2011 Kia Sorento Expert Review:Autoblog
Sometimes it's hard to remember what you did just yesterday, but think back to 2003 when Kia first introduced the Sorento mid-size SUV. At the time, the market was dominated by body-on-frame vehicles with real honest-to-goodness four-wheel-drive systems and rugged part-time transfer cases. The times, they are a changin'. Releasing a brand-new body-on-frame SUV into the marketplace these days, regardless of how good it may be – see Kia Borrego – is like bringing a sledgehammer to a knife fight.
Kia was able to hit the mark back in 2003 with its full-frame Sorento on account of clever marketing and a very attractive base price. That's just not good enough any longer. The Sport Utility Vehicle has officially handed the reins over to the Crossover, and Kia was left without a player in this newly-defined and ridiculously popular segment. Until now, that is. There will be no 2010 Sorento. As if to mark the death of the old vehicle and its rebirth into something completely different, Kia decided to completely skip the 2010 model year, and we're expecting good things from the 2011 Sorento after having been suitably impressed by Kia's two most recent vehicle launches, the Soul and Forte.
By now you've likely seen pictures of the new Sorento, and it looks good. But it takes much more than a pretty face to win over legions of CUV buyers with so many credible options to choose from. So, the big question is whether or not Kia has hit the mid-size crossover target square in the center with the latest version of its shapely 'ute, or if this particular arrow falls short of its intended trajectory. Keep reading to find out where the Sorento lands.
Photos copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.
First off, let's talk style. We happen to think the Sorento, though perhaps a bit dated this far into its life cycle, has always been one of the better looking SUVs on the market. While the old and new machines look entirely different from one another when placed side-by-side, that attractive tradition carries on with the 2011 model. Blur your vision a bit and it would be easy to mistake the '11 Sorento for any number of midsize CUVs, but take a little time to pick out the details and you'll likely be pleased.
Starting up front with a grille that's becoming a trademark of Kia Design Director Peter Schreyer (he of Audi TT fame) and is quickly spreading across the rest of Kia's lineup, there's an easily recognizable link between this Sorento and the aforementioned Forte sedan. When it comes to Kia's recent design direction, sharp, geometric shapes and creases are the name of the game, especially noticeable in the case of the Sorento as the eye is drawn to the vehicle's deeply chiseled window sills and rocker panels.
We don't often comment on specific colors on our first drives, but in this case we think it's worth mentioning that the 2011 Sorento puts its best foot forward when painted up in metallic tones and lighter shades, which allow more contrast between the flat surfaces and those angular wedges and indentations. Dark shades and jewel tones seem to mask these – we asked around to verify our initial opinion and found many fellow testers agreed with our assessment. Whatever the case, the Sorento isn't likely to offend and introverted drivers should find that it easily blends into its surroundings.
The term "all-new" is surely one of the most overused phrases in all of autodom, but this is one of those times when it truly applies. This Sorento really is completely different from its predecessor. In fact, the only thing that the 2011 Sorento shares with the 2010 model is its nameplate. Underneath the new sheetmetal is a new unibody structure that replaces the old body-on-frame architecture of the last-gen model. Length is up a little under four inches while the wheelbase, at 106.3 inches, actually shrinks by a smidge. One very important bit made possible by the lack of a full steel frame underneath is a weight reduction of about 400 pounds. In this day and age of rapidly expanding waist lines, that's a big deal. Look underhood and you'll be greeted by one of two powerplants – either a 2.4-liter four cylinder with 172 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque or an optional 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 273 hp and 247 lb-ft.
