Call it the United Nations of crossovers.

The Sorento from South Korea is assembled at a plant in West Point, Ga., the first Kia produced in the U.S.

And depending on with whom the crossover might travel, the navigation system offers English, French and Spanish settings.

Sorento is built off a new car-based platform that soon will be shared by the next generation Hyundai Santa Fe. It’s so new it skips 2010 and goes directly to a 2011 model year designation when it goes on sale in January.

Sorento not only has been redesigned, it also has grown, with length expanding 3.2 inches. So Sorento, for the first time, now sports a third-row seat to handle a couple munchkins. It’s also 1 inch wider, perhaps necessitated by Mom, Dad and the kids munching a bit more than usual.

Sorento is offered with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and in base, LX or EX trim.

Other than new body and new features, the big change for 2011 is a new focus on fuel economy. Sorento’s thirsty 3.3-liter, 242-horsepower and 3.8-liter, 262-hp V-6 engines teamed with 5-speed automatics have been replaced by a 2.4-liter, 172-hp 4-cylinder and a 3.5-liter, 273-hp V-6 with a new 6-speed automatic. The base two-wheel-drive model also offers a 5-speed manual.

Thanks to the upgrade, the 2.4-liter 4 offers 21 mpg city/29 highway in 2WD and 21/27 AWD, while the V-6 moves to 20/26 2WD and 19/25 AWD. That’s a significant gain from 15 to 16 mpg city and 20 to 22 highway in the previous V6s.

We tested Sorento EX with the V-6 and all-wheel drive. The V-6 has plenty of energy to run with the pack on the interstate and does so without lots of racket, so you can talk, rather than yell, in the cabin.

The suspension, however, needs a few tweaks. Every time the 18-inch radials roll over tar marks, you hear the slap of the steel belt as well as feel a ripple in the seat of the pants and steering wheel.

For motoring security, stability control is standard. And full-time AWD is a plus for the Snow Belters. Push a button on the instrument panel and you can lock AWD into “low” mode for deep snow, sandy beaches or going farther off-road than the shoulder to reach the mailbox. With off-roading in mind, hill-start control is standard so the vehicle doesn’t slip when getting going on an incline.

To allow for AWD and snow of all accumulations, the vehicle stands high, so high it takes a hefty leg up to get in.

Second-row comfort depends mostly on the height of those up front and how far back they slide their seats, though even those of average height take a chunk out of the space in back. Third row is just plain tough.

The passenger side of the 60/40 split second-row seat folds and flips to open a small aisle to row three, but it’s blocked by the rear wheel well.

Once in the third row, there’s room in the walls for juice boxes and pop cans, but precious little room for heads, legs or knees unless you lie on the seat.

Cargo room behind the third row is so limited you may want to just lower the seat, ending those cramped quarters and making room in back for more than pliable duffel bags or a few groceries.

All four doors have built-in bottle holders (signs warn not to attempt cans). The center console has two cupholders. There is small stowage space under the center armrest, where you’ll find a key fob recharger to keep the push-button keyless ignition working. At the front of the console, Kia pays tribute to techies by housing iPod, auxiliary and USB plugs between a pair of power plugs.

Other nice touches are a fuel-filler door-release button in the driver’s door, a handy storage tray at the front of the center console and pull-out shades in driver/passenger sun visors.

No pricing yet, because it doesn’t go on sale until next month, but the base model probably will start at about $20,000 and the top-of-the-line EX with V-6 about $25,000. Add about $2,000 for AWD.

Our vehicle came with still-to-be-priced options, including a DVD entertainment system with flip-down roof screen, leather seats and a navigation system.

Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at

Tribune Media Services

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