2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Paul Williams

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Lake Louise, Alberta – When the Kia Sorento was launched in 2002, it was one of the nicest looking SUV’s on the road. It still casts a fetching profile, but the SUV segment itself has changed considerably. As we move into the CUV (crossover utility vehicle) era, the Sorento is more easily differentiated as an example of a rugged, heavier duty, truck-type vehicle, as opposed to the more modern Crossover style.

Rather than meddle with the Sorento’s sheetmetal, structure and identity, Kia has focused on the drivetrain for 2008, while making minor changes to the exterior and interior trim (bumpers, lights, instruments).

Based on a separate ladder frame chassis with nine crossmembers for strength and rigidity, the Sorento now features a wider track for better stability, and competes with vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer (equipped with V6 engines). New for the 2008 Sorento is a choice of two engines that replace the outgoing 3.5-litre V6. The engines define the trim level, so buyers can choose between the $32,495 LX 4×4 with the 3.3-litre V6 making 242 horsepower and 228 pounds feet of torque, or the $38,995 LX Luxury with the 3.8-litre V6 making 262 hp and 260 lb.-ft torque.

2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento. Click image to enlarge

These engines are also used by Hyundai, Kia’s parent company: the 3.3 in the Santa Fe and the 3.8 in the Entourage family van. You’ll also find the 3.8 engine in the Kia Sedona family van. Both engines use a five-speed automatic transmission, with “Steptronic” manual shift option.

The Sorento LX Luxury is, of course, more luxurious, with leather seating surfaces, power seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, spoiler and automatic climate control among other standard equipment. But there is another key differentiating feature, which is the four-wheel drive system that’s fitted to each model.

The LX receives a part-time four-wheel drive system that can only operate at speeds up to 80 km/h. At all other times it functions in rear-wheel drive. The LX Luxury receives a “torque on demand” 4×4 system that can operate without speed restrictions. Both trim levels have a two-speed transfer case (low and high range), and both are equipped with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and electronic stability control.

2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento. Click image to enlarge

Other safety equipment common to both trim levels include side impact curtains, driver’s knee airbag and pre-tensioning seatbelts.

At the 2008 Kia Sorento launch in Alberta, Kia Canada Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Dean Tesser, stated that the off-road ability of the Sorento separates it from the competition, although we didn’t have an opportunity to test the Sorento in a challenging environment where it could “strut its stuff.” On the highway, however, the ride is smooth and quiet, but the vehicle can be unsettled on broken surfaces. In general, on the flat surfaces of the road between Lake Louise and Jasper, the Sorento provided a very quiet and relaxing drive.

And while the 3.8-litre engine supplies extra grunt, the LX with the 3.3 felt a bit lighter and nimbler than its more powerful sibling.

2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento. Click image to enlarge

The ride, too, on the 16-inch tires as opposed to the LX Luxury’s 17-inch rubber seemed more compliant and agreeable.

The Sorento’s key distinguishing features are its size, (bigger than compact SUVs like the Kia Sportage, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V), weight (2,024 kilograms or 4,462 pounds in LX Luxury trim) and the separate body-on-frame construction (traditionally associated with trucks as opposed to car-based vehicles). In a nutshell, with a Sorento you’re buying an intermediate-sized SUV for the price of a fully-equipped compact SUV or CUV.

For example, the Sorento’s price in both trim levels compares with a well-equipped Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4, and while those vehicles can tow a maximum of 3,500 pounds, the Sorento manages 5,000 pounds in LX Luxury trim with trailer brakes. Looked at another way, its price in LX trim is about $6,000 less than a base Ford Explorer or Jeep Grand Cherokee.

2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento
2008 Kia Sorento. Click image to enlarge

But throwing something of a wrench into this equation, a vehicle like the fully-equipped Hyundai Santa Fe GLS is as big as the Sorento, costs $34,295, has full-time AWD and tows a useful 3,500 pounds. Food for thought.

Kia claims a significant improvement in fuel economy in the 2008 Sorento (regular fuel is recommended) with the LX returning 14.0/9.2 L/100 km city/highway, and the LX Luxury returning 14.0/9.8 L/100 km city highway. Somewhat cheekily, the trip computer that’s standard on the LX Luxury omits the fuel consumption computation.

If you like the feeling of a body-on-frame vehicle, but you don’t want to spend the $50,000-plus that some of these vehicles can command, the Sorento would have to be on your list. Well built, strong, nicely designed and with a comprehensive five-year warranty, Kias are receiving top quality awards from industry critics like J.D. Power and Strategic Vision. In LX trim the Sorento is the least expensive body-on-frame, midsize SUV you can buy.

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