2003 Kia Sorento
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The attractively priced Kia Sorento has many of the best features of midsize sport-utility vehicles, and is the first fairly large sport ute from this South Korean automaker.
The handsome Sorento is mainly aimed at the compact sport utilities. But its size, power, ruggedness and features allow it to butt heads with many midsize sport utilities.
The Sorento is about the size of smaller midsize sport utes such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota Highlander, rather than larger ones in that category such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Ford Explorer.
The prices don't reflect low levels of standard equipment. Even the base Sorento LX has a strong V6, automatic transmission, air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD, heated mirrors and power windows and door locks.
Thus, from the get-go, there's no need to bypass an underpowered base 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
The top-line EX trim adds appealing items such as a power sunroof, upscale sound system, alloy wheels, power driver's seat, remote keyless entry and two-tone exterior body cladding.
As for safety, the Sorento was introduced as the only under-$30,000 sport utility with standard front and rear side curtain airbags for better side-impact protection.
Questionable Resale Value
At least the Sorento promises to have a reasonably long life partly because it features rugged body-on-frame truck construction typical of larger, costlier midsize sport utilities. Many compact sport utes have less substantial car-based unibody construction.
The hood is held open with smooth struts found in more expensive sport utes, instead of a cheap prop rod.
It's generally easy to slide in and out of the quiet interior, where there is plenty of room for four tall adults—or even for five on short trips because the rear-seat area is spacious.
Large controls are easily reached, and gauges can be read at a glance. However, tall drivers with long legs may wish that their seat shoved back a few more inches. At least the ignition switch is on the dashboard so you don't have to grope to find it on the steering column, although the switch is too close to that column.
No Third-Row Seat
The cargo opening is low and wide, and the spare tire is tucked out of the way below the frame.
There are two 4-wheel-drive systems. Both have low-range gearing for tough off-road driving, which is made easier by the Sorento's rugged construction and short body overhangs. One of those systems is for use only on dry roads, but the full-time automatic Torque-on-Demand system can be left engaged on dry roads.
However, the full-time system is offered only for the EX. It comes as part of a $1,830 Luxury Package that includes leather upholstery, simulated wood interior trim, heated front seats, automatic climate control and an AM/FM/CD sound system with an in-dash CD player.
That Luxury Package costs $1,330 for the rear-drive EX, but doesn't contain the Torque-On-Demand system.
Anti-Lock System Recommended
Despite an all-disc brake system, the Sorento has just average braking without the anti-lock system.
The 3.5-liter V6 is noisy when pushed. But it provides 192 horsepower and good acceleration in town and when merging into fast traffic and passing on highways. The sophisticated dual-overhead-camshaft, 24-valve engine works with a responsive 4-speed automatic transmission.
The Sorento is no lightweight at 4,057 to 4,255 pounds, so fuel economy is mediocre: an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 18 on highways with 4-wheel drive and 15 and 20 with rear-drive. But no midsize V6 sport-ute is known for good fuel economy, and only 87-octane gasoline is needed.
Fun to Drive
Kia once was a marginal basic-transportation outfit, but the Sorento shows it can be quite competitive.