In Kia vs. The World, My Money is on the Koreans
By Joe Tralongo
Is there really room in the crowded mid-size crossover utility vehicle (CUV) market for another contender? Well, if that contender touts an all-new unit-body design, class leading marks for interior room, power, creature comforts and warranty; and does it all for thousands less than the competition, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
The 2011 Sorento competes head-on with the likes of the Ford Edge, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Equinox and about a dozen other quasi mid-size/full-size/pint-size CUVs. Like so many others in the class, Kia says the Sorento is targeted at younger buyers with “Active Lifestyles,” or some variation on the theme. Truth is, while some may load on mountain bikes and snowboards as part of their weekly ritual, most people gravitate toward this class of vehicle for its ability to haul loads of stuff, the high seating position and the security of all-wheel-drive. Built in a new $1 billion facility based in Georgia, the Sorento exhibits an attention to detail not found in its predecessor. From the tight fitting exterior panels, to the well aligned interior parts, to the handsome choice of fabrics and trim, the Sorento has finally traded in its second-hand brown loafers for nice pair of Berlutis. And while there are sill some hard plastic surfaces on the dash and door panels, we can’t single out Kia for starting this trend. Wrap your knuckles on the dashboards found in the Subaru Forester or Ford Escape, and you’ll find the same unpleasant feeling.
More impressive than the Sorento’s new duds are its impressive engine and transmission pairings. Available with either a 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 273-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, in a choice of two-wheel or all-wheel drive and with two six-speed transmission choices (a manual six-speed is available only on the base model), the Sorento has all the bases covered. On our short test drive we found the four-cylinder teamed to the six-speed auto more than adequate for daily commutes. The driveline is as smooth and refined as any we’ve tested, and fuel economy figures of 21 city and 28 highway are nothing to sneeze at. For those who prefer the passing power of a V6, the 3.5-liter engine is well worth the extra cost and returns fuel economy nearly identical to the less powerful four-cylinder. At highway speeds we found the Sorento felt stable and easily controlled, with responsive steering, good brakes and minimal body roll. Extensive sound deadening steps help quiet the cabin from road and wind noise.
Inside, Kia provides comfortable seating for five with an available third-row seat for two more little ones. There is a good amount of head and leg room in the first and second row, but the low, nearly horizontal front passenger seat cushion is annoying to the long legged and needs some type of adjustable rake added. The Sorento’s rear seat backs recline for improved passenger comfort and when required, the second and third row seats fold flush to create a large, level cargo floor.
The 2011 Kia Sorento comes nicely equipped with such standard features as four-wheel anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, Hill Start Assist and Downhill Brake Control. Creature comforts include air conditioning, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/Satellite stereo with steering wheel mounted audio controls and a standard USB input port. Safety features include front, front side and side-curtain airbags. Some of the more impressive features on the available equipment list include a voice-activated navigation system, dual-zone automatic temperature control, rear seat DVD entertainment, push button start, leather interior trim, rear backup camera, rear sonar assist, heated front seats, panoramic sunroof and a 550-watt Infinity 7.1 Surround Sound audio system with 12 speakers and subwoofer,
Expect pricing to start under $20,000 for the base trim and run into the low $30K range for a fully loaded V6. The 2011 Kia Sorento arrives in dealership in January of 2010.