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2011 Kia Sorento (Kia)
2011 Kia Sorento (Kia)

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Nine days. Nine days! That's the "turn rate" for the redesigned 2011 Kia Sorento SUV (sport-utility vehicle), according to the Power Information Network (PIN).

If you're in the new-car game, a nine-day turn rate is lightning fast, a blink of the eye. It means vehicles are sitting on the lot for only nine days before being snapped away by buyers.

More Related to this Story

Now any vehicle with a 40-day turn rate is a strong seller. A 30-day rate screams "hot," a 20-day turn rate is red hot and anything under 20 days is sizzling. Under 10 days and dealers are in a sweat trying to meet demand.

Globe Drive's senior writes explains the auto industry, and what it means to you

Honestly, when I had my first look at the Sorento, it seemed to have all the makings of a disaster. So far, it's been anything but. The Sorento seems to have found a sweet spot in the marketplace.

Sure, sure, the Sorento is being moved with up to $3,500 in sales sweeteners, not to mention a dealer discount for the hard-bargaining buyer. But there's more to the story here.

The latest from Consumer Reports (CR), the bible of left brain car shoppers who put a premium on the rational and analytical, says the Sorento with the V-6 engine posted an "Excellent" overall score. It came out on top of a test of four small and mid-sized SUVs with a score of 82, beating two versions of the Santa Fe - V-6 (Excellent at 80), and four-cylinder (Very Good at 73). Nice for Kia to get this CR stamp of approval.

But keep in mind that the Sorento is not yet "recommended" by CR; it's too new for CR to make a judgment about reliability. But there's no denying that Kia has managed to remake the Sorento into a solid performer, with looks that seem to appeal to a fairly young buyer (48 years old on average).

And the Sorento competes where Canadians are busy buyers. Four of the top 10 best-selling light trucks in Canada are small or mid-size SUVs: Ford Escape (No. 6), Honda CR-V (No. 7), Hyundai Santa Fe (No. 8) and Toyota RAV4 (No. 9). All except the CR-V are literally flying off dealer lots based on PIN data.

Of the Sorento's competitors, the latest PIN data says the Escape is the most heavily discounted. According to the pricing service carcostcanada.com, Ford Canada is offering up to $7,500 in sweeteners, plus a dealer discount for the right buyer who pushes hard.

The Escape is a solid enough little truck, but it's fairly aged compared to the hot-selling SUVs below. Remember, Ford gave the Escape an update in 2008/2009 and has been pretty much standing pat since. Meanwhile, the Dodge Journey was introduced in 2009, the Santa Fe was given a facelift for 2010, the Chevrolet Equinox is all-new for 2010 and the Mitsubishi Outlander has just been refreshed this year.

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All of these are family vehicles. Most of today's buyers would likely have opted for a minivan 10 years ago - and a station wagon with faux wood panelling 20-25 years ago. As auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers points out, "this segment has grown rapidly over the last decade moving from only 3.4 per cent of sales (52,000) in 2000 to 21.4 per cent (350,000) 2009."

Since this is a hugely popular place for Canadians to shop, we thought it made sense to take a closer look. We've divided up the Sorento and its key rivals into three groups: "Sizzling Hot" movers, simply "Hot" ones and "Glowing Red." Our groupings are based in PIN turn rate data. We also went digging for details on whatever incentives are at play, based on data from carcostcanada.com and other sources.

Keep in mind that most of the sales sweeteners here are factory-to-dealer incentives; if you want them, you'll need to negotiate for them. And car companies always retain the right to withdraw incentives at a whim.

That said, buyers who head to the dealership armed with solid pricing information and a clear idea of what represents a fair price, can usually muscle their way to a good deal. Just keep in mind that the turn rate on all these suggests there is, for now, no shortage of customers in line behind you.

SIZZLING HOT

2011 Kia Sorento

Price range: $23,995-$37,995

Average transaction price: $33,986

The hot deal: Up to $3,500 in rebates, plus a dealer discount.

Turn rate: nine days

The 2011 Kia Sorento really is "all-new"; this is not marketing spin. The design is a radical improvement over the old Sorento and this is the first Kia built in North America - in the United States at West Point, Ga.

More important, the Sorento is now a car-like unibody SUV, not the clunky old body-on-frame truck that used to be the Sorento.

Kia offers a four-cylinder (175 horsepower) with six-speed manual, as well as a V-6 (276 hp) with automatic. The six-speed automatic is a whopping $2,600 extra on the base model. Two- and four-wheel drive versions are available, too.

