Review Notes: Kia Sorrento EX – Automatic V6
Medium-sized luxury SUV
Key fob, wind noise, odd power window lockout distract from general look of luxury
Designed to actually go off-road
Luxury appearance and feel for the price; world’s best warranty
Needs Work In:
Gas mileage, rear seat space, some details
We tested a nicely loaded Sorrento EX, which, with a bunch of luxury options, ended up with a list price of $27,000 – quite competitive with the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and others. For the most part, the Sorrento proved to be a very strong value. The 210 horsepower engine felt much stronger than the paper ratings would indicate, which is the opposite of our experience with past Kias, and, since the engine was actually built by Kia, the sign of an increasing threat to Japanese and Americans competitors. The Sorrento always accelerated with authority, whether from a standing stop or from highway speeds, feeling more responsive than the Grand Cherokee V6 or base Explorer. The transmission was always smooth – in fact, sometimes it was too smooth, shifting ever-so-slowly under hard acceleration, with the engine revving and apparently a controlled clutch slipping inside. The result is somewhat disconcerting, though we suspect we’d eventually get used to it. We’d rather simply deal with the hard shifting that one normally gets on hard acceleration, though. Other than that, the automatic – the only major component built in Japan – shifts very well, without gear-hunting and without hesitating before downshifts. The engine-transmission combination is unusually well tuned.
Handling is a mixed bag, we suspect largely due to the tires, which on our test car were designed for off-roading rather than on-road performance. Generally, the Kia did quite well on smooth surfaces, but was inclined to heavy tire squeal on tight turns and when accelerating during a turn. This is most likely a tire issue, coupled with the torquey engine and exceptionally easy steering which makes it possible to turn the wheel too quickly; it’s a return to the 1970s ideal of American luxury, where you can spin the wheel with your little finger. It’s a matter of taste, but you do have to remember that if you want to avoid tire squeal, you turn the steering wheel slowly, or lay off the gas. Overall, without resorting to an active suspension or sacrificing off-roadability, the Sorrento has quite good handling for an SUV.
Four wheel power disc brakes provide good stopping power, with nice, large discs to brake two tons of steel quicky. Safety is further enhanced with dual front and rear side curtain airbags and a first aid kit.
The interior is nicely set up, but our perceptions are somewhat biased by the model we drove – an EX with the luxury package, which adds such niceties as leather and a wood-top steering wheel. Even done all in plastic (what you get without the luxury package), the interior is nicely designed, but the woodgrain and chrome adds quite a bit. The luxury package, by the way, costs $1,830 on the EX model, and includes not just the wood steering wheel and wood and chrome accents, but also the thermostatic climate control, a very good stereo with six-CD in-dash changer and excellent stereo separation, leather heated seats, and full time four wheel drive. Antilock brakes, almost a requirement, are $520, and automatic load levelling is another $510. All in all, that brought the price of our $24,600 EX to $27,635, which is in low-Grand Cherokee territory. What is interesting to us is that the interior is considerably more evocative of luxury (again, with that package) than, say, a Lincoln Navigator, Lexus RX330, or Cadillac Escalade – all far more expensive. What’s more, the Sorrento is apparently quite capable of actually going off-road, unlike many pretenders – such as most of Ford’s “no boundaries” vehicles, which don’t seem to do very well off the pavement (and sometimes don’t seem to do well on pavement, either). An underbody skid plate is standard with the EX. The full time four wheel drive has a low gear option, but you have to go into neutral to switch it on (it’s not for on-road use), which is odd since the car isn’t supposed to move when you go into low gear; Park would seem like a more clever option.
The instrument panel is clear and simple, with a tachometer, 130-mphspeedometer, and fuel and heat gauges. The PRNDL is nicely done with only the current gear showing at any given time. The cruise control is mounted on the steering wheel (the left buttons are for the stereo, the right for the cruise), with an activation button on the dashboard. That button stays engaged once you press it down, so you don’t have to turn it on each time you drive – and it has its own light so you know when it’s active. When a speed is locked in, CRUISE lights up on the instrument panel so there is complete clarity. The cruise activation button sits between the light dimmer and the 4×4 knob in a little pod on the left, just above a small cubby and the hood release.
The center stack has the stereo, a clock, buttons for the heated seats, rear defroster, and windshield wiper defroster – a very useful option which is available on precious few vehicles. Beneath these buttons is the climate control, which has rather small knobs if you get the standard version, but is very clear and easy to use with big pushbuttons if you get the thermostatically controlled version. Underneath the climate control is a rather nicely designed felt-lined tray, which itself is above the ashtray and cigarette lighter. Underneath that is a simple power outlet. Neither the cigarette lighter nor the power outlet are powered when the key is out of the ignition.
The center console itself contains the shifter, rubber-lined compartments for odds and ends, and cupholders. The covered center storage unit has a deep bay for CDs and such, and a shallow, hard-to-lift lid for other items. There are also map pockets on both sides, and some models have a storage unit under the passenger seat as well.
Vents are quite large, so that even on high speeds the fan is relatively quiet. Generous side-window demisters help to defrost the front windows quickly.
