Full Test: 2003 Kia Sorento LX 4WD.

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Mar 31, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Raising One's Game

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    By John DiPietro
    Date posted: 03-25-2003

    Just a few years ago, Kia was as anonymous as a wanna-be rock star at karaoke night. This Korean company has been importing small vehicles, such as the Sephia and Sportage, into the U.S. for almost a decade. But it had gone largely unnoticed by consumers who bought vehicles with better-known nameplates. Kia's vehicles weren't necessarily bad, but they were bland in terms of styling and performance. We can almost envision Simon Cowell, the British host of American Idol, saying sternly to the Kia folks: "The problem is that you're simply mediocre. Raise your game." Kia did just that last year with the introduction of the Sedona, a minivan that packs a lot of features into a roomy, well-built vehicle that costs thousands less than the competition.

    Following on the heels of the successful Sedona is the Sorento. Essentially a midsize 'ute, the Sorento has a crisp, upscale look (especially in two-tone EX trim) that belies its mini-SUV pricing. Standard color-keyed bumpers (in contrast to the homely, unfinished gray units used on many SUVs) add to this impression, as do the chrome grille surround and darkly tinted "privacy" glass.

    Making it easy for the production process and consumers alike, Kia doesn't bother offering a stripper version of the Sorento —does anybody really buy an SUV without power windows and air conditioning nowadays? Didn't think so, and neither does Kia. The "base" Sorento LX comes with those mandatory luxuries in addition to power locks and mirrors, AM/FM/CD stereo with eight speakers, cruise control, a rear-seat center armrest, four-wheel disc brakes, eight-way (manually) adjustable driver seat, dual-compartment center console, illuminated vanity mirrors, four power points, skid plates and a 24-valve V6 for the mere sum of $19,995 for the two-wheel-drive version. The four-wheel-drive LX lists for just $21,795. Need more luxury? The EX has your name on it and, for $2,800 more than the LX, sports alloy wheels, foglights, two-tone paint, keyless entry, a power driver seat, power sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink, a premium CD/cassette sound system with steering wheel-mounted controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fancy metal and fake wood interior accents, stainless-steel scuff plates and a cargo net. A Luxury Package for the EX adds leather seating, heated front seats, automatic climate control, six-disc CD changer and automatic four-wheel drive.

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    Like the EX, the LX has a cabin whose overall quality seems out of proportion to its low sticker price. Attractive soft-touch materials are found everywhere and the thick-rimmed steering wheel has tasteful metallic accents. Work some of the switches, such as the turn signal lever or climate control knobs, and the feeling of polished quality continues. Even the center stack compartment doors glide open, as they would in a Lexus. More than a few carmakers could learn a thing or two from Kia about impressing potential buyers. Additionally, a number of open cubbies of various shapes prove handy for garage door openers, cell phones and other necessities of modern life.

    With all the available seat adjustments, such as front- and rear-cushion tilt, it's a breeze for short and tall drivers alike to get comfortable behind the wheel. Firm, well-shaped seats offer long-haul comfort, as this editor can attest. The rear seat drew mixed comments; most passengers found it comfortable, finding adequate under-thigh support and legroom, though one taller staffer would've liked more room to stretch out and pointed out that under-seat toe room is tight. Maximum cargo space, at 66 cubic feet, is about the same as the Ford Escape /Mazda Tribute twins.

    As far as safety, the Sorento continues the high-value theme by providing a few high-end features such as front and rear side curtain airbags and head restraints for all occupants in addition to the expected items like LATCH child safety-seat anchors. Although the Sorento has yet to be crash tested, Kia is confident that its latest pride and joy will score highly.

    Standard on all Sorentos is a 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 that puts out 192 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. Unlike many of its competitors, there is no four-cylinder version of the Sorento — a good thing considering this SUV's portly weight of 4,255 pounds. To put that into perspective, the Sorento weighs nearly the same as a V8 Ford Explorer, a seven-passenger SUV that straddles the line between midsize and full-size status. The lone transmission is a four-speed automatic. This power team does a very respectable job of moving the pudgy Sorento around. About the town, the Sorento feels almost sprightly. Though acceleration at freeway speeds tapers off to just adequate, the Sorento will cruise happily at 75 mph all day long. The V6 is smooth and gladly gives its all, and the tranny is never caught flat-footed, furnishing quick downshifts and smooth changes up through the gears even when the gas is pinned to the carpet.

