By on January 4, 2008

kia-sorento-camping-out-so-to-speak.jpgHeavy frost blanketed Broken Bow Lake, Oklahoma, where my sons and I bade farewell to 2007. Thirty hearty souls braved the sub-freezing night for a fly fishing adventure. Predawn light revealed our trucks standing sentinel over the smoldering remains of the previous night’s campfires. Through my billowing breath, I examined ice crystals forming a thousand little shrines on the SUVs’ sheet metal. A thought occurred to me: everyone that made the journey to our pine needle-carpeted glade did so in a heavy-bodied American SUV or pickup. In that early morning chill I wondered, is the Kia Sorento ready to join the club?

The Sorento’s wildly inoffensive design remains unchanged since 2003 (and will do until 2010). Given the temper of the times, it’s no bad thing for an Old School solid rear axle trucklet to maintain relatively diminutive proportions and ape a cute ute (albeit one that doesn’t look like a badly packed linen suit). As an off-road appliance, the Sorento doesn’t put a foot wrong, from its handsome, functional lower-body cladding to its deeply generic jewelry.

interior.jpgEven with the EX' $2500 Luxury Package, the Korean cabin doesn’t hold a candle to its more modern competitors. On paper, the option group looks great: leather upholstery, upgraded audio, dual zone A/C, heated front seats and alloy wheels. In practice, the skins pulled tight over Sorento’s seats must be sourced from malnourished thin-skinned North Korean cows. The audio is what it should be and no more. And the rest doesn’t pass the “Hey Martha, get a load of this” test.

Furthermore, there’s no dressing-up the Kia’s drab, downmarket dash. Panels fit together as closely as Dan Aykroyd’s Norge refrigerator repairman character’s buttocks. The retractable rear cargo cover is fabricated from the same tacky and tenuous vinyl used for old white window shades. The Sorento’s Spartan layout works by bargain basement economy car standards, but this $30k Korean has moved up a league. How you gonna keep ‘em in the showroom once they’ve been to Toyondissan, or, for that matter, Detroit?

On the plus side, the Sorento’s seating positions are excellent and the head room’s adequate for occupants up to 6’3” tall. Rear knee room and bench seat bests the comfort of the similarly-sized ’08 Jeep Liberty.

kia-sorento-side.jpgFortunately for the Sorento, backwoods fly fishermen care little for luxury–– as long as everything works as advertised and can be cleaned without much fuss. To service the “genuine truck” market to which the Sorento (by necessity) aspires, the Kia must reliably transport lifestylers and their gear to their favorite recreation areas. Excluding worrying reports of long-term mechanical reliability, this is where the Sorento shines.

The EX gets a free-breathing 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve aluminum block six cylinder engine that revs with all the carefree abandon of a Honda. When your foot reaches into the revolutionary penthouse, the mill cranks out 262hp and 260 ft.-lbs. of torque. The Sorento’s five-speed automatic slushbox lacks the quick wit to satisfy anyone with leaden feet.  Its virtue is its ability to delicately swap gears with nary a tremor. BUT– there’s enough twist to foil the rear wheel electronic traction control and induce massive oversteer (file under ‘Fun’).

Equally important, Kia found the middle ground (that eluded Jeep Liberty engineers) between harsh and uncontrollably soft rides. The Sorento manages a comfortable and refined ride without completely losing its composure during abrupt maneuvering.  It leans predictably in corners but recovers with little rebound.

kia-sorento-front.jpgKia claims the little mill is sufficient to tow 5000 lbs.  While I highly doubt Sorento owners will attempt to pull trailers of that magnitude, it’s enough juice to easily motivate a full load of camping equipment, fishing tackle and humanity over highways and onto the roads less traveled.

