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From the Logbook: 2011 Kia Sorento

Consumer Reports News: March 26, 2010 06:08 AM

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The Kia Sorento used to be something of an anomaly in this day and age: a body-on-frame smallish SUV. It could be configured to tow a lot for a small SUV, and it did fairly well off-roading. But its stiff ride and clumsy handling were behind the times in a competitive SUV market that is dominated by more refined car-based SUVs.

So the new Sorento has gone mainstream in its 2011 redesign. It jumps all the way to a car-based platform that is shared with Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia's corporate mate. Instead of offering two different V6s, the base engine is now a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a 3.5-liter V6 as an option. Gone is the low-range gearing and part-time or selectable four-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive is now available. Two-wheel-drive versions are now de rigueur front-wheel-drive rather than rear.
  The Sorento now has an available third row seat; it's standard if you get the top EX V6 model. Ironically, the related Santa Fe lost its optional third-row seat in that SUV's light 2010 freshening due to low take rates. The Sorento is also the first Kia to be built in America in a brand-new West Point, Georgia, assembly plant.

We bought two all-wheel-drive Sorentos to test. Our four-cylinder Sorento LX has the optional third row seat and a convenience package that includes heated front seats and a backup camera. MSRP is $26,590. Our V6-powered Sorento EX has a premium package that includes leather, seat heaters, and a panoramic sunroof.  It stickers at $32,390.

Even though these cars are well equipped, those prices seem on the high side for a SUV that's only two-inches longer than a RAV4, especially given Kia's image as a value brand. Maybe that's why, at the time I type this, there's a $1,000 incentive plus another $1000 competitive bonus money. Never mind the $1,000 owner loyalty incentive, $400 college grad incentive, and $500 military service incentive - all on a recently-introduced, brand new design. (Read: " Kia launches conquest sales incentives to attract new car buyers.")

But what is the day-to-day driving experience like for that money? We'll look in the logbook comments for the staff's first impressions:

"Works surprisingly well with four-cylinder. Inoffensive sound and good automatic transmission."

"Fairly quick steering makes for responsive handling."

"Like having backup camera. No ambient temp display though (on our four-cylinder)?"

"Odd to have the rear wiper controls on the left-side dash instead of on the wiper stalk."

"Willing, smooth [V6] powertrain."

"Ride is on the stiff side and suspension noise is pronounced."

"Impressively quiet four-cylinder."

"Roomy for a small SUV and easy to drive and park."

"Visibility out the back is restricted, particularly with the 3rd row seat up."

"Nice solid feel."

"Had to search for rear wiper switch on this snowy morning - odd placement."

"Good size and easy to drive. But $32k? Seems a bit high."

"Super-easy controls - toggle switches on wheel are brilliant."

"Great size and access for kids."

"Rivals [Honda] CR-V in many ways."

"Stiff ride and poor rear quarter visibility are the major flaws."

"I prefer this to the Santa Fe. Better steering weight, more attractive and modern interior."

"Nice car. Just gets more enjoyable to drive."

"Where's the outside temp? Need it! Otherwise love the car." (An ambient temp gauge is on our EX model, but not our four-cylinder LX.)

"This car just works for me."

Interestingly, reading through the logbooks, only one comment questioned the Sorento's value equation. Many more comments - and this is somewhat unique for a test car - simply stated how practical and right-sized the Sorento is for their daily family use.

With lots of plusses and a handful of negatives, we'll see how the Sorento scores in this competitive class when we finish our testing.

Tom Mutchler

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