The carlike Kia Sorento is so dramatically changed one might wonder why it retains the name of the old truck-like Sorento, which arrived for 2003 and became dated.
A test drive during the media preview of the new Sorento to Kia’s sprawling new, $1 billion assembly plant in a rural area an hour from Atlanta, Georgia, showed this crossover vehicle to be poised, quiet and comfortable.
Kia’s newest Sorento is the sporty “SX.” It has a revised front end, more luxury and sharper handling. The Sorento comes as an entry model and as the LX, EX and SX. It has front or four-wheel drive and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder or 3.5-liter V-6.
Kia says rivals of the early 2011 Sorento include heavy hitters Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge — and also the Mazda CX-7 and Toyota Highlander.
“The Sorento is aimed at families 25-34 years old and for over-40 athletic types,” Michael Sprague, Kia Motors America’s vice president of marketing, said at the preview.
Kia said the Sorento’s long warranty, which covers the powertrain for 100,000 miles, attractive pricing and many standard features, will help it overcome unfamiliarity for many with the Kia name and products.
What can’t be seen by prospective Sorento buyers is the vehicle’s ultramodern new plant, which has the latest sophisticated equipment and lots of quality controls. Kia even built a track near the facility to give every new Sorento a test drive before it’s shipped to a dealer — an unusual auto industry practice.
“People say Kia’s affordable vehicles are benefiting from the tough economy, but they must be solid, with good styling that give customers the value they want,” said Tom Loveless, sales vice president of Kia Motors America.
The Sorento seems right for the times. Its new unibody construction replaces truck-type construction and gives it carlike manners. It’s longer and roomier, with more head and leg room and nearly five more cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Kia says the Sorento seats seven with an available third-row seat, but the hard center of the second-row seat makes that roomy seat comfortable for only two. The third seat is for children and eats up most cargo room unless folded forward. It can be accessed fairly easily because the second-row seat moves forward, although being limber helps.
Prices range $19,995 to $32,195.
The 175-horsepower “four” delivers decent performance, at least with two adults aboard, but is noisy during hard acceleration. With considerably more torque and 276 horsepower, the V-6 is predictably stronger and quieter. Both engines work with a new six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature, which especially helps performance of the four-cylinder,
The Sorento has a handy size for easy maneuvering but is fairly heavy — its weight extends from 3,605 pounds for the base four-cylinder front-drive model to 3,935 pounds for the V-6 four-wheel drive version, which has a lockable center differential.
Fuel economy is an estimated 20-21 mpg city and 27-29 highway with the four-cylinder engine and front-drive and 21 and 27 with four-wheel drive. With the V-6, it’s 20 city and 26 highway with front-drive and 19-25 with four-wheel drive.
The four-cylinder has towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, while the V-6’s towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
Power steering is fast but firm. A comfortable ride is provided by a new front suspension and a new independent rear suspension that replaces the old beam axle. Handling during the average driving conditions experienced was good, helped by a standard electronic stability control system. The brake pedal had a firm, progressive action and stopping power was fine.
Outside door handles can be easily grasped, but it takes a little extra effort to get in or out of the rather tall Sorento. Backlit gauges can be easily read in the attractively trimmed interior, which has nicely placed front cupholders and a good number of decent cabin storage areas, including a large covered console bin.
Climate controls are large, but audio system controls are too small to be used at a glance. The roof design creates rear blind spots for the driver.
The cargo area opening is rather high, but is plenty wide.
A fully loaded Sorento would have the V-6 and such items as four-wheel drive and Kia’s first panoramic sunroof, leather-trim seats, heated front seats, navigation system, rear view backup camera, upscale Infinity audio system with 10 speakers, DVD entertainment system and 18-inch chrome-finish wheels.
Even the lowest-cost Sorento has standard manual air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, MP3/Sat audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, tilt/telescopic steering column, steering wheel audio controls and 17-inch alloy wheels..
The LX adds such items as an automatic up-down driver window, hefty armrest with cupholders for the middle of the second-row seat and body color heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators.
The EX I4 adds dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button starter, fabric/leatherette seats, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels.
EX V-6 added items are rear air conditioning and a third-row split/folding 50/50 seat (optional for other models, except the base one) and rear sonar to warn about unseen objects behind the Sorento.
There’s plenty of safety items, including front-side and side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes with electric brake distribution, electronic stability control, hill-start assist control and downhill brake control.
The 2011 Sorento offers lots of value, so it promises to do well no matter what the economic climate.