2011 Kia Sorento ES Preview: Less Power, Some Surprises

March 29, 2010

2011 Kia Sorento ES: Four-Cylinder Astonishment?

Kia is full of surprises and I'm not talking about whimsical sock monkeys.  For instance, the old Sorento‘s lumbering truck-like body-on-frame configuration is toast.  The 2011 version has a car-like unibody similar to its Hyundai corporate cousin the Santa Fe.  This provides a significant improvement in ride, handling and interior room.  Another surprise:  it's made at Kia's new U.S. assembly plant.

The five-passenger pre-production ES model I sampled proved that Kia offers a competitive midsize crossover.  A quick inspection reveals that the Kia has a steering wheel wrapped in massaging-bead textured leather, a few overhead plugs, some visible screw heads and numerous cut lines.  Yet the dashboard's low-gloss hard-plastic bits look accommodating.  Inlays have the glossy black effect found on a Mazda 6.  Armrests are thinly padded and the center console's top is hard.

Look closer and you'll notice that the up-market, front-wheel-drive ES includes backup assist, rear-view camera, automatic climate, automatic headlights, downhill assist, rear face-level vents and stability control.   Drivers sit atop firmly stuffed heated, motorized chairs with intrusive but adjustable headrests.  Legroom is generous.  In back, the three-adults-invited split-fold seat reclines.   With a seat-mounted center shoulder belt and self-folding outboard headrests, it's easy to convert the Sorento for max cargo room.

Instrumentation is straightforward with the oval-surround speedometer directly in front of the driver.  Its info screen is easily overwhelmed by bright sunlight.  Some idiot lights are difficult to see; the Eco reminder is bright.  At dash central, the radio's zigzag buttons are arrayed like brand-new crayons in a playful easy-to-use manner.

Do You Like Me Now?

Driving the Sorento reveals that Kia did more than re-skin a Santa Fe.  Steering has a lot more feedback; it is nicely weighted.  Ride is firm as you roll on Kumho 18-inch tires.  The gated six-speed automatic shifter has a manual mode.  The 2.4-liter, I-four engine occasionally struggles.  It contributes some groans and buzzes.  Nonetheless, this power train normally works smoothly and quietly enough that you might not notice that you've exceeded the speed limit.  A V6 is optional.

Since there isn't a third-row seat, you get a spelunker's delight.  There's enough below-the-floor stowage for cameras, tripods and hiking boots.

Overall fuel economy: 21.5 mpg, trip computer read 22.

With road manners closer to the Mitsubishi Outlander, the Sorento proves that Kia has the power to entertain with the sound system off.

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