Kia recently gave us an early taste of what's to come in January when it will introduce its first made-in-America model, the all-new 2011 Sorento. While the vehicles we drove were pilot-build models produced at the firm's new $1-billion factory in West Point, Georgia, even these early examples showed exceptional promise of what lies ahead.
Kia has aggressively changed lanes with its Gen II variant, steering the Sorento from conventional sport utility status into pure crossover country. The process has seen it swap body-on-frame construction for a new stronger-but-lighter unitized structure, adopt a new and fully independent suspension system and offer a new four-cylinder as well as enhanced V6 power. We drove both front- and all-wheel-drive versions of this new Sorento and found both to be far more refined and considerably more spacious than the current vehicle. While only marginally longer, the 2011 Sorento boasts 15 percent more interior volume and now offers an optional kid-friendly third-row seat.
Base engine in both the LX and EX versions will be Kia's 2.4-liter Theta II four that makes 157 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque. However, the two Sorentos we sampled were fitted with the new 3.5-liter Lambda II V6 engines. This latest iteration replaces the current 3.8-liter six and will start filtering down to future Kia vehicles within the year. Developing 273 horses and 247 lb-ft of twist, this new motivator is backed by an equally new six-speed automatic transmission. Nearly as fuel efficient as the four, the more potent V6 puts a bit more spring in the Sorento's step and bumps its maximum tow rating from 2,000 to 3,500 pounds. In an attempt to move it further upscale -- and improve its chances against rivals like the new Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 -- Kia endowed the 2011 Sorento with an impressive array of standard features and safety equipment while broadening its option roster by adding items like navigation with real-time traffic, an Infinity premium audio system and a panoramic glass roof. Pricing for new Sorento is expected to start in the $21,500-$27,500 range, roughly the same as the current 2009 lineup. There will be no 2010 Sorento models for the U.S.