Whoa there, Nelly! The initial throttle tip-in is too aggressive and makes it difficult to pull away smoothly from a stop. I know that Kia wants its SX models to have a sportier feel than other trim levels, but give us progressive throttle response, please. Compared with lesser Sorento models, the SX gets its own body kit, which includes gaping fog-light openings, which I don’t care for, and LED taillights, which I do: a slim ring of diodes serve as running lights, and the diodes within the ring illuminate under braking. It looks very cool.
Kia did a good job tuning the dual-flow dampers, which help this two-ton crossover stay surprisingly flat if you’re pushing the Sorento hard on twisty roads. The well-bolstered seatback helps keep you in place during aggressive driving, but the seat bottom is too flat for skinny guys like me.
The Sorento is cheaper than the Toyota Highlander and the Honda Pilot but more expensive than the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Dodge Journey (though not by much). What really sets it apart from those competitors, though, is its sporty suspension, which adds some athleticism to this midsize family hauler.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Depending on how you look at it, the Sorento represents the last bit of old Kia product or the first indication of what the brand is capable of delivering. Personally, I see the Sorento as being the warning shot to other automakers that Kia would be a serious player in the mainstream automotive segments. The current Sorento debuted in late 2009 and the big change was moving from body-on-frame to unibody construction, which transformed the Sorento from an SUV into a crossover and much more compelling vehicle.
Though no aspect of the Sorento’s interior or exterior design is breathtaking, it certainly elevated the Kia brand from bargain basement look and feel to just generically bland. And bland isn’t a bad thing in the crossover segment. The real surprise was Kia’s new infotainment system that offered great iPod and Bluetooth connectivity without a convoluted set of commands or controls to use the device of your choice.
It would be foolish to expect a real revelation in driving dynamics from any three-row crossover, let alone a Korean interpretation of the segment, but the Sorento SX strikes a decent balance between ride quality and comfort. It feels confident at highway speeds and isn’t difficult to maneuver though crowded parking lots, which is all that really matters in this segment.
Anyone familiar with the new Sportage and Optima will be a little let down by the Sorento, but those unfamiliar with Kia’s current standards in design and interior quality will be pleasantly surprised by the Sorento.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Apparently U.S. car buyers have a love affair with three-row crossovers, even if that third row is impractical and inaccessible. At least with the Sorento, unlike its competitors the Toyota Highlander and the Honda Pilot, the buyer can opt for a two-row version. Having said that, the first thing I did when preparing to spend the weekend with the Sorento was to lower the third row, because with the it in place there’s a scant 9.1 cubic feet of cargo volume. At least lowering the rearmost seats is very easy – just pull the canvas strap on the seatbacks to collapse the seats forward.
The Sorento’s cabin is pleasant but nothing to write home about. The ergonomics are mostly good, but I really had to stretch to reach some of the controls on the center stack – yes, my arms are short. This Sorento has the panoramic roof, which is a very nice option that lets a lot of light into what would otherwise be a much darker space (this model has a black interior).
The 276-hp V-6 makes plenty of power, which I was able to put to use on my way in to work on Monday morning. I was driving down the freeway in the left lane when I noticed a Grand Cherokee on my right with manufacturer plates. And who was it behind the wheel? Don Sherman, former technical editor of this magazine. Nothing like seeing Sherman to make me want to put the pedal to the metal, which I did, leaving him in the dust. (Actually, he exited about a quarter-mile later, but I like to think I dusted him.)
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I completely agree with Phil, this is the last vestige of the old Kia. It’s decent enough, but the materials need improvement. These materials, while visually appealing, feel very much old Kia and, well, cheap. After being in the new Optima, I eagerly await Kia’s update of the Sorento.
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
I spent the weekend with our Sorento and confirmed my previous impressions: this is a capable crossover but nothing more. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing special about it, nothing to set it apart from the crowded field of 7-passenger, 3-row crossovers. It certainly does not meet the dynamic standards set by the class leader, the crisp Mazda CX-9. That said, the Sorento rides smoothly enough, it handles well enough, and it has more than sufficient power. I did an evasive maneuver the other night to avoid a skunk crossing the road, and the Sorento did not become unduly unsettled. Our test car has more than 10,000 miles on it and it seems to be aging well.
Having pulled my back this weekend doing something stupid in the yard, this morning I was grateful for the lower back lumbar inflator in the Sorento’s driver’s seat.
