2011 Kia Sorento: Suspension Walkaround


2011 Kia Sorento

You might be thinking, "2011 Kia Sorento? Did he just type 2011? I'm still trying to get used to writing 2010 on my checks."

Yes, it's true. Kia has decided to sell the all-new Kia Sorento as a 2011 model. They're allowed to do it, too, because the regulations say that anything produced after January 1st 2010 can wear the 2011 designation if the manufacturer so chooses.

Frankly, I think it's silly and confusing. Not to mention the fact that Kia will end up selling the 2010 car for some 20 months before the routine 2012 model change comes out a year after this coming September or October.

But Kia must have a very good reason. They have apparently chosen this path because the 2011 Kia Sorento is utterly different from the outgoing 2009 model. Perhaps the forward-looking number and the model-year gap it creates with the past (there is no 2010 Sorento) helps them make their point. "That's how all-new the 2011 Kia Sorento really is," they might say.

And they do have a point. Kia Sorentos of the "2009 and before" variety were body-on-frame SUVs with rear-drive architecture and optional 4WD systems that had a low-range transfer case. This made them fairly stout off-road performers, but a sold rear axle imbued them with a sometimes truckish ride. And they were built in Korea and sent here on huge Ro-Ro ships (roll on, roll off).

The 2011 Kia Sorento (available now) shares none of that. It's now a suburban crossover utility (CUV) that rides on front-drive unibody architecture loosely derived from the Kia Optima sedan (code-named MG). Its all-wheel drive system is more than suitable for snow and maintained dirt roads, but it's not designed to tackle rocky off-road trails. It now rides rather well on a compact multilink independent rear suspension that leaves sufficient interior room for a newly-available third-row seat. And last but certainly not least, the 2011 Kia Sorento is built in Kia's first U.S. plant, located in West Point, Georgia.

Enough, already. This one deserves a look.

The changes start up front, where the 2011 Kia Sorento rides on a MacPherson strut coilover (green) instead of 2009's double wishbone setup. The stabilizer bar is direct-acting, which means its link connects directly to the strut housing (yellow) for a motion ratio that's as close to 1-to1 as you can get with a strut.

2011 Kia Sorento

Something a little different is going on here. The L-shaped lower control arm (yellow) has more of a Y-shape, and the longest leg stretches forward, not back.

2011 Kia Sorento

Not only does the arm stretch forward, the forward mounts are spaced further apart (side-to-side) than the rear mounts. Theoretically, the tapered pivot axis that results causes the ball joint to move forward slightly as the suspension compresses, and that helps bolster the caster angle throughout the range of motion.

2011 Kia Sorento

Since the lower control arm (green) doesn't extend to the rear, more room is created and the stabilizer bar (yellow) and steering rack (white) can be mounted lower, a move that opens up foot room inside the cabin.

2011 Kia Sorento

The Sorento's steering shaft drops nearly straight down onto the steering gear's pinion(yellow), which drives the steering rack (green) back and forth as you turn the wheel. The two slender pipes are a giveaway that this is hydraulic rack and pinion steering.

2011 Kia Sorento

The Sorento's front brakes consist of single-piston sliding calipers and ventilated rotors.

2011 Kia Sorento

Most caliper castings are absolutely symmetrical so that they can be used on either the left or the right. But they are not interchangeable on the car because the calipers are machined so that the bleed port (white) is on the high side of the piston chamber. If the "L" were drilled-out and had the fitting instead, this would be a right-hand caliper and an "R" would be visible where this bleed port is located.

2011 Kia Sorento

The Sorento's rear suspension is a compact multilink setup consisting of coil springs and an aluminum upper arm (black), a trailing link (white), a toe link (yellow) and one more link we can't see in this view.

2011 Kia Sorento

The main lower link (white) supports the coil spring and holds the suspension at the correct camber angle. As we've seen before, the toe link (yellow) is notably shorter so that a stabilizing dose of roll understeer is created as the outside suspension compresses in a corner.

The stabilizer bar (orange) and the shock absorber (black, behind the rock guard) both connect directly to the cast iron suspension knuckle for a direct-acting motion ratio of 1-to-1.

2011 Kia Sorento

This view of the lower camber link (white) shows it to be an aluminum extrusion that has been machined into the desired shape.

2011 Kia Sorento

Eccentric cams are provided to make adjustments to the toe link (yellow) and the camber link (white). If you have the means (i.e. specialized tools) and the inclination to do this yourself, you want to set the camber first then set the toe-in last. It doesn't work properly if you do it the other way.

 

2011 Kia Sorento

No matter where I put my camera, that aluminum upper arm (green) evades capture. You'll have to trust me when I say that it, as well as all the other links and the stabilizer bar, attaches to a steel sub-frame that is bolted to the body via four rubber bushings like this one (yellow).

2011 Kia Sorento

Like the front, the rear brake calipers are of the single-piston sliding variety. Unlike the front, the rotor is a solid disc. A drum-in-hat parking brake is hidden inside the rotor's protruding center section.

 

2011 Kia Sorento

Another symmetrical casting makes up the rear caliper's sliding half. The machining for the brake hose inlet and the bleed fitting (white) need only be reversed to make a right-hand side caliper.

 

2011 Kia Sorento

Our EX-level Sorento wears P235/60R18 tires on 7-by-18-inch aluminum alloy wheels with a 41 mm offset. Each mounted assembly weighs 56 pounds on our scales.

2011 Kia Sorento

Finally, we're looking up the center of our Sorento in the direction of the engine. The plastic saddle-style gasoline tank provides a path for a rear driveshaft, but ours is a two-wheel drive Sorento, so nobody's home.

If this were a 2009 Sorento, the 2WD version would still have a driveshaft and said driveshaft would connect to a rigid live axle. We would see a frame, not a unibody and a host of other differences.

So, yeah, the 2011 Kia Sorento is about as all-new as it could possibly be. If Kia wants to skip a model year and go with 2011 for emphasis, I guess they've earned it.

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