- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

The value of the Kia Sorento sport utility vehicle is like no other in the automotive industry. Why? It's Kia's way of doing business.

A look at Kia's track record explains what this company is doing. Eight years ago the inexpensive Sephia was introduced. To me, it had all the earmarks of a cheap Korean import. Since then, Kia has introduced eight more vehicles and each proved my original impression wrong. Not only does Kia offer the best warranty, it receives five-star ratings by the National Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in crash tests, and each vehicle drives with solid stability.

"Kia is a company to be reckoned with," said Peter M. Butterfield, president and chief executive officer of Kia. He explained the company's philosophy and various reasons for its rapid growth. Basically, it is this: Kia is producing quality products and selling them for less than the competition to impress potential buyers.

As I began my test drive of this midsize SUV, I made mental comparisons to other similar-size SUVs. Those in mind are selling for considerably more money than the $20,000 for Sorento's LX model and $25,000 for the EX model.

Although there is nothing glitzy on these vehicles, such as chrome strips or highly polished wheels, the Sorento designers gave the outer appearance eye appeal simply by using soft lines and curves. Its allure compelled me to make a closer inspection.

I examined how this SUV would seat five passengers comfortably. The rear hatch raises easily to expose a cargo area of adequate size with tie-down hooks, plus the customary rails on the roof.

Inside the front doors are a couple of assist bars, which I noticed after getting behind the wheel.

Because it is rather easy to get in and out of the Sorento, I really didn't need them. But such appointments indicate that Kia didn't skimp when it came to thoughtful features.

Additional features expected on higher-priced SUVs were on this one, too.

The interior doesn't have genuine wood, but the artificial wood trim adds a nice touch to the pleasant appearance. Seats are covered in an attractive fabric; leather is available as an option.

The instrumentation and the controls for the 10-speaker, 280-watt sound system on the EX model and the heating and air-conditioning control on both models are clear and understandable.

Getting underway, my immediate impressions were the ease of steering and the exceptionally quiet interior.

Because of a wide stance and short overhang both front and rear, plus a short turning radius, Sorento is easy to maneuver; thus, I felt comfortable behind the wheel, and visibility was good.

After some city and highway driving, I came to the activity of real enjoyment for an SUV mountain climbing. The Sorento's altimeter indicated 2,400 feet. After driving up a long, dusty road, I peaked at 3,500 feet. Then came the acid test.

A flick of a switch dropped the Sorento into four-wheel low, and I climbed a hill so steep and narrow that no one in his or her right mind would attempt to venture forth. Yet, as I ascended, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine producing 192 horsepower accomplished the task with ease. As I came down the same path, the transmission did the braking while I easily maintained my course.

Best of all, the Sorento has what everyone wants in an SUV an attractive price.

Like the man said, Kia is a company to be reckoned with.

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