Ya know, I love animals. Dogs in particular, but I do love most any furry friend. I’ve been a long standing German Shepherd guy. Unfortunately, my 2.5 year old German Shepherd passed away last June of a horrible disease, so whenever I see a friendly dog, I’ve got to stop and say hi. Maybe that’s a little weird of me, but oh well.

I think all of you have noticed by now that I have a white Siberian Tiger in the logo of RawAutos. The answer for this is that I’m not really sure why it’s there. When I started this site many years ago, I just thought it’d be cool. I love tigers, but Siberian tigers are even better…. they’re more raw. See what I did there?

Anyway, I bring all of this up because I borrowed a brand new, fully loaded Kia Sorento to drive down to South Carolina and pick up a 6 week old Doberman Pinscher puppy one of my best friends’ purchased just a few weeks prior. I had to go to Las Vegas for CES, then to Detroit for the NAIAS, and finally, back to North Cack. We’d be leaving two days later. I was psyched. Not only had I not had a dog for months, I was happy to play with a puppy. The Sorento was to serve as the perfect puppy hauler for the occasion. Why we needed such a large SUV for something smaller than my iPad -at the time- was beyond me. But hey, this is America, Jack. The land where bigger is better and where everything bigger is safer. Okay, maybe not so much the last thing.

So I’m in Vegas and about to go to bed, only to get a weird phone call from my friend Tom saying that there’s been an emergency with the breeder and he needed to go pick up Rio (named for Rio De Janeiro, the birthplace of Tom) the following morning. Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed. Why? Because not only did I have a Kia Sorento sitting at my house for when I came back, I also had no cool reason to test it. Back to the drawing board.

Fast forward a couple of days after I’m back, I’m with some friends and they start likening the Sorento EX AWD to something similar to an Acura. *Light bulb* I’ve got it… Why not put black gorilla tape over all of the Kia and Sorento badges on and inside the car and video tape people taking a look at it inside and out for RawAutos? Brilliant, I know. I’ve got a short window, though, because the weather is crappy. So I go the best day I can to a local mall… only to be turned away for soliciting by the local security guards. Great… now I’ve got no way to test the new Kia Sorento in a unique and interesting way for Kia. But that’s okay, because we’ll get through this.

I had the decent enough idea to ask family and friends what they thought of the car inside and out when I was taking them for rides, and it’s thanks to them that I was able to bring you this review.

You all know what I think of older Kias, so I’ll spare you my humor on them. However, Kia is gaining strength in a way that the Japanese automakers started doing around the late ’90s and early 2000s. Proof of this is my recent review of the 2011 Kia Sportage.

With an as-tested price right at $34,925, this Sorento came equipped with navigation, rear-view backup camera, bluetooth, satellite radio, iPod adapter, heated leather front seats, 3-row seating (7 passenger), hill descent, locking differential, along with the standard bits you’d expect. When you look at the Kia Sorento you’re kind of taken aback at how big it looks compared to cars like the Honda Pilot. It seems to be bigger, but actually has a little less cargo room, but for a cheaper price and better fuel economy. A base I-4 manual transmission Sorento will start you off at $20,995, while a base Pilot will pick up at just a tick over $28 grand. Granted, you can only option a V6 with the Honda, while a 4-cylinder with 175 hp and 169 lb-ft of torque is standard fare in the Kia. But still, even when you move up to a base V6 model (276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque), you’re still almost 3 grand cheaper with a price of $25,395. Impressive. That’s a win for the Kia Sorento.

With as nice as that is, check this one out: With the Sorento, you can get as high as 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway with the 4-banger; with the V6 you can get 18-20 city and 24-26 mpg highway, depending on whether or not you choose 2 or 4-wheel drive. The Honda? Well that’ll only tick 23 mpg highway with 2WD or 22 with 4WD. And what does it get in the city you ask? Well, 16-17, again, depending on 2 or 4-wheel drive. Another win for Kia’s underrated Sorento.

But sadly, I believe that’s where the winning streak ends. You see, the Kia is very comfortable and quiet on almost any road surface. It handles well, has a similarly phenomenal turning radius as the Sportage, but it’s a little dull on the interior. The evening lighting package is rather annoying for how reddish-orange it is. It’s not subtle at all. And the radio, again like the Sportage, is such a let-down. Call quality using the in-car Bluetooth is good enough, but lacks good quality. So most phone calls sound fuzzy from inside the car. The iPod adapter, as is in the Sportage, is fantastic. It’s quick and seamless without any hesitation. The only I had with the Sorento was that when cycling through my lists of songs, artists, etc. it would lock up and stop recognizing the iPod, prompting you to unplug and then plug it back in. An annoying process that happened quite a few times. As for the build quality of the car, it’s pretty good. Not Honda great, but good enough to compete. The interior is a little bleh, and nothing great to touch or feel. However, it works, and for the price, it works well.

Those are where the complaints stop, luckily, because the Sorento drives very well. Just like the Sportage I drove a few weeks ago, it’s easy to get in and just go. It had push button start, so you never had to take the keys out of your pocket. And once inside the car you’ll never really have a shortage of areas to put stuff. With 10 cup holders, you’ll always be the person taking everyone to lunch in your Sorento; and everyone will be comfortable and happy. Granted, if they’re sitting in the third row, I hope they will be children or young teenagers, because even though I’m flexible, I could fit, but it’s more amusing to watch someone my age and size sit back there than it is nice for them.

One thing I’ll always try and talk about are the ease of putting the seats up and down. You see, having owned LOTS of GM SUVs, I can attest to the seats being the biggest pain to fold, stow and take out of the cars. The third row in the Sorento folds completely flat and is very easy to pull back up, as it’s very lightweight. I know mothers and pregnant women will appreciate that. And I’m not saying that as a joke, because when I was selling Mazdas, quite a few pregnant women came in to take a look at the CX-9 (it was the Motor Trend SUV of the year for 2008, rightfully so). They were all curious how easy it was to fold the seats and lift them back up while pregnant and holding children, bags, etc. And they were all amazed at how simple and little effort it exerted on them. The Kia Sorento is no different. Just pull on the straps located at the back of the 3rd row and push forward. When you want to bring them back up, they’re only a few pounds, so lifting them with the strap is no real force needed. The second row folds by pulling up on the plastic tabs on the top shoulder areas of the row. You can opt to fold one seat of the third row, or both. With the middle seats, you can either fold the one seat, the bench seat, or both sets. And when you need to load cargo, it’s easy peazy lemon squeezy. Three of my sister’s kids hopped into the Sorento and there were no issues with them, they enjoyed the car and the ride.

So there you have it. The 2011 Kia Sorento is actually better than its competition from Honda. Sure the interior could be a little nicer without so many plastics, but for a price of $34,925, it’s very comfortable and well suited for almost any job. But while the Sorento beats out the Honda, it’s still second to the Mazda CX-9 who is the king of this market.

[Photos by Corey Privette]