To the rue of its better-established competitors, Kia is in the midst of rolling out a slew of new models. Each new Kia vehicle is either so compellingly designed or so packed with value (or both) that it virtually demands your attention.
The 2011 Sorento is the latest in Kia’s string of new models. The all-new Sorento’s styling isn’t as crushingly chic as the all-new Soul hatchback or even as confidently slick as the all-new Forte sedan, because, let’s face it, crossovers have a hard time being genuinely stylish. But like all of Kia’s new models the only thing to match the 2011 Sorento’s aggressive standard-equipment list will be its price when it goes on sale Jan. 2, 2010.
Kia officials promise the new Sorento will be only a few hundred dollars more than the outgoing model and the base version will start at less than $20,000.
That’s a great deal, because the 2011 Sorento is vastly improved, owing mainly to the fact it’s ditched its rickety truck-based bones for a brand-new, unit-body structure that shaves hundreds of pounds of weight and delivers much-improved ride and handling.
This single but substantive change hoists the Sorento into parity with its primary competitors, such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox and Ford Escape.
Although the 2011 Sorento’s new structure is unquestionably better, it’s also marginally smaller than its predecessor, but not by much — and its wheelbase and overall length are slightly longer than the class favorites, CR-V and RAV4, so it’s roomy enough for most jobs.
There are four trim levels: Sorento, LX and EX with 4-cylinder power and the line-topping EX V-6. There’s a third row of seats to accommodate two extra riders (they’d better be small) for all but the base Sorento and the extra seat is standard for the EX V-6.
In a different time, Kia would have been crowing about the new 3.5-liter V-6. Its 273 horsepower definitely is a sweet thing to have on tap.
But the 4-cylinder (the first time the Sorento’s offered one, actually) probably will be emphasized by Kia and sought by most buyers, even though it returns just 2 more miles per gallon than the V-6.
Mated to a Kia-designed 6-speed automatic transmission the 4-cylinder gives its all. At the recent media preview, we didn’t have a chance to drive a 4-cylinder Sorento with the 6-speed manual transmission, but we’ll take a chance and say don’t bother — clutching around with a crossover usually isn’t too entertaining. Today’s super-efficient automatics often give you better fuel economy, anyway. You can hook any engine and transmission combo to either the standard front-wheel-drive or the optional on-demand all-wheel drive.
Although the underpinnings are all new, the 2011 Sorento’s interior breaks no new ground. The layout is functional, sure enough, but entirely conventional. And that’s okay, we figure, for a utility vehicle.
The only aspect that betrays the Sorento’s uber-competitive pricing: there’s a lot of interior plastic swaddling and although the finishes aren’t too objectionable, most of it feels defiant and unfriendly. In reality, though, most of the Sorento’s interior materials aren’t too far down the petrochemical evolutionary chain from what Toyota and Honda and Chevy present in their compact crossovers, so it’s not a deal-killer.
Amends are made when you get to the standard-equipment list, which includes all the usual stuff, plus Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite radio, and USB and auxiliary input jacks. The optional navigation system is one of the best we’ve used.
The 2011 Sorento is built in West Point, Ga., at Kia’s brand-new assembly plant, its first in the United States. A lot of the early advertising you’ll see for the Sorento highlights this $1 billion investment where all the folks we met were dead serious about building the 2011 Kia Sorento to the world-class standard everyone now expects. — by Bill Visnic
Next New On Wheels: 2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring
2011 KIA SORENTO EX
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger, FWD compact CUV
BASE PRICE___________________ Est. $20,000
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve DOHC I-4
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 172 at 6000 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 166 at 3750 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed automatic
WHEELBASE____________________ 106.3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 183.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,737 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 18 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
2010 BMW X6 HYBRID: The all-new 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 reduces fuel consumption by approximately 20 percent versus a comparable vehicle powered by a combustion engine alone. The drive system in the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 consists of a 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8 gasoline engine and two electric synchronous motors delivering 91 hp and 86 hp, respectively. Maximum system output is 480 hp, and peak torque reaches 575 lb.-ft. Drive power is transmitted through a 7-speed automatic transmission. EPA: 17/19 mpg (Source: BMW)
ASK AUTO DOC: My 1988 Volvo has 174,000 miles. When the weather is hot the engine is sluggish. Why does the engine have better power when the outside temperature is below 60 degrees? Answer: Engines perform much better at the lower temperatures. Gasoline atomizes much better when cool. At 174,000 miles and 21 years old, carbon build-up, dirty injectors, lazy carbon dioxide sensors, and restrictions in the exhaust, also play a part in performance. (Source: Ask the Auto Doctor, Motor Matters)
SOARING SALES: Sales of the Ford Fusion have made 2009 already a record-breaking year. Fusion sales through October 2009 already have reached 151,137 units, eclipsing the previous Fusion full-year sales high of 149,552 in 2007. “It’s extraordinary that a car could set a sales record in an environment where overall industry sales are down 26 percent from a year ago,” Ford sales analyst George Pipas said. (Source: Ford Motor Co.)
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009