It might be easy to see Kia as an overnight success, but that success has come as the result of some very careful planning. Take the 2011 Kia Sorento for example. On the surface, it's just another midsize crossover SUV in a crowded field of competitors. But a closer look shows that there's more to the newly redesigned Sorento than meets the eye.

 

The right size

With three rows of seats and an available V6 engine, it seems like the Sorento might stack up well against the Toyota Highlander. In reality, the Highlander is larger and more expensive than the Sorento, so maybe the Sorento is more of a Toyota RAV4 competitor. Well, here's the part where Kia is playing their cards just right with the Sorento; it's actually priced slightly less than the RAV4 but is a little bigger. The Sorento is also bigger than the popular Honda CR-V compact SUV, and like the RAV4, the Sorento has a third row seat. However, the Sorento's slightly larger overall size means that third row is more comfortable than similar seating you'll find in the RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander GT.

To make the most of the available cargo space, the second row of seats fold down in a 60/40 split, while the third row folds with a 50/50 split. When all seats are folded down, the Sorento has about as much usable space as its competitors.

The interior materials are good and clearly a step up from the previous Sorento. The optional leather is soft, and both front and rear seats are comfortable. There are a few hard plasticky bits, but they're disguised well and the interior is actually attractive with most controls being well placed. When finished in all black, the dash and interior can look rather stark, but opt for the lighter color and there's a warmth to the cabin that's unexpected given the Sorento's $20,000 entry price. Splashes of chrome trim and an attractive steering wheel with plenty of quality buttons add to the Sorento's deceptively upscale look.

 

No longer a truck

The Kia Sorento was completely redesigned for the 2010 model year. The previous model was truck-based, which meant it was great off-road but the on-road feel wasn't ideal. Now, the Sorento has car-based underpinnings and that means a more car-like ride and sharper handling. It's quiet on the highway, and feels as smooth and sedate as a typical minivan. The interior is comfortable and compared to the RAV4, the Sorento has a little more hip and shoulder room.

The Sorento offers a choice of two engines, a 2.4-liter inline four cylinder and a 3.5-liter V6. The smaller engine makes 175 horsepower and it feels adequate around town. The V6 makes 274 hp, nearly 100 more than the four cylinder, so the difference in power is noticeable. The V6 moves the Sorento from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 7.5 seconds. Opt for the 2.4-liter engine and that same exercise will take about 2.5 seconds longer, something you'll surely notice when entering a highway. Combined fuel economy for the four cylinder is estimated at 24 miles per gallon, but that number drops to 22 miles per gallon for the V6 with front-wheel drive. If you want the V6, you'll have to pay for the more expensive EX trim, as it is not offered in the base model or lower trim levels.

Even base models come nicely equipped with features like air-conditioning, Bluetooth, USB port, satellite radio and a fully adjustable steering wheel. The EX provides nearly a full luxury experience with 19-inch wheels, dual zone climate control and push button start. A rear-view parking camera, navigation and a 10 speaker Infinity sound system are some notable options. Throw every option you can think of at the 2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 and you'll barely top $30,000. The SX model includes most options as standard and has sportier suspension, it costs $32,000.

 

It might seem like the Kia Sorento is an overnight success, but the truth is that its just plain good. By giving it just the right proportions, dimensions, power, price and equipment, Kia has positioned the Sorento as an alternative to both larger and smaller crossovers and SUVs. Despite its medium size and high-end options, the Sorento can be had for about the same price as most competitors' compact models. This combination of value and just right sizing make the 2011 Kia Sorento very compelling.

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Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. An automotive writer and presenter for more than 12 years, he's contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Edmunds.com, Fox Business, Speed TV and The Today Show.

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