As has been true of most recent designs from Kia, the 2011 Sorento's styling is modern, sleek, clean as a whistle. It has a forward-lunging stance, the result of a low and compact nose, followed by long, dynamically rising lines to rearward. And Kia has been particularly successful at executing the current high-grille look (dictated by body-integral front bumpers) without causing the nose to seem high and awkward.
The grille is flanked on both sides by sly-looking upper complexes for headlights and turn signals. Lower complexes contain foglights and are finished in matte-black to match the grille mesh.
To maximize interior volume, particularly in the third-row seats, the Sorento roofline makes only a slight taper downwards at the rear. Similarly, the rear passenger doors extend back over the wheel housing to optimize access to third-row seats.
The Sorento's shape is more than just a pretty face; it slips through the air at highway speed with minimal wind noise. And this package has another advantage.
Getting into the 2011 Sorento the first time, you know you're not in Kansas anymore. This interior is just too nice to be a Kia, you think. But in no time, you accept its pleasing, tasteful look, and you appreciate why Kia had a 4-percent rise in sales during 2009, while the rest of the industry was plummeting 27 percent.
Kia's focus is on value, a winning theme in hard economic times. And sure enough, there is gray simulated-wood trim, not the real thing, in the driver's compartment. But to deliver good value, Kia goes for simple but handsome fixtures. The controls and switchgear are of high quality, with good tactile feel. Dash surfaces are an attractive textured black, and the instruments are well laid out and self-explanatory.
Our test car had the deluxe navigation system with rear backup camera. This lacked some of the more sophisticated onscreen visual aids for backing while turning, as found on some premium crossovers. And the vanity mirrors in the sun visors were lit, but only after you turn them on with a button. Similar units in some other vehicles light automatically upon being opened.
We found the driver's seat, with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support, to be excellent, firm, supportive, confidence-inspiring. The right front seat, however, is adjusted manually.
The second-row bench seat was comfortable, though even with the front seat well forward, second-row legroom was so-so. But then, this is not a large SUV and Kia has achieved no spatial miracles. On the other hand, the company says a 6-foot, 7-inch NBA player can drive the Sorento in full comfort.
The third-row seats are a bit of a compromise, as they are in any but the most grandiose three-row vehicles. Tilt-folding the second-row seats forward to access the rear involves a bit of calisthenics, as the seats are fairly heavy. Once the unlucky, last-row galley slaves are in place and the second-row seats slam down and lock, the latches are hard to release and fold forward from the rear row. Headroom in the far rear is minimal, as well. But this space should be adequate for most kids.
Our car's Infinity deluxe audio system was superb. The climate control worked flawlessly, offering strong volume when requested. And the rear roof-mounted DVD screen, which pops down behind the two front bucket seats, should provide plenty of amusement for those with nothing to do. Finally, with all seats folded down, maximum cargo volume is 72.5 cubic feet, a massive improvement over the previous model.