Consumer Reports doesn’t have much love for this first-generation Sorento, giving it a much-worse-than-average reliability rating. Key trouble spots include bad rear differentials and driveshafts, 4WD systems that won’t engage, bad air conditioning compressors and common stuff like cheap brake components (mostly rotors, which warp easily) that wear prematurely.

Used Vehicle Review: Kia Sorento, 2003 2009 used car reviews kia
2003 Kia Sorento; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

The Sorento’s 3.5 L V6 engine is known for crankshaft bolts that come loose, break, or both. Needless to say, this causes any number of problems when it happens and can lead to a wrecked engine. Read a bit about the problem here and here.

This thread at Topix.net discusses manual transmission problems

Here’s a thread about the aforementioned cranky 4WD system. The debate is whether the cause is mechanical, or linked to the system’s electronic switch.

Crash safety is decent: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Sorento four and five stars in frontal and side impact testing for 2003 through 2007 models. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Sorento an “acceptable” rating. Side airbags were standard from 2004 onward, and were available in 2003 on the uplevel EX model.

Used Vehicle Review: Kia Sorento, 2003 2009 used car reviews kia
Used Vehicle Review: Kia Sorento, 2003 2009 used car reviews kia
2008 Kia Sorento. Click image to enlarge

Regardless of model year, the Sorento is the type of SUV that I’d recommend buying only if you plan to use its off-road abilities, as it can be bought for less than many comparably truckish SUVs, not to mention many car-based crossovers, of which there is a wider selection available. Just be aware of the first-gen Sorento’s less-than-stellar reputation for durability, and if you do want a Sorento, do yourself a favour and get it checked out by a trustworthy mechanic before you buy.

Pricing

Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) January 2010:

Year
Model
Price today
Price new
2009
Sorento LX
$19,800
$32,745
2008
Sorento LX
$16,625
$32,645
2007
Sorento LX
$14,325
$38,995
2006
Sorento EX
$10,725
$34,625
2005
Sorento EX
$9,250
$34,995
2004
Sorento EX
$7,800
$34,545
2003
Sorento EX
$6,600
$33,995

Online resources
  • Information on the Sorento is tough to come by. The best Kia-centric site I found is Kia-Forums.com, where the Sorento forum is busy and seems to hold some useful information. There’s also Sorento forum. It’s not that busy, though, and there’s also no forum set aside for discussions on technical issues. You might have more luck that way going digging in the forums at Edmunds.com, where there are two Sorento forums: This one deals with maintenance and repair issues, while this one is an ongoing general Sorento discussion that started waaaaay back in 2002.

    Related stories on Autos
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Kia Sorento
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Sorento
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Kia Sorento
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Kia Sorento
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2005 Kia Sorento

    Recalls
  • Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005244; Units affected: 738

    2003: Certain vehicles may experience a fuel leak from the main fuel tube and/or the return tube near the fuel tank due to interference (insufficient clearance) with the vehicle frame. A fuel leak, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the fuel tubes. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2008212; Units affected: 13,411

    2003-2005: Certain vehicles may experience a fuel leak from the main fuel tube and/or the return tube near the fuel tank due to interference (insufficient clearance) with the vehicle frame. A fuel leak, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the fuel tubes.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2009140; Units affected: 11,386 (includes other models)

    2006-2007: Certain vehicles may experience a fuel leak from the main fuel tube and/or the return tube near the fuel tank due to interference (insufficient clearance) with the vehicle frame. A fuel leak, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the fuel tubes.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2011332; Units affected: 750

    2007-2008: On certain vehicles, the Occupant Classification System (in the right front seat) may misinterpret an incorrectly seated adult as a small stature adult or a child, thereby deactivating the passenger frontal airbag. Failure of the passenger frontal airbag to deploy during a crash (where deployment is warranted) could increase the risk of personal injury to the seat occupant. Correction: Dealers will update the Occupant Classification System software.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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