Speaking of which, the Sorento is a REAL SUV in a relatively compact package. The Kia’s solid rear axle provides sufficient articulation for seriously uneven trails. The company claims 8.2” minimum ground clearance and rock friendly approach and departure angles (28.4 degrees / 25.8 degrees). This dog will hunt. Also archetypal: this pot bellied pig tips the scales at 4,277 lbs. and feasts on dead dino juice at the rate of 15/21 mpg.

kia-sorento-rear.jpgAnd speaking of expensive, my 2008 Sorento EX 4×2 test rig rang-in at a healthy $28,395. Opt for 4×4, and KIA’s deeply generic SUV tops $30K. Never mind all the cute ute competition that rears their coiffed heads at that price point (CR-V, RAV-4, Escape, Equinox), but that amount of wedge can make you a Ford Explorer, which is, it must be said, a damn fine rig.

The Sorento EX is a competent driver with a zesty engine and off-road cred that’s seriously hampered by a budget car interior and over-ambitious pricing. The cheaper models– staring in the low 20's with a choice of a smaller engine and driven wheels options– make a LOT more sense. But the Sorento EX is not ready to play with the big boys.

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26 Comments on “2008 Kia Sorento EX Review...”

  • avatar

    At least it has a 10 year 100K warranty. You won’t find that at Toyhonissan or many other places.

  • avatar

    A coworker just bought one of these (used) about a month ago.

    He’s already looking to get rid of it, too many problems with oil leaks and other bits coming unglued. Keep in mind the Sorento was designed before Kia’s buyout by Hyundai and the subsequent quality improvements.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Kia and Hyundai are far more ‘aspirational’ with their pricing than they were two years ago. Surprisingly, both are finding a lot of difficulty and the reasons vary from model to model.

    As far as the Sorrento goes, I can’t see this vehicle ever breaking 25k on a driveout. The only way they’re going to be able to move this metal is to roll out the proverbial red carpets of $5,000+ discounts and highly liberal levels of financing (which has been a Kia hallmark even after the Hyundai buyout).

    Out of all the brands out there, Kia’s tend to be the rarest to be seen at over 150k at the dealer sales. In fact, I looked at all of Carmax’s trade-in’s a few weeks ago (several thousands per week) and not a single location showed a Kia with over 150k.

    Just checked again. 25 Kia trade-in’s so far this week. Not a one with over 150k and only 4 with over 100k. On the flip side, Hyundai registers 13 out of 38 100k+ vehicles with a 2002 Sonata registering at 200k. Toyota already has 15 vehicles registered with over 200k and over 70% of their vehicles are at least 100k+. That should tell you something right there.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    One more thing… out of the 90 Toyotas with at least 150,000 miles registered, only 5 of them have any noticeable engine or transmission issues. One of those five was a salvaged vehicle with an ownership history that’s more dramatic than a Jimmy Swaggert tent revival.

    Three of the first ten ‘higher’ mileage Hyundais have issues with two of the first three with engine AND transmission problems. Only one vehicle older than 2000 in that entire group has a clean bill of health.

    I’m starting to figure out why Hyundai and Kia are having so much trouble converting those Toyota buyers.

  • avatar

    Fortunately Hyundai quickly replaced most of the Kia drive trains with their own shortly after buying out Kia. I put 115k hard miles on a Hyundai Tiburon and it was still going strong after that – I saw it around town for another 2 years after that before the girl that ended up with it sold it/traded it in.

    I suspect people trade out of the Kia before the 100k mark because of perception and because of how cheap they are…if you do it right you can get them pretty darn cheap, and I’d really be surprised if anyone paid more than 22k for an ex as tested.

  • avatar

    Steven – Hyundai used to source engines and transmissions from Mitsubishi. Only when they had their own engines and transmissions in place they started the 10yr/100k mile warranty on the drive train, but they still had a small handful of models with Mitsu drive trains in place until 2001. I believe the 99 model year was when the warranty began.

  • avatar

    Fly fishing in backwoods Oklahoma while driving a Kia Sorento. 2008 can only get better……..

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Orian, I can tell you right now. The Kia’s I’ve seen with near that mileage have multiple issues. You can go to some of the owner review sites on the web. Assembly quality, wear issues, electronics and overall durability for Kia products has been far below the average.

