- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Do you suppose there is room for another sport utility vehicle? I didn't think so either. That is until I got behind the wheel of one of the newest additions and one of the most unlikely to get a positive response from so many auto critics.
Kia has one SUV already; why another? Well there are two reasons. One is the existing Sportage is going on hiatus for a while and Kia wanted to take its next vehicle up-level. While moving into the midsized segment, it was very careful to keep a cap on the price.
Kia is still searching for an identity here in the United States and until it gets strong brand recognition, Kia must remain humble.
In fact, I hope it never takes advantage of a good thing and takes on an attitude like a recently recovered Japanese company that just brought out a current version of a sports car it had success with in the 1970s.
Kia hasn't gained the recognition its Korean partners at Hyundai have. This isn't for lack of trying, because Kia has also added a great long warranty for its vehicles, proving it will stand behind its products. Perhaps the Sorento will put Kia on the road to this success.
I can tell you that this new SUV pleasantly surprised and impressed me.
By the attitude and remarks of Kia USA President Peter Butterfield made to me during the introduction in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, I think Kia has a handle on its future and will keep the attitude under control. For Kia's sake, I certainly hope so.
Unlike so may midsized SUVs, Kia gave the Sorento a real body-on-frame construction.
Some may say that if you don't build on a unit-body platform you are behind the times. I prefer to think of it as wanting to build a rugged vehicle that can handle both on- and off-road conditions.
That is what we have here in the Sorento.
Surprisingly, Kia engineers have given the Sorento a ride to rival those unibody utes. While at the same time injecting real SUV qualities.
The design is not earth-shattering. Wide fenders give the Kia Sorento muscular shoulders. The contoured hood and front fenders add a contemporary and soft appearance.
The interior is comfortable and full of the amenities today's buyer requires. Instruments are located on the traditional places, so no big surprises here.
What is a big and appreciative surprise is the build quality Kia has achieved with the Sorento. Every seam, gap and panel fit with precision, a factor I must say was lacking in earlier models coming from the Kia Sportage.
And the doors, oh those doors. All four of the Sorento's doors plus the rear hatch, closed with a commanding "thunk." This is a quality I have attributed to German-engineered and -built automobiles.
It isn't something I find common with vehicles built in Korea. It is to be hoped this shows the Kia has indeed turned the corner on its search for quality control.
Looking under the hood, you would normally see a jumble of wires, hoses and tubes, but Kia has installed a plastic panel over the engine to simulate the intake runners of an engine. Much like you would see on a die-cast model car.
I'm not sure why Kia went to the trouble because from what I could see of the V-6 engine it may have been effort not needed. The real intake manifold looked pretty attractive.
Speaking of the engine, the V-6 set in the Sorento is a handy one, producing a reasonably adequate 192 horsepower and 217 foot-pounds of torque.
Oh, it isn't going to blow the doors off of that sports car sitting next to you at the stoplight, but it does what is suppose to, and does it well.
The four-speed automatic transmission is equipped with electronic shifting that performs well and, if desired, it can be shifted manually into gear.
Although this cannot be performed as well as some other vehicles, it performs adequately.
Ride, ruggedness, capability and versatility make the new Sorento a worthy vehicle. Combine those with Kia's standing behind its vehicle with the confidence to protect the owner with the 10-year/100,000-mile limited drivetrain warranty and you get a vehicle that is worthy of consideration. I think you will be as surprised as I am.


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