Kia prides itself on a tradition of offering the public vehicles with loads of content for very little money; it's a formula that has worked well for the company and, along with one of the best warranties in the industry, is the major reason for the huge upswing in Kia sales over the last two years. When Kia first arrived in the U.S., its entire lineup consisted of one car, the Sephia, and one SUV, the Sportage. Today, the Kia line touts 5 cars, one minivan, 1 mini SUV and an all-new midsized SUV named Sorento.
Though the SUV field has grown crowded, the Sorento truly differentiates itself from its competitionprimarily in the area of bang-for-the-buck. Where most entry-level SUVs offer a 4-cylinder engine, the Sorento comes standard with a 192-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Where most SUVs have to be stripped to their bare essentials in order to keep the base price as low as possible, the Sorento comes standard with such amentias as air conditioning, rear defroster, power door locks, power windows, illuminated entry, rear privacy glass, dual heated outside mirrors, front and rear side-impact airbags, cruise control, rear wiper/washer, tilt wheel and an AM/FM stereo with CD; all this for a base price of just $19,995and that includes destination! The 4x4 version comes in a just under $22,000.
The Sorento comes in two trim levels, the LX and EX. Both trims can be ordered with 4-wheel drive and both come standard with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Though the LX model described above seems to have just about every creature comfort you could imagine, the EX adds in such luxury touches as power adjustable driver's seat, auto dimming rearview mirror, AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD, power glass moonroof, body cladding and alloy wheels. Options include leather seating, automatic air conditioning, heated seats and a 6-disc CD changer. So as you can see, on paper, both the LX and EX look pretty impressive. But how they perform in the real world is what matters, so here is what you can expect.
On the road, the Sorento feels as solid and rattle free as the best from Japan and the U.S. The steering feel is light, but controlled, without too much play in the steering wheel. The Sorento's V6 is a strong engine that offers up plenty of low-end grunt, in this case perhaps too much. You'll find you have to be very gentle with the accelerator pedal or run the risk of chirping the rear wheels each time the Sorento launches itself from a dead stop. You'll also notice that upon hard acceleration, a slight shudder passes through the Sorento's body. This is most likely driveline shudder caused by the rear differential lifting up as the engine's torque is transferred down the driveshaft. It's not dangerous and is only momentary, but it is noticeable.
The Sorento's suspension is a bit soft for an SUV and the vehicle experiences a bit more front-end bounce then we'd have expected. You'll notice the soft spring/strut setup upon hard braking and acceleration as the Sorento exhibits a liberal dose of dive and squat. Oddly, the Sorento's handling is not affected in the same way, displaying good cornering ability with little lean or body role.
Interior comfort gets high marks. You'll find the seats to be firm and form fitting and all the controls and instruments to be clearly marked and placed within easy reach. We'd like to see more backlit buttons, such as the redundant audio controls on the steering wheel and the sunroof tilt and slide switches in the overhead console, but we also understand these items would begin to push the Sorento price higher and higher. There is ample legroom for rear seat passengers and a good amount of cargo space behind the second row seat. In fact, on paper, the Sorento boasts more passenger volume than the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota Highlander.
Safety is a primary concern for most family-oriented SUV owners, so Kia has equipped every Sorento with three-stage front air bags, front and side impact airbag curtains and pretensioners and force limiters on all seatbelts. The Sorrento features headrests at all seating positions and includes a rear three-point center lap belt.
With its combination of looks, roominess, power and an unbeatable base price, the Kia Sorento is definitely a must-see vehicle for anyone shopping this segment. Better hurry, before the word gets out.