    I’m actually a fan of Hyundai. When folks ask me what type of vehicle to buy… and they are looking at the lower end of the midsized market, I usually mention the Sonata (and Fusion). Hyundai is literally trying to dump the vehicle right in order to get sales numbers up, and the quality of that model is very good.

    Hyundai has a huge cloud over the horizon though with Toyota’s hybrid system. For about 5k more you can get a comparable vehicle that gets nearly 40 miles to the gallon and Toyota’s 20+ year reputation for quality. In the next few years that price margin will most likely narrow considerably as the hybrid system becomes universal among Toyota’s product line.

    Hyundai can offer all the V8’s and features they can fathom but unless they can show that their products are a far better deal than the Toyota offerings, they will have a lot of trouble staying profitable in North America. The fact that their exterior styling ranges from bland to just plain terrible for most of their high volume models isn’t going to help matters either.

  • avatar

    Kia: For all your disposable car needs.

  • avatar

    I had a rental Sorento last year and I wasn’t overly impressed with it. It felt jittery and top heavy to the point of feeling unsafe. Even at deeply discounted prices there is better value to be had elsewhere.

  • avatar

    Might not have to pay 30k for the Kia out the door but for that price range I would be buying a 4Runner, even if I had to accept fewer options.

  • avatar


    I believe that on the Kia’s. Hyundai is still trying to convert the models over to their platforms now, and I know that some of the drive trains in the Kia’s were Kia drive trains up until a couple of years ago I believe. The quality of some of the current and definitely the older models is lacking.

    Hopefully Hyundai can fix that sooner rather than later.

    As far as engines and drive trains go, they are starting to fall behind. They need to innovate now instead of sitting on their duffs.

  • avatar

    The gas mileage on all Hyundais and Kias is pretty lousy, especially considering the comparative lack of “oomph” that their engines put out.

  • avatar

    Not really.

    In the world of High Performance Parts. They make a lot performance parts for the Hyundai
    The one you called a piece of sh__t car. If this Korean car is worthless those manufacturers will not be making those performance parts for this Korean dog, It’s just a waste of time.

    But for those Mid Pro race car drivers looking for a cheap but fast reliable car, the Hyundai is the answer to their budget. I have respect for the Hyundai.

    Just like buying a Generic Honda but made in South Korea.

  • avatar

    Like another commentor I had one as a rental about two years ago, when my company car was in the shop. I walked away not very impressed. It was okay, it went where you pointed it, and everything worked. Still, it seemed inferior to pretty much all of its competition.

  • avatar

    speedbrakes, there are lots of worse places than Broken Bow Lake to greet the new year. It’s in the Ouachita [wash-uh-tah] Mountains, down by the southeast corner of the state. Check it out:

  • avatar

    My apologies to the good folks in Bow Lake. Looks like a much nicer place than Enid, Oklahoma located in the opposite corner of the state where I unfortunately spent seven months of my life.

    A big yawn for the Kia. Sounds like Lieberman had much more fun beating on the Suzuki SX4 which costs about half of a Sorento.

  • avatar

    I still don’t understand why the the corporate 3.8L V6 is so thirsty (compared to V6s from Japan) in every Kia or Hyundai car/truck.

    And Bill,since you mentioned it, the Explorer is about the same price (incentives) its 6-speed/V8 loses 2MPG city and 1MPG highway, has a (somewhat) nicer interior, a real 3rd row, and something called a fully independent suspension. That’s bang for your buck.

    Of course, mid size SUVs are all a moot point…people flock to CUVs today.

  • avatar

    Orian 10:58- A good lesson not learnt by Detroit! Even vice versa, a lesson abused.

