The new Sorento looks a lot like an Acura MDX
or a Lexus RX300, yet a fully loaded Sorento sells for a price about $10,000 less than
those worthy vehicles. And compared to the SUVs in the Sorento's price range, it is a very
Kia is no newcomer to the SUV market. The Kia Sportage practically
founded the small SUV segment nearly 10 years ago. However, the Sportage, despite its
cuteness and apparent ruggedness, felt less refined than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4
that followed it. Now, the Sportage takes a well-earned rest for the 2003 model year,
leaving the larger Sorento to itself in the SUV section of the Kia showroom until the 2004
I found my test Sorento parked next to an RX300 and was astounded at
the design similarities. The sweep of the fenders, sharply defined headlight area, and
high tail and greenhouse make the cars look like brothers. The door handles are almost
identical. Kia has truly made it to the majors.
That doesn't mean that the Kia and Lexus are identical, but it was
hard to find anything about the Kia to pick on. The body takes a little risk at the rear
with its upturned lower taillamp line, but everything else is a pleasing blend of rounded
forms with today's trendy edges. The effect is one of substantial luxury, a quality not
historically associated with the Kia brand.
The interior offers some surprises. The matte finish surfaces look
anything but cheap, and the brushed metal trim on the steering wheel and shifter base is a
delight to the hand and eye. The black and chrome Kia logo on the steering wheel is
perfect. The metallic circles inside the gauge needles convey Audi successfully. The metal
threshold plates add elegance to the doorways and should wear well.
Kia's petroleum-based wood has improved substantially, but it's
still not the real thing. But do you ever get genuine timber in a $20,000 car?
In back, the window shade-style cargo cover moves in tracks, a
welcome change from some others that are difficult to close quickly or evenly. There is a
handy storage compartment under the back floor. A sturdy handle on the rear hatch makes
pulling it down easy.
The Sorento gets a full 3.5 liters worth of V6 engine under the hood
for motivation. Despite being 15 percent larger in displacement than the Lexus' 3.0-liter
V6, it puts out a modest 192 horsepower to the Lexus' 220. The Acura MDX gets an
eye-opening 260 horsepower from its 3.5-liter engine. I found that the 192 horses were
plenty for all occasions, but the RX300 beat it in fuel economy, with 19 city, 23 highway
versus 15 city, 20 highway for the Kia.
On the road, the Sorento glides along with fluidity and confidence.
In four-wheel-drive models, Kia provides a choice of a full-service torque-on-demand
system with a two-speed transfer case or completely automatic four-wheel-drive, like the
Lexus and Acura. Two-wheel-drive is standard and perfectly fine for normal driving.
Like Honda, Kia offers its Sorento in two levels, a well equipped
(LX) and very well equipped (EX). The base LX model includes automatic transmission,
eight-speaker AM/FM/CD system, power windows and locks, cruise control, air conditioning,
privacy glass, and more. The upscale EX version adds a long list of extras, such as alloy
wheels, fog lights, a power moonroof, an integrated roof rack, a 10-speaker
AM/FM/CD/cassette audio system with steering wheel controls, auto-dimming rear view
mirror, and keyless entry. In the EX you also get leather on the steering wheel, the
Homelink system, a power driver's seat, and a two-tone exterior.
To take the uplevel EX even higher, a Luxury Package adds a list
starting with heated seats, automatic headlamps, and automatic climate control. Pricing
for the Sorento runs from the base 4x2 LX at just $19,500 to $24,100 for the EX and about
$26,000 for the EX with the Luxury package. That's the loaded condition I found myself in
with my test unit, and I liked it.
One feature with which the Kia simply towers over its rivals is its
warranty plan: 10-year or 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, five-year or
60,000-mile limited basic warranty, and five-year or 100,000-mile anti-perforation
warranty. You also get a five-year unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan.