The Sorento’s strengths lie in its interior and its powertrain. The exterior styling doesn’t do much for me, and the chrome wheels, part of the Limited package, are garish. The exterior isn’t offensive, but it utterly lacks distinction.
The powertrain is impressive, though, and the steering is okay. The 3.5-liter V-6 is very energetic and sounds good as it races toward its 6750-rpm redline. Hammer it, and the needle swings to about 6300 rpm before the six-speed automatic makes a crisp upshift. Ride quality is pretty good on smooth pavement, but it falls apart once the Sorento encounters a stretch of Michigan’s winter-ravaged blacktop. The suspension is tuned for smooth-road comfort but doesn’t have the rebound action to swallow bad pavement without unduly upsetting the vehicle.
As for the interior, the instrument panel and the center stack and the main instruments all are perfectly attractive and modern, and the fake dark wood trim blends in nicely. Some of my colleagues complained of cheap plastic trim, but I have to admit I didn’t notice it. The leather seats are handsome and comfortable. This is a credible, but not terribly exciting, entry in this all-important segment for Kia. But our fully loaded model at $35K doesn’t make much sense to me; I’d aim for a lesser model. The Sorento doesn’t have the chassis chops to merit a $35K window sticker.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Sorento’s interior might look nice and fit together well, but some of the materials are as cheap or cheaper than you would find in a $16,000 Kia Soul. At the Sorento’s starting price of $22,395 that might not be such a big deal, but it’s unforgivable in our $34,840 test car. Fortunately, the driving experience is quite good, more than making up for the cheap interior. The 3.5-liter V-6 pulls strong from any point in the tachometer. The ride is composed and the body is well controlled. And I like the ability to lock the center differential of the otherwise part-time all-wheel drive.
The third row (standard in the V-6, optional in the I-4) provides comically little legroom and the seat sits mere inches off the floor. It does, however, fold perfectly into the floor with the pull straps being the only indication that this Sorento has (theoretical) room for seven.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
The exterior design of the Sorento may not be original or distinctive but taken as a whole I actually think it’s more attractive than some of its competitors, including the Toyota RAV4 and the Jeep Liberty. The most unfortunate thing about the Sorento’s styling is the poor outward visibility that results from its sharply angled windshield, short side windows, and narrow rear glass. And, because only a stubby little wiper will fit in the slim rear window, when it rains, the viewable area goes from a small mail slot to a tiny porthole.
There are a few hard, shiny plastics but most of the surfaces that you touch often are nicely textured and have some give. I loved sister-division Hyundai’s infotainment system in our 4 Seasons Genesis, and Kia’s system is also quite good. Although the screen is small, the crisp display is easy to read and the system itself is intuitive to use.
The Sorento is no revelation to drive but few are in the small-crossover segment. It could use a suspension retune and slightly lighter steering at low speeds but it is still a good option for those looking for a small to mid-size crossover.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
Much as I think this Sorento is an improvement over the last-generation model, I think Kia pulled it out of the oven a little too soon. The ride quality is a little too harsh, and the 3.5-liter V-6 suffers from a quirky throttle calibration. Lift quickly after a hard acceleration, and the throttle hangs briefly before the revs settle back down.
I’m going to have to disagree with Jen’s take on the navigation system; it looks great and is easy to use, but it too exhibits some minor (but annoying) quirks when listening to an iPod. You can select shuffle, but it’s deactivated if you turn the head unit off or switch over to the setup screen. Taking a call over Bluetooth doesn’t automatically pause the device, so ending a call will place you in the middle of a completely different song. Bizarre.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Looks-wise, the Kia Sorento is a perfectly mainstream crossover vehicle. It doesn’t stand out in a crowd, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The interior is nicely designed, although material quality is perhaps slightly less that one might expect from a $30,000-plus vehicle. On a relatively smooth highway, the vehicle rides quite nicely, although the chassis doesn’t handle rough roads that well as some of its competitors
I only drove this vehicle for a short time, dropping it off at the airport as I left town for a couple of days. I put my bag in the rear compartment behind the second seat, and if I hadn’t read Eric’s comment above about the standard third-row seat, I wouldn’t have even known it was there, because the load floor was perfectly flat, just like in a two-row crossover.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2011 Kia Sorento EX AWD
Base price (with destination): $29,890
Price as tested: $34,840
3.5-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Electronic stability control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Downhill brake control
Hill assist control
Dual-zone automatic climate control
AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system
Sirius satellite radio
USB and auxiliary input jack
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Back-up warning system
Options on this vehicle:
Limited package — $2000
– Navigation system
– Rearview camera
– Infinity audio with 10 speakers
– 18-inch mirror-finish alloy wheels
– Interior accent illumination
Premium package 2 — $2700
– Panoramic sunroof
– Leather seat trim
– Heated front seats
– Auto-dimming rearview mirror
EC mirror with compass and Homelink — $250
Key options not on vehicle:
19 / 25 / 21 mpg
Size: 3.5L DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 276 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Curb weight: 3704 lbs
18-inch alloy wheels
235/60R18 Kuhmo Solus KL21 all-season tires