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2012 Kia Sorento Road Test Review - Road & Travel Magazine's 2012 SUV Buyer's Guide

2012 Kia Sorento Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 SUV Buyer's Guide - Road & Travel's Top 10 Picks

Acura RDX

Honda Pilot

Buick Enclave

Hyundai Veracruz

Ford Explorer

Subaru Tribeca

Vying for attention in a crowded field can be a challenge. Vying for attention in newbie dress can be even more demanding. In its second year following a major refreshing, the Kia Sorento SUV for 2012 includes a lot to ensure it doesn't get lost in the pack. And for a midsize sport utility entry, that means getting the balance of mechanical and creature comfort amenities in just the right proportions.

Here is a midsize utility vehicle with the three rows of seating often needed by growing families, with enough oomph to dominate the road even when weather is bad, enough comfort for extended travel, and enough style to get more than a second glance. Add to that an attractive entry price and it shows why the Sorento should get its share of buyer interest in the waning days of the 2012 vehicle model year.

In a landscape where many entries can have a similar utilitarian appearance, Sorento, with a car-like rather than truck style structure is an immediate eye-catcher that doesn't get lost in the crowd. Its bold front-end, with wraparound grille merging into headlamp housings blends a sweeping beltline that flows rearward and continues into the rear liftgate. Deep set sport lamps and air intake in the front fascia complete the dominating look. Roof rails enhance the sporty character. A deep side scoop lends definition to the appearance in profile.

On road, the Sorento has a steady command that insures a secure driving experience even without available all-wheel instead of front wheel drive. That experience is boosted by both four and six cylinder powerplants. Off-roading we don't really recommend, at least not the serious grunt variety. Think more of going over a grassy stretch to reach a summer cottage or for extra lawn parking at a house party.  This is one vehicle that doesn't claim a wilderness-taming talent, although three different powertrains give a good range of power options.

The 2012 Kia Sorento comes in three versions, the X, EX and SX. Power for the X or EX comes from three engine choices, each paired with a six-speed Sportmatic transmission, other than a base model with manual. They are a 2.4-liter, 175-horsepower four, an advanced 191-HP four (rated at 32-MPG combined city/highway miles) and a 276-HP 3.5-liter V6. The top-line SX comes only with the V-6. All models can get optional all-wheel drive with locking center differential. That, says Kia, provides an even power distribution at low speeds and offers better control when roads are slick.

Inside, an attention getter is a somewhat undersized third row of seating, a necessary compromise considering the Sorento does not have the overall exterior dimensions of larger sport utilities. Forget an adult riding back there. It's a kid’s caboose at best. But those not needing the extra transport capability can choose a five-seat version instead, for more cargo room and fewer elbow-room complications.

Safety features on all models include the expected full complement of airbags, plus front seat active head rests. In addition to stability control, high tech safety systems include hill start assist control and downhill brake control, features that prevent backward slide and maintain control on downhill grades.

While bargain base pricing for a three-row SUV starts at $21,195 (base, front drive with six-speed manual) and tops out at $34,095 (top-line SX), factory-installed options such as the  $2,000 Limited Package with navigation (standard with SX) can up that total. As expected, Kia's long-standing 10-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty program also applies to the Sorento. We expect that could be a deal maker for many consumers.

For more info on Kia brands, click here.