2011 Kia Sorento EX FWD review: 2011 Kia Sorento EX FWD

As a midcycle upgrade in late 2010, the 2011 model-year Sorento will receive Kia's new UVO by Microsoft in-car infotainment system, which debuted at CES 2010. This new upgradeable system (comparable to Ford's Sync, also by Microsoft) will feature a 4.3-inch color touch screen and natural speech recognition for access to ripped music, portable media devices, and AM/FM/Sirius Satellite Radio stations.

On the road
It's not very often that we come across an SUV of the Sorento's size that is powered by a four-cylinder engine, but lifting our tester's hood revealed a rather small 2.4-liter inline-four--the same inline-four that we found under the hood of the recently tested 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS. Output is the same 175-horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque as the Santa Fe, and power flows through the same six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual-shift mode before being sent to the front wheels. An optional full-time all-wheel-drive system is available with a lockable center differential, good for areas where traction is hard to come by. However, this isn't the same advanced electromagnetic clutch-type system as is on the Santa Fe--and, as a result, it's not as fuel efficient.

Despite a nearly identical curb weight and an absolutely identical drivetrain, the Kia manages to somehow feel sprightlier than its cousin from Hyundai. Perhaps the Kia's more youthful aesthetic or slightly firmer suspension tune is what made us feel more comfortable stabbing the throttle and waking up the 2.4-liter engine; or maybe it was purely psychological. Whatever the case, the Sorento was the most fun to drive of the two Korean CUVs. The Kia's steering is less floaty, with less of a dead spot around its neutral position. However, being more fun to drive than a Santa Fe is by no means a huge achievement. That slightly firmer suspension also translated into slightly increased amounts of road noise and a bouncier ride when the pavement gets uneven; and under most circumstances, the Sorento's four-banger still feels decidedly overworked and underpowered for all but the most miserly of drivers. We'd take the beefier 3.5-liter V-6 model any day.

However, the smaller displacement engine does reward the driver with increased fuel economy. The 2.4-liter Sorento finishes the EPA test cycle at 21 city and 29 highway miles per gallon versus the V-6's 20/26 mpg. Choosing an all-wheel-drive model has an even more adverse affect on fuel economy, reducing the I-4's mileage to 21/27 and the V-6's to 19/25.

Is less actually more?
Our Spicy Red EX model arrived about as loaded as a four-cylinder Sorento could be. In fact, the only options that were left unchecked--save the usual assortment of floor mats and cargo organizers--were the $700 Third Row Seating package and the $1,700 all-wheel-drive system. The I-4 EX starts at $24,795 (plus $795 destination), but even all-in with the $2,000 Limited package's navigation and audio upgrades, the $1,500 Premium package's heated leather seating upgrade, and $250 for an autodimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, our Sorento EX only tipped the scales at an as-tested price of $29,340.

Things get tricky when comparing the four-cylinder Sorento with other SUVs, as most vehicles in this size are only available with V-6 engines. However, apples-to-apples comparison with the Toyota RAV-4 Limited reveals that although the vehicles appear to be similarly equipped, the Kia's solid-state memory-based navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, and more spacious interior make it the technically tech-superior vehicle. It's a close call that could go either way, but the Kia definitely makes a case for itself as a good value.

However, an even better value lies further up the totem pole with the V-6 model. Stepping up to the bigger engine for $2,600 more increases the Sorento's value by making the third-row seating standard and opening up the option to add either a rear-seat entertainment system or a panoramic dual-moon roof, bringing the fully loaded price to about $33,000. At this level, the Sorento draws closer comparisons with the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. Among this sort of company, the Sorento's price and fuel economy advantage is much higher.

Spec box
Model 2011 Kia Sorento
Power train 2.4-liter I-4
EPA fuel economy 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.5 mpg
Navigation Solid-state with satellite traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player Single slot CD player
MP3 player support USB and aux-in standard, iPod with adapter
Other digital audio Bluetooth audio, satellite radio
Audio system 10-speaker Infinity premium audio
Driver aids back up camera, cruise control, park distance sensor
Base price $24,795
Price as tested $29,340

What you'll pay

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