On Saturday I drove the Sorento to our local Costco, where it joined a sea of other crossovers, SUVs, and minivans, and it looked right at home. It easily swallowed my $431 worth of purchases, as you can see in the photo.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
If you want to see the incredible impact a clear design philosophy can have on a brand, take a look at the Kia Sorento and Sportage. The Sportage practically radiates character, sending a strong and consistent message from the shape of its badges to the graining of its interior surfaces. The older Sorento, in contrast, is well executed yet completely generic. There are no awkward proportions or disruptive lines but neither is there anything that makes it stand out in a sea of competent crossovers. That pretty well describes the way the Sorento drives. It demonstrated no bad habits over my admittedly short commute, with plenty of power from the 3.5-liter V-6. That will, no doubt, be enough to satisfy many a buyer in this segment. I, however, would wait for the first refresh, which will likely bring a dash of the panache that Kia is quickly becoming known for.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Overall, this Kia Sorento is a perfectly respectable three-row crossover. Our test example looked good with its shiny black paint, 18-inch alloys, and the SX-specific body kit. The Sorento is easy to drive in the city and easy to maneuver, and there is plenty of power from the 3.5-liter V-6.
That’s all well and good, but the upgrades included with Kia’s SX trim level ruin this specific vehicle. The fake carbon-fiber interior trim looks like it came from a J.C. Whitney catalog, while the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels cheap. Worse yet, the suspension tuning leads the Sorento to crash and flex over Michigan’s omnipresent potholes. Perhaps that’s why, with only 10,435 miles on the clock, our tester already has interior squeaks and rattles. The Sorento is a decent crossover and it may be fine in any other trim level, but this SX version just isn’t for me.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Based on the way this Kia Sorento smacks and jostles its way over imperfect roads, I was certain that the sportier SX trim included unique, more aggressive suspension tuning compared to its lesser LX and EX brethren. I was wrong.
The rough-riding Sorento left me scratching my head. I attended the introduction of the all-new 2010 Sorento and remember a palatable if not particularly distinctive crossover. Sure, the roads were better in Atlanta, but the Sorento I drove gave no hints that the suspension was this stiff. It turns out that just a year after the Sorento went on sale, Kia introduced an update that lowered the ride height and replaced the dampers. On paper, the new dual-flow dampers sound great: four distinct damping behaviors to accommodate the varied road surfaces we all encounter. The actual result is not so great.
Below 40 mph, small breaks and potholes are magnified into road imperfections twice their size and dips and rises toss your upper body around. At higher speeds, the ride becomes more tolerable but there’s an unusual amount of tire slap. And like Jake, my mind created a connection between the abrupt impacts, the irritating rattle just next to the driver’s left ear, and the unbearable squeak from the center stack. Does anyone really want a crossover that rides this harshly? That was my thinking when I still believed this Sorento SX has a sport-tuned suspension. Knowing that this is standard fare shocks me even more. Maybe the LX models — with 17-inch wheels — ride better, but it’s safe to say that the Sorento’s natural habitat is somewhere with much better roads than Michigan.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2011 Kia Sorento SX AWD
Base price (with destination): $34,690
Price as tested: $35,890
● 3.5L 24-valve DOHC V-6
● 6-speed automatic
● Independent front and rear suspension
● All-wheel drive with locking center differential
● 18-inch mirror-finish alloy wheels
● Traction control
● Tire pressure monitoring system
● Downhill brake control
● Hill assist control
● Dual-zone automatic climate control
● Infinity surround sound system w/ 10 speakers
● Sirius satellite radio
● Navigation with Sirius traffic & camera display
● Push-button start with smart key
● Power driver’s seat
● 60/40 split folding & reclining 2nd row seats
● 50/50 split folding 3rd row seats w/ rear A/C
● Leather-trimmed 1st & 2nd row seats/steering wheel/shift knob
● Heated front seats
● Auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink
● Auto light control/cruise control
● Tilt/telescope steering column
● Stainless steel pedals
● Power mirrors/locks/windows
● Chrome front grille/door handles/roof rails
● Rear privacy glass
● Front& rear stainless steel trim
● Rear spoiler
● Fog lights
Options on this vehicle:
● Panoramic sunroof — $1200
Key options not on vehicle:
● SX Premium Package — $1500
o Panoramic sunroof
o Available high style black/dove interior
19 / 25 / 21 mpg
Horsepower: 276 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Curb weight: 4131 lb
Wheels/tires: 18-inch alloy wheels
P235/60R18 all-season tires