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2006 Kia Sorento reviews

March 21, 2006 11:31 AM EST | Kia , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageGood-looking, comfortable, rugged and well equipped, the Sorento remains a solid buy among small and midsize SUVs, especially if you're looking for one with true off-road capability.

Pros
Great value, long list of standard features, high-quality interior materials, solid construction, true off-road capability, lengthy warranty coverage.

Cons
Mediocre fuel economy, harsh ride over sharp bumps.

What's New for 2006
For 2006, alloy wheels are now standard on all models.

Introduction:
Named after a city in Italy, the Sorento has set a new standard for value among small and midsize SUVs since its introduction in 2003: For the price of a mini-SUV, you get a crisply styled midsize sport-ute with spacious accommodations for four adults.

Taking a page from the Honda playbook, Kia offers the Sorento in two well-equipped trim levels: LX and EX. The LX supplies the basics -- those being air conditioning, a CD player, cruise control and power windows, mirrors and locks. The EX adds would-be-nice features like keyless entry, a power driver seat, a sunroof and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. A luxury package for the EX provides upscale items like leather upholstery, automatic climate control and a six-disc CD changer.

A 192-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 propels every Sorento, and buyers have their choice of two-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive, that is) and four-wheel drive. The standard 4WD system is an off-road-oriented part-time system, but those who opt for a luxury package-equipped EX model get the automatic Torque-On-Demand 4WD system. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard, though Kia offers a manual gearbox as an option. However you equip it, the Sorento has adequate power in most situations, though with a curb weight of over 4,200 pounds in 4WD form, don't be surprised if it feels a bit taxed when you load up the family for a road trip. Fuel economy is rated at just 15 mpg in the city.

Unlike some of its competitors which are based on cars, the Sorento employs rugged body-on-frame construction, and this, along with the low-range transfer case in 4WD models, gives it greater off-road capability than most buyers will ever need. Of course, this means that its ride and handling characteristics aren't as refined as the Honda CR-V's, but its road manners surpass the Jeep Liberty's. Overall, the Sorento is a well-rounded effort from Kia that, apart from its thirst for fuel, has a lot going for it. Perhaps the greatest compliment we can give a particular vehicle is to say that we'd seriously consider buying one if we were shopping in that market segment. The Sorento has earned that accolade.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The four-door midsize Sorento is offered in two trim levels, LX and EX. Standard equipment on the LX includes 16-inch alloy wheels (with a full-size spare tire); air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and locks; cruise control; a 60/40-split rear seat; a CD player; and an overhead console with multiple 12-volt outlets. The EX adds two-tone cladding, body-color exterior trim, foglights, keyless entry, a power sunroof, a power driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an upgraded sound system, brushed metal and chrome interior trim and a cargo net. The EX is available with a luxury package that adds an in-dash CD changer, automatic climate control, automatic headlights, leather seats (heated in front), a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an automatic 4WD system. A sport package for manual-shift LX includes a side step bars, blacked-out headlamps, a roof rack and keyless entry.

Powertrains and Performance:
Powering all Sorentos is a 3.5-liter V6 that cranks out 192 horsepower. LX models can be had with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, while EX models are automatic only. Both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available. Most Sorentos get part-time 4WD, while the EX with luxury package gets full-time 4WD. Both systems include low-range gearing for off-roading. Towing capacity (just 3,500 pounds) is unimpressive given the Sorento's body-on-frame construction.

Safety:
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, and ABS is optional. Also standard are front and rear side curtain airbags, and three-point belts and headrests in all seating positions. In government crash tests, the Sorento earned four stars out of five for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. The sport-ute earned a perfect five stars for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. In frontal-offset crash testing by the IIHS, the Sorento earned a rating of "Acceptable," the second highest.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside the cabin, soft-touch surfaces abound on the dash and door panels, and the front-passenger airbag is seamlessly integrated into the dash, giving the cabin an upscale feel. The rear seat is wide enough for three adults in a pinch, though knee and toe room are tight. Cargo space is on par with other midsize SUVs with the rear seat up (31.4 cubic feet), but when it's folded, the resulting space measures only 66.4 cubes, about the same as the compact Kia Sportage.

Driving Impressions:
Though acceleration at freeway speeds tapers off to just adequate, the Sorento will cruise happily at 75 mph all day long. Driven on pavement, the Sorento's independent front and solid axle rear suspension design provide a firm, mostly agreeable ride, though sharp impacts can intrude into the cabin. Accurate, well-weighted steering and a minimum of body roll keep the Kia well planted around corners. With body-on-frame architecture, a low-range transfer case on 4WD models and meaty 16-inch tires, the Sorento can easily take on off-road trails of moderate difficulty.

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