Some of my most unpleasant automotive experiences have been behind the wheel of Kias, made in Korea and built with all the integrity and durability that suggests.
After all, Kia’s reputation is its bargain basement price, not rock-solid reliability.
So I couldn’t help but be impressed by how dramatically Kia has improved after spending a week with the new Kia Sorento SUV. This is a vehicle whose styling was mistaken for a Lexus on a couple of occasions. It is equipped well for the money and feels more solid than any Kia I’ve ever encountered With a sticker that starts at just $19,500 for a two-wheel-drive Sorento LX to $24,100 for a top-of-the-line 4WD Sorento EX, this mid-size SUV seems like a real buy. After all, most other manufacturers offer compact crossover SUVs in this price range.
The interior is lined in leather and wood trim. The attractively styled dash has all the controls where you’d expect to find them.
In addition to cupholders in the center console, each door contains bottle holders molded into the map pocket. The center console also has dual cell phone holders, while the driver’s door has a remote release for the hatchback. There’s even a felt-lined coin holder in the dash.
Overhead, there’s storage space for your sunglasses. Four 12-volt power points, dual front and side airbags, rear wiper and washer are standard, along with cruise control, an AM/FM/CD audio system and the usual power windows, locks and mirrors. And that’s just on the base LX.
Step up to the EX and you’ll also get a power sunroof, alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, speed-sensitive power steering and a Homelink garage door opener.
So you get a lot of value content-wise. But that’s to be expected in a Kia. So what is it like to drive?
Firing up the 3.5-liter V-6, it seems to have enough power to move this Kia with gusto. Mustering up 192 horses, the silky-smooth four-speed automatic transmission made an impressively smooth and powerful drivetrain. All the power resulted in fairly dismal fuel economy, yielding just 15 mpg including highway driving.
Four-wheel-drive is automatically engaged, although the four-wheel-drive low mode is available for the rough stuff. A rotary switch to the left of the steering wheel engages the different modes.
Yes, this is a real SUV, with body-on-frame construction. So it can truly go off-road, unlike most of its competitors.
The downside to all this sophistication was a mixed bag when it comes to handling. The suspension pounds stiffly over bumps. Yet the body is softly sprung, so body lean comes on quickly and strongly. The chassis doesn’t feel solid when traversing craters, and the numb power steering does little to inspire confidence.
That is what you give up by settling for a Kia Sorento.
Otherwise, the seating was comfortable, with buckets up front and a rear b ench that was fairly comfortable. A third row isn’t offered. The rear seats fold down easily and the headrests do not have to be removed to complete the task.
So, while the Kia Sorento is impressive when it comes to standard equipment and price, its weak point is its ride and handling. That’s where the competition excels.
Still, this is a big improvement over many of Kia’s past products and went a long way towards banishing my negative feeling towards Kia.