2004 Kia Sorento Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Value and off-road capability in a mid-size SUV.
The Kia Sorento is a mid-size SUV that packs a big V6 engine. It seats five with lots of elbow room. It's built like a truck, with a separate truck-style frame. It will go most anywhere its rivals can off road. Yet the Sorento maintains a civil attitude on the pavement. On the road or off, it is nimble and comfortable. Its long wheelbase and wide stance give it stability at high speeds and in corners.
What sets the Sorento apart is its price: $5,000 to $6,000 less than comparable SUVs. Yet it comes loaded with standard features.
For 2004, Kia has made the Sorento more appealing to enthusiast drivers. A manual transmission is now available and a new Sport Package adds Michelin tires, alloy wheels, fog lights, step bars, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a roof rack, and remote keyless entry.
The 2004 Kia Sorento is available in two trim levels: LX ($18,995) and EX ($23,050), also available in LX 4WD ($20,800) and EX 4WD ($24,850).
All Sorentos are powered by a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, double overhead-cam V6 rated 192 horsepower. All come with dual front airbags and dual side-curtain airbags in the front and rear.
The base LX comes with air conditioning, cloth upholstery, an eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat, central locking, power windows, dual heated power mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering, AM/FM/CD audio with eight speakers, a rear cargo cover, tow hooks and skid plates. Many of these features cost extra on other SUVs.
LX comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic is optional for the LX 2WD ($1,755) and LX 4WD ($1,850). The price of the automatic is high because it includes a roof rack and an upgrade from 16-inch steel to 16-inch aluminum wheels. A new Sport Package ($1,200) for LX with manual transmission includes Michelin all-season tires, alloy wheels, fog lights, step bars, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a roof rack, and remote keyless entry.
EX comes standard with the automatic transmission, roof rack, and aluminum wheels. EX also adds a power tilt-and-slide sunroof; velour upholstery; eight-way power driver's seat; leather-wrapped steering wheel; remote keyless entry; auto-dimming rear-view mirror; a compass, outside temperature gauge, barometer and altimeter in the overhead console; 10-speaker Delphi stereo; and all-season Michelin tires. EX also comes with a different variable-effort power steering system. On the LX, steering effort is tied to engine speed; while the EX uses a more sophisticated electronic unit that senses vehicle speed. Leather upholstery is available as a stand alone option ($900) on EX only.
A Luxury Package ($1,500) for the EX 2WD adds leather seating, heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, automatic headlamps, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, and more chrome. The same package for the EX 4WD ($2,000) also includes a sophisticated Torque on Demand full-time all-wheel drive system with a true low range for serious off-road driving. A self-leveling rear suspension ($510) is also available for the EX.
Four-wheel anti-lock brakes ($595) are an extra-cost option on all models.
The designers of the Kia Sorento seem to have done what sometimes seems impossible in the SUV market: They designed an SUV that doesn't look like anything else.
From the side, particularly around the C-pillar, there's a slight resemblance to the Lexus RX 300, but the front of the Sorento has an individual look, if somewhat suggestive of the Mercedes M-Class. From the rear, the Sorento has distinctively broad shoulders, thanks to a shoulder line that steps out and sweeps around the tailgate. The truck's width, greater than most of its competitors', is apparent from this angle. Sorento's headlights have stylish clear covers. Out back, Kia managed to do something different with the taillights, where a circle of red dots light up in a spoke-like pattern.
The Sorento's front and rear overhangs are short, a sign of efficient design. Shorter overhangs are better for handling and for driving off road. The Sorento has about the same length wheelbase as a Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, but the Sorento is shorter in overall length. That makes for a stable platform.
Visually, the Sorento EX is distinguished from the LX by color-keyed mirrors, two-tone bumpers and body cladding, fog lamps, and some bright trim inside and out.
The Kia Sorento is a roomy vehicle, offering exactly the same front and rear headroom, a little more rear shoulder room, and a little more leg room front and rear than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Three adults will fit in the Sorento's back seat, with generous leg room and four cup holders.
The Sorento is built to a price, however, and this is most evident in the interior fittings. The EX has splashes of woodgrain trim, which is plastic doing a poor job of imitating wood. (Then again, the woodgrain trim in the Toyota Highlander isn't that great, either.) The woodgrain surrounds the center stack on the dash and splashes of it are on the door panels. The steering wheel rim on the Luxury package Sorento is half leather, half woodgrain, where a full-leather wheel would be nicer to grip.
