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car review

2011 Kia Sorento.Ted Laturnus/The Globe and Mail

The year 2010 was a landmark year for Kia. As well as dramatically increasing its sales and becoming a legitimate contender in the marketplace, it opened a manufacturing plant in the United States – in West Point, Ga. The debut model was the Sorento SUV; although it hit the market in mid-2010, it was tagged as a 2011 model.

There were two engine choices: a 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.5-litre V-6. The V-6 also saw duty in the Sedona minivan and upscale Borrego SUV, while the four-cylinder was also utilized by Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Chrysler – the so-called "world engine."

Power outputs were 175 hp for the four and 276 hp for the six. The four-cylinder was available with a six-speed manual transmission. The other choice was a six-speed automatic with Kia/Hyundai's Steptronic manual shift feature. Brakes were four-wheel disc with ABS, and suspension duties were handled by MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in back.

You could choose from front-drive or all-wheel-drive, with a locking differential for the rough stuff. The locking diff kicked in automatically and redirected power when things started to slip, and the AWD system featured a 50/50 torque split between the front and rear wheels, with a locking differential. One interesting little gas-saving engineering feature debuted this year with the Sorento: when you came to a stop, the transmission automatically and imperceptibly put itself into neutral and then back into gear when you started moving again. This was good for a 12 per cent increase in fuel economy compared to the previous version.

Unlike its predecessor, this iteration of Sorento featured unibody construction. That gave it a more car-like feeling, but at the expense of being less suitable for off-road excursions. Two trim levels were offered with both powerplants: LX and EX, with a Luxury model also available with the V-6.

Inside, you could choose seating for five or seven, which was rare in the compact SUV market three years ago and, depending upon the model, it came with a full complement of conveniences features and modcons. Leather interior, a massive sunroof, iPod connectivity, navi system, dual-zone climate control and all the usual goodies were available. With the seats folded flat, there was 2,052 litres of cargo capacity.

The V-6 model featured a 1,588-kilogram towing capacity, and the four-cylinder AWD version delivered fuel economy of 6.9 litres/100 km in town, compared to 7.7 for the front-drive version.

Transport Canada has four safety recalls on file for the Sorento. These include possibly faulty brake lamps, a potentially flawed automatic transmission that could fail prematurely, leaky rear brake calipers and issues with the interior wiring harness that could lead to an electrical short.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has these as well, plus an alert for a possibly glitchy trailer towing harness that is not "watertight" and could short out and cause an electrical fire.

NHTSA also has 21 technical service bulletins out there for the 2011 Sorento, ranging from front coil springs that can "collect rocks and stones," to noisy automatic transmissions, to issues with the starter solenoid on four-cylinder models. More tellingly, NHTSA has a whopping 256 complaints from owners in its ledgers. A sampling: "after shifting into reverse, the gear erroneously shifted into neutral and failed to respond to acceleration attempts," "clunking noises whenever decelerating" and "while driving 30 mph downhill in icy weather, the vehicle began to slide uncontrollably until crashing into a tree. The vehicle was destroyed. The air bags did not deploy." Lots of unhappy owners out there, by the looks of things.

Although Consumer Reports describes the '11 Sorento as "a good choice," it nonetheless gives it the worst used-car prediction rating possible. Problem areas are the electrical system, body hardware, audio system and the ubiquitous "squeaks and rattles." Owner's comments (and there are plenty of them) include: "having electrical issues again," "ride a little stiff" and "good car for the bucks but needs a few more things."

Market research firm J.D. Power is on the fence, giving the 2011 Sorento "about average" grades for predicted reliability and overall performance and design and quality.

From a base price of $24,000 in 2010, the 2011 Sorento has held up reasonably well. A base four-cylinder version with front-drive is valued in the mid to high teens, while a loaded Luxury V-6 with all the trimmings is in the mid- to high-$20,000 range. AWD models are worth $4,000-$5,000 more than their 2WD counterparts.

Tech specs

2011 Kia Sorento

Original Base Price: $23,995; Black Book: $17,675-$25,175; Red Book: $15,725-$24,375

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.5-litre V-6

Horsepower/Torque: 175 hp/169 lb-ft for four; 276 hp/248 lb-ft for six

Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/7.9 highway (V-6 AWD); regular gas

Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue