There's a new 2011Kia Sorento in town. We know: The midsize crossover already holds the title of Kia's top seller after going on sale the first full week of this year, with dealers hawking some 68,000 units through August. Seeking to capitalize on its salable success, Kia has launched its Sorento SX. The new top-level model joins its LX and EX stablemates as a new sheriff in town, with more features, aesthetic distinctions, and one prominent suspension difference, plus a $32,990 price tag for the front-wheel drive and $34,690 with all-wheel drive.

Nowadays, the simplest way to separate any vehicle's highest trim from its lower-spec underlings is to add brightly colored garnish, and that's what the Sorento SX does. Restyled front and rear fascias, stainless-steel skidplates, LED taillights, chrome roof rails, and mirror-finish 18-inch alloy wheels are included with the higher cost of acquisition. The fresh sheetmetal getup gives the already crisp Sorento a subtle touch of class and blends exceptionally well with the Bright Silver paint choice.

Only the most exhaustive list of standard features will suffice inside, and the SX satisfies its billing with standard heated leather seats, 10-speaker Infinity surround sound system with navigation, stainless-steel pedals and door sill plates, and a SX-specific gauge cluster and stitched cluster housing. The seats are comfortable, spacious, and oriented in a predictably commanding position, giving the Sorento a lofty driving feel.

The SX's standard flip-down third-row seat will be tight for those standing more than 6 feet, or with long dancer's legs. When upright, it leaves little cargo space for items larger than a backpack. Air conditioning vents for the third row can be controlled by the most aft occupants, although particularly cruel drivers (or front passengers) can defeat the rear ventilation through a switch on the center stack. Like its smaller Sportage brethren, the center stack and console is visually pleasing and a fine execution of interior design. The faux carbon-fiber accents aren't worth a bat of an eye because the coloration doesn't look nearly rich enough to justify its existence.

The SX will only come with the 3.5-liter V-6 serving up 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The most significant change under the skin isn't immediately visible. Kia's new dual-flow damper shock absorbers reside behind the shiny wheels and are matched to the crossover's MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension. The DFD design is a precursor of things to come within the Kia lineup, as the shocks will eventually make their way as standard equipment on the Sorento's LX and EX trims (scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year). Ride development engineers dropped the ride height by 10 millimeters, or 0.4 inches in old Imperial, to lower the center of gravity and help with handling. On long stretches of rural highway, the ride proved more comfortable, although noticeable wind noise is pretty unavoidable in this segment.

Kia didn't go into the exact construction of its DFD shocks, but we presume the damping profile offers increased damping force for more aggressive driving, and less to snuff out road imperfections. It's the type of best-of-both-worlds mentality that is putting Kia on the maps of consumers who might not have given the Korean brand an ounce of consideration in the past.

It will cost a bundle compared to the other models in the stable, but if you really must have the most unique Sorento on the block, the SX is the golden ticket.


2011 Kia Sorento SX
Base price $34,690
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 3900 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Length x width x height 183.9 x 74.2 x 69.1 in
0-60 mph 7.6 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 19/25 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.91 lb/mi
On sale in U.S. Now
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