This new Kia has (optional) three rows that seat seven, though to sit way in back you need to be pretty small. That's not unusual. The RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander also are available with a third row designed perfectly for Dorothy's Munchkin friends.

It's possible to spend nearly $40,000 on a Sorento, but you can get lots of crossover here for much, much less. Even the base model has plenty of power accessories and features.

If you want to spend extra, you can get a rearview camera with the screen in a small space on the inside mirror. Ford and Honda do this, too. The display is too small to pick out details, but useful to warn you about bikes left in the driveway.

In driving, the suspension is firm and that makes the handling feel sporty. If you like a softer ride, this may not be the rig for you. The six-speed automatic is okay for the segment, but shifts could be quicker and cleaner in everyday conditions.

Inside, the cabin is roomy enough. The red readouts for the instruments look sharp, but can be hard to see if the sunlight hits just so, or you're wearing sunglasses. Less expensive versions have a lot of hard plastic bits inside. All the controls work really well.

Kia has delivered a fine package here, carving out a corner where buyers want a ride that's a bit sportier than the mainstream. So far it's working.

2010 Chevrolet Equinox

Price range: $25,995-$35,070

Average transaction price: $34,768

The hot deal: Up to $4,750 in rebates, plus a dealer discount.

Turn rate: 14 days

Chevy has a thundering hit on its hands with the redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. The old Equinox offered only a V-6 engine, but now there is a base 2.4-litre, direct-injected four-cylinder engine (182 hp). It's a good powerplant and very slick.

But there is more. While a direct-injected V-6 (264 hp) is optional, almost no one needs it. The four-banger is as powerful as the Chinese-made V-6 in the old Equinox, yet GM promises 20 per cent better fuel economy over the previous V-6. It even comes with a thoroughly modern six-speed automatic transmission.

As for styling, this Equinox is a looker, inside and out. With leather upholstery, the cabin is pretty rich. Accent lighting is another highlight and the controls operate smoothly.

But the biggest appeal of all is utility. There is a huge centre console storage area, the rear seat slides fore and aft, and the cargo area is big and flexible.

As for the drive, Equinox may ride on a platform that originally arrived in 2002 with the Saturn Vue, but here the engineers have done some excellent tuning. The steering and cornering were sporty for the segment, and the brakes are strong.

GM has three shifts working flat out to build the Equinox in Ingersoll, Ont. There are good reasons why - why so many are buying.

2010 Toyota RAV4

Price range: $24,595-$34,640

Average transaction price: $32,811

The hot deal: Up to $2,000 in rebates, plus a dealer discount

Turn rate: 18 days

The made-in-Canada RAV4 is spacious, comfortable and easy to drive. Anyone looking for a small-to-mid-size crossover wagon should give it a test drive - especially if you want fuel-efficient V-6 power, a third-row seat or both.

One great strength of the RAV is roomy second-row seating. Another is a huge cargo space with a flat load floor. Build quality is excellent, crash test scores are top-notch and the ride and handling is comfortable and responsive.

Okay, okay, some parts of the cabin look and feel cheap and that side-hinged rear gate gets in the way of curb-side loading. But Toyota has done a good job here.

Of course, Toyota has had some practice at this. The world's No. 1 car company launched the RAV4 some 14 years ago. Some would say Toyota invented the car-based utility wagon segment, in fact. That first RAV was pretty small, though. This version is not.

Toyota offers two engines: four-cylinder engine (179) and the V-6 (265 hp). Go for the V-6 if you can afford it. It has basically the same fuel economy as the four-banger (9.7 litres/100 km city/7.2 highway for the four-cylinder, versus 10.7/7.4 for the V-6).

The RAV is safe, too. In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RAV earned the top rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. It achieved the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.

Inside, the controls are simple and well-placed. There is plenty of storage space and with all the rear seats folded, the RAV can handle more cargo than, say, a bigger Ford Edge. Passenger space is also excellent. The optional third-row seat will handle a pair of kids. The downside is a budget feel to the plastics.

HOT

2010 Ford Escape

Price range: $24,999-$34,549

Average transaction price: $29,550

The hot deal: Up to $7,500 in rebates, plus a dealer discount

Turn rate: 23 days

The Escape is a very good buy, though the last serious upgrade came several years ago. And if you want a compact hybrid SUV, this is where you shop.

The most basic model has a 171-hp four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. Ford sells the Escape with full-time four-wheel drive, too, and with a 240-hp V-6.

The Escape is discounted; there are many newer competitors in the segment. But reliability is good and so are the crash test scores.

The Escape has one thing going for it that is unique in this group: Microsoft's Sync communication and entertainment system is available. It allows for hands-free operation of all sorts of functions.

