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2011 Kia Sorento Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2011 Kia Sorento

Ted West
© 2011

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.

Model Lineup

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)

Walk Around

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.

Driving Impressions

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 after his test drive of the Kia Sorento near Newport Beach, California.

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