2011 Kia Sorento
Aims high, but lands in the middle

WE LIKE: Styling, interior ergonomics, and powertrain.
WE DON'T LIKE: Disconcerting road noise, artificial steering.

The 2011 Kia Sorento has undergone a dramatic change for its second generation. This decidedly all-new SUV- the first Kia to be built in the U.S. - has abandoned the full-size, body-on-frame pretense for an updated version of the Santa Fe's unit-body construction.

The styling, which is the work of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, is just as striking in its departure from the Lexus RX lookalike of previous generations. Behind that corporate "tiger nose" grille is sheetmetal that is handsome, modern, and welcomingly subdued. Like the smaller Sportage, the Sorento at first appears to deliver more than its Hyundai counterpart. So it's a surprise that it doesn't make the first cut.

Road noise is the primary offense. On our test loop, the interior exhibits a surprising amount of creaks and groans, and the suspension booms over rough surfaces. Steering comes second. Symptomatic of the rest of the Korean entrants, the wheel has an artificial, over-boosted tactile sensation that increases with an oddly synthetic feel as it's turned off-center. These issues contrast sharply against the styling, which suggests a more sophisticated ride and package. Our expectations were higher as a result, and while we preferred the Sorento over the Santa Fe, most editors got out with a hesitant "half-baked."

Yet the Sorento remains a completely agreeable SUV. The 3.5-liter V-6 in our tester received compliments for feeling smoother and sounding more refined than the identical mill in the Santa Fe. And its interior earned positive remarks about its layout and design-third-row availability is always a plus-though we're still irked about how long it takes the navigation system to allow you to "Agree" to its legalese.

The Sorento's few faults may seem like niggles, but when placed in the context of the SUOTY field, they can't be overlooked. Kia's design language is coming into its own, easily surpassing Hyundai's efforts in this mix. But more time spent on massaging out the small kinks would allow the rest of the package to catch up. - Carlos Lago


2011 Kia Sorento
Base price $20,790-$29,890
Price as tested $29,890 (EX AWD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/276-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4078 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Length x width x height 183.9 x 74.2 x 67.3 in
0-60 mph 7.3 sec
Quarter mile 15.6 sec @ 90.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 125 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.78 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.1 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 19/25 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.91 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING **
DESIGN ****
INTERIOR/Functionality ***
PERFORMANCE ***
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT **
OFF-ROAD ABILITY **
VALUE ***
BOTTOM LINE
The design writes a check the drive almost cashes.