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2003 Kia Sorento

New SUV packs value into a remarkably grown-up package.

See all Kia Sorento articles
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by John Matras April 2003


The Kia Sorento is an all-new mid-size sport-utility that has the potential to become a runaway bestseller. Named after a city in Italy, the Sorento packs a big V6 engine. It seats five with lots of elbow room. It will go anywhere its rivals will off road, yet it maintains a civil attitude on the pavement.

What sets the Sorento apart is its price: $5,000 to $6,000 less than comparable SUVs. Yet it comes loaded with standard features.

Model Lineup

The 2003 Kia Sorento is available in two trim levels: LX and EX. Pricing had not been announced when this was written, but we're guessing $18,500 for an LX and $22,500 for an EX with four-wheel drive adding about $1500 to each.

LX comes loaded with standard features. A 3.5-liter 24-valve double overhead-cam V6 is standard, and comes with an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic with overdrive. Other standard features include air conditioning, central locking, power windows with driver-side express down, dual heated power mirrors, cruise control (with steering wheel-mounted controls), tilt wheel, AM/FM/CD sound system with eight speakers, and a rear cargo cover; these features are often extra cost on other SUVs.

EX is powered by the same V6, but replaces the LX's engine-speed sensitive power rack & pinion steering with electronic vehicle speed sensing power. Also added are floor mats, standard alloy wheels, a power sunroof, 8-way power driver's seat, remote keyless entry, a "multimeter" in the overhead console, electrochromatic inside rearview mirror, Homelink, and a Delphi premium CD/cassette stereo with steering wheel audio controls.

A Luxury package optional on the EX includes a sophisticated Torque on Demand full-time all-wheel drive system (that also includes a "low range"), automatic headlamps, heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, and a six-disc in-dash CD changer. A self-leveling rear suspension and a rear spoiler are options for the EX. Leather upholstery is available as an option.

Four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS) is a standalone option on all models.


The Kia Sorento's designers seem to have done what sometimes seems impossible in the SUV market: They designed an SUV that doesn't really look like anything else.

From the side, particularly around the C-pillar, there's a slight resemblance to the Lexus RX300, but the front has a distinct look, if somewhat Mercedes M-Class-ish. From the rear, the Sorento has distinctively broad shoulders, thanks to a shoulder line that steps out and sweeps around the tailgate. The truck's width, wider than most of its competitors, is apparent from this angle. Sorento's headlights have stylish clear covers. Out back, Kia managed to do something different with the taillights, circular with dots of red in a spoke-like pattern.

The Sorento's front and rear overhangs are short, something that anyone who takes the Sorento seriously off road will appreciate. Those who frequent colder climes will appreciate the standard rear defroster and rear wiper, and the hot-wire windshield deicer.

The EX has a two-tone treatment with lower body cladding in a contrasting color. The LX doesn't have the cladding. A roof rack is standard on the EX, but optional on the LX.

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Interior Features

The Kia Sorento is a roomy vehicle, offering slightly more headroom and equal front shoulder room to that of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Three adults will fit in the back seat, with generous leg room and four cup holders.

The Sorento is built to a price, and this is most evident in the interior. The EX has splashes of "woodgrain" trim, which is plastic doing a poor job imitating wood. The woodgrain surrounds the center stack on the dash and splashes of it are on the door panels. The steering wheel rim on the Luxury package Sorento is half leather, half woodgrain, where a full-leather wheel would be nicer to grip.

The interior of the Kia Sorento is loaded with features, however. An overhead console offers sunglasses storage, map lights and a garage door opener pocket. A display provides readouts for outside temperature, compass, altitude, and, for weather buffs, barometric pressure. (We can think of no other car in history that has offered a barometer.) The center console has double bins, and there are useful cubbies, including a soft-touch slide out storage bin and a tip-out coin bin, both felt lined. A storage bin under front seat is standard, and the big lockable glove box has a map shelf plus the usual room. There are two power points up front, one for the second row and another in the cargo area.

The shifter is easy to reach and has a straight fore-and-back pattern. The control for four-wheel drive is a twist knob on the dash to the left of the steering wheel; the part-time 4wd in the LX includes a low range. The ignition key is on the dash, easier than fumbling to find a column-mounted keyhole behind the steering wheel.

The cargo area is accessible through the hatch, or through the rear glass window. There's another storage area under the cargo area floor. A cargo cover comes standard. The full-size spare tire is mounted under the vehicle and, if the model has alloy wheels, the spare is mounted on an alloy wheel as well. The rear seat flips and folds 60/40 to form a flat floor with a cargo capacity of 66.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. With the seat raised, there's 31.4 cubic feet of cargo room.

