Kia Sorento - Kia’s new crossover drives into the big leagues

Kia has come home – to the U.S, specifically West Point, Ga., just a tad south of Hot ‘Lanta.

And the first Kia to have Georgia on its mind and the U.S. on its “Made In The …” label is a radically re-visioned mid-sized Sorento crossover utility vehicle.
Gone is the rear- or all-wheel-drive body-on-frame based offering of the first generation past; now it’s a sleek front- or all-wheel-drive unibody design shared with the Hyundai Santa Fe, with room for five or seven folks on board. And along with moving into the 21st Century with its look, the Sorento also gains some up-to-date content.
Is it a Georgia peach, or are there some pits?

* Sorento silhouette – The first-generation Sorento was a simple design, with a look that reminded me of other company SUVs. Redesigned for 2011with design cues from the 2007 Kia KND-4 concept crossover, the new Sorento enters its second generation with a 183.9-inch length, about three more than its predecessor. And while it still looks like someone else’s SUV, that someone is now more like a Lexus RX350 in places. The chrome-edged grill with black honeycomb mesh and headlights that slide off it is the future face of Kia, and it’s nice. The headlights sweep back into the fenders, while a design edge atop the semi-clamshell hood sweeps into the windshield frame. The Sorento EX has matte black lower fascia, the fake brush guard design under the nose wrapping around subtle fender flares and a chunky lower sill, while the graceful roofline ends with a high spoiler, also a bit Lexus-like, accented by reverse angle D-pillars and ending with huge taillights and a big matte black bumper with reflectors and some mesh accents.

 There’s LED turn signal repeaters in the big side mirrors. Chrome door handles and a silver roof rack make up the jewelry, accented by polished 10-spoke chrome alloy wheels wearing Kumho P235/60R18-inch rubber. It’s a handsome design, especially in black, but not especially stand-outish – no one gave it a second look. Fit and finish was good.
* Kia comfort – Step up into comfortably high leather bucket seats, and the Sorento driver faces an all-black, low gloss hard plastic dashboard with veined dark plastic wood and a few chrome accents around the gauges, cup holders and door handles, plus some contrasting stitching on the seats and armrests. It’s a likeable, logically-laid out design. The 4-spoke steering wheels gets red back-lit stereo, Bluetooth cell phone, cruise and voice command buttons, and manually tilts and telescopes. It also has a meaty, grabbable leather-wrapped rim. Under the rounded plastic cowl, a central 140-mph speedometer flanked on the left by the 8,000-rpm tach and right by gas and temperature gauges, with a red LCD trip computer dead center on our 8,700-mile-old test vehicle. The center stack has a big LCD touch screen for navigation with traffic data and the powerful 10-speaker Infinity AM-FM-CD sound system with an iPod-specific adapter down below the three-zone (front and rear) climate control and heated seat buttons. That iPod jack is flanked by two 12-volt outlets. The hard plastic door map pockets are big, with water bottle holders, while the center armrest storage area is usable, as is the glove box. Nit-picks – it’s all hard plastic, even the inside door tops, although it offers a well-made look and feel. The rear wiper button is on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, when it should be on a stalk like most everyone else’s. And the navigation system refused to boot up one afternoon when I really needed it to select a cross-county trip, the Kia logo flickering for about 20 minutes before it revived. After that, it worked pretty well, even via voice command.

The front seats were firm and comfortable, 8-way power with power lumbar for the driver. In back, a reclining second row with good head and leg room for two, three in a pinch when the armrest with cup holders is up. Split and fold that row forward (the head restraints automatically drop) and you can squeeze two adults for short trips into the fold-down third row seats, where the rear a/c controls and more vents are located. But once I folded the second row flat, they were a bit tough to fold up again. And park people in the third row and there’s not much space behind them for groceries and stuff, even with the under-floor storage (partially filled with the jack). That said, there is a lot of room in here, 149.4 cubic feet of it, almost 12 cubic feet more than the first version, about five more in the cargo area. The rear hatch opens high, and the load floor is flat when second and third row are dropped. And when you add keyless entry and standard push button-start, plus rear sonar back-up sensors, a back-up camera and two moonroofs, it’s a nice modern touch.

