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
Improved efficiency from new fuel injected engine.
The Kia Sorento is a fully equipped midsize crossover SUV that's smooth and quiet, with responsive handling. The 2012 Sorento is available with a new four-cylinder engine that delivers excellent fuel economy, while V6 models are available that deliver strong acceleration performance. All-wheel drive is available for sure-footed traction in wintry conditions. Sorento can be ordered as a three-row model that seats seven or a two-row model that seats five.
Completely redesigned for the 2011, the Kia Sorento cruises into the 2012 model year offering a new engine that improves power and fuel economy. 2012 Kia Sorento models also offer a new voice-activated infotainment system designed to help the driver stay connected with the digital universe without distracting from the road ahead, and the available cloth upholstery has been upgraded.
The Sorento is designed to compete with the Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, and Honda Pilot, and it offers a good value when compared with these midsize crossovers.
This second-generation Sorento is much more like a car than before, benefiting from tight, lightweight, rattle-free unibody construction. The first-generation 2003-2009 Sorento was a truck-based, go-anywhere sport-utility, but it was completely re-engineered with a totally new structure for 2011. It's 600 pounds lighter than its truck-based predecessor yet it's roomier in most interior dimensions and offers greater cargo capacity.
During our test drive, we found the latest Sorento quiet, its rigid structure providing an impressive feeling of sturdiness. The suspension is nicely tuned to muffle rough pavement. On winding roads, it feels decently agile and easy to control with perfect steering feel.
The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with port fuel injection. It delivers adequate performance and adequate fuel economy, achieving an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg City/Highway with AWD. For 2012, there's a new 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder with more power and an EPA-rated 21/28 mpg with AWD. The top-line V6 delivers spirited performance, putting the Sorento at or near the front of its class, although EPA estimates drop to 18/24 mpg with AWD.
The exterior styling of the Kia Sorento is crisp, freshly contemporary. Looking over its uniformly accurate body-panel gaps suggests Kia is paying close attention to the industry's ever-higher build-quality standards.
2012 Kia Sorento EX models come with a new voice-activated infotainment system called UVO based on the Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive platform. 2012 Sorento models with cloth upholstery come standard with new YES Essentials fabrics, which provide anti-bacterial, anti-soil, and anti-static properties. A deluxe Sorento SX variant was added late in the 2011 model year and continues into 2012. The manual-shift base model has been discontinued for 2012. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard on all 2012 Kia Sorento models.
While not intended as an off-road vehicle, a four-wheel-drive Sorento with its 7.5-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 the Sorento is a roomy cabin with a rich inventory of occupant-convenience technologies, including voice-actuated navigation. The interior features quality materials, attractive design themes and handsome color schemes. Leather upholstery is available.
For back-seat riders, Sorento offers separate front and rear air conditioning controls. 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. The available rearview camera displays what's behind the vehicle when backing up either in the rearview mirror or on the navigation screen, if ordered.
The new four-cylinder engine features gasoline direct fuel injection (GDI), providing 11 percent more horsepower and an EPA-estimated 32 mpg Highway rating. The GDI four-cylinder will be the Sorento's mid-range power source, with a conventional port-injection four-cylinder as the base engine and a V6 as the premium choice.
The 2012 Sorento boasts being listed as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Built in the United States, the Sorento is the first Kia model to sell more than 100,000 units in a single year.
The 2012 Kia Sorento comes in LX, EX, and SX trims. Sorento LX is powered by a 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; Sorento EX comes with a new 191-hp 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder; while Sorento SX comes with a 276-hp 3.5-liter V6. The LX and EX offer the V6 as an option. All-wheel drive is available with all three trims, and includes a locking center differential. All models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Sorento LX ($23,150) and LX AWD ($25,350) come with Yes Essentials fabric upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with Sirius Satellite Radio, auxiliary and USB audio input jacks, Bluetooth connectivity, tilt and telescope steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, body-color heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators, auto up and down driver's window, power locks with remote keyless entry, illuminated visor mirror, 60/40 split folding rear seat, rear map pockets, second-row armrest with cupholder, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Convenience Package for LX ($1,650) upgrades to the 191-hp engine, and adds roof rails, rear parking sonar, auto-dimming inside mirror with rear-view camera display, heated front seats, and fog lamps. A similar package for LX AWD ($1,150) adds the same conveniences but sticks with the base engine. Also available is the Sorento LX V6 ($24,950) and LX V6 AWD ($26,650).
Sorento EX ($25,950) and EX AWD ($27,650) upgrade to automatic dual-zone climate control with ionized air purification, fabric/leatherette seats, eight-way power driver seat with lumbar controls, foglights, automatic headlights, interior accent lights, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, UVO voice-activated infotainment system, roof rails, and the reversing sonar and camera. The EX Premium Plus Package ($3,800) upgrades to real leather seats for the first two rows, heated front seats, memory driver's seat and outside mirrors, navigation system with real-time traffic, 550-watt Infinity premium surround-sound with 10 speakers, power front passenger seat, split-folding 50/50 third-row seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, power-folding side mirrors, and 18-inch chrome wheels.
Sorento EX V6 ($27,950) and EX V6 4WD ($29,650) make the third-row seat and rear air conditioning standard. The Premium Package for EX V6 ($3,300) includes leather seats, heated front seats, rearview camera, and a panoramic sunroof; adding the Limited Package ($2,000) adds to this voice-activated navigation (in place of UVO) with Sirius XM traffic, the Infinity premium surround-sound, power folding outside mirrors, memory driver seat and side mirrors, power front passenger seat, and an air-cooled driver seat.
