KIA SORENTO 2003 – 2013

2012 Kia Sorento

2012 Kia Sorento

Kia Sorento is a mid-sized South Korean 4WD with modern styling that defied the trend when it was launched in June 2003. Even as recently as that most 4WDs had squared-off shapes suggesting they were based on trucks – which quite a few were. The Koreans were just beginning to enter what has now proven to be an era of ultra-sleek shapes, and Sorento gave us cues as to what was approaching.

However, Kia Sorento’s sleek shape didn’t reflect its underpinnings, the Sorento was a real ladder-frame, transfer-box 4WD with genuine off-road capability. Not to the extent of being a full-on bush-basher, you still need the truck-based 4WD for extreme conditions, but able to do far more than the typical buyer would ask of it.

2003 Kia Sorento

2003 Kia Sorento

Things changed, though with the introduction of an all-new Sorento in October 2009. It moved with the majority to the use of a monocoque body instead the ladder-chassis frame. Kia realised more and more people were looking for car-like handling and comfort in the highly competitive world of medium SUVs.

Using the monocoque meant the towing rating dropped from 2800 kg to 2500kg in manual form and 2000kg with an automatic transmission. Though not quite as tough in extreme off-road driving as its ancestors it still worked pretty well for its class.

Sorento is sold with either five or seven seats. Luggage space in the seven-seaters is naturally reduced, but we have seen worse.

As people movers the Kia Sorento works nicely, with decent interior space. The body-on-chassis model has reasonable comfort, while the macaque version has better than average ride comfort for this class.

Sorento petrol engines are V6s with capacities of 3.3, 3.5 and 3.8 litres, with the 3.3 being a particularly pleasant unit. The new Kia Sorento of 2010 took the European route, with smaller capacity engines for lower consumption and fewer emissions. The 3.3-litre V6 was replaced by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, and a new design 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, one of Kia’s new `R’ series, put out 145 kW of power, and 436 Nm of torque from just 1800 rpm. For manual diesels the engine was detuned to 422 Nm.

Five-speed manuals were sold initially, but were never all that popular and may not be easy to resell down the track as we seem to be approaching the era where automatics become the norm in Australia.

The very early models automatics were four-speed transmissions in the low-cost Sorentos, but this was replaced by a five-speed unit within a year, putting it into the same transmission class as the others in the range.

Matching the Euro style 2010 engines are six-speed automatic or manual transmissions. The six-speed manual is only sold with the diesel engine.

Kia has expanded rapidly in Australia in recent years and there are plenty of dealers in major metropolitan areas as well as an increasing number in country cities and towns.

Repair work is relatively simple and there’s the sort of underbonnet space we all love in big 4WDs. Amateur mechanics can carry out quite a few tasks, but should leave safety related work to the professionals. If you do want to carry out routine services and repairs it’s wise to have a workshop manual beside you.

Insurance costs are moderate, reflecting the usually conservative nature of Kia Sorento owners. Costs don’t seem to vary a lot from company to company, but it’s always worth shopping around.

In an era when very few 4WDs are bought to venture off road, Kia Sorento is one of the exceptions. Check for underbody damage and for signs of sand and salt in the nooks and crannies under there.

Look for slight scratches on the guards and doors indicating they’ve been pushed through tight bush. Bumper corners also suffer if drivers get over ambitious, or simply run out of talent.

Engines should start easily within a couple of seconds of hitting the starter. The exception is the older style diesels that may need time on their glow plugs.

Manuals that crunch on fast downchanges may be due for an overhaul.

Automatic transmissions should be smooth in their changes and not take overlong to engage either Drive or Reverse when moved from Neutral or Park.

Check the condition of the cabin, including the rear area, as bored kids can cause damage back there. Similarly, the luggage area can get bashed about by endless bulky items being stuffed in there.

A good service record for the full life of any vehicle is a sign of a caring owner.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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