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2011 Kia Sorento Review - A new direction, a new home

By KBB.com Editors on March 23, 2011 4:44 PM
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Only the name is the same

Completely redesigned from the ground up, the 2011 Kia Sorento reflects a wholesale transition that embraces everything from its look and feel to its place of origin. Beyond a fundamental switch from body-on-frame to the more car-like unitized construction, this "compact-plus" front-drive/all-wheel drive crossover has returned after a one model-year hiatus to step impressively into the heart of the market with a greater sense of style, enhanced creature comforts for up to seven passengers, upgraded powertrains and markedly improved dynamics. Available in base/LX/EX/SX trims and related by architecture to its Hyundai Santa Fe cousin, the 2011 Sorento also is the first Kia vehicle to be made in America at the firm's new assembly facility in West Point, Georgia. The automaker sees four-cylinder Sorento variants squaring off against rivals like Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 with V6-powered models taking on foes like the Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Toyota Highlander

 

The 2011 Kia Sorento could be for you if...
Should words like practical, comfortable, versatile and economical be the first to come to mind when you start scoping out a mid-size crossover, the 2011 Kia Sorento definitely merits a test drive.

 

The 2011 Kia Sorento might not be right if...
Those expecting to spend more time off pavement than on will be better served by a more traditional body-on-frame SUV like the Nissan Xterra or Toyota 4Runner. Anyone planning to tow more than a 3,500-lb trailer should consider a Toyota Highlander V6.

 

Purposeful packaging, contemporary character

Integrating broad cues from its earlier KND-4 Concept vehicle with the latest elements of Kia production design, the Sorento's bodywork emphasizes clean, aerodynamic lines set off with suitably modern detailing in the grille and headlamp/taillamp treatments. Longer, lower and wider than the 2009 model it replaces, the 2011 Sorento rides on a marginally shorter 106.3 inch wheelbase but boasts over 1.5-inches of additional front/rear track spread. Nicely flared fender arches are filled with 17-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 235/65 all-season tires on the base/LX, with the EX/SX getting 235/60 rubber on 18-inch satin- and bright-finish alloy rims. The top-line Sorento SX also gains a bit more chrome accenting, body-color bumpers and LED taillights.

Impressively finished and tastefully turned out, the now-more-spacious cabin on the 2011 Kia Sorento puts its own unique spin on the form-versus-function question. With 15 percent more volume than its predecessor and a new -- albeit scaled-for-kids -- third-row seat that's standard in all V6 models and optional in all but the "base" four, the Sorento gains a new level of versatility. A good number of soft-touch surfaces effectively counterpoint the remaining hard plastic elements, while highly legible instrumentation, largely logical control layouts and an expansive array of standard comfort/convenience touches make it a welcoming haven, whether trimmed in cloth or optional leather upholstery.

All Sorentos match decently supportive front buckets with a 60/40 split/folding second-row bench that has the head- and legroom to comfortably accommodate two adults or handle three in a pinch. While stow space in seven-passenger configuration is a modest 9.1 cu ft, it rises to 37.0 with five up and maxes out at a cave-like 72.5 cu ft.

  

What you get for under $25,000

Those on a relatively tight budget can purchase a four-cylinder Sorento LX in either front- or all-wheel drive for less than $25K -- or special order a front-drive/six-speed manual/five-passenger-only "base" Sorento with severely restricted options for just under $22K. In addition to a 2.4-liter/175-horsepower engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, these five-passenger Sorento base/LX models come with a long list of standards that includes air conditioning, multifunction steering wheel on a tilt/telescoping column, power windows/locks/mirrors, trip computer, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with three months of SIRIUS Satellite Radio, USB/AUX ports and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and 17-inch alloy wheels. On the safety front, all Sorentos feature stability/traction control, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution, Hill Start Assist and Downhill Brake Control, a rollover sensor plus front/front-side/side curtain airbags. The modest LX option roster includes a Convenience Package (UVO infotainment system, roof rails, fog lamps, auto-dimming mirrors, heated front seats, Backup Warning System) and third-row seating.

