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2011 Kia Sorento: Morphing into a classy SUV

Posted by Glenn Gould  March 29, 2010 11:46 AM

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(All photos: Kia)

No, the date in the headline is not a typo; in the world of Kia it is already 2011. Yet, for me, it's still winter 2010 and I'm testing my 2011 Kia Sorento in a rutted, icy, snow-covered field. The question is, will this front-wheel-drive Sorento get me back on the road or will AAA? I select Drive and steer toward the road. The Sorento bumps and slides a little over the frozen ruts, but in seconds we are on dry pavement.

The all-wheel-drive Sorento certainly would have done the same with a little less drama. But this 2011 Sorento, priced at $29,205 with destination, came equipped with a virtual alphabet soup of safety features. The ones that assisted in our extraction from the frozen field were the traction control system and electronic stability control.

Other standard safety features include electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist system, downhill brake control, and hill assist control. Don't worry, you won't be tested on this. The important thing to remember is that these systems work quietly and anonymously. Rarely do you even know they came into play.

Visually, the 2011 Sorento is a completely different animal from the 2009 vehicle it replaces. The older Sorento was a mishmash of components. It was as if they threw together the sheet metal of an older Mercedes-Benz and tossed in a Toyota interior. That's not a bad thing, but it certainly made for an identity crisis. Not so with the 2011 Sorento. From the front, it has bold styling cues that are not borrowed from some decade-old design. Sharply slanting headlights border a bold chrome Cheshire cat grill. Kia describes the overall style as "sleek and contemporary," and we concur.

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Sliding into the interior, you don't get that Toyota deja-vu experienced in the older Sorento. The seats are comfortable and interior materials exude quality, not economy. Our EX had optional leather seating along with a navigation system. The center stack is home to the audio and climate controls. These include switches for Sirus Satellite Radio, USB/auxiliary switches, navigation, and the normal audio selections.

Their placement is ergonomic and provides easy access to both driver and passenger. Some of the standard and optional features are decidedly upscale. Included on our vehicle were a rear-camera display, steering-wheel-mounted controls, back-up warning system, push-button start, USB/AUX jack for MP3 audio, and Bluetooth wireless for your phone.

Mechanically, too, the Sorento is a totally new vehicle. During the 2011 redesign, it actually morphed into a new category. The old Sorento was a truck with a robust, but dated, body-on-chassis design. The new Sorento has a unibody design with full, independent suspension front and rear. It is no longer considered a truck, but a crossover vehicle. This means it has the qualities of both a car and truck, in that it drives, rides and handles like a car, yet has the versatility of an SUV.

Now, let's take a drive into the future and see how our 2011 Kia behaves. Being a crossover, the 2011 Sorento's handling was nimble and the ride car-like. The four-wheel disc brake system slowed the Sorento easily from highway speeds. The ride was smooth and quiet. Our EX had the 6-speed automatic with select-shift transmission and 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed stick shift is available on the base Sorento.

The inline-four's performance was exceptional. It was smooth, and merges onto highways were uneventful. We never felt the need for more power. However, the optional V-6 does have a higher towing capacity rating, so if you tow a boat or trailer you may want to consider it.

Another plus in being a crossover is the SUV-type versatility. The 2011 Sorento has available third-row seating. The second and third rows fold flat as does the front passenger seat back. This allows for a variety of load options. If you do not opt for the third row seating, you get some nifty below-floor storage.

The strides Kia has made in quality and design in just the past few years have been quite amazing. All along they have said they wanted to be a mainstream player in the U.S. market. With the Sorento, they seem to have made good on that promise. And now the car is being manufactured at Kia's new, $1 billion, state-of-the-art plant in Georgia. That is quite a commitment.

I am not a psychic, nor do I play one on TV, but I have seen a glimpse of the future, and it looks good.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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