2011 Kia Sorento

One of my least favorite segments of the automotive industry is the mid-size crossover utility vehicle. I know it has practically become an automotive journalism cliché at this point but I love a good wagon. I see no reason to choose a tall wagon over one with a lower entry point and roofline. That being said, more automakers have recently figured out how to build better mid-size crossovers and I am finding it harder to complain about them.  A perfect example of this is the totally redesigned 2011 Kia Sorento.

The first vehicle to be built at the all-new West Point, Georgia manufacturing facility, the 2011 Kia Sorento represents their continued push in the right direction. The South Korean automaker is breaking free of the mold of affordable, cheap cars and is now producing affordable, good vehicles.

The Sorento looks good without forcing “style” on you. There are simple chrome touches on the front and rear. The front headlights gently reach back into the fenders, and the line from the hood flows right into the shoulder line which reaches back into an angled D-pillar. This Kia Sorento sits on 18-in wheels and they fill the wheel wheels nicely without having to resort to the, seemingly everywhere, 20-incher. I would not refer to the Sorento as a “hot” car, but I would describe it as “quite handsome”. Also, I clearly need to re-up my Maxim subscription and stop paying for GQ.

The Kia Sorento interior design incorporates a few low end materials but also features up-to-date tech features. The center stack is cleanly laid out with a touchscreen audio/navigation system up top and manual HVAC controls below. At the very bottom sits an iPod/iPhone connector for those of you who need shiny, expensive status symbols. This is odd, because if you are choosing a Kia you can see beyond that glitz that some crave. Since I need matte-finished status symbols, my HTC Hero was relegated to the also available Auxiliary input. The display is crisp, and the information available is excellent. In the above photo you can see that the navigation system is displaying traffic info. Had I been driving with a route entered, the system would offer to re-route me. Had I been driving in LA with a route entered, the system would take on a HAL like tone and said “We can’t do this Jeff…Daisy, Daisy…give me your answer true…” before smoke seeps forth from behind the dash somewhere.

For 2011, the redesigned Sorento features increased headroom, legroom, AND cargo space. This particular Sorento was equipped with beige and black heated leatherette seats. They were a nice contrast to the typical gray or black found in most vehicles, and more importantly they were comfortable on short to mid-length drives. I would be interested to spend some more time in them to see how they stack up on a true road trip.

At the heart of this Sorento sits a 2.4L I4 engine which produces a surprisingly-ample 175 hp and 169 lb-ft of torque. Coupled to a brand-new six-speed automatic transmission, the crossover has no problem getting up to speed when merging onto the highway or leaving your favorite photography spot in a hurry because the weird guy asking questions about the car is getting a little too close for comfort. The four-cylinder is rated at an acceptable 21 city/29 hwy in FWD guise. If you are looking for more grunt and don’t want to save at the pump, the available 3.5L V6 engine produces 276 hp and is rated at 26 mpg on the highway. The exhaust note for the four-cylinder sounds underwhelming but the performance feels more than adequate – even a bit surprising.

The 2011 Kia Sorento has a starting price of $22,395. That price makes this one attractive choice for someone looking for a mid-size crossover, as does the fuel economy rating of the four-cylinder engine. The problem comes when you advance up the trim level ladder. The Sorento you see here was a pre-production model and thus came with no monroney sticker – but an equally well-equipped model will push you close to the $30,000 mark. Are folks ready to pay $30,000 for a Kia? I don’t know if enough people are, even though the V6 Sorento makes more power than the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. You can find people happy to fork over that money for the new American King or the Japanese Giant, but the Korean Kid makes people grimace. Their image is changing for the better and I think it is a great thing. More good cars means more good choices for the average consumer. That means more fun choices for the enthusiast. I don’t think Kia is going to kick out a halo sports car anytime soon…but it can’t hurt when your non-enthusiast friend asks your opinion for a new vehicle to include those three little letters amongst your choices. We will call this The Reverse Porsche Effect if they do someday make a true sports car.

Kia currently occupies an interesting space in the automotive landscape. For years the sold very inexpensive cars which were simply point-A to point-B shuttles. They produced great fuel economy numbers but were generally not places you would want to be stuck on long drives. If you enjoy the driving experience at all, you really didn’t want to be stuck in them for short drives either. A new Kia? Still affordable and still earning great fuel economy ratings, yet the company is building world-class entry-level cars which are all fighting above their weight. They put the world on notice with the Kia Soul, a funky-fun vehicle with unique style and a host of great available optional extras. Next came the Kia Forte which is an affordable charmer offered in both sedan and coupe (or Koup, if you prefer) body styles. The Borrego has been around for a few years now, and is an oft-overlooked yet capable and well-equipped full-size SUV regardless of whether you choose the V6 or V8 engine. Now the redesigned Kia Sorento is here and it shows that this company is serious about building affordable, quality vehicles.