As for the rest, the interior is spacious, with plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room in both the front and rear seats. Visibility is good, too. The cabin is reasonably quiet at highway speeds, too.

Ford's discounting puts a nice shine on the Escape, but if you want something totally new and fancy, this SUV doesn't fit the bill.

2010 Dodge Journey

Price range: $19,995-$29,895

Average transaction price: $27,593

The hot deal: Up to $3,750 in rebates, plus a dealer discount

Turn rate: 28 days

Three noteworthy things about the 2009 Dodge Journey:

1) The sharp-edged looks scream "I am NOT a minivan nor am I a station wagon" and they work

2) the cabin is festooned with cubbies and storage bins and boxes and this matters

3) the price is right, officially starting at just under $20,000. And then there are the discounts …

Size-wise, the Journey fits in somewhere between the hulking Grand Caravan minivan and the Jeep Patriot SUV. The Journey has three rows of seats and is nicely sized for shopping malls and rink parking lots. You'll have no trouble manoeuvring it in the suburbs and city core. Remember, though, that the Journey's third row is optional; the five-passenger configuration is standard across the lineup.

For power, Chrysler offers two gasoline engines here: 2.4-litre four-cylinder (173 hp) and harnessed to a four-speed automatic transmission and 3.5-litre V-6 (235 horsepower) with a six-speed automatic.

The four-cylinder is powerful enough for commuting and the tow rating is 454 kg. The V-6, while not entirely smooth but certainly gutsy, raises towing capacity to 1,588 kg. I'd recommend the four-banger unless you pull a trailer. (In all cases the trailer tow preparation package costs $175.)

Meanwhile, the cabin has hideaways galore: a double-decker glove box (the upper berth is cooled), a covered dashboard bin, and hidden storage under the front-passenger seat, not to mention a fantastic array of cup holders and smaller cargo holds.

Add in lots of standard features and generous discounting on already low pricing, and the Journey is an interesting package.

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

Price range: $25,999-$35,799

Average transaction price: $31,040

The hot deal: Up to $3,500 in rebates, plus a dealer discount

Turn rate: 29 days

Hyundai has freshened the Santa Fe and what was a good vehicle is now something much better. Sure, the back seat doesn't slide forward and back as some rivals do to let you tailor space to cargo or passengers. And the brakes could feel a bit more solid.

On the other hand, reliability is excellent and crash test scores very good. As is usual in this segment, Hyundai sells the Santa Fe with front- or all-wheel drive. The base engine is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder (175 hp) and the new V-6 is a 3.5-litre (276 hp), up from 3.3. The V-6 gets a standard six-speed automatic transmission, while the four-banger has a six-speed manual as standard, with the six-speed automatic another $1,500.

The Santa Fe is well priced and stylish. The seats are comfortable, the cabin large and there is room for loads of cargo. The materials inside look richer than the pricing would suggest.

No wonder this Hyundai is selling so well.

GLOWING RED

2010 Mitsubishi Outlander

Price range: $25,498-$34,498

Average transaction price: $33,185

The hot deal: Up to $500 available, plus 0.0 per cent financing and a dealer discount.

Turn rate: 32 days

Just look at the Outlander's new nose. It's all Evo and here, surprisingly, it works. I say surprisingly because even though a crossover is a car-based utility vehicle, it's still … well, it's still a utility vehicle.

Inside, well, the doors and the dash get new parts, but this is where the Evo connection goes the Outlander goes away entirely. There is less hard plastic now, but not a lot less. The shapes, though, are less sharp-edged, more smooth and with a bit of flow to them. And that helps.

Meanwhile, the controls inside make sense, including the centrally located rotary knob that manages Mitsu's Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) full-time all-wheel-drive. This device allows drivers to dial in traction assist based on road conditions.

For power, the 3.0-litre V-6 has been boosted 10 horsepower, to a healthy 230. The six-speed automatic can be shifted manually and is a solid unit. To save fuel in the Outlander, Mitsu has added something called the Idle Neutral function. It puts the autobox in neutral when the vehicle is stopped with the brakes applied. This is to save a little fuel.

As for the 2.4-litre four-cylinder, it spins up 168 hp, which is just fine, and a continuously variable transmission helps save fuel. The least expensive ES ($25,498) is sold as a front-driver and it's really quite a useful city wagon.

The Outlander is a combination of aggressive looks, smart technology and family utility. The package is attractive enough to sell well without huge, huge discounts.

Globe Drive's senior writes explains the auto industry, and what it means to you

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