When Kia redesigned the Sorento for 2011, it's clear the operative word was "refinement." The crossover looks much more contemporary and it's fun to drive, too, partially because the Sorento now has unibody construction that makes for more carlike handling.
Appearance: This was a much-needed update for what in the Sorento's previous generation was a utilitarian-looking vehicle. This new Sorento is 4 inches longer than the previous one and straddles the line between a small and mid-sized crossover. The eye-pleasing design has enough details — fender flares and side lower-body creases — to steer the Sorento away from the generic. Also helping in the top-of-the-line trim: 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome finish on the door handles, roof rails, stainless steel belly trim (front and rear) and dual exhaust tips. The front of the Sorento features Kia's distinctive "tiger-tooth" grille, which is bordered with chrome and filled with black honeycomb plastic. The headlights sweep up from the grille
Performance: Our front-wheel-drive tester had the 3.5-liter, 276-horsepower V-6, which provided enough power to rapidly accelerate the 3,900-pound crossover. (We wonder: Would the Sorento's 4-cylinder engine in the base model have enough oomph?) The 6-speed automatic shifts smoothly. The estimated mpg for the 6-cylinder is 20 (city) and 26 (highway), which isn't too bad for a seven-seater. We liked the steering response and feedback, but found the ride a little on the stiff side, especially on rough roads.
Interior: The Sorento's interior is simple, fairly quiet and well laid out, if not upscale (surface plastics are hard but attractive with some "carbon fiber" accents). We like the three-gauge dash cluster that includes the center speedometer, which has a pleasing red-ringed glow, as well as a digital readout. We think the Kia audio player is one of the most easy-to-use we've come across in this era of increasingly complex displays. Peter especially likes its retro-iPod look. Our top-of-the-line SX trim came with leather seats, which were comfortable and supportive. The second-row seats fold 60/40, and tilt forward for access to the third row, which is suitable for small kids only. With these seats up, cargo space is limited. But they do fold down flat easily with the pull of a strap. With second and third rows down, you get 72.5 cubic feet of space. Other goodies included push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, dual-zone AC and the panoramic sunroof ($1,200 feature), which covers almost the entire length of the roof, perfect for rear passengers to gaze at the sky.
Our 3 favorites
Grille: The bold look says Kia has a new attitude.
Features: Even the base model has lots of goodies standard.
Audio: Love the look and intuitive nature of the music display.
Panoramic sunroof: Glass rooftop brings in lots of light.
Lots of bling: Chrome accents and mirror-finish wheels say, "Look at me!"
Ride: Smooth, quiet and comfortable.
The bottom line: The versatile Sorento won't wow you with its overall driving experience, but it does almost everything well. That may seem like faint praise, but it's not: To us, it's proof of just how competitive Kia has become.