Propping up the front are independent MacPherson struts with coil springs; at the rear is a fully independent multilink arrangement. Ground clearance sits at 7.2 inches, which strikes us as more than enough considering that very few owners will ever venture off-road anyway. Sitting relatively close to terra firma means entering the Sorento is a breeze for both front and rear passengers. Once inside, there's plenty of room for occupants both up front and in the second-row. And the extra two perches out back? Yeah, pretty much exactly as you'd expect – for children, chihuahuas or chia pets only. Interior space is up a useful 15 percent for a total of 103.9 cubic feet. Put those rear-most seats down and you'll find plenty of cargo space (a max of 72.5 cubes with all the seats stowed away) with a nicely-shaped opening through the single-piece rear liftgate and a good amount of floor space. You'll note, though, that there isn't a great deal of stowage available with the seats up – just 9.1 cubic feet. So configured, our camera bag fit with room to spare while our standard carry-on overnight luggage did not.
Interior materials are middle-of-the-road. There's plenty of hard plastic that fails to pass the standard tap-tap test with the back of the knuckles, but at least it's nicely grained and doesn't cast much glare on the somewhat rakish front glass. Compared to natural rivals like the brand new Chevrolet Equinox and even the few-year-old Ford Edge, the Sorento might be a half-step behind when it comes to plastics, fabrics and leathers. Overall interior design, on the other hand, leaves very little to complain about. The instrument cluster is nicely shaped with three chrome-ringed gauges displaying speed front-and-center, flanked by a tachometer to the left and a combination fuel/temperature gauge on the right. The white-on-black dials are nicely legible and the digital readout at the bottom of the speedometer displays your transmission gear along with the driver's choice of various selectable functions such as a temperature gauge or trip odometer. Perhaps the most unfortunate piece of the interior puzzle is the high-gloss fake wood trim. Avoid it and stick to the optional matte finish, which makes the plastiwood much less noticeable. We wish there were a high-gloss piano black or matte aluminum trim option.
Directly in front of the driver is an attractive four-spoke steering wheel with the expected audio and cruise controls, but we found the leather wrapping rather hard and plasticky. The center of the dash is made up of the stereo, climate control and optional touchscreen satellite navigation controls. Everything is mostly uncluttered and within easy reach, and we appreciated the standard auxiliary USB input jack. The optional 7.1 surround sound Infinity audio package strikes us as a good idea, especially since the new Sorento is commendably quiet both in busy urban settings and longer, high-speed stretches on the highway – all the better to properly enjoy your tunes. A large panoramic sunroof is another intriguing option as it gives the cockpit a nice, airy feeling for both front and second-row passengers.
So, we like the way it looks and have established that its guts are a thorough improvement over the model it replaces. Fortunately, the best thing about the 2011Sorento is how it drives. Calm, quiet and composed are the first words that come to mind behind the wheel, an impression that's especially true on the highway. Steering is nicely weighted for its intended application, and the ratio is a bit quicker than the majority of its competitors. Ride is definitely biased towards smooth and comfortable, but thankfully, it's never floaty and there weren't any exaggerated motions to give our passengers seasickness at high speeds over rough terrain. Handling? Sure... everything reacts just as you'd expect from a mid-size crossover, which is to say understeer, understeer and more understeer. That's especially true of the front-wheel-drive version we sampled, as the Sorento's optional full-time all-wheel drive seems does a pretty good job of diverting torque to the rear when the front wheels are overwhelmed.
Power from the base 2.4-liter is just barely what we'd classify as adequate, and it goes about its business in a rather workmanlike manner without causing any undue ruckus or protesting too loudly. Which is good, as you'll surely be winding the little motor out on a somewhat regular basis to keep up with fast-moving traffic. Our advice would be to step up to Kia's excellent 3.5-liter V6, which offers plenty of smooth power for just about any situation you're likely to encounter. Just as importantly, fuel economy doesn't suffer all that much with the bigger mill. The most miserly combination pairs the four-banger up with front-wheel drive and nets the driver an estimated 21 miles-per-gallon city and 28 highway. Worst-case-scenario is the 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel drive, and that's still good for 19 mpg in the city and 27 out on the highway. Either powerplant responds well to throttle inputs and seem eager to rev, but the larger six feels comparatively less stressed in this application, which likely explains why the fuel economy penalty is so minimal. Towing capacity stands at 2,000 pounds with the four and 3,500 pounds with the V6.
