Shortly after dropping its compact Sportage, Kia introduced a larger, value-priced Sorento sport utility vehicle as a 2003 model.
The midsize Sorento is available with rear- or four-wheel drive. Four-wheel-drive models may be equipped with either a part-time system or a full-time Torque-On-Demand system. The Sorento comes in LX and upscale EX forms and competes against such SUVs as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
A new five-speed automatic goes into 2005 models. At highway speeds, the transmission automatically downshifts to fourth gear when manual mode is engaged. The Sorento now meets LEV-II emissions standards. Blacked-out headlights are included in the Sport Package, which comes with a manual transmission.
The Sorento uses body-on-frame construction with a ladder frame that contains nine cross-members. Built on a 106.7-inch wheelbase, it measures 179.8 inches long overall.
Short front and rear overhangs permit navigation on steep terrain. Ground clearance is 8.2 inches. All models have four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch Michelin tires and a full-size spare tire that stows beneath the body. Additional equipment on EX models includes a power sunroof, alloy wheels, fog lamps and two-tone body cladding.
The Sorento seats up to five occupants. Flip-and-fold 60/40-split rear seats fold to create a flat floor, and cargo space totals 66.4 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded down. Six cupholders and an under-seat storage tray are included.
The well-equipped LX base model has air conditioning, cruise control, an eight-speaker CD stereo, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The EX model adds an eight-way power driver's seat, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, remote keyless entry and a Delphi premium cassette/CD stereo.
Under the Hood
The Sorento's 3.5-liter V-6 generates 192 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a new five-speed-automatic transmission or a five-speed-manual gearbox. Part-time four-wheel drive features a dashboard knob for shift-on-the-fly operation and is not intended for use on dry pavement. Available only on the EX, Kia's Torque-On-Demand four-wheel-drive system operates automatically. Each transfer case includes a Low range. The Sorento can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped.
Side curtain-type airbags protect front and rear occupants. Antilock brakes are optional.
The Sorento can clamber up steep, narrow inclines with barely a hint of strain, and its four-wheel-drive capability makes dirt-road treks easy. Performance is similarly strong on regular pavement, but it's not necessarily better than the competition. Other than some engine blare on hard acceleration and a touch of wind noise at times, the Sorento is quiet.
Handling is a major plus. The Sorento steers with a somewhat light feel, delivering excellent control and satisfying confidence. Ride comfort actually seems better on rough gravel roads than on the interstate because body motion is a little too noticeable on paved surfaces. The taut suspension can overreact to imperfections.
The firm seats are especially comfortable and offer pleasant cushioning and impressive support. Rear-seat space is ample, and the gauges are easy to read.