We’ve driven both the four- and six-cylinder 2011 Sorento, and we've sampled Kia’s front- and all-wheel-drive versions. Of all the iterations (save the manual-transmission version, which we still haven’t been able to try), the front-drive V-6 is the clear choice here.
There’s just not much motivation with the 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder--not on price, not on power, and not on fuel economy. The smaller engine certainly sounds eager enough to please, but even the relatively lightweight Sorento saps whatever energy it can muster. With the six-speed automatic, you’re looking at a 0-60 mph run of about 9 seconds, if our god-given seats are calibrated correctly.
The four-cylinder model does slide in under $20,000, but for a few thousand dollars more, Kia will give you a much more muscular 273-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to the same six-speed automatic transmission, in either front- or all-wheel-drive trim. The big V-6 doesn’t mind snapping to redline to needle the Sorento through traffic, and it has a well-tuned mechanical howl through its powerband. We suspect it drops acceleration times by more than a second, but it doesn’t cost much more to fuel up (read more in our green rating).
The automatic transmission is a Kia design and shifts without drama, but a set of shift paddles would be a welcome addition. There’s a manual-shift mode on the shift lever, but plenty of room for paddles behind the steering wheel. The automatic does have a mind of its own and will shift when it thinks it should—even when in manual mode, when you’re supposed to have total control. That’s typical of SUVs, so maybe it’s forgivable.
The Sorento’s ride quality is a touch more rumbling than you might expect on construction riddled interstates, but you'll mostly notice noise and a light impact feel. It’s more softly sprung than the RAV4 and CR-V, with steering that’s willing but not exceptionally quick, and a whiff of torque steer for front-drive models. It’s the kind of benign handling you look for in family vehicles.
If you think you need it, the optional all-wheel-drive system sends most of the power to the front wheels, but when traction changes, it can send 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. Drivers can also lock the differential at a 50:50 power split, and Kia includes downhill descent control and hill-hold assists, but no true low range (or any real need) to make this a true off-road vehicle. However, the Sorento can tow 3,500 pounds in some trims. We’re not sold on the need for all-wheel drive for the average commuter living south of the Mason-Dixon line, but again—it’s your money to save.