2008 Kia Sorento EX 4×4 Review
By Kevin Miller
Kia’s corporate tagline is “The Power To Surprise”. It was on the license plate frame of the company’s Sorento EX 4×4 SUV I recently spent a week driving for the purposes of review. Unfortunately, I was not surprised in a particularly good way. Instead, I was surprised to notice so many Sorentos on the road. I was surprised to find out that the vehicle I was testing had an MSRP of $30,195. And I was surprised how poor the fuel economy was, even on a long highway trip with the cruise control set.
Nearly every automaker manufactures a five-passenger SUV or crossover vehicle of some sort. While they all share a basic shape, chassis and packaging details differentiate the many vehicles in this diverse class. Among competitors, the Sorento is notable for its body-on-frame construction. In a world where more and more SUVs and crossover vehicles are turning to unibody construction, the Sorento soldiers on with this heavier setup. Rumor has it that the next generation Sorento will be introduced this week in Geneva, and will feature unibody construction. Hopefully this will tame the bouncy, SUV-style ride, which featured plenty of body roll and wheel movement. The often-unsettled ride reminded me of a friend’s early-1990s Jeep Cherokee; that is not meant as a compliment.
The Sorento features fairly generic SUV styling, and my Midnight Blue Sorento EX featured contrasting (if somewhat dated-looking) Pewter Gray colored lower-body cladding and wheel arch trim. The vehicle I tested had small-looking 16” wheels and tires with tall sidewalls. After a week of staring at the vaguely familiar SUV shape, I decided that from a lot of angles the Sorento looks like a first-generation Lexus RX300 SUV, though the shapes of the grill and headlamps are far less pleasing than those on the Lexus.
Climbing behind the wheel, the dash top is made from a nice-looking, lightly-grained plastic, though all materials lower than the top of the dash and top of the doors are made from hard, glossy plastic. The electronic displays for odometer, climate control, clock, and stereo display feature gray liquid-crystal characters in yellowish-green backgrounds, a technology that has been common in vehicles for nearly two decades and is now showing its age. The black plastic shifter feels hard and brittle to the touch, and has some rotational play in its attachment to the shaft. The hard gray plastic handbrake also has an unsatisfactory feel in its actuation, and the bezel around the stereo, clock, and TPMS display is a throwback to a simpler time in automotive plastics. Pretty much everything on the center stack and console has a cut-rate appearance and feel, then, even if it is perfectly functional.
The driver’s seat, thinly padded and upholstered in a non-premium grade of leather, is hard and flat. The armrest and door top surfaces where elbows rest are also thinly padded, though they are well placed. Because of the Sorento’s tall ride height and the high driver’s seat (even when in lowest position), the sensation was of sitting on top of the car, high above the road, dash, and controls. It was not an enjoyable sensation. Legroom was barely adequate for my 6’5” frame.
The Delco Electronics-branded stereo featured a 6-disc CD changer which could read MP3 discs. The sound quality was pretty good, and operation of the unit was very straightforward. Unfortunately, it lacked satellite radio capability, Bluetooth phone functionality, and an auxiliary input.
The back seat had plenty of room to fit three car seats across its width, which is a rarity (the Suzuki XL-7 can also do this). Unfortunately, adults will find that the back seat’s cushion is way too close to the floor. When I sat behind the driver’s seat, my knees didn’t touch the front seatback, but they were nearly at the same height as my chin. I wouldn’t have been comfortable back there for more than ten or fifteen minutes.
Around back, the tailgate glass can open independently from the top-hinged cargo door, which is handy for loading smaller items. Luggage space in the Sorento was plentiful, and there was a retractable cargo cover. The rear seats fold forward in a 60/40 split to expand cargo space, but when they do, a big seam in the cargo area’s upholstery is exposed, as are the flimsy covers for the upper tethers.
Out on the road, when pulling away from a stop the 3.8 liter V6 featured an aggressive sound from its intake manifold and from its exhaust, which was noticeable in the cabin. My wife complained that the Sorento was too noisy, though I didn’t share her opinion. The 262 HP engine had plenty of power to move the heavy Sorento around, though the brakes always felt merely adequate, taking a seemingly long time to bring the SUV to a halt. The five-speed automatic transmission had a manual shifting gate, which did nothing to hurry shifts along, In automatic mode, the transmission was slow to downshift, especially when attempting to accelerate sharply from a speed of 30-40 MPH.
A base Kia Sorento features a 242 HP 3.3 liter V6, with rear wheel drive, and starts at $20,995. The LX RWD starts at $22,195, with the LX 4×4 costing $24195, featuring the same 3.3 liter engine. Stepping up to the EX bumps the displacement to 3.8 liters, with a corresponding bump in power to 262 HP, with two-wheel drive models starting at $24,295 and 4×4 at $26,195.
The Sorento EX 4×4 I tested featured the 3.8 liter V6, four-wheel drive with electronically selected Auto and Low range settings, front and curtain airbags a driver’s knee bag, leather wrapped steering wheel, and privacy glass. Starting from the aforementioned $26,195, it added the $3,000 Luxury Package (16” Machined Alloy Wheels, Sunroof, Leather Package, Heated Front Seats, Automatic Dual-Zone Climate Control, Automatic Headlamps, Premium AM/FM/6-Disc in-dash CD/MP3, Chrome Exterior Door Handles, and Full-time On-Demand 4WD) and a $200 Rear Spoiler. Including the $700 freight and handling fee, the MSRP of this Sorento was $30,195. For consumers who think of Kia vehicles as inexpensive alternatives, this Sorento’s price will come as a shock.
At that price, there are a lot of other SUVs with more refinement and more standard equipment, both inside and outside. While Kia currently is offering a $5,000 discount on 2008 Sorentos, I still think that there are better vehicles available for that amount of money. The Kia was missing plenty of equipment that would make it appealing, such as Bluetooth phone integration, Aux-input jack for the stereo, and satellite radio.
As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised by the Sorento’s poor fuel economy (it is rated 15/20 MPG). I managed to get 18.2 MPG on a single fill-up: that was on a 250 mile trip, of which 230 miles were on the freeway with the cruise control set at 75 MPH. This is where I would have expected the Sorento to at least return rated highway MPG, but it didn’t. During my seven days with the Sorento I ended up driving it a total of 550 miles, returning an average of 17 MPG, which is the EPA’s combined fuel economy estimate.
If you are insistent about buying a Kia, the company’s larger SUV, the Borrego, may be a better choice. The Borrego V8 shares the smaller Sorento’s 15/20 MPG fuel economy rating, while the Borrego V6 is rated 16/21, and is available with the modern conveniences missing from the Sorento, namely Bluetooth phone integration and an auxiliary input to the stereo. The Borrego is better looking too, with a back seat that is more comfortable and with more cargo room too.
I wish that I had been pleasantly surprised by the Kia Sorento, but unfortunately I wasn’t. While the Sorento looks to be a relative bargain for more basic trim levels, the $30,195 Sorento EX 4×4 I drove is outclassed by most other vehicles in its segment and its price point. Kia’s standard ten-year, 100,000 mile warranty may be incentive enough to get lure some buyers to the Sorento, but tall people and people who actually enjoy driving should look elsewhere for their next SUV.
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