2008 Kia Sorento EX 4X4Posted on December 21st, 2008
Mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with full off-road capability
By Nina Russin
Though it’s one of the older models in Kia’s stable, the mid-sized Sorento is a good choice for families with active lifestyles. First introduced in 2002 as an ’03 model, the Sorento is a value-priced alternative to the luxury Borrego.
Its durable body-on-frame chassis tows up to five thousand pounds, and when equipped with four-wheel drive, has the ability to negotiate serious off-road trails.
The four-wheel drive Sorento comes in two grades: the base LX and upscale EX (tested). Last year Kia introduced a new, more powerful V-6 engine for the LX. The EX retains the 3.8-liter block from former models.
Paired up with a standard five-speed automatic transmission, the larger V-6 provides good power and a smooth ride. It lacks the fuel economy of competitive offerings with six-speed automatic transmissions, especially on four-wheel drive models. Average fuel economy for the test car is seventeen miles-per-gallon.
Engineered for off-road durability
Body-on-frame construction has the advantage of durability when compared to unibody vehicles, although that can come at the expense of a rougher ride. The ladder frame that the Sorento is assembled on is rigid enough to withstand the kind of torsional stress that occurs on off-road trails. The ladder frame also makes it better suited for towing.
Having taken the Sorento on some nasty off-road trails, I can vouch for the model’s off-road capability. Standard underbody skid plates protect sensitive parts of the chassis from rock damage.
A full-sized spare adds a little weight, but also gives drivers the security of having a real tire should they get a puncture. A standard hitch makes the Sorrento trailer-ready out of the box.
Viable commuter car
With the exception of its rather poor gas mileage, the Sorento is a viable everyday car for urban commuters. A luxury package on the test car replaces the standard part-time four-wheel drive with a full-time torque-on-demand system ($3000).
The same option upgrades the standard cloth seats to leather and adds seat heaters, a sunroof, a premium audio system, and alloy wheels. The option includes a lot of content for the money, but it isn’t necessary for people who can live with the simpler interior.
The low gear range on the part-time four-wheel drive system provides the low gears and torque for true off-road driving. Buyers who live in areas with bad winter weather will benefit most from the full-time system: an on-board computer detects wheel slippage and automatically transfers engine power to the axle with the best traction.
The Sorento has an independent front suspension and solid rear axle: the five-link rear end gives the driver better control when towing. Although some solid axle trucks have a rough ride, I find the Sorento’s suspension quite compliant.
Power rack-and-pinion steering is responsive at all speeds. The Sorento’s thirty-five foot turning radius makes it fairly easy to do the occasional U-turn.
A thick C-pillar makes for a rather large blind spot towards the rear. The rear wheel restricts access and egress to the second-row seats, which could be an issue for larger families.
Curb weight on the EX 4X4 is almost 4300 pounds: the four-wheel drive mechanism adds about two hundred pounds to the truck. Its weight makes the Sorento feel heavy on the highway. The engine seems a little anemic during hard acceleration into highway traffic, or when passing other vehicles at speed.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the Sorento in a firm, linear fashion without being grabby. As with all of its current models, engineers made safety a priority. The Sorento comes with standard electronic stability and traction control as well as side curtain airbags.
Well configured interior
Kia did a great job of giving us active types the features we need inside a car: multiple powerpoints, a compass and ambient temperature display, cupholders big enough for water bottles, and enough small storage bins to stash books and maps.
An eight-way power driver’s seat has plenty of lower back support to make the Sorento comfortable on longer trips. Keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows and door locks are standard on the EX grade.
The second-row seats have enough legroom in the outboard positions for average adults, though taller people may feel cramped. The center console restricts legroom in the center position, especially if passengers are using the cupholders that flip out in back.
The rear seat folds flat to extend the cargo floor. To fold the seatbacks flat, the driver must first flip the seat bottoms forward and remove the headrests. It’s not a difficult operation, but the extra steps add a measure of time that may bother some owners.
A storage area under the cargo floor is a great place to hide valuables at the trailhead. Tie-down hooks in the cargo area make it easier to secure large items. a standard tonneau cover keeps items in back away from prying eyes.
Flip-up glass on the liftgate allows the driver to load in smaller items easily. Standard roof rails make it easy to add a bike rack or external luggage carrier. There’s a rubber step pad on the rear bumper to make it easier to reach the roof.
Industry leading warranty
Kia continue to offer buyers its ten-year/100,00 mile warranty that includes five years of roadside assistance. The Sorento received five-star federal safety ratings for frontal and side-impact protection, and a four-star rating for rollovers.
Base price on the test car is $26,195, not including a $700 destination charge. The Sorento is on display at Kia dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with true off-road capability and towing up to 5000 pounds. The Sorento is one of the best values in the mid-sized sport-utility segment. It received excellent scores in federal safety tests, and comes standard with side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control.
Dislikes: Fuel economy for the four-wheel drive model is not very good. The second-row seats are time consuming to fold flat, since the operation requires flipping the seat bottoms forward and removing the headrests.
Model: Sorento EX 4X4
Base price: $26,195
As tested: $30,095
Horsepower: 262 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 260 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 15/20 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $700 destination charge.
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