  • avatar

    Haven’t driven the Sorento, but rented a Sportage (I liked to call it the Sport-a-ge). It is by far, the absolute worst thing I have ever driven. Besides the terribly unsafe handling dynamics (the driver sun visor had a nice warning sticker screaming “Rollover Imminent!”) The damn thing had noxious fumes coming off the cheap plastic that were making all the passengers sick, and required keeping the windows open at all times.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I’m sorry but if the Sorento is a REAL SUV (with a whopping 8 inches of ground clearance (!!!!)and a solid rear axle yet) and costs $30,000 with the OPTIONAL 4×4, then I guess my idea of a “capable” off-roader needs to be seriously reexamined.

    I gravely doubt the Sorento could go anywhere a Ford Ranger or F-150 two-wheel drive pickup with limited slip rearend couldn’t go. Folks, this is not a SUV that real offroaders would take seriously. It might do okay on a well-graded dirt road or in a slight skiff of snow, but so would a Toyota Prius with appropriate snowtires and a good driver.

    $30,000 is solidly Jeep Rubicon territory, which would truly run circles around this pathetic gelding offoad. There is a vast yawning gulf between the self-deceitful “image” that would seduce someone into buying a Sorento versus its actual pathetic capabilities.

    If you find the Jeep Liberty’s suspension too harsh for your daily commuting needs, then you probably have no business owning a SUV to begin with.

    And even with that in mind, the Sorento still only gets 15/21 mpg? The fact that people still buy vehicles like this to cruise the mall is increasingly an obvious clear and present danger to the health and safety of the Republic.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I just read a review of another soccermomobile SUV which suggested that they are usually justified, sold and purchased as “snowy day kid-haulers.”

    Since this webpage styles itself the “Truth about Cars,” how about commissioning some tests that show the real-world snow capabilities of some cute utes versus any of the decent front-wheel drive minivans or four-door economy cars and equip the latter two with some decent snowtires. Some Blizzaks or some Ice Pilots, or even a reasonable pair of studded snow tires.

    Since I live less than 200 miles from the Canadian border in the true Snow-Belt, it is often very shocking to me just how BAD most SUVs are at fulfilling their stated, but demonstrably fraudulent justification.

    Many a time, when I drove an older Saab 900 shod with good Ice Pilots or Blizzaks, it amazed me the looks of terror and white knuckle fear that SUV drivers would exhibit on mere unplowed snow after the night’s slight 4″ snowfall. SUV’s plus the standard factory all-season radials are a wallowing recipe for disaster in such conditions.

    The Saab by contrast, was utterly glue-sticky miraculous. You could drive normal highway speeds and not just feel, but be in absolute serene control. The SUVS were sliding all over the road by contrast. It was obvious to me that most people bought and buy them under clearly fraudulent pretexts.

    Last winter, I took the experiment even further and drove from November to April with a first-generation Mazda Miata equipped with some half-worn studded snow tires. My Miata lacks even the optional Limited slip rear diff.

    Now a Miata is nobody’s idea – too light, RWD, too close to the ground – of a great snow car. Yet, I never had a single problem in inches of new snow, on glare ice, in snow drifts or staying in complete control.

    For the mere price of the best snow tires, any generic minivan or front-drive sedan can surpass an SUV in almost any normal winter conditions, get far better gas mileage, and be far more fun and safer to drive the rest of the year (I just looked under the visor of a new Honda Civic. It lacks the standard SUV screaming “ROLLOVER DANGER” warning).

    If the Truth is that most purveyors of SUVs make their living on a series of easily disprovabke brazen lies about the so-called capabilities of their vehicles, then I think this webpage owes the world the proof.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Larry P2: I’m sorry but if the Sorento is a REAL SUV (with a whopping 8 inches of ground clearance (!!!!)and a solid rear axle yet) and costs $30,000 with the OPTIONAL 4_4, then I guess my idea of a “capable” off-roader needs to be seriously reexamined.

    I gravely doubt the Sorento could go anywhere a Ford Ranger or F-150 two-wheel drive pickup with limited slip rearend couldn’t go. Folks, this is not a SUV that real offroaders would take seriously. It might do okay on a well-graded dirt road or in a slight skiff of snow, but so would a Toyota Prius with appropriate snowtires and a good driver.

    A real SUV as opposed to a car based CUV with no low gear transfer case and front differential.

    The Sorento benefits from a much shorter wheelbase than either your Ranger or F-150 so it really does have a climbing advantage (break over angle), in addition to traction and gearing. Its narrow width means it fits places the larger trucks can’t. Besides, it’s easier to park. That said, if I had to choose, I’d take the F-150, too (for a host of other reasons).

    I can’t argue with your points regarding the need for appropriate tires for snow or off-roading, but you can put good snow tires on the Sorento as well in which case the 4WD would give it the upper hand over said Prius.

    Good drivers are, of course, indispensable for any vehicle be it Miata, Saab or Sorento. But that is a separate discussion.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The fact that their [Hyundai] exterior styling ranges from bland to just plain terrible for most of their high volume models isn’t going to help matters either.

    I have to disagree with at least part of that statement. IMO, The current Santa Fe is pretty distinctive, and the Sonata slam-dunked the last gen Accord in the looks department.

    But what IS up with their shitty gas mileage?

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Mr. Montgomery: Thank you for your gracious and thoughtful reply. I do agree that the Sorento would surpass a FWD if both were equipped with comparable snow tires.

    My point, however, is that SUVs are sold under the tacit myth that they are fine without snow tires. THey aren’t. And yet most consumers pay a fortune in extra retail price and gasoline because they think they are getting a capable vehicle without modifications. When a more practical and efficient sedan or minivan with snow tires would be a far better all around and more sensible, albeit less ego-boosting alternative.

    In these days of looming Peak Oil, is it responsible to drive vehicles soley for their ego-boosting “image?” Those transfer cases and front differentials burn up a lot of gasoline considering that the vast majority of them are rarely, if ever used.

    Capability, I guess is a term of art. In the circles I run in, a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is often derided as a barely marginal Store-bought-Barbie jeep. It is embarassing when I took mine out with some really skillful Jeepers with fine-tuned elderly CJ5s. They were in two-wheel drive most of the way, I got stuck three times with both lockers locked in. To even come close to acceptable in this crowd, a stock Rubie needs about $2,000 or so in modifications.

    The truth is, these modern SUVS, because of liability concerns, are firmly biased towards on-road safety, rather than off-road capability, including the Rubicon.

  • avatar

    My 2 cents: I bought a used ’05 SE, leather, fogs, low range gearing on a turn-switch (completely omissioned in the review, an option to drive in a 2X4 mode)… It was a bargain at low teens with 50K and the dealer threw in a major maint. service. This was several years ago, and I promptly sent it to my relatives in Russia, who had to pay the same amount in taxes to get it in (taxes there go high on anything above 2L 4 bangers). Long story short, it NEVER had any issues, so far: only maintenance type things, an occasional bulb or wiper. AC compressor went, they found a replacement at $300.
    Imagine Canada’s winter, toss in occasional deep freezes (-37C they had last winter in Moscow?), very Manhattan-like roads potholes-wise, and sporadic dilluted gasoline. Summers are short but super hot!
    This Sorento runs like a clock, starts even in crazy low temps. No issues, knock on wood.
    My own impressions, prior to shipping it out: liked it, liked it. Drove it through freezing rain, snow blizzard in the States without an issue. SE’s stereo (with in-dash cdx) is actually very good, very good, AUX in is there. Had no issues with the panel gaps, or the leather, like the original reviewer, but then again, I do not get to ride in Panameras too often. Compared nicely with my Land Rover Discovery II, felt much more nimble and quicker (Well, Disco 2 is a different animal, an ancient one). Highway noise is minimal, behavior is predictable, although, not car-like as in Q5. SIze wise, it most closely resembled an X5, bigger than Q5 by a good measure, except, to my own surprise, the X5 is a lot smaller from the inside than this Kia! The Kia’s 6-banger felt a bit thirstier than I expected, but nothing like the less hoarsy V8 in my 10 year old Land Rover.

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