 

What you get for around $26,000-$30,000

The heart of the 2011 Sorento line resides in this pricing range, which encompasses the LX V6 and four- and six-cylinder EX models. The V6 brings rear air conditioning and standard seating for seven, while EX trim also nets 18-inch wheels with 235/60 tires, dual-zone climate control, a power driver's seat, upgraded interior trim including fabric/leatherette upholstery, the UVO infotainment system, rear-backup warning system, fog lamps, automatic headlight control, roof rails and a rear spoiler. The LX V6 can be upgraded with the same Convenience Package as the four-cylinder and EX buyers can add a Premium Package (leather, heated front seats, premium Infinity Sound System, panoramic sunroof [V6 only], auto-dimming mirrors) and/or a Limited Package (Navigation with real-time traffic, 18-inch mirror-finish wheels, auto-dimming mirrors with Homelink, chrome roof rails and special interior trim/mood lighting) as well a separate rear-seat DVD entertainment system [V6 only].

 

What you get for $33,000-$34,500

Sole resident of this comparatively lofty pricing stratum is the range-topping, V6-only Sorento SX. Available in front- or all-wheel drive, its kit includes pretty much everything you can get on any lesser Sorento with the exception of the rear-seat DVD system. A panoramic sunroof is the sole SX option.


 
Behind the wheel:

Well-mannered, well-balanced, easy to maneuver and easy to live with, the 2011 Kia Sorento merits high overall marks as a driver-friendly travelmate. The 2.4-liter four has sufficient power to handle all light-to-medium duty work, although it's decidedly less stressed when fitted to the front-drive models. Stepping up to the 3.5-liter V6 adds considerably more enthusiasm in either configuration without exacting too much of a fuel-economy hit and ups the Sorento's max-tow rating from 1,650 to 3,500 pounds. Wider track dimensions, a smartly tuned, fully independent suspension and decently scaled wheel/tire fitments give this Kia crossover a confident feel and help curtail body roll in corners while its low-key stability control allows for at least some measure of spirited driving by those so inclined. However, even modestly rough road surfaces can produce more noise and impact harshness than you'd expect in the Sorento's otherwise notably well-isolated cabin. While it lacks a low-range transfer case, the torque-on-demand all-wheel drive system does include a lockable center differential. 

 

Features of note:

UVO infotainment system

Introduced on the 2011 Sorento, Kia's answer to Ford's SYNC also is built around Microsoft's Windows Embedded Auto software and offers a full spectrum of user-friendly features, expanded voice recognition capability and is easy to update.


World-class warranty

The 2011 Kia Sorento is protected by the automaker's outstanding five-year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper coverage that includes 24-hour roadside assistance as well as a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.

 

Under the Hood:

The 2011 Kia Sorento offers the choice of two gasoline engines. Its port-injected 2.4-liter four (alas, not the new Theta II directed-injected GDI used in the 2011 Optima) makes a quite serviceable 175 horsepower and 169 lb-ft of torque while the 3.5-liter V6 turns out a stout 276 horses and 248 lb-ft of twist. Save for the "base" front-drive Sorento, all other versions are fitted with a new Kia-designed six-speed automatic transmission that offers Sportmatic manual-style shift capabilities. While going the four-cylinder route does lower the entry pricepoint threshold, the more capable and enthusiastic V6 equals its 20-mpg city rating and sacrifices but a mere one mpg on the highway when motive force only goes to the front wheels. It also knocks a tick to two off of the 0-60 mph intervals, putting them in 8.0-9.0 second realm, depending on drivetrain configuration. Interestingly enough, a four-cylinder/front-drive Sorento LX/EX actually nets better EPA figures in both categories with the new autoshifter than a base model does with its six-speed manual.


 
2.4-liter in-line four cylinder
175 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
169 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/27 mpg (FWD 6-sp manual), 21/29 mpg (FWD 6-sp automatic), 21/27 mpg (AWD 6-sp automatic)


3.5-liter V6
276 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
248 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/26 mpg (FWD 6-sp automatic), 18/24 mpg (AWD 6-sp automatic)

 

KBB value analysis:

While Kia residual values have been moving in the right direction for several years now, there's no denying that segment leaders like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 still hold meaningful advantages in that critical arena. However, the built-in-America Sorento's most appealing combination of a lower relative price of entry and outstanding warranty are factors that have led more and more people to seriously consider trading off some long-term cash-out potential in return for a very rewarding ownership period. Its overall merits led KBB.com to recently name the Kia Sorento one of our "Top 10 Family Cars of 2011."

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