Plays With Toys

2011 Kia Sorento 42011 Kia Sorento and Friends
2011 Kia Sorento LX AWD (L) and Friends (R) Photos by Randy Stern

If you’re like most Americans, you watched the Super Bowl for the commercials. You had a plethora of good ones during this year’s “Who Dat” party in South Florida ranging from Betty White playing pickup football to a child keeping his mother’s new man in check over a bag of Doritos.

Automobile companies also add their own mini-cinematic moments slotted in-between the epic battle waged pitting Peyton Manning against Drew Brees (The latter quarterback won, BTW). Audi co-opted Cheap Trick to send the message home about their A3 TDI clean diesel model. Hyundai celebrated the coming of the new Sonata as well as a radically new Tucson.

Then, there was Kia. To tout the brand new 2011 Sorento crossover, they used a bunch of toys to demonstrate the cool factor of the new family hauler. You probably picked up on a theme: Hamsters to sell the Soul compact coolmobile, toys to sell Sorentos. That theme hasn’t carried over to the new Forte compact line…yet.

In fact, they replayed the theme in the form of life-sized cutouts of the toys on the Kia stand at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Auto Show (closing this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center). After seeing that, I knew I had to drive the 2011 Sorento.

Before I dive into my take on this new crossover, a couple of points must be made. This isn’t the first time I’ve driven a Sorento. The first was the original unibody SUV with big tires and no soul. That was years ago upon meeting up my friend Glen when he visited here with his first Pontiac Grand Prix GXP. We both agreed – we hated the former Sorento.

What makes this new Sorento so important is not the galactic leap in improvements between the two generations. Rather, this one is built in their new plant in West Point, Georgia. It’s the first Kia built in the USA – that, in itself, is a galactic leap.

Now, is the new Sorento worth the Super Bowl commercial and additional promos it has with the National Basketball Association? I say absolutely!

It starts with an unassuming, but rather attractive look. There’s plenty of Kia’s new DNA abound with creases and shapes from the Forte and Soul. You have to not remind yourself that it shares some DNA with the Hyundai Santa Fe – in fact, forget I mentioned this at all. It’s not as unusual as the Hyundai Tucson, which makes the Sorento easy on the eyes. It sort of reminds you of a Subaru – um, forget I said that as well.

After your eyes adjust nicely, step inside and enjoy a high level of content even in the LX AWD model I sampled. There are plenty of switches on the steering wheel for the audio system and cruise control, plus additional switches for when your phone is connected through the standard Bluetooth connection. It also comes with Sirius satellite radio standard – finally! The seats are a bit taut for sore backs, but they do position you right for action and everything is right where you expect it for competent driving. You can get a third row of seating, but my sample only gave me two – that’s all I need, really. It took care of a carrying home a new water softener for my roommate’s dad to install over Memorial Day weekend (in another LX AWD example I drove after this review).

Under the hood is the familiar 2.4litre four-cylinder motor connected through a six-speed automatic gearbox driving all four wheels. This set up is usually reserved for smaller SUVs and crossovers. For the mid-sized Sorento, this driveline works like a charm. It is highly motivated and sprightly in its ways. I just love pressing the accelerator to give it more welly – especially on the freeways. There’s no complaint from under the hood – and that’s a welcomed change from the asthmatic V6 under the last Sorento I drove four or so years ago.

The best way to describe the entire driving package is that it is a “free spirit.” It simply wants to be free – and it drives that way. I am not talking about stuck accelerators and unintended acceleration, I’m talking a willingness to be driven anywhere without hesitation. It rides very nicely and handles well. Unlike some high-riding vehicles, the Sorento loves to be tracked through curves and banks. Part of this is the sharpest steering I’ve experienced in a crossover – a fast steering reaction that turns tightly that reminds you of a sports compact car rather than a mid-sized crossover/SUV.

Don’t forget the brakes and standard compliment of active safety features, including Electronic Stability Control, traction control and anti-lock brakes. Add all-wheel-drive to the mix and you can rest assured a good drive in the worst the world gives you. I felt the confidence every time I drive – especially during a March thunderstorm in the Twin Cities. On top of all of this, I get Hill-Assist and Downhill Brake Assist, both for off-road or snowy conditions mainly. You know, I’ve actually had to use them. I hope I won’t have to, but having them adds to the confidence the Sorento exudes to its driver and its passengers.

Being a crossover, I’ve had mixed results with four-cylinder models. It’s either good or bad consumption, relative to the weight and dimensions of the vehicle. In the Sorento, I turned a 21.3MPG loop in mixed driving. The consolation is that it was better than the Chevrolet Equinox – and the Kia’s much simpler to operate!

What’s the lesson here? If you can live with less-than-preferable fuel economy, this is quite a darn good vehicle! To be honest, I love the 2011 Sorento as it’s a fun-to-drive, easy-to-operate, bundle full of joy – just as it advertised on the Super Bowl! Toys come separately.

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