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2011 Kia Sorento Crosses Over – Becomes Soft-Roader

OK, OK. I know that title has been used for about every traditional SUV that has evolved into a Crossover SUV in its latest incarnation and that is just what the 2011 Kia Sorento has done. Sorento becomes thoroughly modern with the introduction of its 2011 model.
The first generation Sorento; Kia’s first entry in the mid-size SUV arena, was a traditional SUV It had body-on-frame construction, was based on rear wheel drive architecture, had a traditional shape, carried five passengers and was powered by a V6 engine. Many people thought the Sorento was based on the Hyundai Santa Fe, but that was far from the truth.
The first year the Sorento was on the market it won AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award for best-in-class Mid-Size SUV. Clearly, its owners liked the product.
Now comes the all, new Sorento…

The Product – Just the Facts
The 2011 Sorento is in production start-up phase now in early November 2009. Actual Job #1 is planned for mid-November at the brand spanking new West Point, Georgia Assembly Plant – Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia. The Sorento will be the first Kia built in the USA and the first assembled at the new plant.
The 2011 Kia Sorento is all-new, meaning it has practically no relationship to its predecessor. All the part numbers are different. It is now based on a front wheel drive, unit body platform shared with the next generation Hyundai Santa Fe.
The seven-passenger Sorento is 184-inches long making it about 3-inches longer than its predecessor to provide a bit more room for a 3rd row seat. The wheelbase is 106-inches – about the same as the B-o-F Sorento. Width is 74-inches – about the same as the previous vehicle. Height is 67-inches – about 4-inches lower giving the new XM Sorento much better ingress/egress.
The base Sorento is front wheel drive and powered by a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine giving 172-horsepower. The base model has a manual transmission that makes many luddite, gear-shift loving auto journalists smile, but few Sorento’s with manuals will find their way into the hands of the buying public. The manual is really there just to get the advertisable base price point down. The high volume transmission for the 4-cylinder is a new Kia six-speed automatic – optional.
The V6 powered Sorento gets a 3.5L V6 with 273-horsepower which is plenty of punch for a vehicle this size. Part of the V6 package is the six-speed autobox.
Fuel Economy Surprise – 4-cylinder Little Benefit Over V6
With an automatic, the 4-cylinder FWD Sorento gets 21mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. With AWD, city fuel economy drops one mile-per-gallon giving a 20/28mpg rating. V6 fuel economy is expected to be 20mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. With AWD, the Sorento V6 gets 19/27mpg.
These fuel efficiency numbers are surprising first because the 4-cylinder economy is so low and second because there is not much distance between the four and the six. For the increased horsepower and torque of the V6, Sorento sees very little fuel economy sacrifice over the four. If you want a Sorento and want to get the most fuel efficient model, there is very little reason to go from V6 to 4-cylinder except for price.
The 2.4L 4-cylinder is known for pretty reasonable fuel efficiency, so why isn’t the spread more from the V6? Simply, the four has to work harder to pull the Sorento. While the V6 can be loafing along at lower RPMs the 4-cylinder is like a terrier trying to keep up.
Driving Sorento
We got a chance to drive Sorento for a day in Western Georgia along I-85 and winding hill roads. We drove two Sorento V6s. One was a fully loaded AWD EX Limited model complete with navigation system. The second was a V6 EX model. Both were well-equipped, quiet, well-mannered, ergonomically excellent and nicely put together. Sorento performs like a well-sorted mid-size crossover SUV should. It is seamless. No warts.
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Driving dynamics are good, certainly better than earlier efforts from Korea showing that Kia engineers have learned how to dial in driving dynamics to American tastes. Western Georgia actually has a few roundabouts. Taking a roundabout at moderate speed, the Sorento tended to wallow a bit, but on the open road it was nimble enough. The Sorento is quiet and road noise is lower than what is expected in a mid-size crossover SUV. Ride quality is excellent and is biased towards the soft side of the spectrum for its class.
The Search for USPs
Every vehicle has to have “USPs” – Unique Selling Propositions. The all-new Sorento is an excellent, even outstanding vehicle. It looks good, it goes good, it handles well, it has a great package and good ergonomics, so what’s the problem? Maybe there isn’t a problem, but there are not the one, two or three things that clearly set the Sorento apart from its competition. Sure Sorento has a very nice navigation system available, an outstanding Infinity premiium audio system, 7-passenger seating in a class more likely to have 5-pass seating, and an optional panoramic sunroof but these alone are not enough to rise above strong competition like Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, Toyota RAV-4 and Toyota Highlander. Sorento’s competitive set is one of the toughest in the industry today.
Brand Challenge Standing in the way of Sorento’s success is the brand. Kia has been a shining star in 2011 with substantial sales increases during a down market. But its image is still “cheap and cheerful” as management is prone to note – Kia used to be. But images are difficult to change and Kia certainly does today have “The Power to Surprise” as the 2010 Soul and 2010 Forte have proven.
As part of the brand challenge, Kia regularly falls well below industry average in customer satisfaction studies.

Price and Warranty Keys to Success?
Sorento will be value-priced, but not cheap, so price may be an advantage but Kia will not be a mid-size crossover SUV priced like a compact crossover SUV. It’ll be priced competitively, but is that enough? Kia also has a 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Clearly warranty is an advantage. Isn’t it?

Fresh Kia Line-up Advantage
Perhaps the key to Sorento’s success is the fact that Sorento is the latest vehicle in Kia’s new product juggernaut. The new Soul has been very well-received as has the compact Forte sedan and Forte Koup. Sorento leads the new Sportage compact crossover SUV coming in 2010. There is a new Amanti large car in the plans and an Optima replacement. So pretty soon, Kia will have one of the freshest line-ups in the industry. And the new cars and SUVs promise to be capable of duking it out with the best of them.

1 Comment

  • Bella| November 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    jwduncan69:I only buy American cars. Korean cars assembled by Americans doesn’t count in my book. Why shloud we buy these ugly and crappy cars to finance Korea when they refuse to allow American Imports to be sold there?I’ll keep driving my 91 Pontiac Firebird, just repainted for the third time, new interior, and 300,000 miles on the original engine without a rebuild to date. Show me any Korean made POS car that will last that long, pass emissions, and still get 28mpg at 70mph.

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