Kia chose the 2002 Chicago Auto Show as the host site of its newest model introduction for the U.S. market: the 2003 Sorento. The Sorento is a tough, true sport utility vehicle that is significantly larger and more powerful than the Sportage, said Chief Operating Officer Peter Butterfield during the vehicles unveiling. In the summer of 2002, Kia announced that no Sportages would be sold in the U.S. during the 2003 model year, so the new Sorento will be the companys sole SUV.
Rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive (4WD) versions will be available, and the 4WD model will be equipped with either part-time or full-time Torque-on-Demand operation. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine goes under the hood and sends 192 horsepower to a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Launched in South Korea in February 2002, the Sorento should reach dealerships by late September 2002 in LX and upscale EX forms. Like all Kia vehicles, the Sorento will offer appealing features at a moderate price; it is expected to list below $20,000. The Sorento will compete against such SUVs as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
The Sorento will go on sale in the early fall of 2002. Kia saw a 39-percent increase in sales volume during 2001 and has no plans to slow its growth in 2002, Butterfield said. The South Korean company expects to sell more than 50,000 Sorentos per year in the United States and will compete against popular SUVs such as the Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty
The Sorento uses body-on-frame construction with a ladder frame that contains nine cross-members. Measuring 179.8 inches long overall, the Sorento rides a 106.7-inch wheelbase and is 68.1 inches tall. Its track width (the distance between the wheels) is 62.1 inches, which promotes satisfying stability. In contrast, the smaller Sportage had a 104.3-inch wheelbase and a 56.7-inch track width.
Its wheelbase measures 106 inches, and its track width (the distance between the wheels) is 62.1 inches, which promotes satisfying stability. In contrast, the Sportage has a 104.3-inch wheelbase and a 56.7-inch track width, but both Kia models are considered compact SUVs by EPA standards.
Short front and rear overhangs are intended to allow the Sorento to navigate on steep terrain. Ground clearance is just over 8 inches. All models have four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch Michelin tires, a side-opening rear hatch and a full-size spare tire that stows beneath the body. Additional equipment on the upscale EX model includes a power sunroof, alloy wheels, fog lamps and two-tone body cladding; a Luxury Package adds chrome exterior trim to the EX.
The Sorento seats five occupants. Flip-and-fold 60/40-split rear seats fold to create a flat floor, and cargo space amounts to 66.4 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded down. Kia claims the Sorentos 107-cubic-foot interior volume is 7 cubic feet greater than that of the Grand Cherokee. Six cupholders and an under-seat storage tray are included, and the split-level glove box incorporates a map storage tray.
Two trim levels will be offered. The well-equipped LX base model has standard air conditioning, cruise control, an eight-speaker CD audio system, and power windows, door locks and mirrors. Only a few options will be available for the LX.
The EX model adds a power sunroof, an eight-way power drivers seat, a multimeter in the overhead console, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, remote keyless entry and a Delphi premium CD/cassette stereo with 10 speakers. Leather upholstery is optional. An EX Luxury Package includes a 280-watt in-dash six-CD player, steering-wheel audio controls, automatic climate control, leather seats and a leather-wrapped/woodgrain steering wheel.
Under the Hood
Kias 3.5-liter V-6 engine generates 192 hp and 217 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Part-time 4WD features a dashboard knob for shift-on-the-fly operation and is not intended for use on dry pavement. Available only on the EX with the Luxury Package, Kias Torque-on-Demand 4WD system operates automatically. Each 4WD transfer case includes a low range.
An Eaton limited-slip differential that is capable of transferring up to 50 percent of torque between the rear wheels will be available. The Sorento can tow as much as 3,500 pounds, and an automatic-leveling system is available.
Curtain-type airbags protect both front and rear occupants. Antilock brakes are optional.
Kias recent models have been a strong step forward for the company. Kia takes an even bigger stride ahead with the Sorento in its lineup. Apart from its value-oriented price, this SUV is an appealing and highly capable machine, and it is solidly built and tautly ready for action.
The Sorento can clamber up steep, narrow inclines with barely a hint of strain, and its 4WD capability makes dirt-road treks look easy. Performance is similarly strong on regular pavement, but its not necessarily better than the competition. The Sorentos automatic transmission behaves well, but its shifts arent entirely seamless. Other than some engine blare on hard acceleration and a touch of wind noise at times, the Sorento is very quiet.
The SUVs handling is a major plus. The Sorento steers with a somewhat light feel, and it delivers excellent control and satisfying confidence.
Ride comfort actually seems better on rough gravel roads than on the interstate mainly because body motion is a little too noticeable on paved surfaces. The Sorentos taut suspension can overreact to imperfections, so occupants may be tossed around a bit.
The firm seats are especially comfortable and offer pleasant cushioning and impressive support for longer journeys. Rear-seat space is ample. The gauges are ordinary but easy to read, and the interior is well fitted with storage spaces. On the other hand, the woodgrain trim that is included in the Luxury Package adds little to the interiors appeal.
The Sorento is a very pleasant vehicle and is easy and enjoyable to drive. Despite the slew of new SUV models for 2003, Kia should have little trouble luring buyers.
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