Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
Language geeks will tell you that nothing can ever be both new and improved, only one or the other. But something can be both new and an improvement over what it replaces, which is the case with the 2011 Kia Sorento.
It wasn’t too hard to improve upon the first-generation Sorento, which was a comfortable but fairly unsophisticated SUV with thirsty engines, a truly-truckish body-on-frame construction, and solid rear axle suspension.
Everything about this second-generation version is all-new: 2.4-litre four-cylinder (175 hp/169 lb-ft of torque) and 3.5-litre V6 (276 hp/248 lb-ft) engines which replace the old truck’s two V6s; a newly available all-wheel drive system and a new front-wheel drive model; an all-independent suspension; and a new – and, you might even say, improved – look inside and out.
The Sorento can be had in a variety of trim packages, ranging from the $23,995 LX (the only one offered with a manual transmission) to the seven-seat EX-V6 Luxury model that goes for $39,395 with a sharp looking black and ivory leather interior. My tester was just like that, but with plain black leather surfaces and an MSRP of $39,195.
In the base model LX, you get the Sorento’s generous list of standard features, which includes heated front seats and Bluetooth connectivity in all trims, while the EX adds leather, power driver’s seat, automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with integrated back-up camera. Pony up for my top-line tester and you also get navigation, panoramic sunroof, rear spoiler, mood lighting, premium stereo, and third row seating with air conditioning controls.
The front seats are nicely shaped, but the prominent lumbar support might prove too much for some, and firm cushions can get a little hard-feeling on longer drives. Headroom up front seems tight for a tall vehicle, but rear seat room is more generous, with lots of legroom and toe room under the front seats. The panoramic sunroof makes coach class bright and airy; it’s too bad it can’t be had in combination with the four-cylinder engine.
Not surprisingly for a mid-size crossover, the Sorento’s third row is tight and really only suitable for children, like my six-year-old nephew, who found his spot back there quite comfortable. Third row access is provided only on the passenger side, where the second row seat can be folded and then flipped forward and (mostly) out of the way. The Dodge Journey and GM’s big Traverse/Acadia crossovers do this better, with seats that slide forward with one simple motion to allow third row riders in and out privileges.
Like other recent Kias, the interior is well designed, though some of the materials give away the brand’s budget-oriented bearing. Interior oddities include the push-button rear wiper and washer controls, found on the dash to the left of the wheel, instead of on the main wiper stalk. Also slightly odd are the visor-mounted vanity mirrors, whose lights must be turned on manually with a switch on the headliner, rather than turning on automatically when the mirror is opened. Then there’s Kia’s infuriating USB stereo interface, which has failed to work with any iPod I’ve plugged into it in any number of their test cars.
The cargo hold is large once you fold the third row seats out of sight, and the second row folds to create a nearly flat load floor. The headrests in the second and third rows fold out of the way automatically when the seats are folded flat.
On the road, the Sorento is a major improvement over its predecessor, with surprisingly good steering and braking feel and a firm but comfortable ride. The suspension is easily unsettled by sharp bumps, however, and the resulting noises make the car feel unsophisticated over rough roads.
The six-cylinder engine is more refined, with its smooth revving nature and good power delivery. Another of Kia’s hallmarks is its touchy throttles, and that makes an appearance here: care is needed to make smooth exits from traffic lights. Official fuel consumption estimates for the Sorento with V6 and all-wheel drive are 11.1/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester, which had nearly 3,000 km on the odometer, averaged an unimpressive 10.5 L/100 km on a highway road trip, and 13.5 in all-city driving.
A six-speed automatic transmission is the only one offered with the V6 engine. It works well, and though you might not guess it from my tester’s so-so fuel economy, is programmed for efficiency and upshifts early and often and can be slow to downshift when you need it to. There’s a manual shift mode, but its responses are lazy and make it best suited to manually holding a lower gear on steep downhill stretches.
The Sorento’s all-wheel drive system is of the slip-and-grip variety found in most of the competitors in this class. Front-wheel power is the default, with torque only being sent to the rear axle when wheelspin is detected; for tough terrain, the centre differential can be locked to split power 50/50 at low speeds. The system would be enough to get you down a mucky cottage trail, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is anything like a true off-roader. The larger Borrego is now the only Kia SUV with a true four-wheel drive system, including low-range gearing.
The Sorento runs in a competitive group of vehicles and its seven-seat option pits it against some of the larger vehicles in the class, like the Honda Pilot, Ford Edge and Toyota Highlander. In five-seat trim, though, it would be more fairly cross-shopped against the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain, Nissan Murano and Subaru Outback. The Dodge Journey and Hyundai Santa Fe (a mechanical twin to the Sorento) are the only other smallish mid-sizers that offer seating for seven.
For all that this truck is a significant upgrade over what came before it, the changes only put it mid-pack in terms of mechanical sophistication and styling; what really sells it, as with most Kias, is its high feature-to-dollar ratio. The Sorento definitely is new; I just can’t help but think they could have spent more time on the improved part.
Pricing: 2011 Kia Sorento EX-V6 Luxury
Base price: $37,995
Options: $1,200 (Seven-passenger seating and third-row climate controls)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $40,945
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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