Road Test: Fun, powerful '12 Kia Sorento
In 2003, Kia introduced the midsize Sorento SUV, which for a while replaced the Sportage, which had been the brand's only sport utility since the South Korean automaker arrived in the United States in the mid-'90s.
The Sportage two years later was reintroduced as a compact crossover, and remains in the Kia lineup.
But the Sorento has racked up much better sales, and that continues this year.
Kia had sold 26,011 Sorentos through March, compared with 9,888 of the smaller Sportage.
There was no 2010 model for the U.S. market, but a completely redesigned Sorento went on sale in early 2010 as a 2011 model, based on the architecture of the Hyundai Santa Fe.
It was the first product to come out of the new Kia factory in West Point, Ga., which now also builds the Santa Fe on the same assembly line.
With the remake, the Sorento switched from a truck-style body-on-frame configuration to a crossover unibody design that offers more interior space, with room for up to seven passengers.
The exterior was all new, with Kia design cues such as wraparound headlights lined up to the sporty grille (in a nice, friendly grin).
For 2012, prices range from $21,250 for the base front-wheel-drive model with a 2.4 liter, 175-horsepower engine and six-speed manual transmission, to $34,850 for the fully loaded, V-6 powered SX all-wheel-drive model, which I tested.
My Kia was fun and easy to drive, with lots of power.
Handling was responsive and secure, thanks to features like anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, and downhill brake/hill-start assist control.
The 3.5 liter V-6 engine delivered 276 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly.
Inside, the SX was very comfortable, with just-right thigh support; power heated/cooled driver's seat with lumbar support; tilt/telescopic, leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel with controls for the audio system, Bluetooth wireless devices, and cruise control; and dual-zone climate control with an ionized air filter. An ECO indicator alerts the driver when achieving optimum fuel economy, to help adjust driving habits to stretch the time between fill-ups.
Five passengers can sit comfortably in the front and middle seats, and two additional can fit in the third seat, if necessary, but that seat is quite small and is probably good only for children or very short trips.
2012 Kia Sorento
PRICE AS TESTED: $34,850
EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 21 mpg city; 29 mpg highway
ENGINE: 2.4-liter, upgradable to 3.5-liter V6
POWER: 175 horsepower at 6,000 rmp
HEIGHT: 67.3 inches
LENGTH: 183.5 inches
WHEELBASE: 106.3 inches
CARGO SPACE: 72.5 cubic feet
BOTTOM LINE: Fun, easy to drive with lots of power