by Paul Williams
According to Bill Porter, Executive Vice President of Kia Canada Inc, two words sum up the appeal of the new 2003 Kia Sorento SUV: style and value.
“We’re looking at people coming out of a mini-van, or considering an alternative to one. They want to move into something that looks good but
gives excellent value for the money,” said Mr. Porter at a recent press introduction for the Sorento held in Ontario’s Muskoka vacation region.
First impressions suggest that Kia has hit the target in both departments. The Sorento offers a range of desirable features in a sharp package at a
price significantly below its direct competition. It also sweetens the pot with a generous five-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty.
The Sorento is an intermediate size four-door, five-passenger SUV that utilizes body-on-frame construction. At 1930 kg (4255 lbs), this
truck-based vehicle is within 100 kg of the Ford Explorer and Chevy Trailblazer, so it’s no pint-sized runabout.
But it’s no monster truck, either. Sorento’s exterior appearance is smart, refined and sporty-conservative. The interior is likewise tastefully
trimmed, and surprisingly spacious.
Two levels are offered, an LX and EX version. However, many of the good bits come with both levels, so even if you opt for the lower-level LX without
options, you still get a lot.
Click image to enlarge
For instance, both the LX and EX arrive with anti-lock disc brakes front and rear, and full-length side impact curtain airbags. Also standard on both
levels is a four-speed automatic transmission, 16″ alloy wheels (with full-size alloy spare), air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks,
and an AM/FM/CD stereo.
Power comes from a 195-hp, 3.5-litre V6 engine that generates a respectable 218 lb.-ft of torque. On the road in normal driving conditions the engine is quiet and responsive. With two passengers and their luggage, acceleration was adequate and not laboured.
The automatic transmission features adaptive shifting controls that prevent shifting to a higher gear when going uphill. A related feature is the
downslope mode that applies additional engine braking when descending a hill. This prevents freewheeling downhill when the brakes are released.
The Sorento’s front and rear independent suspension is tuned by Porsche. They seem to have done a good job, as on the highway there’s none of the
bounce and jounce often associated with trucks. In the parking lot, handling is commendably light.
All Sorentos are four-wheel drive vehicles, although on the LX it’s a part-time system, and on the EX it’s full-time. Both levels provide a low
range for serious off-roading.
Not that many people with actually go further off road than their driveway. But if you wanted to scale mountain-passes and traverse forest streams, the Sorento would probably get you to the other side of both obstacles without
Mr. Porter is aware of the irony. “I know that 99% of buyers will never go off-road with the Sorento. We see it more as an all-weather vehicle. It’ll
handle anything the Canadian climate can throw at it.”
While sitting in the driver’s seat, close inspection identifies several notable features. There are handy grab handles above each door, and multiple
storage areas throughout the cabin, many with tie-downs. Faux wood trim adds a nice touch to the dashboard and doors, but some buyers might prefer the brushed aluminum look on the steering wheel.
Instrumentation conventionally contrasts white numerals against a black background, and is easily read. The shifter is between the seats, easily
reached when required but not obtrusive. The GM Delco sound system in the LX offers good sound and is straightforward to use.
The power, heated, outside mirrors are large and the view from inside is good, even when backing up. The spare wheel is tucked away below the floor, behind the rear seat.
All interior panels and components fit well. The quality of plastics, fabrics and materials is high and their design is both tasteful and
Overhead, the optional information system includes a compass, barometer and altimeter, but strangely no outside temperature. I’m getting used to
compasses in vehicles, and find them a helpful and inexpensive alternative to a full-blown navigation system.
The seats are comfortable and substantial, although the seat-backs may be a little short for some.
Leg, shoulder and headroom for the rear passengers is excellent, but no third-row seating is offered – it would fill the cargo area and detract
from the utility of the vehicle. As it is, the cargo space is generous, although a power-operated latch to help open the rear door would be
Outside, the design is crisp and attractive. Sorento looks an expensive vehicle, especially in black, and its newness causes heads to turn. It’s not
quirky, mind you, just eye-catching.
The aerodynamic slope of the hood and front fenders contributes to that eye-catching look, but it does completely drop out of view from the driver’s
seat. Consequently, you can’t use the front fenders, or anything in front of the windshield, as an aid to parking.
That being said, I didn’t experience difficulty manoeuvering this vehicle in close quarters. The front is not overly long, and your position above most
other traffic is an advantage.
Last month Kia celebrated their 50,000th vehicle sold in Canada since the Korean company’s debut here in 1999. The Sorento is selling well in Asian
markets and Kia Canada expects to sell 5000 of them this model year. The truck platform is already being considered as a basis for other models in
the Kia lineup, including a pickup truck.
Bill Porter thinks he’s going to need more Sorentos. At a starting price of $29,795, if the model lives up to its positive first impressions, he’s
likely to be right.
At a glance: Kia Sorento
|Price||LX – $29,795; EX – $33,795; EX Luxury – $35,795|
|Type||Sport Utility, Four-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption||L/100 km (m.p.g.): City 15.7 (15.0), Hwy. 11.2 (21.0)|
|Warranty||5 years, 100,000 comprehensive, power train and roadside assistance|