For '03, Kia, that surprising Korean company, introduced an all-new vehicle, the Sorento. Bigger in size than the Sportage, the Sorento sports a 3.5L V-6 that puts out 192 hp at 5,500 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. This five-passenger SUV is built on a full ladder frame that features nine crossmembers for maximum strength. Suspension consists of IFS/double wishbones with coil springs up front and a solid-axle/five-link/coil system out back. Steering is a power-assisted rack-and-pinion system and brakes are discs at every corner. Compared to the Sportage, the Sorento is bigger, more powerful and more refined.
What we liked
Probably the biggest surprise to our judges was the Kia's wheel-ability. Somehow, the Sorento would always find traction, and as a result, it was able to climb over most obstacles we pointed it toward. The Sorento has a limited-slip rear diff, but this rarely would engage, as there was hardly ever any wheelspin. Most of us were just left scratching our heads wondering how the Kia found traction. It's that effective, at least in part thanks to its excellent Michelin tires.
Another surprise was how the Kia handled twisty pavement--it did so with ease. The Sorento was a joy to push hard through the corners. Aiding the Sorento in the twisties was its rack-and-pinion steering providing excellent feel and precision. Our judges also liked the brake-pedal feel of the four-wheel disc brakes, which offered good feedback and made the brakes easy to use. Our team of judges also approved of the willing, revvy engine.
What we didn't like
Probably biggest on everyone's gripe list was the Sorento's ride. Whether it was on the trail or the highway, the Sorento was just a bit too stiff. Its suspension did not want to absorb small impacts, transferring them instead to its occupants. This made for a busy, unsophisticated ride, regardless of the terrain.
Another complaint was the Sorento's low height. Most of the time the Kia's underside was hitting something on the trail, as it just did not have the height needed to clear most trail obstacles. Unearthly grinding and scraping noises could be heard as the Sorento dragged itself across the trail. An unseemly amount of engine, road and wind noise also made its way into the interior of the Kia. It just was not as quiet as the other vehicles on the test, but to be fair, it was also one of the least expensive. A young cacophony of squeaks and rattles also developed on the inside of the Sorento over the course of our test.
Check It Out If:
You're looking for an honest, basic 4x4 SUV that will fit into a tight budget.
Avoid It If:
You need a bit of room--the Sorento is the smallest of this bunch.
The Short Version:
Smooth, willing V-6 engine. Nimble chassis, especially on curvy pavement. Surprisingly capable in the dirt. Not enough low-range-ratio. Comes wearing high-end Michelins, a good thing.
Just because the Kia finished last in this strong group of vehicles does not mean we aren't fans. It isn't a perfect vehicle--which of them is?--but it does offer good value.