads.  All-wheel drive doesn’t mean all-wheel stop.  The laws of physics still apply.

Sorento is not made for harsh off-roading and that’s fine, few owners ever go rock crawling in their sport utes.  In it’s natural habitat- which would be the ‘burbs- Sorento is a pleasant ride.  Moderately quiet on the highway, the suspension is set toward the sporty side with a stiffer ride quality than Santa Fe.  Handling?  Sorento feels nicely balance for this segment, there’s a decent amount of road feel for a mid-sized crossover.

Base models retail for $21,800 with front-wheel drive and manual tranny.  Top of the line SX Sorentos can climb past 36K for those with no willpower.  My EX tester goes for $34,800, more than some shoppers would expect from Kia.  Remember what you’re getting though.  There’s a panoramic roof, heated leather seats, keyless ignition and great sound, so even at that price it’s a value proposition.  Phones and iPods are fully supported (there’s even stereo Bluetooth streaming for music).  

The touch screen satellite navigation unit is easy to use and comes with a back-up camera, nice since rear vision is limited with sport-utes.   The steering wheel with deeply textured leather is both comfortable and useful with easy to use controls for phone, sound system and cruise.  The center console is deep and roomy, and the space just ahead of the shift lever has a two level cubbie that’s handy for small stuff.   

The trim, harvested from plastic trees, looks pretty convincing. Materials look good but unfortunately the instrument panel is rock hard.  Done up in black the interior gets a bit dark and dreary even with the big glass roof.  Bun warmers are simply an on or off deal.

Moving to the Rear

The middle row doesn’t slide fore and aft to max out legroom but 3 adults will be fine here.  The split seatbacks recline, there’s a foldable center armrest with cupholders, storage in the doors and seatbacks, even a port to charge electronics.

The passenger side is the only one to get easy access to the 3rd row.  There’s not an awful lot of space in the way back but it is fine for its intended purpose, which is to carry two additional people in a pinch.  There’s even cupholders, maybe Kia designers figured offering a refreshing beverage would make things more tolerable.

As with most crossovers, there’s not an awful lot of space in the rear with the 3rd row up.  I managed four bags of groceries (or one pack of bath tissue). There’s a small bit of storage under the load floor, 5-passenger models get a small cave to store things in.  Most of the time the third row will be folded.  It’s easy and opens up a very large space that’s pretty easy to do.  Hyundai Santa Fe swallows 11 bundles of TP, Sorento ties Dodge Journey at 13 packs, pretty roomy.

Looks Do Matter

Kia’s design has really come into its own during the last few years.  Led by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, their whole line (outside of the Sedona minivan) is quite stylish.  The tabbed grille is known as the tiger’s nose, apparently because tigers are both cute and aggressive.  Kia likes that combo of cuddly and lethal I guess. 

Kia’s largest crossover is conservatively handsome in the same vein as their Forte sedan.  It’s not as bold as the new Sportage and Optima, both of which I find cutting edge regardless of price.  Sorentos biggest appeal is value, starting in the low 20, there’s a lot of bang for the buck here.  The fact that it goes down the road nicely is a huge bonus.  Families who need a right sized crossover would be wise to put Sorento on the test drive list. 

 

 

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