2011 Kia Sorento EX V6Posted on October 29th, 2009
Compact crossover is Kia’s first car built in the USA
By Nina Russin
The original Kia Sorento that debuted for the 2003 model year was a sport-utility vehicle engineered for off-road performance. This January, an all-new Sorento rolls into Kia’s 650 US dealerships: a compact cross-utility vehicle marketed towards young families with active lifestyles. Its unibody chassis is similar to a passenger car, whereas the former model was built on a truck platform.
The new chassis is longer and lower: longer to accommodate an available third-row seat, and lower to enhance highway performance. Kia remains true to its value pricing strategy: the base four-cylinder front-wheel drive model starts under $20,000.
Both the four-cylinder engine and available V6 come with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. Cars equipped with the V6 meet the ALV 3500-pound towing standard.
All-wheel drive, available with either engine, enhances wet weather performance by transferring engine torque to the wheels with the best traction. Standard hill descent control and hill-start assist improve maneuverability on steep grades.
New West Point, Georgia manufacturing plant
The Sorento is the first Kia built on American soil. Kia‘s West Point, Georgia manufacturing facility represents a one billion dollar investment, giving the automaker a comparable US presence to Honda and Toyota.
The West Point facility is about eighty miles as the crow flies from Hyundai’s Montgomery, Alabama assembly plant. The two plants share powertrain components for the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, since the cars are built on the same platform.
Hyundai sends engines east to West Point for the Sorento, and Kia sends transmissions to Montgomery for the Santa Fe. The sister companies also share parts from outside suppliers located in between the two plants.
Test drive in Georgia
On a recent media event, I had the opportunity to test drive the new Sorento in Georgia, and tour the automaker’s new 2200 acre West Point campus.
The test car is the EX V6: the most upscale of three available grades. While Kia has yet to announce pricing, product specialists estimate that the fully loaded EX V6 will retail for just over $30,000.
The 273-horsepower V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission carry estimated EPA fuel ratings of 20/28 mpg city highway for the front-wheel drive model. That’s about a mile per gallon less than the inline-four cylinder engine, but the extra power and towing capability justify the additional cost for those who can afford it.
All cars come with a high level of standard safety features including front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, vehicle dynamic control, traction control and antilock brakes.
Standard convenience features include Bluetooth interface, Sirius satellite radio, MP3 and iPod connectivity. All but the base LX model get keyless entry with push button start. Engineers require the driver to insert the key fob into an ignition slot in the center console bin, preventing valet services from inadvertently forgetting to return keys with the car.
An available navigation system includes real-time traffic updates. As with its other recent products, Kia has partnered with Infinity to offer a premium sound system
The test car comes with leather upholstery, available only on the EX, as well as an optional panoramic sunroof with glass panels over the first and second rows. Dual-zone temperature controls and front seat heaters keep passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
Styled at Kia’s Southern California design center
The Sorento is based on the KND-4 concept unveiled at the 2007 Korea and LA auto shows. Kia’s chief designer, Peter Shreyer oversaw the Sorento project. Shreyer, who designed the original Audi TT, has imbued the Sorento with European styling: an aggressive upswept beltline is the focal point for the exterior.
Nowhere is Kia’s evolution as an automaker more apparent than in the fit and finish of its vehicles. The new Sorento is solidly built, with fit and finish comparable to industry leaders. The interior is extremely quiet, with no noticeable noise from the windshield, side mirrors or tires. Passengers in the first and second rows can easily carry on conversations while driving on the highway.
Kia’s Southern California design studio gave the Sorento interior an upscale look, including available two-tone leather trim on the EX model. A backlit three-gauge cluster is easy to see in any light. Redundant audio controls, Bluetooth interface and cruise controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. A power tilt-and-telescoping function on the test car allows smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view.
Both first and second rows have plenty of head and legroom for adults. The car’s short floor tunnel doesn’t intrude on legroom for the middle passenger. The available third row is intended primarily for children. Second-row seats tumble forward to ease access and egress.
Front-row occupants have abundant storage space, in a large glove box and center console bin. All four doors have map pockets and bottle holders. The cupholders in the center console can easily hold 20-ounce water bottles.
The spacious cargo area meets our bicycle-friendly standards. An additional storage slot under the cargo floor conceals smaller valuables.
The media event coincided with some of the worst flooding the state of Georgia has ever seen. A steady downpour began as we departed from our hotel in Atlanta and headed south to West Point. By the time we reached the outskirts of Atlanta, the rain was coming down in sheets.
