Shortly after dropping its compact, first-generation 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 can be equipped with either a part-time or full-time Torque-on-Demand system.
The Sorento comes in LX and upscale EX trims and competes against such SUVs as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
A new five-speed automatic went into 2005 models. At highway speeds, the transmission automatically downshifts to fourth gear when manual mode is engaged. The Sorento meets LEV-II emissions standards. Blacked-out headlights and side step bars are included in the Sport Package, which comes with a manual transmission.
Automatic load leveling has been dropped as an option for the 2006 model year. New alloy wheels replace the prior steel units on LX models.
The Sorento uses body-on-frame construction with a ladder frame that contains nine cross-members. Built on a 106.7-inch wheelbase, the SUV 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 moonroof, alloy wheels, fog lamps and two-tone body cladding.
The Sorento seats up to five people. 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.
The Sorento’s 3.5-liter V-6 generates 192 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a five-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission or a five-speed-manual gearbox. Part-time four-wheel drive features a dashboard knob for shift-on-the-fly operation; the system isn’t 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 doesn’t necessarily beat 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. Steering with a somewhat light feel, the Sorento 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 firm seats are especially comfortable and offer pleasant cushioning and impressive support. Rear-seat space is ample, and the gauges are easy to read.