With a range of performance from economical to brisk, the 2012 Kia Sorento has a newly available engine that makes our previous recommendation of the V-6 a little less unanimous.
Last year, we noted the lack of motivation from the old 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Now rated at 175 hp and offered only with a manual transmission, we'd still recommend passing up this rarely-seen model. Front-drive LX Sorentos also offer this engine, but only in front-drive form.
The same engine's been revamped with direct injection and is offered on LX and EX Sorentos. The changes raise both the gas-mileage and overall horsepower figures--up to 30 mpg highway and 191 hp in all. There's more noise from the direct-injection hardware, but the relatively lightweight Sorento feels a little more responsive with the four-cylinder, and well capable of 0-60 mph runs of less than 9 seconds. This engine in LX trim represents a great value for crossover shoppers looking for a bargain in the mid-$20,000 range.
For a few thousand dollars more, the muscular 276-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 represents the top of the Sorento lineup. Offered with either front- or all-wheel drive, the big V-6 is the pick for families that pack their cars full of kids and gear. The six-speed automatic shiftly smoothly and eagerly, and the engine doesn't mind trips to the redline as it pulls up to highway speeds without much protest. Fuel economy doesn't suffer too much, so long as you don't really need all-wheel drive--a question anyone living down south or out west should ask before adding all that weight to the bottom line.
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.
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.