Motors has been a leader in the automotive market when it comes to value and warranty, but its vehicles have always looked the part of affordable, economical transportation. Starting with the 2010 Kia Soul, the South Korean automaker is finally starting to incorporate inspiring, attractive designs into its new vehiclesÂ and appears to be an ongoing trend. Kia followed up the Soul with the stylish Kia Forte sedan and Kia Forte Koup, and its new design language is now moving into the more lucrative midsize crossover segment with the 2011 Kia Sorento. While the Soul and Forte are both new names to Kia, it decided to keep the Sorento name due to the ruggedness of the previous model, but as a sign of the major overhaul, there will be no 2010 model Sorento (the current 2009 model is pictured far right).
Set to hit dealership showrooms in January 2010, the second-generation Kia Sorento will go up against popular crossovers ranging from the five-passenger Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Murano and Ford Edge up to seven-passenger crossovers like the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Dodge Journey. The all-new Kia Sorento will come in three trim levels (LX, EX and EX V-6), but Kia hasn't announced official pricing yet. According to Kia's vice president of marketing, Michael Sprague, the 2011 Sorento's expected volume seller will be the five-passenger Sorento LX FWD, and while the starting MSRP has yet to be announced, he said that the base LX will start under $20,000 while a fully loaded EX V-6 will break into the $30,000 range. From the refreshingly attractive styling of the interior and exterior up the factory where it's built, the only thing that this new crossover carries over from its predecessor is the Sorento nameplate.
2011 Kia Sorento Exterior
While the face of the first Sorento was seemingly inspired by the popular first-generation Lexus RX, the 2011 Kia Sorento uses Kia's signature grille and headlight treatment that debuted on the Kia Soul and Kia Forte. Not to say that the exterior styling is any less 'play-it-safe' than the previous Sorento, but the bold new face, the larger greenhouse and the bigger overall size help give it a more athletic stance to stand apart from the numerous cookie-cutter crossovers that are currently on the market. Like the first-generation Sorento, all 2011 Sorento models continue to use gray plastic cladding around the lower edges for a more rugged appearance, but the texturing, coloring and styling of the lower plastic adds a more upscale look. One of the design elements I liked the most on the 2011 Kia Sorento was the beveled edges around the greenhouse, taillights and rear liftgate window to help give the overall design more depth.
Despite its bigger size, the 2011 Kia Sorento has less ground clearance and worse approach and departure angles than its predecessor, which were most likely key changes needed to add the third-row bench seat. Ground clearance drops an inch to 7.2 inches allowing for easier ingress and egress, while the 25.1 degree approach angle and 23.1 departure angle mean that the Sorento's off-roading abilities will be somewhat less than the outgoing model, but still relatively on par for this segment.
2011 Kia Sorento Interior
As much as the exterior gives the Sorento a look that is more upscale, it is the style, quality and materials used inside the cabin that will help make it a major player in the crossover market. With a stylish layout and surprising standard equipment, the new Kia Sorento delivers an elegant and comfortable atmosphere that is refreshing for a vehicle with a sub-$20,000 starting MSRP. Three different interior trims will be available from the mesh-like cloth in the Sorento LX to the two-tone leatherette in the EX, but my favorite was the optional perforated leather seats available on the EX. The model I drove had the optional leather seats in a dark gray hue with subtle accents from the dark wood grain on the instrument panel and door panels. Attention to detail was apparent inside the new Sorento as every surface intersected with surprising fit and finish. High-end options such as GPS navigation and a panoramic sunroof are also available on the new Sorento.
New for 2011, the Kia Sorento joins the growing list of seven-passenger crossovers with the three-row configuration standard on the EX V-6 and optional on the lesser trim levels. While the small third row will likely appeal to families with small kids that can fit in the confining rearmost seat, all Sorento owners will appreciate the impressive cargo capacities of this crossover. With all three rows in place, the Sorento can accommodate 9.1 cubic feet of cargo, but without the third row in place, cargo capacity improves to 37 cubic feet. Fold both rear rows down and the Sorento can swallow up to 72.5 cubic feet. If more space is needed, the Sorento has the optional availability of roof racks as well as a towing capacity that maxes out at 3,500 pounds.
2011 Kia Sorento Performance & Handling
Although two engines will still be available on the 2011 Sorento, the range between the two will now be broader including the addition of a four-cylinder which has been a glaring omission in previous Sorento model years. The Sorento LX and EX will come base with 2.4-liter inline-4 that produces 172 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque, while the Sorento EX V-6 uses a 3.5-liter V-6 that puts out 273 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. Despite a gain of 11 horsepower compared to the current Sorento, the new engine will offer impressive EPA fuel economy estimates of up to 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, while the inline-4 gets up to 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.
While the first-generation Sorento was a true SUV with a body-on-frame design, the all-new Sorento aims for a more refined ride with a unibody layout and four-wheel independent suspension. On the first leg of the trip, I drove a base Sorento LX FWD, and on the return trip I drove a fully loaded EX V-6 AWD. When it comes to the new Sorento's powertrain, the biggest complaint I had was the amount of noise coming from the V-6 when accelerating. Generally speaking, the four-cylinder engine is usually the loudest and roughest engine option in toady's cars, but the Sorento surprisingly bucks that trend as this powerful, fuel-efficient engine just seems overworked at times. As for the Sorento's handling, the switch to unibody results in a smoother, more confident driving dynamic. The whole day was spent driving through steady rain, and both models felt stable in navigating the slick roads. All 2011 Kia Sorento models come standard with electronic stability control and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS so they both handled quite well in slick conditions. Other standard safety features include hill start assist control, downhill brake control, electronic brake distribution, six airbags and active front head restraints.
2011 Kia Sorento Production
Not only will the 2011 Kia Sorento continue to offer impressive value and efficiency, but it is now built in a new factory in West Point, Ga. giving it the status of 'Made in the U.S.A.' In addition to the assembly taking place in Georgia, the Kia-designed six-speed automatic are also produced in the state while the engines are produced nearby in Alabama. With the site announced in March 2006 and the first units rolling off the assembly line in November 2009, the factory is just 80 miles from Hyundai's Montgomery, Ala. plant allowing the two sister companies to save money by sharing suppliers. The 2,200 acre site will have the ability to produce 300,000 units annually, and every unit will be tested on a two-mile test track which is also located on the site. Looking ahead to the future, Kia's new facility has the capacity and flexibility to produce up to three separate models, and Kia is looking at two other models to join the 2011 Sorento's production line.
Call it luck, good timing or plain old-fashioned skill, but Kia Motors has put itself in a position to be one of the most successful automakers in 2009 thanks to a great warranty, excellent value and stylish new vehicle designs. Redesigned for 2011 and assembled in a brand new plant here in the United States, the all-new Kia Sorento should appeal to just about any consumer who bases a new car purchase on reliability, versatility, styling, luxury or American-made. Not only will the 2011 Kia Sorento help Kia continue to build its market share in North America, but it will also help improve the automaker's image in the eyes of consumers.
Select photos via Kia Motors
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