Kia Sorento -- a classy-looking SUV

March 18, 2004
The Kia Sorento is an upscale-looking SUV that has been compared to the Lexus RX 300 and the Mercedes-Benz ML320. At first glance, the Sorento does remind you of the Lexus and, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

It's a push in the right direction for Korea-based Kia, as their vehicles are not known for their styling or performance. The Sorento has the right styling, packaging, and price to make it a winner.

Kia offers two models, the LX and EX. The LX two-wheel drive version has all the basics -- power windows, doors, and locks; air conditioning; an AM/FM stereo with CD player and eight speakers; cruise control; rear-seat armrest; four-wheel disc brakes; manual eight-way adjustable driver's seat; illuminated vanity mirrors; and a 24-valve V6. Add about $2,000 and you can get the four-wheel-drive version of the LX. For a more upscale ride, the EX offers such extras as keyless entry, power driver's seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, alloy wheels, foglights, two-tone paint, HomeLink, CD/cassette stereo with steering-wheel-mounted controls, and a power sunroof. An optional luxury package will also be offered for the EX featuring automatic four-wheel drive, leather upholstery, heated seats, automatic climate control, and a six-disc CD changer.

The Sorento has a four-speed automatic transmission and is powered by a 3.5-liter dual-overhead cam V6 that cranks out 192 hp at 5,500 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 3,000. Considering the vehicle's hefty weight of 4,255 lb, this combination does a nice job of powering the vehicle. Acceleration is smooth and I had no trouble keeping up with traffic or cruising on down the highway. The ride is smooth and comfortable, thanks to an independent front and solid-axle rear suspension, standard front and rear stabilizer bars, and well-weighted steering. Drivers can go the long haul with the Sorento's tall, firm, well-shaped seats, which I found to be very comfortable. Three adults can fit in the rear seat but knee and toe room can be tight, especially if the driver or front-passenger seats are all the way back.

Cabin quality is in the range of a high-priced vehicle. Soft-touch surfaces grace the interior and the thick-rimmed steering wheel has metallic accents that give the Sorento an upscale look. There's plenty of elbowroom, the instrument panel is easy to see, and controls are easily accessible, with the exception of the cruise-control activation button that's located on the lower left side of the dashboard.

On the safety side, the Sorento boasts a five-star rating for side-impact safety. The vehicle comes equipped with four-wheel vented brakes, and antilock brakes are optional. Also included are front and side-curtain air bags, and three-point seat belts and headrests in all positions.

Pros for the Sorento include good performance and build quality, abundance of standard features, and a low price tag. On the downside, however, is mediocre fuel economy -- 15 mpg city/18 mpg highway. Our alpine gray test vehicle was the 4X4 LX model with a base price of $21,300. Options included antilock brakes ($520), alloy wheels ($450), roof rack ($190), and an inland freight and handling charge of $495, bringing the vehicle's total to $22,955. If you're in the market for a SUV, give the Sorento a spin.

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