While four-dollar-a-gallon gas nearly killed the sales of large SUVs, it didn’t change the need of many consumers to carry a growing family over long distances in comfort. Only now, they want great fuel economy, too. We know car makers wasted no time in meeting those needs, and this week we’re going to put two of their best solutions side-by-side - the Chevrolet Equinox and the new Kia Sorento. They may call themselves compact crossover utilities, but they both deliver in some very big ways.

Both the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and the 2011 Kia Sorento are all-new unibody designs with impressive style, packaging, and quality. Each is a bit larger than compact crossover stalwarts Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, so they are also likely to appeal to buyers coming out of traditional mid-size SUVs like the Ford Explorer.

We picked the Chevy Equinox as our 2010 Driver’s Choice Best Small Utility. So, when the oh-so-similar Sorento arrived, we wanted to see how this Kia challenger would stack up. And, that’s where we’ll start.

The 2011 Kia Sorento has an attractive, bold shape, and downright breezy styling that is both pleasing and upscale. Power comes from two twin-cam engines: a variable timing 2.4-liter, 175-horsepower 4-cylinder shared with the Forte SX, and a new 276-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. All transmissions are efficient six-speeds-a manual and automatic for the 2.4, and auto only for the 3.5.

Front drive is standard, with single-speed all-wheel drive an option. But, it does include a lockable center differential-a useful feature in deep snow and mud. Also, traction control, Hill Start Assist, and Downhill Brake Assist are standard on all Sorentos.

Since fuel economy is a rising concern, both our crossovers are front drivers with four-cylinder engines, and we chose automatics, as do most buyers. The Sorento has government fuel economy ratings of 21 City and 29 Highway on regular gas. The highway number tops both RAV4 and CR-V. And, our Sorento’s mixed driving loop of 25.5 is just what it should be.

Unfortunately, the price paid for that good mileage is sluggish acceleration. It took a long 10.1 seconds to get from 0 to 60.  Overall, the 2.4 felt breathless and weak. On the handling course, the tuning of the all-independent suspension didn’t feel as car-like as we expected. Stability control kept it tracking well, with only modest front push, but there was also plenty of truckish body roll, and the hydraulic steering was SUV numb. On normal roads, the Sorento felt far more sure-footed. Highway ride is comfortable and quiet. Here, it comes off as ideal for family travel.

Inside, the Sorento has a modern, tech-inspired interior and instrument panel defined by large, overlapping gauges and practical controls. Seat comfort is above average for its class and Bluetooth for cell phones is standard.

The second row has adult-sized legroom with a versatile 60/40 split fold.  And the available 50/50 split-folding third row is adequate for small children. Fold all seats down and the Sorento delivers a generous 72.5 cubic feet of cargo room.  Capping this crossover’s functionality is a reversible load floor accessible by an oversized rear hatch.

Base prices for the Sorento range from $20,790 to $29,690, all with 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is about four inches longer than Sorento. With its two-tier Bow Tie grille and forward-leaning profile, Chevy’s largest volume crossover comes off crisp and purposeful. Both engines are state-of-the-art with variable timing and direct fuel injection. A 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder is standard, and a 264-horsepower 3-liter V6 is optional. The only transmission for each is a six-speed automatic.

Like the Sorento, both front and all-wheel drive setups are available. But while Traction Control and Hill Start Assist are standard here, too, the Chevy lacks a locking center differential.

Equinox clearly takes the prize in fuel economy however. Government ratings are 22 City and 32 Highway on regular. The Highway rating is class best. Our in-house average of 29.3 is equally impressive and 15% better than Sorento.

Plus, straight line acceleration is also quicker: 0 to 60 in 8.7 seconds. There is more engine noise than the Kia, but not enough to be bothersome. Aside from better passing power, the Equinox’s stiffer chassis and nearly invisible stability control made it more confident in corners. Body roll is well-controlled and the electric power steering has good weight and feedback. On the road, ride is just as well-controlled, even over potholes, but it is not as cushy as its rival.

Interior design follows the twin-cockpit theme of the Malibu and Camaro.  Fit and finish are excellent and everything looks upscale. Seats, like the Sorento, are well-shaped and comfortable. 

On Equinox, Bluetooth is an option. But the top two Equinox trim levels do include a rear view camera. On Sorento it’s always optional. The Equinox’s 60/40 split row second row also has more legroom, plus both slide and recline features Sorento lacks. However, Equinox falls nine cubic feet short of Sorento in cargo room at 63.7.

But, for ease of loading, Equinox is the first in its class with the convenience of a power programmable liftgate.

Compared to Sorento, Equinox base prices are higher - $23,360 to $30,715. The powertrain warranty is also for 100,000 miles, but only over five years.

So who wins?  Well, let’s sum it up.  If you want more cargo room, a cushier ride, and more go in deep snow, the Sorento is your crossover. You’ll save a few bucks too. But, for the best combination of fuel economy and overall driving performance, a roomier backseat, not to mention a better roster of available features, you have to go with the Equinox. And, the Chevy is still our best pick too!

But the big news here is that both Equinox and Sorento show carmakers can deliver more efficient, family-comfortable crossover utilities that give up nothing but girth. And no matter how you slice it, that’s real progress.



  • Engine: 2.4-Liter 4-Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 175
  • 0-60 MPH: 10.1 Seconds
  • EPA: 21 MPG City/ 29 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 25.5 MPG
  • 2010 Chevrolet Equinox:
  • 2011 Kia Sorento: