Like Johnny Cash, this SUV walks the line
Kia Sorento – 2007 Review: Kia’s midsize SUV is the proverbial horse of a different color: Cloaked in a body that looks more like a crossover lives a real, four-wheel drive truck. With 260 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, it matches or exceeds its closest SUV competitors. While it’s not quite as pure an off-road vehicle, it’s no wimp. With 8.2 inches of ground clearance, it’s only an inch shorter than the 2007 Jeep Liberty. Inside, design and quality ensure mundane driving is as comfortable and enjoyable as commuting gets. The Sorento has what it takes to be a mule, but wears a prettier face. While the nearly $30,000 price tag might make some people blanch, the Kia is a worthy vehicle for money.
By Bob Beamesderfer
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Kia sent us a four-wheel drive Sorento EX equipped with the Luxury Package. Standard features include the 3.8-liter V-6 motor, five-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive with low range, front, side and driver’s knee airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, tire-pressure monitoring system, eight-way power driver’s seat, keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, underbody skid plates, trailer wiring connector, roof rack and fog lamps. Base price is $26,865, including $670 destination charge. The $3,000 Luxury Package includes full time Torque on Demand 4WD, premium sound system, sunroof, leather, heated front seats, automatic dual zone climate control and automatic headlights.
With 262 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, the V-6 does a good job of moving the roughly 4,400-pound Sorento off the line, but you know the weight is there. The 3.8-liter engine is mated to a five-speed transmission, which is nice and smooth in automatic mode. It held steady on a long climb without any hunting. The manual shift mode offers more performance, but the electronics upshift if the driver doesn’t, sometimes sooner than what’s ideal. In either mode, the engine had plenty of power on the freeway. Kia’s Torque on Demand automatic 4WD system had no trouble with moderate off-pavement terrain. Unfortunately, all this power drains the gas tank. We averaged 14.6 mpg in city, highway and off-road driving.
Handling is nimble enough at slow speeds on tight mountain single track or in parking lots, but the too-soft suspension wallows in turns at city driving speeds. There’s less of that on higher speed sweepers, but only on smooth roads. That’s OK for long trips, but it doesn’t inspire car-like confidence. Speed-sensitive steering is quick enough at slow speeds, a bit vague at higher speeds and there’s more understeer than we’d like. Brakes are spongy and initial response is disconcertingly slow, but stepping harder on the pedal brings the two-ton truck to heal reasonably fast. Off-pavement, the softness of the suspension is a benefit.
None of the roof pillars obstruct any critical portion of the driver’s field of view. Front and side visibility is very good. Even with rear-seat headrests, visibility to the sides behind the driver is good. Rear view and side mirrors could be bigger to improve visibility to the sides and below the windows, but they’re adequate. Rear visibility is as good as you’ll find in an SUV like this. Kia offers a back-up system as an option, a good idea if you have small children who won’t be visible unless they’re several feet behind the vehicle.
Fun to Drive
Fun to drive in a 4WD vehicle such as the Sorento isn’t defined by its on-road persona so much as how it deals with the rough stuff. On a narrow, unpaved trail that lead from a ridge to a small valley, the truck took all of the ruts, rocks and steep humps in stride. On road, it’s fun to drive in manual shift mode because it gets to speed quickly without flooring the accelerator, but gas mileage suffers. With ABS, stability and traction control, the Sorento makes driving on compromised surfaces very easy, but don’t intrude on getting the job done. On pavement, we never knowingly engaged either the stability or traction control.
Seats are very comfortable and supportive with good bolstering. The driver gets an eight-way power adjustable bucket, while the passenger only gets a manual with less adjustment Head rests adjust for height and angle. There is plenty of hip, shoulder, head and leg room for all but the tallest drivers or passengers (think NBA player). Getting in and out is easy even without using one of the grab handles above each door. Tilt-adjust steering wheel features leather wrap. The gear shift is a large plastic affair, not pretty but functional. Padded armrests on the doors and a nicely padded armrest on the center console.
Rear seats are comfortable; less head and leg room, but still adult-sized on the left and right. Center seat leg room is much less because the center console intrudes and the seat back isn’t as plush. There are armrests on each door and a fold-down center armrest. Getting in is a bit harder because the backseats sit just in front of the rear axle, but it isn’t difficult. Plastic cladding on the door covers part of the wheel arch so that when the door is open, there’s a cleaner surface to climb over. Rear seat passengers feel the bumps more sitting over the axle, but it’s still a good ride.
Inside the Sorento is reasonably quiet. Some wind noise from the front of the vehicle is present, but it’s muted. Road noise is fairly minimal on grooved concrete and low on smoother surfaces. In manual shift mode, there’s plenty of engine and transmission noise, but that’s part of the fun, right? In ‘D’ it runs along quietly enough. On very bumpy surfaces, the larger of the split rear seatbacks rattled at its latch, but it rarely occurred in normal on-road driving. Michelin’s all-season Latitude Tour tire is quiet, but that’s typical for all-season rubber.