Both engines are mated up to a Kia-designed and built six-speed automatic transmission. Shift quality is good and the tranny was plenty eager to downshift a cog or two depending on the forcefulness of our right loafer. Not that it matters too much, but there is indeed a manual mode that's accessible by slapping the shifter to the left. Nudge the lever forward to upshift and back to downshift. Easy-peasy. But – and this is a big BUT in our opinion, not that it's specific to Kia – the manual mode is rendered particularly less useful since the transmission will still upshift and downshift as it pleases when in "manual" mode. For instance, when the engine approaches its redline, the transmission shifts up a gear, and there's no way to stop that from happening if you were purposely trying to hold it there. A six-speed manual will reportedly be offered only with the base four, but sadly none were made available for testing. Braking was strong and true regardless of which powertrain we were sampling.
For what it's worth – and to some, we expect it's worth quite a bit – the Sorento is the first Kia to be built right here in America in the automaker's brand new assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. We toured the facility, which is about an hour's drive from downtown Atlanta barring traffic, and found that it's a thoroughly modern factory with plenty of room for future expansion. Expect more models to join the Sorento in Georgia in the near future.
Final pricing has yet to be announced, but Kia did promise us that the 2011 Sorento would start below the $20,000 mark. Add the V6 engine and a few well-chosen options and you'll likely end up with a compelling package at something around $25K. Fully loaded models will surely top $30,000 and that's when things like the uninspired interior materials will start to hold it back. In any case, owners should be quite pleased by its driving dynamics and room, and that's surely the most important piece of the puzzle. As such, we'd have to say that Kia has pretty much nailed the bullseye with its 2011 Sorento by offering exactly the kind of vehicle the American consumer has proven it wants.
Photos copyright ©2009 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new car-based version of midsize SUV.
The 2011 Kia Sorento is an all-new crossover utility vehicle, completely redesigned from the ground up with a totally new structure. The 2011 Sorento is much more like a car than before. While the previous-generation Sorento was built on a rugged but clunky body-on-frame truck chassis, the 2011 Sorento uses tight, lightweight, rattle-free unibody construction.
During our test drive, we found the all-new 2011 Sorento quiet, its rigid new structure providing an impressive feeling of sturdiness. The new suspension is nicely tuned to muffle rough pavement. On smooth curves when driving a bit more aggressively, it feels decently agile and easy to control with perfect steering feel.
Larger in every way than prior models, the 2011 Sorento can be ordered as a three-row crossover seating seven. The new Sorento also has 15-percent greater cargo volume than its predecessor. One walk around this stylish new Sorento makes clear that it means to compete toe to toe with the premier midsize crossovers, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, and Honda Pilot.
The exterior styling of the Kia Sorento is crisp, freshly contemporary. And looking over its uniformly accurate body-panel gaps confirms that Kia is paying close attention to the industry's ever-higher build-quality standards.
Most models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It delivers adequate performance and adequate fuel economy, achieving an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg City/Highway for Sorento 4WD with 6-speed automatic. The top-line V6 delivers spirited performance, putting the Sorento at or near the front of its class.
While not intended as an off-road vehicle, a four-wheel-drive Sorento with its 7.2-inch ground clearance would be happy to head out over open desert with no thought of turning back. Furthermore, if you live in vertical country, hill start-assist control and downhill brake control, standard across the Sorento line, will make life easier.
Inside is a roomy cabin with a rich inventory of occupant-convenience technologies, including voice-actuated navigation. Its interior uses quality materials throughout. Attractive design themes, handsome interior color schemes and available leather upholstery declare that this is a quality family vehicle.
For back-seat riders, Sorento offers separate front and rear air conditioning controls and an available rear DVD player with an overhead screen and headphones. To keep the front-row proprietors amused, the well appointed Sorento features an AM/FM/satellite/CD/MP3 (or add available high-power 10-speaker Infinity audio), Bluetooth connectivity, USB audio input jacks, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and either an available rearview mirror with backup display or a full-on rearview backup camera.
