2011 Kia Sorento EX AWD

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

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