It's an all-change season for the Sorento. In hitting the maximum reset button, Kia has given the Gen II iteration a comprehensive makeover that moves it from the ranks of conventional SUV into unambiguous crossover territory. Along with that carefully calculated swerve into the people-pampering lane, the 2011 Sorento -- yes, there will be no 2010 Sorento -- also becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen. Starting in November, the first Kia vehicle to be made in America will start rolling out of a new $1.2-billion manufacturing facility in West Point, Georgia. We ponder both points while slipping behind the wheel of some preproduction models and heading down I-85 from rain-ravaged Atlanta to see what this recasting effort has really accomplished and to tour its nascent home base.
Subtle but meaningful tweaks to the 2011 Sorento's proportions yield big gains on the visual and functional fronts. Sleeker sheetmetal previewed in the KND-4 Concept boasts more pronounced edge-and-wedge flair accentuated by a "flying wing" side scallop and a far bolder front fascia with a dramatically reshaped "Schreyer line" grille/headlamp treatment that design chief Peter Schreyer is establishing as a Kia signature cue. At the rear, a large single-piece liftgate serves as the centerpiece of its own more interestingly contoured fascia while 17-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels complete the mix.
However, the most tangible benefits result from a decision to move the Sorento's A-pillars forward and its D-pillars back. While its overall length expands by just 3.7 inches and the wheelbase actually shrinks 0.3 inch, interior volume on the 2011 Sorento has risen by some 15 percent over the outgoing Gen I model, improving passenger space throughout its cabin and allowing for a new, kid-friendly third-row seat. Although opting for that "seven-up" configuration does limit cargo capacity to 9.1 cubic feet, flat-folding the rearmost 50/50 perch yields the same 37.0 cubic feet of stow space as a five-passenger Sorento. And for those critical Saturday-morning Home Depot missions, dropping the backs on its fore/aft-sliding 60/40 mid-row bench creates a 72.5-cubic-foot mini cave.