2012 Kia Sorento Driving Impressions

The Kia Sorento rides smoothly and handles well. It's relatively quiet on the road and feels sturdy underway.

The suspension is nicely tuned to muffle and damp pavement irregularities. On smooth curves when driving a bit more aggressively, the Sorento feels agile and easy to control. Much of this is thanks to Kia's firm, spot-on steering effort, the independent rear suspension, and the rigid unibody construction.

Steering is power-assisted but isn't too light: It requires the driver to make forthright moves to left or right so there's no wandering or numbness of any kind. First-class.

We found the standard four-cylinder engine adequate, though not exciting. This old-school, port-injection 2.4-liter engine is EPA-rated rated 21/29 mpg and generates 172 horsepower.

The new 191-hp 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder produces 10-percent more power than the base engine and slightly better fuel economy. More telling are the torque numbers: The base engine peaks out at 169 pound-feet at 3750 rpm; the GDI ups this only 7 percent, to 181 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. In short, it appears as though the GDI may deliver more goods but it has to rev higher and work harder at delivering them. We suspect its most desirable virtue will be its improved fuel economy: 22/32 EPA-estimated City/Highway mpg on front-drive models, which is as good as our previous benchmark, the four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox.

The V6 engine makes the Sorento feel crisp and energetic. A Sorento V6 may be the quickest SUV in its class. Rated at 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm, it delivers ample acceleration performance handy when merging onto the freeway in fast traffic. Fuel efficiency drops to an EPA-rated 18/24 mpg with 4WD, 20/26 mpg with 2WD. That's slightly better than the Chevrolet Equinox, however.

The 4WD models use full-time all-wheel drive, which makes them excellent all-weather alternatives.

The four-wheel disc brakes of the Sorento brought it to a firm halt from highway speed with good controllability. We found the nose dives down under heavy braking, but the vehicle was stable in panic braking, and on dry pavement the anti-lock brakes worked appropriately.

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