Weidel on Wheels: SUV pair offers handling and toughness

By: Jeffrey Weidel
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A redesigned model for 2011, the folks at Kia are very excited in presenting the new-look Sorento, a crossover sport utility vehicle with some definite upside. While no major redesign accompanies the 2010 Jeep Commander, this is still another SUV coming out with significant changes, most notably becoming the first Jeep to sport a third row. Below is a look at both vehicles: Kia Sorento Residing between Kia’s compact Sportage and the truck-based Borrego, the Sorento will clearly remain the South Korean auto manufacturer’s top-selling SUV. There is a big upside with the 2011 redesign, starting with its move from a truck-based model to a car-based platform. In the past, the Sorento was a good choice among car shoppers primarily because of price. Well, the price remains low -- the base model is around $20,000 -- but there’s much more overall quality. It now offers an adult-accessible third row with the V6 model. The Honda CR-V doesn’t have a third row, while Sorento’s other chief competitor, the Toyota RAV4, has inadequate third-row seating. The Sorento is a fine family-friendly vehicle that has a great warranty (10 years/100,000 miles), offers a comfortable ride, handles quite well, provides a generous amount of standard features and has some decent pep for a four-cylinder. That’s right, the Sorento four-cyliner is no dog. A 2.4-litter with 175 horsepower, don’t expect the Sorento to briskly climb hills, but it will be a very suitable SUV for every-day driving. The upgraded model is a 3.5-liter, V-6 with 276 horsepower that will easily master the hills. A new interior puts the Sorento among the class leaders in terms of design and overall quality of materials. The controls are easy to discern, while the cargo area has tons of room. Jeep Commander The Commander’s rather big, boxy appearance makes onlookers believe it has some definite toughness. And that’s certainly the case with this mid-size SUV. If you want to take an off-road adventure, the Commander is up for the challenge. And the Commander now seats seven people, so the more the merrier when off-roading. Don’t worry too much about safety -- the Commander received a five-of-five rating in frontal collision protection. Probably best to go with the powerful 5.7-liter, V-8 (it replaced last year’s 4.7-liter, V-8 version) if off-roading is your thing. Driven here, the 3.7-liter, V-6 with a mere 210 horsepower is overworked thanks to the Commander weighing in excess of 4,600 pounds. Both Commander trims are offered in either two- or four-wheel drive. The interior features comfortable front-row seating, while the second row is stadium-style twin seats that are somewhat lacking in leg room. The third row is too cramped for adult comfort. Trunk space is limited, but gets quite spacious when the third row goes flat. The Commander does a nice job of cruising along the freeway, but it can’t duplicate that smoothness around town where bumpy roads are not absorbed very well. __________ 2011 Kia Sorento EX Price: $24,795 Power: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower Mileage estimate: 21 mpg city 29 mpg highway Standard features include: Anti-lock disc brakes; stability control; hill-start assist, hill descent control; tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; CD/MP3 audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, USB audio jack; tire pressure monitoring system; rear privacy glass; fog lights 2010 Jeep Commander Sport Price: $33,575 Power: 3.7-liter, V-6 with 210 horsepower Mileage estimate: 14 mpg city; 19 mpg highway Standard features include: Foglights; roof rack; eight-way power driver seat; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; rear parking sensors; six-speaker stereo, CD/MP3 player, auxiliary audio jack; satellite radio; anti-lock disc brakes; traction and stability control with rollover mitigation.