All in all, the 2011 Kia Sorento is a fully equipped contemporary family crossover. It will compete with the best mid-size crossovers from Japan and Detroit, and give you the goods at a somewhat lighter price than the rest.
The 2011 Kia Sorento comes in four variants: Sorento, LX, and EX come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Sorento comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, LX and EX come with 6-speed automatic. Sorento EX V6 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine and 6-speed automatic.
Sorento ($19,995) comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius Satellite radio, auxiliary and USB audio input jacks, Bluetooth connectivity, tilt and telescope steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, 17-inch alloy wheels.
Sorento LX ($22,395) and LX 4WD ($24,095) add body-color heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators, auto-up and down driver window, illuminated vanity mirror, second-row armrest with cupholder. Convenience Package for LX ($1000) includes roof rails, rear parking sensor, rearview mirror with backup display, heated front seats, fog lamps.
Sorento EX ($24,595) and EX 4WD ($26,296) upgrade with automatic dual-zone climate control with ionized air purification, fabric/leatherette seats, eight-way power driver seat with lumbar controls, fog lights, automatic headlights, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels. Premium Package for EX ($1500) includes roof rails, leather seats, heated front seats, rearview backup camera. Limited Package for EX models ($2000) includes navigation system with real-time traffic, Infinity 10-speaker audio, 18-inch chrome wheels, interior mood illumination, and high-style leather trim.
Sorento EX V6 ($27,195) and EX V6 4WD ($28,895) come with rear air conditioning. Premium Package for EX V6 ($2700) includes roof rails, leather seats, heated front seats, rearview backup camera, panoramic sunroof. DVD Entertainment System Package ($1000) for EX V6 (requires sunroof delete) includes DVD entertainment with overhead screen and headphones.
Third-Row Seating Package ($700) includes 50/50 split-folding third-row seats.
Safety features include the mandated dual front airbags plus side-curtain airbags for head protection and front-seat side-impact airbags for torso protection. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, hill start-assist control, downhill brake control. Optional safety features include rearview camera, four-wheel drive.
As has been true of most recent designs from Kia, the 2011 Sorento's styling is modern, sleek, clean as a whistle. It has a forward-lunging stance, the result of a low and compact nose, followed by long, dynamically rising lines to rearward. And Kia has been particularly successful at executing the current high-grille look (dictated by body-integral front bumpers) without causing the nose to seem high and awkward.
The grille is flanked on both sides by sly-looking upper complexes for headlights and turn signals. Lower complexes contain foglights and are finished in matte-black to match the grille mesh.
To maximize interior volume, particularly in the third-row seats, the Sorento roofline makes only a slight taper downwards at the rear. Similarly, the rear passenger doors extend back over the wheel housing to optimize access to third-row seats.
The Sorento's shape is more than just a pretty face; it slips through the air at highway speed with minimal wind noise. And this package has another advantage.
Getting into the 2011 Sorento the first time, you know you're not in Kansas anymore. This interior is just too nice to be a Kia, you think. But in no time, you accept its pleasing, tasteful look, and you appreciate why Kia had a 4-percent rise in sales during 2009, while the rest of the industry was plummeting 27 percent.
Kia's focus is on value, a winning theme in hard economic times. And sure enough, there is gray simulated-wood trim, not the real thing, in the driver's compartment. But to deliver good value, Kia goes for simple but handsome fixtures. The controls and switchgear are of high quality, with good tactile feel. Dash surfaces are an attractive textured black, and the instruments are well laid out and self-explanatory.
Our test car had the deluxe navigation system with rear backup camera. This lacked some of the more sophisticated onscreen visual aids for backing while turning, as found on some premium crossovers. And the vanity mirrors in the sun visors were lit, but only after you turn them on with a button. Similar units in some other vehicles light automatically upon being opened.
