Vehicle Overview
Shortly after dropping its compact Sportage, Kia introduced a larger, value-priced Sorento. The Sorento is “a tough, true sport utility vehicle,” said Peter Butterfield, Kia’s chief operating officer, during the vehicle’s unveiling.

Rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions are available. The four-wheel-drive models may be equipped with either part-time or full-time Torque-On-Demand operation. The Sorento comes in LX and upscale EX forms and competes against such SUVs as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.

Few changes, including a newly available manual gearbox and metallic interior accents that replace woodgrain in the previous model, are on tap for the 2004 Sorento. A new Sport Package features side step bars, a roof rack, alloy wheels and other extras.

The Sorento uses body-on-frame construction with a ladder frame that contains nine cross-members. It rides a 106.7-inch wheelbase and measures 179.8 inches long overall.

Short front and rear overhangs permit navigation 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 EX model includes a power sunroof, alloy wheels, fog lamps and two-tone body cladding.

The Sorento seats five people. 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 Sorento has 107 cubic feet of interior volume. 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 audio system, 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 CD/cassette stereo. Leather upholstery is optional.

Under the Hood
Kia’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine generates 192 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission or the new five-speed-manual unit. 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 as much as 3,500 pounds, and an automatic-leveling system is available.

Side curtain-type airbags protect front and rear occupants. Antilock brakes are offered as optional equipment.

Driving Impressions
The Sorento can clamber up steep, narrow inclines with barely a hint of strain, and its four-wheel-drive capability makes dirt-road treks look easy. Performance is similarly strong on regular pavement, but it’s not necessarily better than the competition. The automatic transmission behaves well. Other than some engine blare on hard acceleration and a touch of wind noise at times, the Sorento is quiet.

Its handling is a major plus. The Sorento steers with a somewhat light feel and delivers 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 Sorento’s firm seats are especially comfortable and offer pleasant cushioning and impressive support. Rear-seat space is ample, and the gauges are easy to read.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for;
Posted on 8/27/03