Lighting is generally upscale, with a lighted ring around the ignition lock, dual map lights, and an unusually nicely designed dome light which leaves no doubt about how to get light or what setting it has (on, door-activated, off). While there is no cargo area light, there are door lights and a glove compartment light. The sunroof has one of those clever sliders that has vents built in so you can leave the roof partly open and block the sun from coming in, but let air vent out. The sunroof has dual controls, one for tilting and one for sliding; it includes an “express” (one-touch) slide-open feature.
The back seats are comfortable despite the lack of leg room. In addition to slide-out cupholders and a power outlet in the back of the center console, there is a fold-down armrest in the middle of the bench seat and large drink-sized cupholders moulded into the doors.
The EX model, though it starts at $24,600 (with destination), includes air conditioning, cruise, a power sunroof, power locks and windows, a CD/cassette with steering wheel controls (oddly, you lose the cassette player when you get the luxury package), power driver’s seat, leather wrapped tilt steering, remote keyless entry, auto dimming rear view mirror, built in garage door openers, compass, barometer, relative altimeter (!), themometer, and such cargo niceties as rear cover, tie-down hooks, and underseat and under-cargo bay storage. The rear seats flip and fold down for convenient loading, with a 60/40 split. The EX also includes a liftgate with flip-up glass, a defroster, and wiper-washer, a full size spare, and fog lights – but not antilock brakes.
As if to defy stereotypes, the Kia Sorrento has few reminders of the brand’s downscale roots. The sun visors are a bit less than ideally designed, despite the built-in lighted vanity mirrors, and the top of the covered center console feels a bit cheap. The engine is clearly audible when accelerating, but it doesn’t drone on the highway, and we have no problems with hearing acceleration cues; wind noise was also moderately high, but not unpleasantly so. We would not have noticed it if we had not been looking. The key fob may be the cheapest looking part of the vehicle, with one button for locking, one for unlocking, and one for releasing the liftgate’s glass; this one is next to, and the same size and color as, the main unlock key. Like many Asian vehicles, the Sorrento has a power window lockout which not only takes control away from the passengers, but from the driver as well.
Aside from minor quibbles like these, the Kia was every bit as good to drive and look at as more expensive SUVs. (While stopped in a parking lot, we were asked how we liked our SUV, and whether it was an RX330 – the liftgate was up, so the Kia logo was not visible, but the leather, wood, and chrome appointments were.) Take away the Kia badging, put on some other brand – say, Ford – and this vehicle would sell like gangbusters.
There are down sides, largely common to all SUVs. While the cargo area is decently sized, and on the whole the dimensions are similar to the Lexus RX330 mentioned earlier, the back seats are fairly cramped for a vehicle that gets 15 mpg city, 18 highway (the manual transmission, which will make the decision easy for stick afficianados, may help matters). Indeed, the full sized Dodge Durango, which has a similar selling price, gets similar mileage, as does the Chevrolet Tahoe, and both are easier on back-seat passengers. The upcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee, if it holds the line on costs, will be tough competition, and, of course, there are also wagons in this price class that do nicely – the Subaru quick, nimble WRX comes to mind, as does the Legacy/Outback. We wouldn’t take a WRX or Legacy off-road, but, then again, most Sorrento owners won’t take their vehicles off-road either.
On the whole, the Sorrento does very well against similar (and more expensive) SUVs. Kia quality has been skyrocketing from admittedly low levels, and in addition to the thousands in savings from buying a Sorrento, you also get a very generous ten-year powertrain warranty. If you’re willing to give up the SUV form factor, you may find the Dodge Caravan to be a bargain, with a larger interior and nice appointments; or you may like a wagon like the WRX. But if you’re a real SUV fan, take a look at the Sorrento before plunking your cash down on a Ford or Lexus. If more people test drove Kias before buying, more people would own Kias.
The 2004 Kia Sorrento Specifications
Kia Sorento Overview
The 2004 Kia Sorento four-door SUV is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 192 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic transmission is optional. The rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV is built on a ladder frame with nine cross members and features dual front airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, optional Torque-on-Demand automatic full-time four wheel drive and four-wheel antilock brakes. There are two trim levels: LX and EX.
- 1st: 2.804:1
- 2nd: 1.531:1
- 3rd: 1.000:1
- 4th: 0.705:1
- Reverse: —
- 1st: 3.749:1
- 2nd: 2.044:1
- 3rd: 1.289:1
- 4th: 1.000:1
- Reverse: 0.794:1
– high: 1.000:1
– low: 2.480:1
Weight distribution, front/rear
Five speed manual
Towing capacity, 4×4 & 4×2: 3500 lbs
BODY & CHASSIS
TIRES AND WHEELS
- 7.0JJ x 16, alloy (EX, optional LX M/T)
- 7.0JJ x 16, steel (LX M/T)
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
City/Highway Automatic, miles per gallon – 4×4: 15/20 / 4×2: 16/19
Manual, miles per gallon – 4×4: 15/19 / 4×2: 16/19