We found the driver's seat, with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support, to be excellent, firm, supportive, confidence-inspiring. The right front seat, however, is adjusted manually.
The second-row bench seat was comfortable, though even with the front seat well forward, second-row legroom was so-so. But then, this is not a large SUV and Kia has achieved no spatial miracles. On the other hand, the company says a 6-foot, 7-inch NBA player can drive the Sorento in full comfort.
The third-row seats are a bit of a compromise, as they are in any but the most grandiose three-row vehicles. Tilt-folding the second-row seats forward to access the rear involves a bit of calisthenics, as the seats are fairly heavy. Once the unlucky, last-row galley slaves are in place and the second-row seats slam down and lock, the latches are hard to release and fold forward from the rear row. Headroom in the far rear is minimal, as well. But this space should be adequate for most kids.
Our car's Infinity deluxe audio system was superb. The climate control worked flawlessly, offering strong volume when requested. And the rear roof-mounted DVD screen, which pops down behind the two front bucket seats, should provide plenty of amusement for those with nothing to do. Finally, with all seats folded down, maximum cargo volume is 72.5 cubic feet, a massive improvement over the previous model.
We're used to Kias being small, cheap and cheerful, and this SUV is certainly cheerful, in a roomy, upscale way. The new unibody construction isolates engine vibration well. Moving away from the curb onto choppy pavement, the structure again proves its worth, having excellent sound damping and an impressive feeling of sturdiness.
The MacPherson-strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension are nicely tuned to muffle and damp pavement irregularities the vehicle is passing over. On smooth curves when driving a bit more aggressively, this crossover feels decently agile and easy to control. Much of this is thanks to Kia's firm, spot-on steering effort. Steering is power-assisted but requires the driver to make forthright moves to left or right, there's no light-headed wandering or numbness of any kind. This no-nonsense steering feel will prove invaluable when making an emergency accident-avoidance maneuver. First-class.
We drove models with the I4 engine and V6. The four-cylinder was entirely adequate, though not exciting. The V6, on the other hand, was crisp and energetic. A V6 Sorento is no performance car, but it's probably the quickest in its class. These Kias are not going to be doing a lot of drag racing, of course; on the other hand, ample acceleration can be very handy escaping a threatening traffic situation.
The 4WD models use full-time all-wheel drive, which makes them excellent all-weather alternatives.
The four-wheel disc brakes of the Sorento brought it to a firm halt from highway speed with good controllability. We found the nose dives down under heavy braking, but the vehicle was stable in panic braking, and on dry pavement the anti-lock brakes worked appropriately.
Fuel efficiency was a bit of a disappointment. The Sorento certainly doesn't squander fuel. The Sorento 2WD gets an EPA-estimated 20/27 mpg City/Highway with manual transmission, 21/27 mpg for the 4WD automatic. Sorento V6 4WD gets 19/25 mpg, 20/26 mpg for V6 2WD. By comparison, the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is rated 22/32 mpg. The Sorento offers better performance, however.
The 2011 Kia Sorento is more than simply a new model for Kia Motors. While still efficient and affordable, the hallmarks of Kia products, this attractive crossover offers surprising levels of luxury, versatility and sophistication, representing a strong move upscale.
Ted West filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Kia Sorento near Newport Beach, California.
Kia Sorento ($19,995); LX ($22,395), LX 4WD ($24,095); EX ($24,595), EX 4WD ($26,295); EX V6 ($27,195), EX V6 4WD ($28,895).
West Point, Georgia.
Options As Tested
Limited Package ($2000) with navigation system with real-time traffic information, leather trim, Infinity 10-speaker audio, 18-inch chrome wheels, interior mood illumination; Premium Package for EX ($1500) includes leather seats, heated front seats, rear-view backup camera, third-row seating, roof rails; DVD Entertainment System Package ($1000) includes overhead screen and headphones.
Kia Sorento EX V6 4WD ($28,895).
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