* Kia get up and go – The base Sorento gets a 2.4-liter four with 175-hp; our EX had the 3.5-liter V-6 with 276-hp and 248 pound-feet of torque, hooked to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The result was a decent launch and some decent passing power as we hit 60-mph in a good 7 seconds, the front wheels snatching first before the all-wheel-drive shifts power aft. Gas mileage was pretty good for a V-6, averaging about 20-mpg on regular – we saw the “ECO” mode light come on a lot, meaning we were economical with throttle control. It’s also quiet at highway speed bar some wind noise, probably from the roof rack. The rear head restraints also intruded a bit into rear view when deployed.

With independent McPherson front/independent multi-link rear suspension, the Sorento ride was comfortable and compliant, not too soft yet able to absorb bumps with ease. It also handled nicely on road for a crossover, with a bit of body lean in turns, understeer damped quickly by the stability control. The all-wheel-drive pulled us nicely through turns too.

Off-road, this soft-roader was a bit bouncy over rougher stuff, but never hit its suspension bump stops and offered buffered rebound. It was solid and quiet thanks to a well-done steel unibody. It easily handled sandy trails and grassy hills, a locking center differential distributing power to all wheels when we hit sandier spots. We also liked the hill descent control that tapped brakes to control downward hill journeys. With 7.2 inches of ground clearance, it’s just good enough for mild stuff. The power steering had a fairly precise feel with good feedback, and a nice tight turning radius. The brakes worked well, but the pedal wasn’t as precise in feel as some of its competition, and we had some fade after three simulated panic stops. For safety, driver and passenger airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags, with ABS, stability control and Electronic Brake Distribution.

*Kia economy – A base 4-cylinder front-wheel-drive Kia Sorento with 6-speed manual starts at $19,995, while our all-wheel-drive EX with V-6 starts at $28,895 with all standard above except: $2,000 Limited package with satellite navigation system, Infinity audio system that’s Sirius Satellite-ready, backup camera, 18-inch mirror-finish alloy wheels and red spotlight illumination inside. A second premium option package that costs $2,700 added leather seats with front heat, dual moonroofs, auto-dim rearview mirror with compass and HomeLink. With destination fee, call it $34,840.

For comparison, the Sorento may look a bit big, but it’s within five to seven inches of most of its domestic and foreign competition. Only a Toyota RAV4 Limited with its optional V-6 has almost as much power, and crisper handling, for about $28,000. A Mitsubishi Outlander GT’s 230-hp V-6 feels sportier too, for about $33,000. A GMC Terrain SLT has a peppy, fuel-efficient 182-hp four and a crisp feel on road, for about $28,000. But three rows of seats are still rare in this large compact class.
* Bottom line – As with its South Korean cousins at Hyundai, there’s a lot more going on at Kia in terms of design, quality and content for the price. The new Sorento is now a contender in the crossed compact crossover market, a little bigger in size than the others but not in feel. It looks nice, drives well, and is a peach of a crossover.
2011 Kia Sorento EX AWD

Vehicle type - 7-passenger crossover SUV
Base price - $29,095 ($34,840 as tested)
Engine type – DOHC aluminum V-6
Displacement – 3.5 liters
Horsepower (net) – 276 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) - 248 @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission – 6-speed automatic with manual shifting
Wheelbase – 106.3 inches
Overall length – 183.9 inches
Overall width – 74.2 inches
Height – 69.1 inches
Front headroom – 39.2 inches
Front legroom – 41.3 inches
Second row headroom - 39.2 inches
Second row legroom – 37.6 inches
Rear headroom – 36.7 inches
Rear legroom – 31.3 inches
Cargo capacity – 9.1 cu. ft./37 w/2nd row folded/72.5 w/2nd and 3rd row folded
Towing - up to 3,500 lbs.
Curb weight – 3,935 lbs.
Fuel capacity – 18 gallons
Mileage rating - 19 mpg city/ 25 mpg highway
Last word – Kia’s crossover drives into the big leagues

by Dan Scanlan - MyCarData