Full 2011 Kia Sorento Review
What's New for 2011
The 2011 Kia Sorento has been fully redesigned. Major changes include a switch to carlike unibody construction, more powerful engines and a new third-row seat.
It seems like just yesterday that Kia was fielding quirky offerings like, well, the previous-generation Sorento, a traditional body-on-frame SUV that never really caught on in America. But this company learns quickly. The all-new 2011 Kia Sorento boasts the carlike unibody construction (and the subsequent carlike ride) that Americans crave, and it's got most of the other bases covered, too. Perhaps most impressively, it starts at around $20,000, pitting it squarely against perennial compact-crossover all-stars like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The Sorento's most obvious advantage over these models is its near-midsize dimensions. Longer than both rivals, the Sorento capitalizes with an optional third-row seat that's actually inhabitable by adults for short trips; the 2011 Toyota RAV4's third row, conversely, is strictly for kids, and the 2011 Honda CR-V doesn't even offer one. The Sorento also features a choice of four- and six-cylinder engines, just like the Toyota, while the Honda is four-cylinder only.
The base four-cylinder, however, is merely adequate, which isn't surprising given that its 175 horses are tasked with moving more than 3,600 pounds of crossover. It's punchy enough around town, but sounds somewhat strained at higher rpm, and it's not as good on gas as the thriftiest fours in this segment. Another mild demerit goes to the second-row seat, which doesn't slide fore and aft like those of the Sorento's main competitors.
Overall, though, the Sorento is a highly impressive effort. Whereas past Kias have tended to be purchased primarily because of value, the Sorento is a legitimate contender that just happens to have an affordable price. In addition to the aforementioned Honda and Toyota, we'd recommend the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox, 2011 Mazda CX-7 and 2011 Subaru Forester, as well as Kia's smaller Sportage. But we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the 2011 Kia Sorento. It's a rolling exhibit of how far this automaker has come in recent years.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Kia Sorento is a crossover SUV offered in four trim levels: base, LX, EX and the sporty SX. A third-row 50/50-split-folding seat with room for two is optional on the LX and four-cylinder EX, and standard on the EX V6 and SX.
The base model comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping multifunction steering wheel, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity and a CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio and a USB audio jack.
Moving up to the LX nets a six-speed automatic transmission, body-color heated outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, a second-row armrest with cupholder, as well as the option of adding the Convenience package, which includes foglamps, roof rails, rear parking sensors, heated front seats and a back-up camera with a rearview-mirror-mounted display.
The EX starts with the LX's equipment and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control (with rear air-conditioning on V6 models) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The SX spices things up with more aggressive exterior styling details, a sport-tuned suspension, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, unique metallic interior trim, a rearview camera and a 10-speaker Infinity sound system.
The SX's additional features (excluding the exterior styling elements) are available on the EX trim as part of the Premium and Limited option packages. An optional panoramic sunroof and voice-activated navigation with real-time traffic and mood lighting are bundled into those packages as well (you can also get them on the SX). A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available on EX V6 models without the sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
All Sorento trim levels come standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque. The base model has a six-speed manual transmission, while the others come with a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard across the board, while LX and EX models are eligible for all-wheel drive. The AWD system comes with a locking center differential to improve low-speed traction in icy or off-road situations.
In our performance testing, the four-cylinder brought a Sorento EX from zero to 60 mph in a leisurely 9.9 seconds -- one of the slower times in the class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with the front-wheel-drive automatic. It is 21/27/23 with AWD.
Optional is a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque; it comes only with the six-speed automatic and gets the Sorento from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 7.4 seconds, which is one of the quicker times in the class. Fuel economy stands at 20/26/22 with front-wheel drive and 19/25/21 with AWD.
The 2011 Kia Sorento comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, hill-start assist, hill descent control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, both four- and six-cylinder Sorentos came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, which is very good for this class.
In the government's new, more strenuous crash testing for 2011, the Sorento earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and four stars for overall side crash protection. The Sorento earned a top score of "Good" for its performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Sorento's interior is class-competitive in both design and materials, with a look that is restrained but sophisticated. Dashboard plastics are hard to the touch but look good. The audio and climate controls (whether manual or automatic) are intuitive and have a substantial feel, as does the rest of the switchgear.
The front seats are comfortable on long trips and provide the commanding view of the road that crossover buyers love. The inviting second-row seat accommodates two with ease and three in a pinch. It doesn't slide fore and aft without the optional third-row seat (standard on EX V6), meaning the Sorento's not quite as versatile as the Equinox, CR-V or RAV4. And speaking of that third-row seat, it features 50/50-split-folding seatbacks and enough room for even taller-than-average adults, provided the trip is brief. With the rear seats folded, the Sorento can carry up to 72.5 cubic feet of cargo -- about as much as a RAV4 or CR-V.
As with the RAV4, the 2011 Kia Sorento is a tale of two engines. The base 2.4-liter four feels punchy enough around town and with light loads, but it struggles a bit with extra passengers and cargo. The 3.5-liter V6, on the other hand, is strong and smooth, and its fuel economy deficit isn't huge; too bad it's only available on the top-of-the-line EX.
At highway speeds, the Sorento's cabin remains impressively isolated from both road and wind noise. We're also fond of the Sorento's handling ability, as this crossover responds directly to steering inputs. This is indeed one of the more enjoyable small family crossovers to drive. The ride quality should be OK for most folks, but we've found that it gets overly harsh when the Sorento is driven over potholes and similarly broken pavement.