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  • 2004 Kia Sorento LX

    Posted on August 4th, 2004 ninarussin

    By Jim Woodman

    2004 Kia Sorento

    2004 Kia Sorento

    As an automobile journalist, I remember being invited to a Kia press dinner in 1997. You’d think a stone crab dinner at one of Miami’s finest restaurants would have attracted a few journalists.

    I was the only writer that showed.

    Asides from being embarrassed by my fellow South Florida journalists and feeling bad for the Kia executives who’d traveled from California, I had the unique opportunity to learn what a largely unknown South Korean auto manufacturer had planned for the United States.

    Back then, the idea of a South Korean manufacturer making a significant impact against the big Japanese automakers seemed as unlikely as peace in Iraq.

    Today, asides from still turning a few heads on price, Kia has made huge headway on quality. Not only do their latest models dial you into all the creature comforts you’d find on any Toyota, Honda or Nissan, but they do so for thousands of dollars less.

    Sorento LX

    In August 2004, I had another unique opportunity to test drive a 2004 Kia Sorento LX during a two-week vacation with my wife and two young boys. The Sorento is Kia’s SUV offering and significant upgrade to their first SUV model, the Sportage. It clearly falls into the mid-size SUV class at compact-size pricing.

    The idea was to drive from San Diego to Aspen, Colo. with an extended one-week stay in Sedona, Ariz. on the way back.

    I would also bring a bicycle, hiking gear and enough distractions for 5- and 3-year-old boys to stay entertained during days with as much as five or six hours of driving.

    Our Sorento came equipped with a 3.5 liter V6, 5-speed manual transmission that packed a surprising amount of pep, largely due to its 217 foot pounds of torque and very adequate 192 horses. In fact, even with the car fully-loaded, there was always plenty of power for highway passing, though this was largely due to the manual transmission and my ability to downshift when needing a mid-range acceleration.

    The biggest difference I’ve noticed from the Kia models of the late ’90s is how much they’ve closed the gap on what I’ll call the Toyota standard. If you didn’t know you were in a Kia, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in quality and materials.

    Make no mistake about it. This is a good-looking SUV. It sort of has a Mercedes Benz M-Class look from the front and a distinct wide-bodied look from behind. My boys loved the alpine gray color and were excited to ride in the “Kia” as they affectionately referred to it.

    Solid feel all the way around

    The Sorento felt solid all the way around. No rattling when you shut a door or rode over bumps. Dash controls, knobs and window levers all felt sturdy instead of cheap and plastic-like.

    And even though I had a 2-wheel drive model, I got to compare driving off-road with an H2 Hummer through Sedona’s canyon roads. No question the Hummer is a better off-road vehicle, but on the exact same road supposedly only for 4-wheel drive vehicles, the Sorento had no trouble navigating the rocks and bumps and is very capable of off-road jaunts.

    The Sorento gets excellent approach and departure angles because of its short front and rear overhangs, which makes sorting your way through rugged terrain possible without scraping. I also appreciated the narrow 36.4-foot turning radius, making it very easy to turn around on narrow roads or tight parking lots.

    The Sorento is definitely not a sedan. It’s basically a mid-sized SUV on a truck body and — no surprise here — it rides like a truck. But when you consider what you get size and style-wise for what you’d pay for other compact SUVs, it’s easy to see why the Sorento is probably the most appealing vehicle made by the Koreans.

    Absorb this for a few seconds and guess what you’d pay for an SUV outfitted with the same features: power windows and locks, dual front and side curtain air bags, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry, AM/FM CD with 8-speakers, 8-way driver’s seat with lumbar support, illuminated vanity mirrors, alloy wheels, Michelin tires, roof rack, fog lamps, side step bars, three 12-volt power outlets, first aid kit, leather wrapped steering wheel, rear window defroster and wiper.

    I doubt many in today’s world of $30K SUVs would believe you can score the Sorento with the above features for $20K and change. Plus when you factor in a 10-year 100-mile powertrain warranty, it’s easy to see why this may be the most compelling purchase for any vehicle just over $20,000.

    Fuel economy sub par

    Fuel economy is probably my only major gripe as the Sorento guzzles gas much as if it were an 8-cylinder. At an estimated 16 city mpg, and 19 highway, I can attest that we weren’t faring much better. Plus the fact I’m definitely one to take advantage of the 75 mph posted speed limits in Arizona and hover in the low 80s, makes it even harder to get decent mileage.

    That said, the Sorento can easily cruise at 80 mph with no stress.
    My only other gripe is that cargo capacity is a little tight when you’re hauling a family of four, with car seats, bikes and luggage. But the fact we could get everything we needed in this car for two weeks on the road shows it’s very doable. With the rear seat raised, there’s 31.4 cubic feet of cargo room.

    If the rear seats, which can be folded down separately in a 60/40 configuration, are both down, you get 66.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity – plenty to lie a full-sized road or mountain bike on its side.

    There are rumors of a 3-row, 7-adult seating configuration coming from Kia in 2006, either as a new model or new Sorento. This should definitely turn heads, especially within offices of the big three Japanese manufacturers.

    Towing Capacity

    The Kia can tow 3,500 pounds on a good day, which just barely gets it into the ALV (Active Lifestyle Vehicle) towing capability minimum. This isn’t the SUV you’ll want if you’re towing any decent kind of load.

    Speaking of towing, our Sorento was also outfitted with a towing hitch, which allowed me to easily place a hitch-mount bicycle rack on the back. Great thing about the hitch-mount racks is that they easily swing out and allow you access to the rear tailgate.

    The Sorento’s tailgate, which folded down when opened, also allowed us to lower the rear window separately by inserting the key.

    From a safety perspective, my wife was very pleased with the fact the Sorento had standard side curtain air bags in addition to the front passenger ones. Amazing for a car at this price, we thought. Installing child car seats was a snap and the safety latches were conveniently located and easy to latch.

    Anti-lock brakes an option

    The only surprise was the fact anti-lock brakes are a $595 option on both trim levels. I would definitely add this option if I were buying the vehicle as you’re much better off in an emergency braking situation if your car is less susceptible to an uncontrollable skid.

    When I think back to that dinner in Miami with the Kia executives, I’ll never forget their foreshadowing statements. While I don’t remember their exact words, the gist of their conversation was that while they may not be there today, they had a total commitment to building cars every bit as good as the Japanese.

    And they would market these cars for thousands less. After two weeks in the Sorento, I would say Kia has almost delivered on that promise. I say almost because I wouldn’t put them at Toyota quality level quite yet.
    But quality is so close, that my decision in choosing between similar models, such as the Toyota Highlander, would probably sway my decision towards Kia.

    The 2004 Kia Sorento is available in two trim levels: LX ($18,995) and EX ($23,050), also available in LX 4WD ($20,800) and EX 4WD ($24,850).

    Quick Facts:

    Base price: $18,965
    Price as tested: $20,930
    Horsepower: 192 @ 5,500
    Torque: 217 ft lbs @ 3,000
    0 to 60: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Option
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: Yes
    Towing: No
    Off-road: Yes
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Fuel economy: 16 city / 19 hwy

     

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