Some may disagree, but we’re confident in saying that when asked why they shop at Wal-Mart, most folks won’t talk about top-notch quality, fashionable duds, or must-have techno gadgets not found anywhere else. The same can be said of Kia, which may be why this week’s television ad from our local dealer focuses on one particular Kia’s rock-bottom price and little else. Simply put, Kia has made a name for itself by selling affordable, well-backed vehicles.
Those days are heading for the history books. Yes, value pricing and long-term warranties are still part of the deal, but the 2011 Kia Sorento, like the Forte Koup, marks this Korean brand’s transition into a maker of stylish and feature-laden products built to compete not only in terms of value, but also -- and possibly more importantly -- in terms of desirability.
Photos courtesy of Kia.
#10. Prices for the 2011 Kia Sorento range from just under $20,000 to just over $35,000.
Kia starts the bidding for its 2011 Sorento at $19,995, which will get you a front-wheel-drive Base model with a six-speed stick. For a bit more splash buyers can opt for the Sorento LX equipped with a standard six-speed automatic transmission, priced from $22,395 in front-wheel-drive guise and $24,095 with available four-wheel drive. Sitting atop the hill is the 2011 Kia Sorento EX, the most luxurious variant that can be ordered with front- or four-wheel drive, and the only example built with an optional V6 engine that replaces the standard four-cylinder. Prices for the EX range from $24,795 to $29,095. These figures do not include a $795 destination charge. We tested a four-wheel-drive 2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 fitted with 18-inch chrome wheels, a rear DVD entertainment system, a navigation system with real-time traffic information, and more. As equipped, our rig rang up at $34,390.
#9. Not the fastest, but the Kia Sorento is backed by plenty of horsepower.
Packing 276 ponies and 248 lb.-ft. of torque, the 2011 Kia Sorento’s optional V6 delivers power on par with its competitors, and as we learned, it ain’t no slouch. Throttle response is immediate, to the degree that some might consider it too responsive and, as a result, a bit tricky to modulate when starting from a stop. After that minor adjustment period, the driver will feel confident when passing cars on the freeway or speeding ahead to grab a coveted spot in exit-ramp traffic. This isn’t the most refined V6 on the planet, so you’ll listen to all six cylinders working, yet it’s in line with what you’ll hear emanating from under the hood of a Toyota or Honda. The six-speed automatic transmission does its job with little fuss, and though we didn’t find much use for it, there is a manual shift function designed to coincide with the 2011 Sorento’s sporting nature.
#8. Our 2011 Kia Sorento’s as-tested fuel economy was disappointing.
As one might expect, the 2011 Kia Sorento is most fuel-efficient when powered by the base four-cylinder engine. When mated to the six-speed manual transmission, the four-banger is expected to return up to 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway; opt for the six-speed automatic and those figures climb to 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway. Tack on four-wheel drive and the automatic-equipped Sorento will travel up to 21 mpg around town and 27 mpg on the highway. Buyers who want the power of the Sorento EX’s available V6 will see up to 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway in front-wheel-drive dress, figures that drop to 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway when there’s a four-wheel-drive system on board. We were disappointed when we discovered that our four-wheelin’ Sorento V6 averaged only 18 mpg. At least we didn’t have to fill the tank with premium.
#7. Ride and handling favor sport over luxury.
If the SUV you seek favors a soft ride over all else, stop reading this article and do a search for something named Lexus or Lincoln. The 2011 Kia Sorento has a look that suggests handling holds the trump card, something proven true after a stint behind the wheel. Steering is relatively tight and heavy at highway speeds, and the ride is comfortable and compliant, yet decidedly on the firm side. Not jarring, but not pampering, either. Road irregularities are mostly absorbed by the suspension.
#6. If you have a choice, don’t sit in the 2011 Sorento’s third-row seat.
Your opinion on comfort will largely depend on where you sit in the 2011 Kia Sorento. Up front, the driver enjoys a spacious seat with ample thigh support and plenty of power adjustments, including a particularly robust lumbar setting that gives your lower back a good stretch. The Sorento’s pilot also benefits from a tilting and telescoping steering wheel and plenty of overall room. Oddly, our well-equipped EX V6 model provided only manual adjustments for the front passenger. Under the cons heading, we’d list a wide but somewhat hard center armrest, a rubbery feel to the steering wheel, and hard sills where you might want to rest a forearm on a sunny day. Move to the second row and you’ll find reclining seats, padded door armrests and a fold-down center armrest, but hard front seat backs and a flat lower cushion that offers little in the area of thigh support. Leg room could be tight for taller passengers. The third row is ok for kids or small adults in a pinch, and is accessed by tilting the second-row passenger-side seat and tumbling it forward. If third-row comfort is a priority for you, consider a larger crossover/SUV, or better yet, a minivan.
