Kia Sorento works well for families seeking economy

2011 Kia Sorento front image

2011 Kia Sorento front image (Credit: Cars.com)

While test-driving the 2011 Kia Sorento, I found myself behind a two-door soft-top Kia Sportage, circa 1995 or so. The contrast between it and the 2011 Sorento was stark and drove home how far Kia has come since entering the U.S. market. While the old Sportage looked like a chubby Suzuki Samurai, the 2011 Sorento could easily be mistaken for a BMW or Acura.

Looks aren't the only place that Kia has made improvements, however. Before this newly redesigned 2011 version, the Sorento was a truck-based SUV with not much to recommend it. The 2011 Sorento, however, sits on a car-based crossover platform; it's a few inches longer than the previous generation, which allows for up to three rows, and offers a decent driving experience. This, when combined with improved fuel economy, make the 2011 Sorento a stylish, savvy crossover.

With a V-6 engine, acceleration was smooth and relatively quick, and the ride was smooth and pleasantly uneventful. Sure, there were a few things that I didn't love such as the cramped second and third rows, but overall, the 2011 Sorento looked good and felt good to drive. Competitors beware: This new Sorento just may start to take a bite out of your market share.

The Sorento starts at $22,395. My test car, an EX with all-wheel drive, cost $34,045 when all was said and done, making it just about the most expensive 2011 Sorento available. My high-end Sorento included a V-6 engine, all-wheel drive and the Limited Package ($2,000), which includes a navigation system with traffic information, Infinity audio system and 18-inch mirror-finish alloy wheels. My test car also came with the Premium Package 2 ($2,700), with a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror, backup camera and leather-trimmed seats. About the only thing my test car didn't have was the rear entertainment system ($2,000).

Exterior

The Sorento is pretty and sleek, and it looks like it could be born from a more expensive brand. I think it most closely resembles an Acura; however, there's no arguing that looks-wise it's a great fit for stylish parents-on-the-go (looks do matter, people).

The front grille is chrome as are the door handles, which add some panache to the exterior. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard on the base models, but bump up to the EX and you'll get 18-inch wheels with a mirror finish that adds just the right amount of groove.

None of the doors, including the liftgate, are too heavy to for adults to manage. I could easily open and shut the liftgate while holding a child -- sometimes two -- in my arms. The step-in height is also manageable, though when it comes to small children, I find that you can't beat a minivan (minivans are super cool, FYI). In the Sorento, my 3-year-old son could climb in without a problem, but my almost 2-year-old daughter needed a little boost. I also did just fine getting in and out of the car, thank you very much.

The Sorento has two engine offerings. The 175-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 21/29 mpg city/highway when paired with a six-speed automatic transmission on a front-wheel-drive model. My front-wheel-drive test car had a 276-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission that got 20/26 mpg. Four-wheel drive is available and knocks the fuel-economy ratings down a bit.

I was impressed with the fuel economy of this larger vehicle. My test car's 20/26 mpg isn't too shabby, especially considering the Sorento's former front-wheel-drive self got 16/22 mpg.

Interior

The Sorento is loaded with cupholders and cubbies. There are so many that you'll never be without a place for your family's drinks. There's a bottleholder in all four doors, and cupholders can be found next to the gearshift in the front row, in the second row's fold-down armrest and in the plastic molding of the third row. The multileveled center console has plenty of room for snacks and wipes in the lower level, and the upper tray keeps a pair of sunglasses and lip gloss out of the way. In addition to the nicely laid-out space, the center console houses USB and MP3 jacks as well a 12-volt outlet.

Cargo space is great if you never use the third row and even better if you never use the second row (a whopping 72.5 cubic feet!). With the third row down, there's 37.0 cubic feet of cargo space. With the third row up, cargo volume plummets to 9.1 cubic feet, which holds only the bare essentials from the grocery store. With three small children in three large child-safety seats, I had to leave the third row up at all times.

The logistics of getting my children into their car seats added another wrinkle to the three-row crossover. None of my children are in booster seats yet, and my test vehicle didn't have a center aisle, which made getting everyone strapped into their car seats a nightmare. To gain access to the third row, you need to fold the second-row seat and then tumble it forward. Legroom in both the second and third rows was tight for adults. The third row is optional on all models, except for the EX V-6 trim level.

Complaints about the second and third rows now aired, I can tell you that the rest of the interior was perfectly suitable. The black-colored interior on my test car was nothing exciting, but it wasn't cheap or tacky looking, either. The Sorento's set of standard features -- dual-zone temperature control, Bluetooth connectivity and push-button start -- makes it feel like a more expensive vehicle. A couple of the optional features in my test car that are worth mentioning include the panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio system with 10 speakers and navigation system with real-time traffic updates, which is a handy tool for avoiding rush-hour pileups as best as possible. For me, with three impatient babies, that's priceless.

Safety

The 2011 Sorento has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top rating of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests as well as have standard electronic stability control. The Top Safety Pick status applies to Sorentos built after March 2010.

The two sets of Latch connectors in the second-row outboard seat were easy enough to access and use. However, I had a difficult time getting my bulky car seats -- a rear-facing infant-safety seat and two convertibles -- to fit in the second and third rows. To get my rear-facing infant-safety seat to fit, I had to move the front passenger seat really far forward. I'm 5 feet 8 inches tall and my husband is 5 feet 11 inches, and neither one of us felt at ease in that passenger seat with the baby's seat installed behind it. The forward-facing convertible fit without any problems.

Besides electronic stability control, the Sorento also has standard antilock brakes, traction control and six airbags, including front- and side-impact airbags in the front row and side curtain airbags for the first and second rows, but not the third row. While I didn't have the chance to take the Sorento deep into the mountains on this test drive, I did get it up in the foothills and these features performed nicely. I also had the occasion to confirm the reliability of the brakes while getting caught up in some alternately fast- and slow-moving traffic during a night out.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Top Jobs