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2011 Kia Sorento
Forget about the rough play as the Sorento has become a softer and more glamorous touch

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Kia SorentoOne of the more muscular and longest-serving members of the Kia family is changing its stripes -- along with its country of origin.

Yes, the Sorento, Kia's truckish sport utility vehicle that specialized in travelling well past the point where the pavement or the trail ends, has become a lot more civilized as it prepares to enter the 2011 model year in early 2010. The Sorento also represents the first Kia product to roll out the company's new West Point, Ga., assembly plant.

The original 2003-'09 Sorento focussed on providing a well-equipped and cost-efficient alternative to the Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Grand Cherokee and other small- or mid-size five-passenger off-road-capable rigs. Its credentials included stout body-on-frame construction, rock-clearing ride height, damage-protecting skid plates and a low-range transfer case.

The off-road fraternity loved it, but ultimately Kia saw greener pastures in selling the next-generation Sorento to a broader group of buyers seeking a stylish, comfortable wagon that takes its highway-cruising role seriously, regardless of weather or road status. The new ride also offers a split-folding third-row-seating option for folks needing to transport up to seven passengers on their excursions.

2011 Kia SorentoFor its new and expanded role, the Sorento relies upon a platform that's similar to that employed with the Hyundai Santa Fe (Hyundai and Kia originate from the same corporate conglomerate). Compared to the outgoing model, overall length and width have been extended by about 10 centimetres and 2.5 centimetres, respectively, while passenger space and cargo volume have grown significantly.

Visually, the Sorento is an attractive piece and represents a giant leap forward for Kia in the design department. The rounded hood and front fascia are familiar shapes used to identify other Kia products, such as the compact Forte and mid-size Optima passenger cars. In addition, the non-painted front and rear bumpers and lower-side trim help display at least a sense of ruggedness as opposed to be simply unfinished.

The interior shows off Kia's newfound attention to detail that permeates its more recent products. From the easy-to-read triple-pod gauges to the clearly identifiable control-panel switches and dials, the new Sorento presents an inviting appearance that wouldn't be out of place in more premium-priced vehicles.

Shoppers will have to choose between two powerplants for their new Sorento: a 172-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder; or optional 273-horsepower 3.5-litre V6. According to Kia's own estimates, both engines are closely matched in terms of fuel economy, which means your final choice will likely boil down to affordability and power needs.

2011 Kia SorentoA six-speed manual transmission is standard with the four-cylinder, with a six-speed automatic optional, but standard with the V6.

All-wheel-drive is available with either engine, except on the base manual-transmission model.

The standard-feature list includes air conditioning, tilt and telescopic steering column, steering-wheel-located audio controls and Bluetooth networking. Along with the automatic transmission, LX versions include a few extra touches, while the EX adds dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable driver's seat, push-button-start ignition, backup warning and 18-inch alloy wheels (17-inchers are standard).

Selecting the top-dog EX V6 makes rear air conditioning and the third-row seat standard, however that model is the only way you can obtain an extra-cost panoramic sunroof or the overhead DVD entertainment system.

Other menu items, such as heated front seats, leather seat covers, rear-view backup display, premium sound package and a navigation system are also available.

Pricing has yet to be announced, but expect a starting point of about $27,000 including destination fees. For that kind of cash, you'll be hooked up with a good-looking leading-edge package that's capable of getting you and your family everywhere you want to go.

What you should know: 2011 Kia Sorento

Type: Four-door mid-size front- /all-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 2.4-litre DOHC I4 (172); 3.5-litre DOHC V6 (273)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (std. on 2.4), six-speed automatic (opt. on 2.4, std. on 3.5)
Market position: The Sorento has abandoned its previous off-roader status and instead now concentrates on the more popular tall-wagon category and competes with similar products from North American and Japanese automakers.
Points: High on attractiveness; Third-row seating option adds versatility;  Fuel economy significantly better than that of previous model; More in line with buyer needs than the recently launched Borrego full-size sport-ute; Kia's extra-generous warranty coverage always a big plus; Should be a can't-miss success.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags;  anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 9.7/6.9 (2.4, AT)
Base price (incl. destination): $27,000 (est.)

By comparison     

Dodge Journey
Base price: $20,900
Attractive, spacious hauler is a top-seller for Dodge. Aggressively priced.

Chevrolet Traverse
Base price: $35,700
Big, roomy wagon fits up to eight riders. Gutsy V6 is standard.

Mitsubishi Outlander
Base price: $25,000
Well-priced Lancer-based model is Sorento's most direct competitor.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted February 07, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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