With its new, optional third-row seat, the redesigned 2011 Kia Sorento is now the least expensive seven-passenger SUV you can buy. Critics note that it even undercuts the compact 2010 Toyota RAV4 (Base MSRP: $21,675 to $27,985) on price, while still offering a roomier third row, similar cargo space and the same estimated fuel economy. However, it's not as spacious as some other midsize SUVs, including the top-rated 2011 Honda Pilot (Base MSRP: $28,045 to $40,395).
Early reviews generally praise the Sorento, which chucks its former truck-like body-on-frame construction in favor of a carlike unibody. "It's hard to find any serious nits to pick with this well-rounded, family-friendly vehicle," Edmunds.com concludes.
Still, critics do manage to find some flaws. Edmunds.com says the Sorento's third row is "actually inhabitable by adults for short trips," unlike the RAV4's, but Autoblog.com's Jeremy Korzeniewski says it's "for children, chihuahuas or chia pets only." Michael Karesh at TheTruthAboutCars.com says there's plenty of room for kids in the third row, but he barely fits at 5-foot-9. He adds, "don't count on putting more than a single row of grocery bags behind the third-row seat" -- there's only 9 cubic feet back there, which is half the size of the Honda Pilot's stroller-capable luggage space. Fold all the back seats, and the Sorento offers a respectable 72.5 cubic feet of cargo room, although that's still well below the 90 feet or more you'll find in some other midsize SUVs.
Thanks to its smaller size, the Sorento guzzles less gas than other midsize SUVs, according to government estimates. Fuel economy ranges from 24 mpg combined (21 mpg city/29 mpg highway) for the base four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive Sorento down to 21 mpg combined (19 mpg city/25 mpg highway) for the all-wheel-drive V6, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, one major test manages only 20 mpg with either engine, and Karesh gets only 17 mpg with the base model -- 7 mpg less than the estimate.
Both Karesh and Edmunds.com prefer the stronger 276-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine. Both deem the base 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four "adequate," but Karesh says "its kitchen appliance impersonation lends an economy feel to the entire package." Since fuel economy is similar with either engine, "the choice between them seems obvious: spend the extra $1,900, plus another $700 for the then-required third-row seat," he says. The four-cylinder tows a maximum of 1,650 pounds, while the V6 can tow 3,500 pounds.
Strong safety at a low price
The redesigned Kia Sorento is now based on the well-regarded Hyundai Santa Fe (Base MSRP: $21,695 to $30,295). Interestingly, the Sorento gains a third row this year, while the Santa Fe loses its third row and becomes a five-passenger SUV. However, more than one tester describes the Sorento as "jittery," and inside, reviewers say plenty of hard plastic makes the cabin feel a little chintzy. The Santa Fe gets higher marks on both counts.
Safety is the Sorento's strong suit. It's a Top Safety Pick at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning the highest rating of "Good" in front, side, rear and rollover roof strength tests. It includes the usual complement of standard safety features -- antilock brakes, traction and stability control and front, front-side and curtain airbags -- along with hill start and hill descent assist.
The base, front-wheel-drive-only Kia Sorento (Base MSRP: $19,995) lacks the third-row option. It includes a six-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, power accessories, tilt-and-telescoping steering, Bluetooth, a trip computer and a CD stereo with satellite radio and USB jack. The Sorento LX (Base MSRP: $22,395 to $27,095) substitutes a six-speed automatic transmission and makes several major options available, including the V6 engine, AWD, the 50/50 split third row for two, heated front seats, rear parking sensors and a backup camera.
The Sorento EX (Base MSRP: $24,795 to $29,095) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition and the option to buy the V6 engine (which comes with the third row standard) and extra-cost packaged options including leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, a better stereo and a backseat DVD system. A more upscale Sorento SX trim that makes those options standard will go on sale in summer 2010, but pricing had not been announced as of press time.
The 2011 Kia Sorento is too new to have any reliability history, but Kia's overall brand reliability has been above average in recent years in a major consumer survey. The Sorento carries one of the industry's longest warranties: five years/60,000 miles basic and 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain.
ConsumerReports.org thoroughly tests the 2011 Kia Sorento and ranks it against most other SUVs on the market. Although they lack ConsumerReports.org's handy rankings chart, reviews at Edmunds.com, TheTruthAboutCars.com, Autoblog.com and The New York Times are just as expert and much more descriptive. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety posts crash test results (the 2011 Sorento had not undergone government crash-testing when we checked). FuelEconomy.gov publishes official fuel economy estimates. A Kia press release gives details of an upcoming top-level Sorento SX trim.
ConsumerReports.org tests the 2011 Kia Sorento -- both the four-cylinder and V6 versions -- and ranks them alongside most other SUVs, based on performance, comfort, fuel economy and more. However, these models are too new to have any reliability or owner-satisfaction data.
Review: Kia Sorento, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Editors here recommend the redesigned 2011 Kia Sorento without reservation. They say it offers midsize room for the same price as a compact SUV, but they like the pricier V6 engine better than the base four-cylinder.
Review: 2011 Kia Sorento Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
3. The Truth About Cars
Michael Karesh says the Kia Sorento is sized less like a midsized SUV and more like a compact, but with a roomier third row. He finds a lot to like, but he wishes "the driving position was more car-like, the interior a little better finished, and the chassis a bit more polished."
Review: Review: 2011 Kia Sorento, Michael Karesh, March 17, 2010
"Kia has pretty much nailed the bullseye with its 2011 Sorento," Jeremy Korzeniewski concludes after a short test. He says the Sorento accelerates and handles adequately, brakes well, looks pretty good and generally seems destined to please the average buyer.
Review: First Drive: 2011 Kia Sorento Finally Crosses Over, Jeremy Korzeniewski, Nov. 6, 2009
5. The New York Times
Christopher Jensen finds the 2011 Kia Sorento's ride truckish and rough, although he says other testers at The New York Times drove it and found nothing amiss. Jensen tests both the four-cylinder and V6 versions.
Review: Not a Truck, but Still a Rough Rider, Christopher Jensen, May 20, 2010
6. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The 2011 Kia Sorento is a Top Safety Pick here, earning the highest rating of "Good" in all crash tests -- front, side, rear and rollover roof strength.
Review: Midsize SUVs, Editors of IIHS.org
This government website publishes fuel-economy estimates for most SUVs on the market, including all versions of the 2011 Kia Sorento. It delivers an estimated 21 to 24 mpg, depending on trim level, making it one of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrids in its class.
Review: 2011 Sport Utility Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
This press release announces the range-topping Kia Sorento SX trim, set to debut in summer 2010.
Review: Kia Motors Unveils Sorento SX Trim at Atlanta Auto Show, Editors of KiaMedia.com, March 19, 2010