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2012 Kia Sorento
by Jim Prueter

Kia so completely and thoroughly redesigned its popular compact Sorento last year for the 2011 model year that the only thing it kept was the name. While it previously used a body-on-frame, truck-based chassis, now, Sorento is built on a unibody car-based chassis and has an all-new beefier and bolder look.

It’s the first Kia built in the U.S., at the West Point, Georgia, manufacturing plant and replaces the 2009 Korean-built model (there wasn’t a Sorento for 2010). It sits above the compact Kia Sportage crossover and competes with the likes of Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, VW Tiguan, and Chevrolet Equinox to name a few.

The base Sorento LX starts at $23,150 and is powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, 191-horsepower engine. A 3.5-liter V-6 LX model with 276 horsepower starts at $24,950. While not intended to be an off-road vehicle, Sorento also offers a full-time, all-wheel drive variant starting at $25,350.

We tested an all-wheel drive EX powered by the V-6 with a base price of $29,650. The combination was exceptionally smooth, powerful, and up there with the best in its class. Fuel economy isn’t remarkable on the four-wheel drive model with a rating of 21 city/24 highway mpg, but still pretty good for its class. If you decide to try out the four-cylinder engine, note that the best it gets is 21 city/28 highway mpg.

The Sorento also offers three rows of seats, standard on V-6 powered models that seat seven. Third-row riders are best left for small kids, but the seat can split 50/50 and folds for additional cargo room. There’s just 9.1 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in use, 37 with the third row folded, and just over 72 with the second and third rows folded down.

Outside, the exterior styling is a huge improvement over the previous generation Sorento, but not a standout in the class. Its styling reflects the new grille and headlight treatment seen in the Forte and Optima product lines, and we still prefer the looks of the Chevy Equinox and ford Edge. Even the smaller Kia Sportage has a more contemporary look. And while it isn’t offensive, it’s still more on the generic side.

Inside, the interior is modern looking, but the fake wood trim and excessive use of hard, cheap looking plastics detracts. The instrument panel is generally well laid out, with large knobs for operating most vehicle controls. The gauges are lit with red readouts that we found generally difficult to decipher depending on sunlight.

The seats provide ample amounts of space and comfort, and visibility is excellent with a higher seating position. Overall, it’s an attractive interior. It won’t wow you, but it won’t be a reason not to buy either.

While we didn’t spend any time off road in our EX test car, we found our on-road travels to deliver a rather stiff and jiggly ride. The lone benefit of the firm suspension was that it allowed for sharper handling and cornering. But if you prefer a more comfortable ride, you’ll be disappointed. For another trim level, the SX, Kia claims to offer a smooth ride without sacrificing the improved handling. But since we haven’t driven the vehicle, we can’t comment on its performance.

Standard safety features include dual front airbags, side-curtain airbags for head protection, and front seat side-impact airbags. The brakes felt strong and smooth with acceptable stopping distances. Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, hill-start assist, and downhill assist brake control are all standard. Plus, there’s an optional rearview camera on all trim levels.

The 2012 Sorento was awarded the highest possible “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for frontal offset, side crash impact and roof strength test results. They also awarded it with a Top Safety Pick for 2012. And the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration awarded it an overall four out of five stars in crash test results.

Overall, the new Sorento is a very competent mid-sized, affordable crossover utility vehicle that has significantly improved over the previous model. If you don’t mind a firmer ride and can make do with very small third-row seating, it will get you around comfortably and in relatively attractive style.

But this class vehicle is extremely competitive and loaded with excellent choices for the money such as the Mazda CX-9, Nissan Murano, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and new Hyundai Santa Fe to name a few.

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Base price: $23,150 – $34,850
Price as tested: $30,450
MPG: 18 city/24 highway
(EX with V6 and AWD)

Likes
• Attractive new styling inside and out at an attractive price
• Choice of fuel-efficient 4-cylinder or spirited V-6 engine
• Spacious, comfortable interior
Dislikes
• Ride may be too firm for some
• Miniscule third-row seat
• Decent, but not great gas mileage

Website: kia.com
Competes with:

Chevrolet Equinox
Dodge Journey
Ford Edge
Hyundai Santa Fe
Nissan Murano
Mitsubishi Outlander
Mazda CX-9
Honda Pilot
Toyota Highlander
Toyota Rav-4
Volkswagen Tiguan

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