After an absence for the 2010 model year, the Sorento returns for 2011 as a refined, more carlike crossover utility vehicle, powered by 4-cylinder and V6 engines, with either front- or all-wheel drive. The new model is about three inches longer than the former model, with most of the added length going to passenger space. Technology and entertainment features are upgraded substantially, and 3-row seating is optional. <p><p>Also of note is that the Sorento is Kia's first U.S.-built vehicle, made in an all-new plant in West Point, Georgia.
If you want the more powerful V6 in the Sorento, you'll need to step up to the top-of-the-line EX trim. Otherwise, the 4-cylinder engine is offered with Base, LX, and EX trims. Standard equipment on all Sorento models is extensive, and includes a trip computer, power windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface and a sound system that includes an MP3-compatible CD player, USB and aux inputs and Sirius satellite radio. Base models are equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, while LX models step up to a 6-speed automatic in addition to body-color heated mirrors with integrated turn signals for a more upscale appearance. Automatic one-touch up/down windows, a rear center armrest are also included. Top EX models include push-button start, smart keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, upgraded upholstery, fog lamps, heated mirrors, automatic headlamps and larger 18-inch alloy wheels.
Options on the Base model are very limited, but options on the LX include a third-row seat, plus a Convenience Package that includes heated front seats, a backup system, fog lamps and roof rails. Some of the best options are reserved for the EX. Among the exclusives are a Premium Package, with a panoramic sunroof and leather seats; a rear DVD entertainment system and a Limited Package that brings chrome wheels plus a navigation system, real-time traffic information, accent interior lighting and a 550-watt Infinity surround-sound system.
Both engines in the Sorento are new for 2011. A 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is the base offering, and the 6-speed automatic that's available through most of the line is an all-new design. The optional V6 makes 276 horsepower and brings especially strong acceleration with a smooth, refined character, while the 4-cylinder is quite economical, achieving EPA ratings of up to 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.
All-wheel drive is available with LX or EX trims, regardless of the engine. Kia's all-wheel drive system can send up to 50 percent of power to the rear wheels when needed and comes with a locking center differential that can help provide better traction in harsh weather conditions--deep snow, for example, or to traverse a muddy back road.
First and second-row seating in the Sorento is ample for full-size adults, and the optional third-row has enough space for children though it does reduce cargo room. Second and third-row seats both fold forward to allow 72.5 cubic feet of cargo space in all.
The new Sorento has the suspension configuration of a typical sedan, with MacPherson struts in front and an independent multi-link setup in back, so it rides quite well. Kia hasn't completely forgotten about weekend hauling and towing needs--the Sorento can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Safety features on the 2011 Sorento now include seat-mounted side airbags, side-curtain bags and front active headrests on all models, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, plus Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Brake Control, which uses the vehicle's transmission to help moderate speed on slippery grades.