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    As far as hard numbers, at the test track the Sorento ran to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds and took 17.1 ticks to run down the quarter-mile. These figures actually place the Kia near the front of the pack when compared to rivals such as the Ford Escape V6, Jeep Liberty and Hyundai Santa Fe. One figure that didn't impress us was fuel consumption; we averaged just 15 mpg in our mix of city and freeway driving, about 2 or 3 mpg less than we would have expected. In retrospect, the dismal fuel economy is not surprising, considering the vehicle's hefty weight.

    The brakes were simply impressive, especially when one considers the fact that our Sorento lacked the optional ABS. The binders were easy to modulate, and at the track we got three identical stopping distances of 131 feet from 60 mph. Not only is that number pretty good (more like that of an ABS-equipped vehicle), but the consistency is reassuring as it shows that the brakes are progressive, well balanced and resistant to fade. Our test-driver even complimented the Hankook tires as tire grip is an oft-forgotten factor in a given vehicle's braking performance.

    With separate body-on-frame architecture, a low range in its transfer case and meaty 245/70R16 tires with a fairly aggressive tread, the Sorento seems ready to rock when it's asked to hit the trail. We had a chance to take one on an off-road course where it scrambled up rock- and dirt-strewn hills with ease — keeping up with SUVs that had price tags that were nearly double its own. This writer also put the four-wheel-drive system (it's a part-time system, meaning it should not be engaged while driving on dry pavement) to the test during a few snowstorms back East. Even when driven while one of the storms was at its peak (we native New Englanders are crazy like that), the Sorento trundled along at a slow but steady pace, inspiring confidence as it shared the road only with snowplows and a handful of other 4WD trucks.

    Driven under more normal conditions, the Sorento's independent front and solid axle rear suspension design provided a firm, mostly agreeable ride, though sharp impacts can intrude into the cabin. Accurate and well-weighted steering and a minimum of body roll (stabilizer bars are standard front and rear) make the Sorento well planted and composed on a winding road. The Hankooks were quiet and provided decent grip when pushed within reason, showing us that even lesser-known Korean tire suppliers are getting their act together.

    We all agreed that the Sorento is a well-rounded effort that, apart from its thirst for fuel, has a lot going for it. Perhaps the greatest compliment we can give a particular vehicle is stating that we'd seriously consider buying one if we were shopping in that market segment. The Sorento has earned that accolade.

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    Ups: Fine build quality, good all-around performance, lots of standard features, low price.

    Downs: Mediocre fuel economy, harsh ride over sharp impacts.

    The Bottom Line: With its fine build quality, polished performance, high content and low price, the Sorento looks to be another winner from Korea.

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $22,435

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  2. Sideways

    Sideways Do I look like I give a damn?

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    SUV for poor people
     
  3. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    that's actually not horrible looking :o

    17 second quarter mile and 15mpg is pretty pathetic though.

    I guess it is better than spending thousands more for an equally slow SUV that doesn't look as nice. you'd have to debadge that fucker quickly though
     
  4. KooLLaiD

    KooLLaiD I am NOT the guy in my AV!

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    I would consider taht
     
  5. rommon_1>

    rommon_1> Guest

    V6 in a SUV that weighs 4200 lbs? Good christ that thing is gonna have shitty gas mileage.

    Overall, it looks like a great value. I'd think about it.
     
  6. Sina

    Sina New Member

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    it looks a lot like a rx300
     
  7. I would buy one
     
  8. mucky

    mucky .

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    I give it a serious thought if I was looking for a small SUV in the < $23k range.
     
  9. RenaultFreak

    RenaultFreak OMG

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    my neigh got a black one and I'm ashamed to agree that it looks/feels/drives good, 200% better than expected... :o
     
  10. raptor_talon

    raptor_talon Who is the master? Sho'nuff!

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    looks like a lot of good points.

    nothing wrong with a car company getting its act together.
     
  11. mucky

    mucky .

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    I bet a Ford logo will fit right on top of the oval Kia logo on the grill and back. But then again, I'm not sure if that's an improvement. :sad2:
     
  12. Bernout

    Bernout OT Supporter

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    I saw one today...nice styling.
     
  13. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    die!
     
  14. mucky

    mucky .

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    :fawk:
     
  15. brackac

    brackac Fuck all of this. OT Supporter

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    I like the styling on it. I really like the two tone silver color scheme they offer.
     
  16. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Very nice vehicle, I wouldn't be ashamed of owning this Kia.
     

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