Full 2008 Kia Sorento Review
What's New for 2008
For 2008, the Kia Sorento gains a new V6 engine for the base and LX trim levels. At 3.3 liters and 242 horsepower, the new power plant is smaller and less powerful than the 3.8-liter V6 found in the EX trim. In exchange, it offers somewhat improved fuel economy.
Lately, crossovers have been cropping up in the midsize SUV segment like dandelions on a freshly cut lawn. And for most folks, a crossover -- which combines the high seating position, foul-weather capability and generous cargo space of a traditional SUV with handling and ride qualities of a car -- is just fine. However, the price paid for this jack-of-all-trades personality is reduced towing capacity and less off-road capability as compared to traditional, truck-based utes.
This is where the 2008 Kia Sorento comes in. Sporting a rugged body-on-frame structure, the Sorento can tow up to 5,000 pounds (about 1,500 pounds more than your typical midsize crossover) and can handle tougher off-road terrain thanks to low-range gearing on 4WD models. But more grunt and greater talent on the trails aren't all that Kia's midsize sport-ute offers. A generous standard features list, solid build quality, handsome styling inside and out and a modest price are also part of the Sorento package.
The Sorento was updated significantly last year with new features, styling and the current 3.8-liter V6 engine. This year, the Sorento's base and LX trim levels forgo the 3.8-liter engine for a new 3.3-liter V6 with a still-muscular 242 horsepower. The change is geared toward buyers who don't mind trading some towing capacity (3,500 pounds versus the 5,000 of the larger engine) for better fuel economy. Otherwise, the Sorento rolls into 2008 unchanged.
In essence, the 2008 Kia Sorento is positioned between more refined but less rugged crossovers such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota RAV4 and more serious off-road-oriented SUVs like the truck-based Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser. Although the Sorento offers an agreeable balance between those subclasses, given its mediocre braking and ride performance, you'll likely be better off going in one direction or the other.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Kia Sorento midsize SUV comes in three trim levels: base, LX and EX. The base and LX are largely similar, though you'll go without cruise control, keyless entry and roof rails on the base model. Otherwise, you'll get 16-inch alloy wheels, a 10-speaker sound system with a CD/MP3 player, full power accessories, cloth seats and an eight-way-adjustable driver seat on these trims. The EX adds a larger engine, steering-wheel audio controls, a power driver seat, adjustable headrests, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and wood-grain interior accents.
In lieu of individual options, there are two packages. The LX Sport package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, side step bars, the leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob and specialized black cloth trim. Black leather seating can also be added to the Sport package. The EX Luxury package adds special wheels, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seating, heated front seats and a six-disc CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
A new 3.3-liter V6 debuts to power the base and LX trim levels. It's rated at 242 hp and 228 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that allows you to choose between automatic or manual-shift modes. With this drivetrain, the Sorento is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds. The EX retains the 3.8-liter V6 engine introduced last year that pumps out 262 hp and 260 lb-ft. It's also matched to the five-speed automatic gearbox and has a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds.
Both trims can be had in either two- or four-wheel drive. The standard 4WD system is an off-road-oriented part-time system. The luxury package-equipped EX model features an automatic "Torque-On-Demand" 4WD system that can automatically engage the front wheels for improved all-weather performance.
As is typical for a truck-based SUV, the 2008 Sorento's fuel economy is not a strong point. Estimates range from 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway for the 3.3-liter V6 2WD version to 15/20 mpg for the 3.8-liter V6 4WD version.
Antilock disc brakes, full-length side curtain airbags, stability control, traction control and even a driver knee airbag come standard across all trim levels. In government crash testing, the Kia Sorento earned a five-star sweep (the best possible) for protection in frontal- (driver and passenger) and side-impact (front and rear) tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Sorento its highest rating of "Good" for frontal-offset crashworthiness; in side-impact crash-testing, however, the Sorento's performance was deemed "Poor" -- the worst possible rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2008 Kia Sorento's cabin boasts handsome, quality materials and tight build quality -- all of which lend an upscale ambiance to this modestly priced SUV. The styling of the interior has begun to look dated, but the ergonomics are sound. The seats are comfortable and the rear bench is wide enough for three adults, though knee and toe room may be tight for taller folks. That rear seat is split 60/40 to offer versatile cargo-carrying configurations. With the rear seats folded, the Sorento can hold approximately 66 cubic feet of cargo, less than most of its competitors.
With either V6, there is more than enough power for dicing with city traffic and handling high-speed cruising on the interstate. On smooth pavement, the Kia's independent front and solid-axle rear suspension provide an agreeable ride and handling balance. However, take the Sorento over a bumpy road and you'll experience a bouncy ride, and sharp impacts will make their way into the cabin. Another disappointing aspect of the Sorento's dynamics concerns the brakes. Although the actual stopping distances weren't bad in our instrumented testing, we saw noticeable brake fade after just two stops from 60 mph, which could be a concern for those who face a lot of mountainous driving.
To its credit, the Sorento's steering feel is good and body roll is minimal around corners. The truck-based frame and low-range transfer case make the Sorento capable of negotiating off-road trails, but in reality, vehicles like the FJ Cruiser or Xterra are still much better suited for rugged adventuring.