Would I buy a crossover utility vehicle? The answer is still no, since there are so many wonderful wagons to choose out there. However, the 2011 Kia Sorento has me giving this segment a double-take. If you are in the market for a vehicle like this, someone may have you pointed you towards a Kia but then added “it’s a great car…if you don’t care about the badge.” I think you can care about the badge now, and be proud to own a car with KIA on the outside.

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13 responses to “2011 Kia Sorento”

  1. muthalovin Avatar

    I was going to bemoan the fact that this review is about a Kia, but this review is actually a really good read. I come to Hooniverse not only for the interesting cars, but also the quality of the writing. Jeff, you did a good job reviewing a Kia.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      thank you
      I just feel that Kia is doing a really good job getting their entire model lineup in order, they have come a long way.

      1. muthalovin Avatar

        My sister-in-law had a Kia Sportage and that ride was nothing but problems. More money was sunk into it than was spent on it. That Sportage was from the heyday when Kia was the hallmark of inferior quality. I am pleased that Kia is now a maker to be considered. Like you said, it give the consumer more options.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          For what it's worth, my almost in-laws have an '04 Magentis (Optima south of the border), and it's been great for them. Something like 90k miles and they've only had to replace the gas cap and do a brake job (at about 70k) beyond regular maintenance.

  2. Manic_King Avatar

    Customer: Garçon!!
    Waitress: 'Garçon' means boy
    Customer: yeah whatever, there's Kia in my Hooniverse!
    Waitress: uups…oh, I'm so sorry
    I think we should bitch and moan anyway, even if review is well written, or we will get Prius/Corolla/Cobalt/Appliance review next.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      Life can't all be pure awesome…
      We won't be reviewing the Prius though I can assure you that. Unless it is a Dukes of Hazzard style review, now that might be funny…

      1. BPR Avatar

        I very much enjoyed Top Gear's review of the Prius. They had the Stig drive it around the track at full speed while Clarkson lazily tailgated in an M3. Afterwards they observed that the M3 got better mileage during the trial. Now that's reporting you can use!

        1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

          I'm still waiting for a Prius or hybrid racing league.

  3. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    The Koreans have come a long way, no longer making cars people buy resentfully, but rather on purpose.
    What's interesting to me is that you can get an identical functional feature set in a $20k Kia/Hyundai as you can in a 50-60k Audi. Like, iPod/mp3 integration, satellite, nav, multi-zone auto HVAC, heated/cooled seats are no longer exclusive luxury items.
    The luxe brands haven't really come upon any New Big Thing to set them apart, feature-wise.

  4. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    Yeah kinda what I was thinking too… or use as much fuel as you need but the best overall economy wins per lap count wins. 24 hour style so you are encouraged to drive harder to put up the lap numbers with reasonable times but still keep an eye on the economy so you get the most laps per gallon average.
    Plus what's better than a Prius racing an M3? A Prius racing league.
    Have an unlimited class where any bat shit technology can be used, but you have to be able to put down the laps and drive like normal humans do.

  5. BPR Avatar

    I think It's time for this. I too have been contemplating a fuel limitation. An overall consumption restriction is one way, but making fuel cost time is another. What if all cars were limited to a tiny gas tank (say 2 to 5 gallons) and had to pit to refill? That would add a time value to having an economical vehicle. Another way to do it would be to restrict the flow rate for refueling. The challenge is that there would be huge variations in speed on the track as cars run out of go-juice and others are still going full tilt. A better way might be to put a flow regulator in the fuel lines. That would keep the top speeds down, and still allow for innovation to maximize the use of what fuel you have. Love the pufferfish car visual!

  6. Cynicist Avatar

    Fewer things to complain about, huh? Don't worry, they'll never get over the constant-danger-of-rolling, no-manual-transmission, higher-fuel-consumption, lower-performance, absolutely-WILL-kill-whoever-and-whatever-you-hit-even-if-you-survive (a big part of their appeal for the modern douchebag/uninformed mother figure), encouraging-the-continuation-of-the-modern-vehicle-weight-and-size-race things.

  7. austinminiman Avatar

    Okay… Perspective on modern technology.
    A Kia Sorento V6 has 276HP?! And here I was being impressed by the Mustang V6 having 305. But frankly, 276 in a Kia Crossover is fathoms more impressive. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wouldn't mind reading a review of an upper-level model Sorento.
    Great job on the review, pleasant to read but also had a ton of information.