2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 Luxury AWD 7-passenger
2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 Luxury AWD 7-passenger. Click image to enlarge

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Inside Story: 2011 Kia Sorento

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2011 Kia Sorento

West Point, Georgia – The SUV market has undergone some significant changes lately, what with the trend toward “lifestyle” crossovers that put less emphasis on utility and more on projecting an upscale image. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a demand for traditional SUVs, the boxy trucklets that so many motorists have come to embrace.

With that in mind, Kia has transformed its Sorento from a “traditional” body-on-frame SUV into a unibody vehicle, the type of construction found in the top sellers in this category. The styling is all-new, too, and the design, penned by Peter Schreyer, follows the trend started by other recently-redesigned Kias, like the Forte and Magentis. It gives the Sorento a more distinctive look, but more importantly, it’s one more step toward Kia’s establishing a corporate identity, including the “tiger nose” grille that dominates the new Sorento’s front end.

2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 Luxury AWD 7-passenger
2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 Luxury AWD 7-passenger
2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 Luxury AWD 7-passenger. Click image to enlarge

New, too, is the 2011’s model’s availability with four-cylinder power, and not just in basic trims. The 2.4-litre engine that serves as the entry-level choice is the same one used in the Magentis and Forte; here, it makes 175 horsepower and 169 lb-ft of torque. The uplevel option is the Hyundai group’s new 3.5-litre V6, rated at 276 hp and 248 lb-ft. A six-speed automatic is standard in all trims, save for the most basic front-drive, four-cylinder model, which gets a six-speed manual.

It’s worth noting that the new V6 is more powerful than either of the old Sorento’s 3.3- and 3.8-litre engines, and while the four-cylinder can’t compare power-wise to the old powerplants, four-cylinder power is very important in this class.

The major improvement over the old Sorento’s powertrains is in fuel consumption: the thirstiest configuration – the V6 AWD model – is rated at 11.1/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway), compared to 14.0/9.8 for the old 3.3-litre engine; the four-cylinder, FWD automatic transmission setup is the thriftiest of the bunch, rated at 9.7/6.9 L/100 km.

The redesign – stylistically, dynamically and mechanically – equates to a complete reinvention of the Sorento, but doesn’t do much to move the genre forward. However, it does parachute the Sorento into the middle of the compact SUV/crossover market, pitting it against other popular unibody trucks like the Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and the Hyundai Santa Fe.

In absolute numbers, the 2011 Sorento fulfills the automobile market’s bigger-better-faster mantra, being larger in every dimension, except for height, than its predecessor. The new model is 80 mm longer (4,670 mm) and 22 mm wider (1,885 mm), but surprisingly, the wheelbase is 10 mm shorter (for 2,700 mm) and the new car stands 20 mm lower (1,710 mm).

2011 Kia Sorento LX V6 FWD
2011 Kia Sorento LX V6 FWD
2011 Kia Sorento LX V6 FWD. Click image to enlarge

Kia’s decision to move the Sorento onto a unibody platform also makes it a front-driver by default. All-wheel drive is still available, of course; it’s an automatic, on-demand system with a bias to the front wheels, with an electronically-controlled clutchpack that sends power to the rear wheels when it’s needed. A driver-selectable locking centre differential can be used to help the Sorento in muckier going, but like the models it now competes with, this is no off-roader. The Sorento easily handled a few gravel and dirt roads made slick by recent rainfall, but the lack of a dedicated off-road section in our drive route suggests Kia knows that cottage trails and snowy sidestreets are the worst a Sorento owner is likely to subject this truck to.

The Sorento impressed me on the paved surfaces it will find itself on most often. The steering is well-weighted, but more surprising was the amount of road surface feedback felt through the steering wheel. A noticeable amount of road noise made it into the Sorento’s cabin, but I’m inclined to blame this on Georgia’s noisy concrete and pebbled asphalt road surfaces more than on the car itself. The ride is firm, and caused some head tossing on particularly bad roads, but the Sorento’s all-independent suspension is a big improvement over the old model’s independent front and solid-axle rear setups, and for the most part, the Sorento feels sophisticated and well-composed over the road.

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