As much as anything else, Kia wants some respect. While most other manufacturers are struggling, the Korean carmaker�s sales are up some 23 per cent in Canada, and it has been steadily increasing its market share – in a depressed market – over the past few years. It has also gone from 35th to 12th place, worldwide, in marketing researcher J.D. Power�s initial quality survey. No longer just a purveyor of cheap cars, Kia sees itself being on equal footing with Honda, Toyota and anyone else that puts bums in seats.
To that end, they have overhauled their Sorento SUV and, as is often the case, the new version will be longer and wider than its predecessor, but with a lower body profile and wider track.
As well, there will be two engine choices: a 2.4 lite four cylinder, and 3.5 litre V6. These two have been used elsewhere; the V6 is found in the Sedona mini-van and Borrego, while the four cylinder is the so-called �world engine� also used by Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Chrysler. Two trim levels are offered with both powerplants: LX and EX, with a �Luxury� model also available with the V6. Power outputs are 175 and 276 horsepower, respectively, and the four cylinder is available with a six-speed manual transmission. The other choice is a six-speed automatic with Kia/Hyundai�s Steptronic manual shift feature. Brakes are four wheel disc with ABS, and it has MacPherson strut suspension up front and a multi-link arrangement in back.
You can also choose from front-drive or all-wheel-drive, with a locking differential for the rough stuff. The locking diff kicks in automatically and re-directs power when things start to slip, and the system features a 50/50 torque split between the front and rear wheels. After 30 km/h, it reverts back to AWD. One interesting little gas-saving feature: when you come to a stop, the transmission will automatically and imperceptibly put itself into neutral and then go back into gear when you get moving again. Clever. And good for a 12 per cent increase in fuel economy compared to the last version.
Unlike its predecessor, this iteration of Sorento features unibody construction, and, according to the company, conveys a �more modern image�. That means it�s more car-like, and less suitable for off-road excursions. It also has more high tensile steel in it than the last one….70 per cent compared to 30 per cent, according to Kia…and more corporate DNA in the body style, including a �tiger nose� front grille treatment similar to that found on the Soul. The overall effect is a tad on the banal side, but pretty much right on target for this market.
Inside, it can be had with seating for five or seven, which is rare in the compact SUV market, and, depending upon the model, will come with a full complement of conveniences features and modcons. Leather interior, a massive sunroof, iPod connectivity, Navi system, dual zone climate control, and all the usual goodies will be available. The second row seats also tilt forward for easier access and with all the seats folded flat, there�s 2052 litres of cargo capacity. Like its little brother, the Soul, the Sorento has nifty interior �mood lighting� , bound to appeal to those who like this sort of thing.
Although the V6 model is pretty lively, with a 1588-kilogram towing capacity, the four cylinder version is the most noteworthy. I have experienced this engine before, in various sedans and SUVs, and it�s always struck me as being a little on the rambunctious side. Not here; Kia has managed to tame it nicely and it feels almost as smooth as its V6 stablemate. Performance is suitably less, but it will return better fuel economy – 6.9 L/100 km in town, compared to 7.7 for the front-drive version – and also has a lower price tag.
Speaking of which, base price is $23,995 for the four cylinder, front-drive LX with a manual transmission, and the �gradewalk� will take you right up to $39,195 if you get an EX V6 with seating for seven, Navi, and all the goodies. The LX V6 five-seater, which is likely to be the most popular, will go out the door for $29,095, and all models are available at dealerships right about now.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Compact SUV
Price Range: $23,995 – $39,195
Engine: 2.4 litre four cylinder & 3.5 litre V6
Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic
Drive: FWD & AWD
Horsepower/Torque: 175 hp @ 6000 rpm/ 169 foot-pounds @ 3750 rpm & 276 hp @ 6300 rpm / 248 ft. lb @ 5000 rpm
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.1 city; 7.9 hwy, (V6 w.AWD) regular gas.
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chev Equinox, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue.