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2006 Kia Sorento EX 4x4 Review

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Tepid and Trendy
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Kia

It was 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning. I was at the gas pump in Williamston filling the 21-gallon tank on this Kia Sorento. We got home late the night before from a rush trip to Syracuse, NY and I needed gas, a newspaper and one little Crispy Cream to start my day. The fellow with the new Chevy Colorado pickup at the next pump came out with his paper under his arm. I said “good morning” as I would to anyone I encountered that early. He took a few steps, not acknowledging my greeting then turned and calmly replied, “I don’t talk to people who buy Japanese cars, especially old guys like you who should know better.” He was in his truck and gone before I could collect my wits.

“Well, excuuuuse me!” I thought as I pumped my arms like Steve Martin.

I guess there are still some people out there who think like that. He didn’t give me a chance to even correct his geography. This Kia is Korean, not Japanese. And, he didn’t give me a chance to explain that it isn’t even my car - though that would have been a disingenuous response since I would have no problem buying a Japanese or Korean car if one best suited my needs. Perhaps he is one of many folks here in Michigan who have lost their jobs to international competition, so I’ll cut him some slack.

He was fooled by this Kia Sorento EX 4X4 that we have put a lot of miles on this week. It would be easy to mistake it for a Japanese product with its conservative styling and trendy good looks. Sorento is a mid-size crossover on a ladder frame. It has heavy-duty suspension and 4-wheel drive with low range and limited slip differential - a competent platform, indeed - not nearly as heavy as other full-frame sport-utes and more rigid and sturdy than some unibody crossover competitors.

Acceleration is a bit tepid with the 3.5-liter V6 engine - at about 200-hp it could use a bit more grunt. Don’t get me wrong, power is adequate, but we’re getting used to these cars with around 230-hp and better. Fuel mileage – regular, of course – was mostly around 19.5 mpg. EPA says to expect 15 to 20 so we were consistently at the upper range except for one tank, much of which was spent during a huge rain storm on the New York Throughway.

The Michilin tires performed admirably in the torrential rains we encountered on the way to Syracuse. We were in the middle of a blinding storm for more than an hour as the usually fast traffic on that straight stretch of road slowed to barely 35 mph for mile after mile. Those P245/70R16 Michelin Cross-Terrains dissipated the water and gripped the wet pavement so well that we felt like we could lead the pack of traffic at over 40-mph. So we did.

After that quick trip to New York we took the Sorento to the Wilderness Campground, near Mackinac City, about four hours north of us, for a family campout. Someone please help me understand what is so charming about living like refugees in a tent for days at a time sharing a scruffy bathroom with 200 of your closest friends. Fortunately we shared a pop-up camper with my in-laws rather than pitching a tent ourselves, so we were in the lap of luxury . . . sort of.

Sitting side-by-side with my brother-in-law, Jimmy’s, GMC Jimmy we can see that the Sorento is larger and shapelier. The Jimmy might be a tad longer but the Sorento is taller, wider, more capacious and way better looking. We have plenty of room inside and the rear seats fold easily, though we have to take the headrests off to fold them up completely. Cargo capacity is 34.4 cu.ft., and 66.4 cu.ft. with seats down.

Sorento weighs 4,387 lbs., has a respectable 3,500-pound towing capacity and payload of 1,327 pounds. Not many Sorento owners use it for serious towing but they could. It would tow Jimmy’s camper with ease. And, we could use the Sorento off-road, if we like. It has skid plates underneath and a full-size spare as well.

Base price on the sticker for this Sorento EX 4X4 is $26,100. (The LX, 2WD starts at $19,685.) Well equipped in standard form our EX comes with a 5-speed transmission, 16-inch wheels and tires, heavy duty suspension, AC, cruise, power sunroof, power windows, power locks, power and heated mirrors, leather steering wheel, full compliment of air bags (Sorento has earned the NHTSA five-star side impact safety rating), decent skid plates underneath, and plenty of other stuff. Kia and Hyundai tend to provide lots of content for the price.

Optional equipment on our test car is the 4-wheel Antilock brakes at $595 (they ought to be standard, says I), and the Luxury Package for $2,100 which includes leather, heated seats, automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, premium AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD, chrome accents. Then there is the rear spoiler for $200 and that mighty sturdy-looking tow hitch for $340. With the $670 destination charge it all adds up to $30,005.

Powertrain warranty is 10 years/ 100,000 miles.

One little criticism – the Sorento’s cruise control tends to set itself sometimes. We’ll be running along on cruise and have to disengage as traffic begins to coagulate. Then, a few minutes later, as traffic clears and we’re back up to speed, having forgotten to reset the cruise, it will suddenly be on – all by itself. What’s up with that? I checked the owner’s manual and it said nothing about having anticipatory functions.

The Sorento was very pleasant to live with for nearly two weeks and probably close to 2,000 miles. It is easy to see why the Koreans have been able to make such inroads into the American automobile market. Now, I guess I just have to keep my head down at the gas pumps.