When I initially reported on the Kia Sorento after its original introduction I said the first Kia to be built in America showcased the brand’s new identity with its "Tiger Nose" – that has become the face of all new Kia products – swept-back lines and sloping roof.
I also noted that, based on initial drives in the roads around its Georgia assembly plant, the new Sorento was a lot more refined than the model it replaced. Larger, more powerful and very well-equipped, it was now a serious contender in the compact and even mid-sized SUV segment.
During subsequent months I’ve had lots of opportunity to spend "quality" time with a 2011 Sorento EX during stops between stays with other journalists in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI.
Brand new when it arrived, my test vehicle had more than 12,000 km on the odo when it was returned. Despite all that travel at the hands of more than a dozen drivers, it was still tight, quiet and like-new in all respects.
Kia, and its Korean big sister Hyundai, has made huge strides in quality with each new model and this Sorento was proof positive. The only maintenance performed or required during the period was an oil change at the 8,000 km mark.
No other issues of any nature required service or attention. The only obvious signs of wear or even use are to the carpet in the cargo area which has a couple of marks or stains, no doubt because it was used for everything from runs to the mall, beach or landfill.
It was that capacity to serve as a people or cargo hauler that was most appreciated.
The Sorento has three rows of seats and on those rare occasions when the third row was put to use, the adult occupants were less than comfortable – but they didn't have to walk!
That small third seat spent the majority of the time folded flat into the floor, providing a sturdy base for numerous large and heavy loads.
Many times one or both sides of the split second row were also folded down for even more space. This was easily accomplished with the tug of a lever atop the seat back. Provided the front seats were not at their rearmost position it was not necessary to remove the headrests in order to fold them.
With all second and third row seats folded the cargo space was wide and long with a slight upward slope at the front because the second row does not fold completely flat. There is also room on the floor ahead of the second row for smaller items.
The large rear hatch opens easily and is well weighted. There is a handle on the inside to grab when pulling it shut. The top surface of the rear bumper has a synthetic finish that did not show the usual marks and scrapes found on the painted surface of a vehicle where the cargo area is used frequently.
The front seats proved comfortable and supportive over long sessions and the power adjustment allowed folk of vastly different dimensions to find a suitable position.
The instruments are legible day or night and the navigation system reads clearly as well. The same screen provides information about the audio system and there were several compliments on the ability to plug in an iPod or other auxiliary player with the included cable and USB inputs.
Second row seat occupants had plenty of room and even those with the longest legs had no complaint since they could slide the seat rearward for added room.
Second and third row occupants also appreciated the massive second sunroof. But you have to remember to pull the protective cover closed on sunny days or the resultant heat soak means extra time for the air conditioner to cool things down.
Performance was another oft-praised attribute thanks to the potent 3.5-litre V-6 and quick-thinking six-speed automatic transmission. With 276 horsepower, there is lots of punch off the line or when passing or climbing hills. The transmission always seemed to be in the right gear for the occasion with no hunting for another ratio.
The downside of all that available performance was fuel economy. This is a thirsty vehicle when driven with even a modicum of verve. I averaged 14.7 L/100 km in the city and never got below 10.2 L/100 km on the highway.
The only other complaint of any significance was a rather brittle ride over rough surface, perhaps due to the stiff sidewalls of the big tires. On smoother roads or the open highway the Sorento was blissfully comfortable, gobbling up kilometres with ease.
One is aware of the significant size and weight of this vehicle when pushed in the turns but driven in a manner more attuned to its design and purpose there was less body lean and understeer. Both ABS and electronic stability control are standard.
In top-level EX trim, this test Sorento carried a $38,445 tab. That included leather seating, navigation system with rear-view camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, panoramic sunroof, power seats, all-wheel-drive, 18-inch alloy wheels, and 10-speaker audio system with separate sub-woofer. In addition, the EX came with power assist for windows, locks etc., power heated seats, tilt and telescopic wheel, remote keyless entry and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.