Easy describes loading the Sorento. With the rear hatch open, load height is below waist level and the floor is flush with the opening. Four tie-down rings are in the floor. Rear seats easily fold down from the side doors and lay flat after removing the headrests. The Sorento has nearly 32 cu. ft. of cargo room with the rear seats up; about double with the seats down. The hatch is easy to open and close, and has an assist grip. The rear window opens independently for easy loading of light items. A 12-volt power socket, tonneau cover, storage bins and space under cargo floor round out the back area.
Build quality is quite good and in keeping with modern standards, and what’s expected of a vehicle at this price. Seams are tight and even. Exterior trim is tight, with the only loose piece being the small insert in the lower grill opening. Inside, seams are also tight and even, and everything feels solid.
Overall quality is very good. Almost everything is covered with soft-touch and padded surfaces inside. There are hard plastics where it makes sense, such as lower door panels. On the center console and stack, the hard plastics have faux wood and metal finishes that are subtle and don’t scream ‘cheap.’ Seats have supple, ventilated leather. A padded fabric headliner is a nice break from mouse fuzz on plastic. Matching grain on vinyl coverings rounds out a well-executed interior. Exterior materials other than sheet metal are durable plastics.
Exterior styling isn’t as boxy and truck-like as some vehicles in the class, but it’s still functional and nothing is out of proportion. Plastic cladding is enough to be functional, but not so much as to be grotesque. While it might be a bit bland to some, it is neither gimmicky nor unattractive. Red and white courtesy lamps on all doors are a functional touch. Kia equips this vehicle with un-faddish 16-inch wheels mounted with high-profile tires, keeping with the off-road intentions. Interior styling is simple and attractive. Decorative touches are low-key. Coupled with the quality and comfort, it’s a great combination.
Plentiful describes storage in the Sorento: Four cup holders in the center console, two front, two rear; a small drawer in the center stack; two bins in the center console; two tiers under the center arm rest, both of useful dimensions; a flip down bin on the left side of the dash; storage bins in all four doors; a storage bin under the passenger seat; pockets on both front seat backs; sunglasses holder in overhead console. Whew! All of these offer useful places to keep your stuff. The good-sized glove box has a map pocket.
Our test vehicle came with the premium six-disc, CD/MP3 player. A good sounding, 10-speaker system with a separate amp, the controls were logical and well-marked. Knobs had nice rubber grips and the buttons were a generous size. FM reception was good, even in one dodgy canyon area. One feature that was lacking: an auxiliary input jack for an MP3 player. The iPod has been out for several years, so that’s a disappointment. A satellite or HD radio option would also have been nice.
Our test vehicle had automatic dual climate control. One large, textured knob for each side controls temperature. A button on front of each knob activates or deactivates auto mode on one and dual mode on the other. Eight, well-marked buttons control A/C, system on-off, defrost mode, air-flow modes, fan speed and fresh or re-circulate. An LED readout displays all current settings and is readable in daylight with sunglasses on. Heated seat buttons are simple on-off buttons in the center stack.
Kia provides familiar stalk controls for lights, turn signals and front and rear wipers/washers. The rear defroster button is in the center stack next to the seat heater buttons and hazard flasher switch. The driver’s door has a rear hatch window release, outside mirror controls, power window controls and central door lock switch. Only the driver’s window is auto down. A knob on the left side of the dash switches from automatic 4WD to 4WD low-range. Overhead, the console has two map lights, a pair of switches for the sunroof’s tilting and sliding modes. On the steering wheel, audio and cruise controls are left and right respectively, and are simple and logical.
Plenty of competition is there for the Sorento, both from SUVs and crossovers. The Jeep Liberty, Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra are all in the same range of size, options and pricing, but with more ambitious off-road capabilities. If you’re more interested in rockin’ down the highway instead of crawling up rocks, three crossovers fit the bill: Ford’s Edge, Subaru’s Tribeca and Hyundai’s Santa Fe. Both the Tribeca and Santa Fe can add a third-row seat. So while someone who wants all-out off-road capability might lean toward the FJ Cruiser, and someone who needs seven seats might favor the Tribeca, the Sorento is a good value with many fine attributes.
2ND Opinion –
Interiors sell cars, and boy – Kia sure got that memo. Just about everyone will appreciate the cabin of the 2007 Kia Sorento, from the high quality plastics and leather seating fabric to soft touch surfaces and controls that feel good to the touch and are placed in correct and obvious positions. There’s no hunting here, not for fan control, temp adjustment or radio band. Problems inside the cabin revolve around a slightly noisy ride, thanks to some wind whistles emanating from the sunroof, and some loud freeway tire complain’.
MyRide.com Managing Editor
2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
With its Lexus RX styling cues, street tires and overall soft-roader persona, it’s easy to forget that the Kia Sorento is actually a truck, one that has decent off-road capability. Sure, it’s thrown up against competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but in reality it competes more against vehicles such as the Jeep Liberty. I didn’t get a chance to take it off road, but I was impressed overall with the Sorento on my commute. The interior is nicely appointed, albeit with a few cheap touches, and the cargo capacity and other basics are well done as well.
MyRide.com Road Test Editor