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2003 Kia Sorento Road Test

By John Heilig  
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $18,000 to $25,000 Mid-sized SUV
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a competent mid-sized SUV at a bargain basement price
Comparable models in this class: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda Tribute, Saturn VUE, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4

Like most Americans, my first exposure to Kia was with the Sportage small sport utility vehicle. Last fall I had the opportunity to get a taste of driving the new Sorento medium-size SUV on some ski trails at Jack Frost Mountain (not the best situation for a first-time drive) and was impressed with the way the vehicle handled the rutted downhills and often muddy uphills. I admit to some prejudices, but only big ol' Murrican SUVs are supposed to be good off road, except for those overpriced furrin-made ones.

Now I've had the opportunity to drive the Sorento over normal roads, in snow and ice, and give it a day-to-day driving test - and I'm still impressed. Kia has taken all the experience it gained form the Sportage and "super sized" it to a mid-size. The translation has gone well.

Sorento is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that is rated at a modest 192 horsepower. This is a rating I'd expect from a 3.0-liter V6, so it's conservative. The torque rating of 217 lb. ft. at 3,000 rpm indicates to me that Kia was more interested in that side of the equation than on pure speed. Torque is what gets you up hills, while horsepower is what makes you go faster.  In a sport ute, I'll take the torque.

Power (or torque) reaches the wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with a shifter on the floor. There's nothing amazing about this either. It's what you'd expect from the vehicle and the class, and it's what you get. When not in 4WD mode, the Sorento is a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

Sorento has decent size as well. Front seat passengers were comfortable, and the passengers we transported in the rear had no complaints about legroom, one of the biggest complaints one normally hears in a truck. In addition, the seats were comfortable, and that's a complaint we hear more often - uncomfortable seats.

Behind the seats is a normal complement of storage space. Kia quotes 31.4 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seat back up and 66.4 cubic feet with the rear seat back down. That's about normal for the class. We had a shade to cover anything we put back there as well.

As I said earlier, we had a chance to drive the Sorento in snow and ice. With my luck in scheduling cars, I often get the sport utility vehicles in warm summers when there are few opportunities to check out the 4WD. This time there were opportunities. I used 4WD to get out of my driveway and get down the road in the plowed streets. There were a few parking lots that weren't as well plowed, but that wasn't a problem for the Sorento. In all, the vehicle did everything I asked it to do, or needed it to do.

Sorento is built on a ladder frame with nine crossmembers, making for a rigid structure. The front suspension uses double wishbones, while the rear uses five links and coil springs and struts with a stabilizer bar, just like the front.

Styling of the Sorento is pleasant. There are no ugly lines as there is a concession to as much aerodynamics as you can get in a vehicle of this size and type.

Sorento's bottom line of $24,595 comes from a base price of $24,100 and a $495 inland freight and handling charge. Our tester had no options.

There aren't many mid-size sport utility vehicles you can get for under $25,000. Normally, if you were able to find one, it would probably be 2WD or without a lot of amenities. But the Sorento has 4WD and front and side airbags; four-wheel power disc brakes; power sunroof, windows and locks; heated mirrors; power driver's seat with lumbar control; a good sound system with a CD and cassette and underbody skid plates.

The Kia Sorento offered no surprises, except maybe the surprise that it was so well executed and such a relatively low price.

2003 The Auto Page Syndicate

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Specifications 

Engine Type 3.5-liter DOHC 24 Valve V-6
Horsepower 192 @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 217 @ 3,000 RPM
Transmission 4-speed automatic transmission
Tires P245/70HR16 All Season Tires
Overall Length 179.8"
Wheelbase 106.7"
Width 74.2"
Curb Weight 4,057 lbs.
Fuel Recommended Regular Unleaded.
Fuel Tank 21.1 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 15 , hwy 20 
Turning Circle 36.4 ft. curb to curb
Acceleration 0 to 60 9.1 Seconds
Base Sticker Price (EX) $22,900  + Destination Charge of $640

2003 Kia Sorento EX

Standard Equipment

  • 3.5-liter, 24-valve, V-6 DOHC engine
  • Four-speed automatic
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Four-wheel independent suspension
  • Front console with storage
  • Trailer wiring
  • Power-assisted front and rear ventilated disc brakes
  • Air conditioning
  • Power windows w/express down
  • Power door locks
  • 8-way power driver seat
  • Heated dual power mirrors
  • Theft-deterrent system
  • AM/FM in-dash single CD player stereo w. 10 speakers
  • Dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors
  • First-aid kit
  • Front and rear head airbags
  • Alloy Wheels

Major Available Options

  • Antilock Braking System (ABS)
  • Four wheel drive w. hi-lo gear selection
  • Leather Package
  • Automatic Load Leveling Suspension

For more information on the Sorento, visit kia.com

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