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2003 Kia Sorento Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

MSRP Range: $19,000 to $24,500

Invoice Range: $18,000 to $22,500
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: Tested all versions

Versions: LX, EX

Vehicle Category: Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Rear-Wheel Drive Rear-Wheel Drive. Optional Four-Wheel Drive and All Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 3.5-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, V-6 cylinder, 192-horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 217 lb-ft torque at 3,000 rpm

Transmission As Tested: 4-Speed Automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): Rear-Wheel Drive - 15/20. 4-Wheel Drive - 15/18

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front and side-curtain airbags, rear-passenger side-curtain airbags, 4-wheel power disc brakes, "> Antilock Braking System, Traction Control, In-Trunk Emergency Trunk Release, Daytime Running Lights

Competition: Ford Explorer, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Isuzu Axiom, Isuzu Rodeo, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Xterra, Pontiac Aztek, Saturn VUE, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota Highlander

TULSA, Oklahoma -- This sport-utility wagon shows promise with distinctive styling for the package, a comfortable cabin with room for five and elegant trim elements, plus mechanical hardware that sets up a smooth-riding vehicle with optional four-wheel-drive (4WD) equipment available for excursions away from pavement.

It's called the Sorento, a name borrowed from the picturesque Italian resort, and it comes from Kia, the inventive automaker from South Korea.

As replacement for Kia's midget-size Sportage wagon, new Sorento expands to mid-size proportions in a five-door wagon format with sturdy body-on-frame construction and a five-seat cabin crammed with standard equipment.

It offers either rear-wheel-drive (RWD) traction or the 4WD option and draws strength from a V6 engine linked to a four-speed automatic shifter.

Sorento also stocks extensive safety systems that reach to curtain-style air bags stretching above the four side doors.

It feels good to drive and rides smoothly on city streets, as we observe while gliding along Utica Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

However, with the optional 4WD equipment aboard Sorento also becomes a formidable off-road warrior, as the rigid ladder-type chassis and abbreviated body overhangs fore and aft enable it to scamper over the rough stuff.

Of course, the current crop of sport-utility wagons includes many other mid-size models that also look sharp, load the cabin with refined features and offer traction mechanisms for running on unpaved trails.

The distinction separating Sorento from this collection is that Kia's new wagon carries price points pitched for $5,000 or so below any comparably equipped competitor.

Figures begin at only $19,900. That's the MSRP for a Sorento LX edition in RWD mode. Tack on the unavoidable delivery fee of $595 and that entry-level Sorento bumps to $20,395.

For that price you end up with a roomy mid-size SUV rigged with V6 powertrain and standard equipment extending to air conditioning, cruise control, a tilting steering wheel, power for windows and door locks, heat element in both exterior mirrors, the curtain-style side air bags for four outboard seats, and an audio package with eight speakers and a CD deck in the dash.

Sorento's deluxe EX trim -- priced at $22,700 -- provides more goods, from decorative external features like bright alloy wheels, contrasted-color bumpers and cladding and fender flares plus foglamps, roof rack and sunroof to interior fittings such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power controls for the driver's bucket, fine velour cloth covering all seats, a keyless entry device, electrochromic rearview mirror and woodgrain trim for the console.

Expect the part-time 4WD equipment to draw another $1,800 to the bottom line. But tally all optional equipment for the deluxe Sorento EX 4WD and the figure still remains below the $30,000 barrier at $28,520, inclusive of destination fee.

The options for Sorento EX include an anti-lock brake system (ABS) for $520, leather seats worth $810, automatic load leveler at $510, a tail spoiler for $180, tow kit at $340 and an $1,800 luxury package with the leather upholstery plus heated front seats, a six-disc in-dash CD deck, automatic climate controls and a full-time 4WD device featuring torque on demand.

Then Kia the manufacturer sweetens this deal with an impressive guarantee called the Long Haul Warranty that extends well beyond protection limits for other vehicles.

Sorento's powertrain is insured for ten years or 100,000 miles and there's a five-year or 60,000-mile shield against defects plus five years with unlimited mileage for a roadside assistance program with emergency towing service.

Factor all of these bonus points into the equation, and Kia's new wagon looks particularly appealing.

The external styling appears aggressive with keen lines and slick shapes disguising the boxy parameters of a typical two-crate wagon pattern.

It presents an aggressive face featuring a curvaceous stair-step hood with glittery headlamp clusters at front corners underlined by a thick slab bumper that wraps to each side and unites with angular wheel flares and low cladding extending below side doors.

The tail treatment adds a padded step on the bumper, corner lamps in a starburst pattern and a liftgate with inset window glass tinted to a dark shade.

Inside, the cabin contains a front row of twin bucket seats separated by a floor console and followed by a bench split 60/40 with seats that flip forward and seatbacks that fold down to expand the cargo bay.

The front console adds a padded lid on the big storage compartment that functions as an armrest. Front section of the console rises up the dashboard to form a tall center section housing controls for the climate and audio systems.

Analog gauges including a tachometer appear in the instrument cluster below an arching cowl.

Foundation for Sorento is a rigid ladder-frame chassis featuring a long wheelbase and broad wheel track.

Suspension elements consist of a double wishbone design up front and a live axle in back with multiple links. Stabilizer bars front and rear are also aboard.

Steering, utilizing a rack and pinion, shows engine-speed sensing power assist for the LX version or an electronic boost on EX that varies with the vehicle's speed.

Brakes amount to vented discs in front and back with hydraulic vacuum power mechanism on dual circuits.

The powerplant -- a 3.5-liter V6 with dual overhead cams and multi-port electronic fuel injection -- generates 192-hp at 5,500 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm, yet it operates with regular unleaded 87-octane fuel.

All power translates through an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission.

Sorento's 4WD equipment varies. The primary version is a part-time system with shift-on-the-fly engagement via a rotary knob on the dash, while the rig for the Luxury Package operates all the time with torque on demand, automatically shifting the engine's power as needed from rear wheels to the front ones to maintain constant traction.


Where Built: South Korea

Seating: 5

Number of Rows: 2

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Untested

Length in Inches: 179.8

Warranties: 5 years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 5 years/100,000 miles corrosion, 10 years/100,000 mile powertrain, 5 years/unlimited mileage free Roadside Assistance.

Weight in Pounds: 4,255

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 3,500

Maximum Payload in Pounds: 2-Wheel Drive - 1,202. 4-Wheel Drive - 1,213.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 21.1

Destination Charge: $595