I don’t use the word “monsoon” casually. The rain was heavy enough to coat the highway with standing water, sending several vehicles skating into the median.
Fortunately the Sorento’s all-wheel drive system preventing the test car from hydroplaning. While limited visibility and construction slowed our pace slightly, we were able to average between 60 and 70 miles-per-hour on the drive between Atlanta and the assembly plant.
The V6 engine has ample low-end power for accelerating into high-speed traffic and from a stop. I had the opportunity to drive through heavy urban traffic on the way out of town. I had no problems seeing other vehicles in the adjacent lanes, and adjusting my speed as necessary to merge and change lanes.
Response from the speed-sensitive power steering system is extremely positive. The four-wheel independent suspension is a night-and-day difference from the live rear axle on the outgoing model, providing a compliant ride without excess roll in the corners.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking made a huge difference on the wet road surfaces in Georgia. There were numerous occasions that required stopping suddenly. In each case, the vehicle tracked straight before coming to a stop.
The six-cylinder engine has enough low-end torque to prevent harsh downshifts during acceleration or climbing hills. When my driving partner got behind the wheel of a four-cylinder Sorento, we noticed considerably more shift shock when accelerating on an incline.
The navigation system screen doubles as the projection point for the rearview camera. The camera makes it much easier to see the back of the car when parking, and eliminates blind spots in the rear corners.
I’m enough of a geek to love plant tours. Each time I tour a new factory, I’m impressed with how quickly production technology has evolved. For example, four assembly robots today can do the same work as twenty a decade back.
Its scale alone makes the Georgia campus impressive. In addition to the assembly plant, it includes a two-mile test track, railroad link, a sheet metal supplier, transmission production facility and a training center owned by the state of Georgia.
The Sorento is the first of three vehicles that Kia will build in Georgia. At full capacity, the plant can produce 300,000 vehicles per year.
Despite its size, the interior of the plant is spotless. It’s no exaggeration to say that a person could eat off the floors. Robots perform most of the welding and paintwork, reducing the risk of work-related injuries, and enabling the plant to sterile environment to minimize paint defects.
Watching the robots twirl, weld, stamp and assemble is a sight any athlete can appreciate. The Kia plant has 244 robots in the welding area alone: capable of assembling components to produce one vehicle per minute off the final assembly line.
Most of the plant’s 1000 employees work in the assembly section, where the powertrains are married to the bodies. Sheetmetal and drivetrain components travel on overhead tracks from one part of the plant to the next. The overhead track system keeps the floors clear of clutter, and eliminates the expense of gas-powered trucks.
Suppliers are tied into the plant’s computerized inventory system. The plant orders parts in three-month cycles, so it doesn’t have to pay to store inventory: a system called “just-in-time manufacturing.”
The most exciting part of the assembly plant is the end of the line, when a worker cranks the engine and the vehicle comes to life for the first time. At this point, each car undergoes a complete mechanical inspection, runs through a shower to test for leaks, and goes to the test track for final evaluation before it is prepped for shipping.
It began with a bicycle
On the media program, I learned that Kia began as a bicycle manufacturer in Korea in 1951. It makes sense that a manufacturer that once produced bicycles would understand active lifestyles. In some ways Kia appreciates what active buyers need more than anyone else.
First and foremost is value. By providing buyers with quality vehicles at an affordable price, athletes don‘t have to compromise training or gear in order to make car payments.
Kia’s continuing commitment safety has resulted in five-star federal crash test ratings for all of its current vehicles. The manufacturer expects nothing less for the 2011 Sorento.
Finally, Kia has a world-class work ethic. Over the years, I’ve seen this in every aspect of the company’s operations, from designers going back to the drawing board when the first minivan didn’t meet American standards, to building a production facility that raises the bar.
Buyers who haven’t ventured into a Kia showroom owe it to themselves to do so. The Sorento promises to be a formidable competitor in its segment: a comfortable, well-equipped car at an affordable price, and room for all the toys.
Likes: A solid, affordable cross-utility vehicle with a high level of standard safety, comfort and convenience features.
Model: Sorento EX V6
Base price: Under $20,000
As tested : N/A
Horsepower: 273 Hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 247 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg city/highway
Comments: Kia will announce pricing closer to the Sorento roll-out in January.
2 responses to “2011 Kia Sorento EX V6”
Can’t wait to see more of this…I’ve been really impressed by the Kias I’ve seen lately. Not cheap by any means, especially compared to similarly-priced cars
Going to share this on facebook for you, I have a large fan base and I think they would enjoy it.
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