Driving Impressions

The Kia Sorento is quite capable off road, but you don't have to be a budding Daniel Boone to appreciate its driving capabilities. The engine is smooth and powerful, barely perceptible at idle but producing a velvety roar at full throttle. Wind noise can be heard around the A-pillars, but it's not oppressive and certainly quieter than the old Jeep Cherokee, the nadir of noise.

The Sorento needs all of its 192 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque to move its 4255 pounds. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, in comparison, weighs 3989 with the base in-line six that produces 195 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque, or 4081 lbs with the top V8 producing 265 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Unless you're going to the SUV drags, or have a heavy trailer to pull, you'll never notice, however. The Sorento has the oats to merge with freeway traffic and motor quietly once there, and with a 3500-lb. towing capacity, the Sorento will be able to pull camping trailers or dirt bike or personal watercraft trailers with ease. The Sorento loses out to the six-cylinder Grand Cherokee in highway mileage, at a 18 mpg versus 20 mpg Highway, but both 4x4 models are rated at 15 mpg around town. In real world driving, the difference should be slight.

The Sorento's wide track does give a sense of stability in corners. Ride quality is acceptable, adequate around town and at lower speeds, but it could use some improvement at higher speeds. On the interstate, longer motions, such as an undulating transitioning off an overpass, induces odd motions. It never threatens vehicle control, but on a rolling roadway it would be annoying. The long suspension motions are too soft, and perhaps rebound could be tightened up for a more controlled feel.

The Sorento comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes, and the large diameter vented discs will be hard to fade, even heavily loaded down long mountain passes. ABS is a standalone option, however, not included even on the EX with the luxury package.

Although most SUV drivers never take their mounts off-road, if an SUV has four-wheel drive (or even if it doesn't), it needs to have the ruggedness to go afield. The Kia Sorento does. It has sturdy body-on-frame construction and just how sturdy is apparent when one goes seriously off road, which we did to test the Sorento in extreme conditions. And despite crawling over body-twisting trails, the Sorento didn't creak, groan or rattle, suggesting that the frame is sturdy indeed.

The Sorento's excellent approach and departure angles are a benefit of short front and rear overhangs that make climbing abruptly steep hills possible without dragging a front or rear bumper in the dirt. Its nimble turning radius makes navigation in the woods less difficult as well. That 36.4 foot turning radius will help you in the parking lot, too.


The 2003 Kia Sorento is good enough to buy on its own merit. It's a solid piece of work that will look good in your driveway, on the road, or in the woods or desert. It will work well in all those areas. Kia's all-new SUV is a genuine truck, built on a frame, and boasts a V6 engine. It's packed with interior features.

Value is the key to the Kia. The Sorento comes with Kia's 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and 5-year/100,00 mile anti-perforation warranty, with a 5-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan thrown in for good measure. When price is factored in, the Sorento becomes even more attractive. Just about anyone could use an extra six thousand dollars in their pocket.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup: LX 2WD; LX 4WD; EX 2WD; EX 4WD
Engines: 192-hp 3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions: 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): front airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, rear child safety door locks, LATCH system, pretensioners and force limiter for front seat belts, impact fuel cutoff
Safety equipment (optional): ABS
Basic warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
Assembled in: Hwasung, South Korea

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): EX 4WD
Standard equipment: air conditioning, keyless remote entry, power locks, cruise control with steering wheel controls, tilt wheel, auto-dimming rear view mirror with Homelink, dual power heated outside mirrors, overhead console with display for outside temperature, compass, altimeter, barometer, rear cargo cover and cargo net, floor mats, Delphi AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD, 10 speakers, rear window defogger, rear intermittent wiper/washer, power windows w/ one-touch down, leather wrapped/woodgrain steering wheel, seat heaters, driver lumbar adjust, skid plates, Torque-on-Demand 4WD, trailer lighting connector, fog lamps, power sunroof, privacy glass, alloy wheels
Options as tested (MSRP): ABS; leather seats
Destination charge: N/A
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): N/A
Layout: 4-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 192 @ 5500
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 217 @ 3000
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 15/18 mpg
Wheelbase: 106.7 in.
Length/width/height: 179.8/73.3/68.1 in.
Track, f/r: 62.2/62.2 in.
Turning circle: 36.4 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 39.7/55.3/42.6 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 39.5/58.0/36.1 in.
Trunk volume: 66.4 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 3500 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: live axle
Ground clearance: 8.2 in.
Curb weight: 4255 lbs.
Tires: P245/70R16
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of .
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.

N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-333-4KIA (1-800-333-4542) - www.kia.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2003 Kia Sorento - Autotrader