#5. Storage provisions make the Sorento a suitable road trip vehicle.
When you’re a rig built to transport up to seven people, you’d better be capable of carrying a good bit of extra stuff. The 2011 Kia Sorento has that covered with plenty of nooks and crannies, including a sizeable front center armrest compartment, a decent locking glovebox, storage nets on the backside of each front seat, and pockets located on the lower section of every door. In an effort to keep everyone properly hydrated, nine cupholders have been strategically placed throughout the cabin. Those provisions are in addition to cubbies in the center console, one of which is hidden behind the lower instrument panel and is a bit hard to reach. Behind the rear split bench and with the third-row seat folded, the Sorento offers 37 cubic feet of cargo room (72.5 cubic feet with second and third rows folded). That was enough space for us to fit an overstuffed large suitcase lengthwise with a couple of carry-ons on the side. The large trunk opening allows for easy access, though shorter folks might fault the relatively high load floor. The black plastic bumper won’t fit everyone’s definition of high style, but we like the fact that you can load large and heavy items into the Sorento without worrying about gouging or scratching a fancy finish.
#4. Nitpicks aside, the 2011 Kia Sorento’s interior gets a thumbs-up.
With the exception of a panoramic sunroof, our 2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 tester was what you’d consider fully loaded. In lieu of the aforementioned option, we were treated to a rear DVD entertainment system with a remote, headphones, and inputs located on the rear of the center console. Options also included a touch-screen navigation system that, without the openness of a sunroof, didn’t wash out in daylight, but did have us wishing for larger primary dials and a broader screen. Bluetooth capability was a welcome addition that allowed us to pair our phone and start calling in less than a minute. Interestingly, friends who answered those calls reported better sound quality from the Sorento than the Lexus suv we’d tested the week before. As for the more traditional radio and climate controls, the 2011 Sorento delivers with big dials and well-labeled buttons. A USB/iPod input is placed at the bottom of the instrument panel, and pleasant mood lighting helps you find your way around the controls on the door panel. Our tester also featured heated seats, but they could only be turned on or off. In a vehicle with all the bells and whistles, we expected to find at least low and high settings.
#3. Materials/fit and finish are on par with Sorento’s competitors.
As hard as it may be for our penny-pinching minds to fathom, $35,000 is not a lot to spend on a family-hauling SUV like the 2011 Kia Sorento. Especially an example with touch-screen navigation and a rear DVD system. But with that price come interior materials that are merely OK, such as upholstery with a pleathery texture, a predominance of hard plastics, and visors that look to match the nice mesh headliner yet are really covered in vinyl. To its credit, the ’11 Sorento does sport plastics that suggest long-term durability, though we can’t help feeling that a few extra bucks spent inside the cabin would’ve gone a long way. That being said, we didn’t find any problems with how all of this Kia’s bits and pieces were put together.
#2. The 2011 Sorento: Kia’s most attractive SUV yet.
Aside from the polarizing Soul, there’s a lot to like about Kia’s recent efforts on the style front. As has been the case for years, many of the cues appear to be adopted from models built by competing brands, but with results like the new Forte Koup, you won’t be hearing many complaints. From our perspective, the 2011 Sorento is a visual hit in its own right, adding a sporty alternative to the well-populated midsize SUV mix. The previous variant was attractive enough, though it now appears soft by comparison. With the redesigned Sorento, Kia has injected some attitude courtesy of sharp body lines, a sleek front end, and more intricate wheel designs. Inside, drivers will discover that despite the presence of thick rear pillars and large rear outboard head restraints, outward visibility is actually quite good (helped by generous outside mirrors and an available rearview camera). Adding a special touch is red mood lighting that casts a glow over the front center cubby and the door panels.
#1. Value continues to be Kia’s coup de grace.
At $19,995, the 2011 Kia Sorento is one of the – if not the – least expensive models in its class, undercutting not only rivals like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, but also the Hyundai Santa Fe, with which it shares components. Of course, that price includes a manual transmission, something not offered by Toyota and Honda and which few shoppers will actually select. Yet even when pumped up with a V6 and EX trim garnishing, the Kia still beats its rivals’ prices by $1,000-$3,000. Load them up, and the 2011 Sorento’s price advantage starts climbing into the $5,000 range, though the Kia does lack niceties like a power liftgate. Piled on top of that is Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, among the best in the industry. Viewed in that light, the redesigned Sorento appears to be a value winner, yet we’ll need to reserve final judgment until resale values are calculated and released. We’ll also be keeping our eyes peeled for oh-so-important crash test results.