The interior is loaded with features, however. A display on the EX provides readouts for outside temperature, compass, altitude, and barometric pressure, good for fishermen, boaters and other outdoors people. (Off-hand, we can think of no other car in history that has offered a barometer.) And there are lots of places to put stuff: An overhead console offers sunglasses storage, map lights and a garage door-opener pocket. The center console has double bins, and there are useful cubbies, including a soft-touch, slide-out storage bin and a tip-out coin bin, both felt-lined. A storage bin under front seat is standard, and the big lockable glove box has a map shelf plus the usual room. There are four power points: two up front, one for the second row and another in the cargo area. Those who frequent colder climes will appreciate the rear defroster and rear wiper, and the hot-wire windshield de-icer.
The automatic shifter is easy to reach and has a straight fore-and-back pattern. The control for four-wheel drive is a twist knob on the dash to the left of the steering wheel. You can shift into low range when it gets really tough. The ignition key is on the dash, easier than fumbling to find a column-mounted keyhole behind the steering wheel.
The cargo area is accessible through the main hatch, or through the glass rear window. There's another storage area under the cargo area floor. A cargo cover comes standard. The full-size spare tire is mounted under the vehicle and, if the model has alloy wheels, the spare is mounted on an alloy wheel as well. The rear seat flips and folds 60/40 to form a flat floor with a cargo capacity of 66.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. With the seat raised, there's 31.4 cubic feet of cargo room.
The engine is smooth and powerful, barely perceptible at idle but producing a velvety roar at full throttle. Wind noise can be heard around the A-pillars, but it's not oppressive and certainly quieter than in the old Jeep Cherokee, the nadir of noise.
The Sorento needs all of its 192 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque to move its considerable weight, but it has the oats to merge with freeway traffic and motor quietly once there. Its maximum towing capacity is 3500 pounds, enabling it to pull camping trailers, dirt bikes, personal watercraft and other lightweight trailers. The automatic Sorento gets 15/20 mpg EPA-estimated City/Highway.
The Sorento's wide track gives it a sense of stability in corners. Ride quality is acceptable, adequate around town and at lower speeds, but it could use some improvement at higher speeds. On the Interstate, longer pavement irregularities can induce odd ride motions. It never threatens vehicle control, but on a rolling roadway it could be annoying.
The Sorento comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes, and the large diameter vented discs will be hard to fade, even when descending long mountain passes with a heavy load. We recommend getting the optional anti-lock brakes as they allow the driver to maintain control of the steering in a panic stopping situation.
The Kia Sorento is quite capable off road. It has sturdy body-on-frame construction, and just how sturdy is apparent when one goes seriously off-road, which we did to test the Sorento in extreme conditions. And despite crawling over body-twisting trails, the Sorento didn't creak, groan or rattle, suggesting that the frame is sturdy indeed. The Sorento's excellent approach and departure angles are a benefit of its short front and rear overhangs, which makes picking through rugged terrain possible without scraping. Sorento's nimble turning radius makes navigation in the woods less difficult as well. Its 36.4-foot turning radius helps in tight parking lots, too. All 4WD Sorentos come with an Eaton viscous limited-slip differential in the rear axle, which improves traction.
Sorento is available with two different four-wheel-drive systems. The standard setup is a conventional transfer case that engages on the fly with the turn of a knob for part-time four-wheel drive. A low range is provided for the most challenging off-road situations.
Sorento EX 4WD with the Luxury Package comes with Kia's full-time, fully automatic Torque-on-Demand system, which electronically monitors for wheel slippage 200 times per second, and transfers power smoothly and quietly between the rear and front wheels with no input from the driver. This system also has a low range for serious off-road adventures.
The 2004 Kia Sorento is a solid piece that will look good in your driveway, on the road, or in the woods or desert. And it works well in all those areas. Kia's SUV is a genuine truck, built on a separate frame, and it boasts a V6 engine. It's packed with interior features.
Value is the key to Kia. The Sorento comes with Kia's five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and five-year/100,000 mile anti-perforation warranty. It's also covered by a five-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan. When price is factored in, the Sorento becomes even more attractive. Just about anyone could use an extra six thousand dollars in their pocket.
Kia Sorento LX 2WD ($18,995); LX 4WD ($20,800); EX 2WD ($23,050); EX 4WD ($24,850).
Hwasung, South Korea.
Options As Tested
ABS ($595); Luxury Package ($2000) includes leather seats, heated front seats, automatic climate control, six-disc in-dash CD changer, automatic headlamps, Torque-on-Demand 4WD.
Kia Sorento EX 4WD ($24,850).
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