BY MARK MAYNARD
San Diegans were the first in the United States to get behind the wheel of the 2011 Kia Sorento.
It was late November when the re-engineered, midsize crossover christened the new factory in West Point, Ga. And Kia hustled a bunch to the San Diego International Auto Show in late December where hundreds of show-goers took short test drives. If their reaction was anything like mine, they were impressed with what they saw and experienced behind the wheel.
People expect a good price from Kia, but the testers at the auto show may not have expected such a clean and contemporary appearance and precise fit to components and panels. Half a mile into the drive, it’s clear there is a rigid body structure and good engineering of the suspension. Spend a week driving it a couple hundred miles, and this new Sorento stands out as a standard of what to expect in a crossover of this size and price.
Sold in base, LX, EX and EX V-6 models with five to seven seats, pricing ranges from $20,790 to $29,890.
Standard equipment on the base model includes an MP3 audio system wired for satellite radio, air conditioning, tilt-telescoping steering wheel with controls for audio-cruise-Bluetooth, split-folding back seat and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The LX gets a better share of convenience features, such as rearview camera integrated with the rearview mirror, body-colored outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, lighted vanity mirrors and a second-row center armrest with cup holders.
The EX adds an attractive fabric-leatherette seat material, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar, back-up warning system, dual-zone automatic temperature control, 18-inch wheels and the Smart key and pushbutton start.
The EX V-6 comes with the third-row seat, rear air conditioning and access to more option packages, such as a panoramic sunroof.
The front-drive, V-6 tester was $28,275, including options for a cargo net ($40) and wheel locks ($45). Floor mats, $125 for all three rows, aren’t standard even on top-line models, but shouldn’t they be?
GRIP WITHOUT SQUEAL
There’s plenty more that pays off on Sorento, such as its drivability.
Most midsize sport-utility vehicles and crossover-utility vehicles are top heavy and tend to push the front tires when driving briskly through a corner. Sometimes the rear end can swing around. But Sorento, at least the front-drive V-6 tester, nailed corners without push or tire squeal. Having secure grip in corners is a safety feature as rushed parents push a little too hard through a turn, but they will still have complete vehicle control. It’s not that other crossovers are unsafe, but drivers of most crossovers find the limit to their vehicles’ grip and dial back expectations. Sorento just has a slightly higher grip threshold.
Its braking power is just as capable from four-wheel-disc brakes in generous sizes of 11.8-inch vented discs front and 11.9-inch solid discs rear. Standard on all Sorentos are ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and electronic stability and traction controls.
Also standard on all models are Downhill Brake Control and Hill Start Assist, which were once off-road features but have evolved to be on-road enhancements.
Either feature is activated by a button on the lower instrument panel next to the steering wheel. Down Hill Brake control will hold forward speed below 5 mph on steep grades or driveways with marginal traction. The driver does not apply the brake or accelerator, just focuses on steering. Hill Start Assist holds the vehicle for a couple of seconds to give the driver time to move a foot from brake pedal to accelerator without the vehicle moving.
The V-6 power is strong, and the fuel economy is good at 26 mpg on the highway and 20 around town. The 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder gets 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway and 21/27 for AWD.
Layer all this adroitness on top of a tight, 35.7-foot turning circle, and I start asking why can’t other makers provide all this, too?
SHARP BUT DUTIFUL
I like the sharp lines of Sorento, but it is still very tough for family duty. Vinyl trim along the lower body and around the wheel-well lip protects from road rash and clumsy driving.
The driver has a command seating position and good sightlines. Visors have extenders and the doors open wide for simple entry and exit. The rearview camera screen in the rearview mirror is a bonus, but the image always looked a little washed out. I’d prefer the larger screen that comes with the navigation system, but that is part of an involved Limited package bundle. The Limited package is $2,000, but it must be paired with the Premium package (heated leather seats), which is another $1,500 to $2,700 depending on whether you get the panoramic sunroof or rear entertainment system (add another $1,000). Highlights of the system include a 10-speaker Infinity audio system, chrome wheels, interior mood lighting and leather-trimmed seats.
Sorento leaves no corner uncarved for cup holders and storage, including a large, locking glove box. The back seat has good comfort with just a low hump at the center, which allows three-across foot-room. The door pillars facing passengers have vents with adjustable flow and direction. The center position multitasks with a height-adjustable head rest and the seatback pulls down for a level armrest with cup holders. And the second row folds to form a nearly flat cargo area.
The 50/50 third row folds flat into the floor and the seats are there when needed. And the seats have actual cushioning, not just slim pads. There is decent foot-room for youngsters, but with that the head restraints are near the tailgate glass. That’s to be expected when slipping a third row into a small crossover.
Sorento is small enough to be nimble and large enough to be roomy, but it is still fuel efficient. It puts good things in a small package that works in a big way.
2011 Kia Sorento EX 2WD V-6
Body style: midsize, five-to seven-passenger crossover in front- or all-wheel drive
Engine: aluminum, 276-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6
Transmission: six-speed Sportmatic
EPA estimated fuel mileage: 20 mpg city, 26 highway; 87 octane recommended
Wheelbase/length/width: 106.3/183.9/74.2 inches
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39/41.3/59.3 inches
Middle head/leg/shoulder room: 39.2/37.6/58.7 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 36.6/31.3/53.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,896 pounds
Cargo capacity: 9.1 cubic feet behind third row to 37 cubic feet with second row folded
Safety equipment: six air bags, front active head rests, front belt pretensioners, four-wheel ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, hill assist control, downhill brake control, electronic stability control and traction control
PRICING FOR TEST VEHICLE
MSRP: $28,190, including $795 freight charge; price as tested, $28,275
Options on test car: wheel locks, $45; cargo net, $40
Warranty: five years/60,000-miles basic coverage with roadside assistance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain coverage
Where assembled: Georgia
Competition: Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV-4
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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