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2011 Kia Sorento EX Luxury Review

Graeme Fletcher, National Post

Talk about being on a tear: Kia’s January sales in Canada are up 32.4% compared with a year ago. In this economy, that’s a welcome ray of sunshine and something the auto industry has been waiting for since the big crash. Better news, at least for Kia, is the all-new Sorento. It is going to give an already buoyant portfolio a boost, simply because it is a remarkably refined ride. Wind the clock back 10 years and something this good from Kia was, well, unthinkable. Today, anything less than good is disappointing.

The reason the new Sorento succeeds is its balanced approach. It starts with the powertrain and ends with the versatility and level of standard equipment.

The base Sorento arrives with a 2.4-litre four. While it pushes 175 horsepower, it could do with a few more ponies, especially for those seeking a more spirited drive. There are no complaints with the up-level 3.5L V6. It delivers 276 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. The use of variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams then spreads the motivation over a broad range while improving fuel economy and cutting emissions.

A big part of the reason the Sorento’s V6 feels so alive at the bottom end has to do with the six-speed manumatic transmission. With first gear being 4.561:1, it hauls the 1,874-kilogram crossover off the line with authority and maintains this thrust through the mid-range. This explains the quick zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time of 7.2 seconds. To put this into perspective, it’s on par with the Mercedes GLK and Lexus RX 350 and better than the Chevrolet Equinox (9.9 seconds) and Toyota Venza (10.5 seconds).

 

The smart Sorento shopper will option up to the all-wheel-drive version ($1,900). Under normal circumstances, the system sends 95% of the drive to the front wheels and 5% to the rear. The twist, and the reason it is worth the investment, is that the system monitors throttle position as well as individual wheel speed. That makes the system proactive, as it “sees” when the driver mats the gas from a standstill. This separates it from slip-first-grip-later systems as the central clutch is closed (splitting the power 50/50) before wheelspin is allowed to happen.

This ability is then layered with a good electronic traction and stability control system. The anti-lock brakes are used to brake a spinning wheel, which tricks the front or rear differential into sending the power to the wheel with grip. On snow-covered secondary roads, it comes together nicely. There was very little slip and slide, this despite the fact the Sorento’s 18-inch wheels were wearing regular P235/60 all-season tires.

The electronic overseer also includes downhill and hill-start assist along with a roll mitigation program. The latter not only tries to prevent a possible rollover by using the ESC, it tightens the pretensioners and deploys the side curtains if the vehicle leans beyond the point of no return.

The full-zoot EX Luxury tested arrived with all the bells and whistles to go along with its panoramic sunroof. The tilt/slide front section and fixed rear panel open up the cabin enormously and, so, as with the all-wheel-drive system, it is money well spent if you’re shopping at the top end of the Sorento’s price ladder.

As for the rest of it, the tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment and power eight-way driver’s seat make it a snap to set the right driving position, the heated leather seats are comfortably supportive and the up-level Infinity audio package blasts its sound through 10 well-placed speakers.

As for versatility, the Sorento is offered in five-and seven-seat versions. For the cost differential ($1,200), it pays to have the third row along for the ride — the 50/50-split/folding seats take up no space when flat yet service the extra occupants when needed. That said, don’t pull the short straw if they need to be used. As with other third-row seats, legroom is tight and it takes a degree of agility to climb in (from the right side only). Likewise, cargo capacity is nipped at 9.1 cubic feet with the seat upright. Folding the third row down sees the capacity rise to 37 cu. ft, and the floor is flat and the wheelwell intrusion minimal. The middle row is comfortable and brings needed space. Fold the second-row seats down and cargo capacity blossoms to 72.5 cu. ft.

One of the Sorento’s few weaknesses is the fact the front passenger’s seat does not fold forward. This simple ability would allow a longer item (such as an eight-foot ladder) to be carried in the vehicle with the tailgate closed. While I’m at it, the back glass should also open independently of the tailgate.

It would have been very easy to overlook the Sorento and dismiss it as just another in the growing legion of crossovers. Time in the driver’s seat proved it has considerable merit. The base model delivers the versatility of an SUV with the ride quality of a good station wagon. The EX Luxury then adds a ton of equipment, yet it sells for a respectable $39,195.

The latter seals its appeal.