Sorento SX ($33,150) and SX AWD ($34,850) come standard with leather seating for the first two rows, a power front passenger seat, heated front seats, air-cooled driver's seat, memory driver's seat and outside mirrors, heated wood-trimmed steering wheel, unique instrument cluster with stitched dash visor, cloth-covered A-pillars, the Infinity audio, voice-command navigation with Sirius XM Traffic and rearview camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, power-folding side mirrors, stainless steel pedals, and stainless steel sill plates with illuminated scuff trim. The SX also sports a more distinctive external appearance, with deeper, body-color bumpers accented in stainless steel; body-color side sills; unique foglight design; chrome roof rails; chrome tailpipe finisher; LED taillights; and mirror-finish alloy wheels. To this list the SX Premium Package ($1,500) adds the panoramic sunroof.
An optional third-row seat ($800) is available for models that don't come with one. Roof racks, cargo mats and organizers, side steps, and floor mats are available as dealer-installed accessories.
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 that come standard include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, hill-start assist control, downhill brake control. Optional safety features include rearview camera, all-wheel drive.
The Kia Sorento looks 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. 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.
A dark plastic faux skidplate wraps up from below the vehicle to about halfway up the foglight nacelles on LS and EX models.
The SX dispenses with this design element by stretching the lower air opening and the body-color part of the bumper down closer to ground level. A smaller, stainless steel skidplate defines the bottom of the enlarged lower grille on the SX, and SX foglights are five-sided instead of round, and accented by splashes of body-color trim. More subtle is the change in the upper grille on the SX, where the trademark Kia tiger-nose shape seems to float within the grillework, rather than outlining the border as it does on lesser models.
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.
Sorento's shape is more than just a pretty face; it slips through the air at highway speed with minimal wind noise.
The Kia Sorento interior is tasteful and pleasing. Dash surfaces are an attractive textured black with gray simulated-wood trim, not the real thing, in the driver's compartment. Controls and switchgear are of high quality, with good tactile feel. Instruments are well laid out and self-explanatory.
We found the driver's seat, with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support, to be excellent, firm, supportive, confidence-inspiring. There's lots of legroom here, making the Sorento a good choice for exceptionally tall drivers. The front passenger seat on the top models is powered, but adjusts only four ways as is common.
The second-row bench seat was comfortable, though even with the front seat well forward, second-row legroom was so-so. Good for small children, not so good for tall teen-agers.
The third-row seats are 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. The third row should be adequate for kids but adults won't like it back there.
The navigation system with rearview camera lacks some of the more sophisticated onscreen visual aids for backing while turning found on premium crossovers. The Infinity deluxe audio system is superb. The climate control works flawlessly, offering strong fan volume when requested. 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.
Cargo space with all seats folded down is 72.5 cubic feet.
The Kia Sorento rides smoothly and handles well. It's relatively quiet on the road and feels sturdy underway.
The suspension is nicely tuned to muffle and damp pavement irregularities. On smooth curves when driving a bit more aggressively, the Sorento feels agile and easy to control. Much of this is thanks to Kia's firm, spot-on steering effort, the independent rear suspension, and the rigid unibody construction.
Steering is power-assisted but isn't too light: It requires the driver to make forthright moves to left or right so there's no wandering or numbness of any kind. First-class.
We found the standard four-cylinder engine adequate, though not exciting. This old-school, port-injection 2.4-liter engine is EPA-rated rated 21/29 mpg and generates 172 horsepower.
The new 191-hp 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder produces 10-percent more power than the base engine and slightly better fuel economy. More telling are the torque numbers: The base engine peaks out at 169 pound-feet at 3750 rpm; the GDI ups this only 7 percent, to 181 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. In short, it appears as though the GDI may deliver more goods but it has to rev higher and work harder at delivering them. We suspect its most desirable virtue will be its improved fuel economy: 22/32 EPA-estimated City/Highway mpg on front-drive models, which is as good as our previous benchmark, the four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox.
The V6 engine makes the Sorento feel crisp and energetic. A Sorento V6 may be the quickest SUV in its class. Rated at 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm, it delivers ample acceleration performance handy when merging onto the freeway in fast traffic. Fuel efficiency drops to an EPA-rated 18/24 mpg with 4WD, 20/26 mpg with 2WD. That's slightly better than the Chevrolet Equinox, however.
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.
The Kia Sorento is an attractive crossover with surprising levels of luxury, versatility and sophistication. It offers a good value among midsize SUVs. The cabin is attractive, and it's smooth and quiet underway. A choice of engines offers buyers a choice of low purchase price, excellent fuel economy or strong acceleration performance.
Ted West filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Kia Sorento near Newport Beach, California.
Kia Sorento LX ($23,150), LX AWD ($25,350); LX V6 ($24,950), LX V6 AWD ($26,650); EX ($25,950), EX AWD ($27,650); EX V6 ($27,950), EX V6 AWD ($29,650); SX V6 ($33,150), SX V6 AWD ($34,850).
West Point, Georgia.
Options As Tested
Premium Package for EX V6 ($3,300) includes leather seats, heated front seats, rearview backup camera, and a panoramic sunroof; Limited Package ($2,000) adds voice-activated navigation (replaces UVO) with real-time traffic, Infinity premium surround-sound with 10 speakers and a 550-watt digital amplifier, power folding outside mirrors, memory driver seat and side mirror, power front passenger seat, and an air-cooled driver seat.
Kia Sorento EX V6 4WD ($29,650).
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.