Out with the old
There's a new version of the Kia Sorento for sale. Unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2009, the new Sorento is more highly styled than its predecessor and it's more carlike in every way. It should do well in the marketplace, bundling Kia's style, quality, and price trinity as it does. Bargain hunters should be smelling blood in the water at this point, as any of the older Sorentos are leftovers tying up lot space. Deals are there to be had. Lease returns and pre-owned Sorentos follow the same pattern of good-deal-ness.
Outgoing Sorento is a classical SUV
If you go for the last-generation Sorento, what exactly are you getting? Based on a full ladder-frame, the outgoing Sorento is markedly more truck-like than its unit-body replacement. That's not an indictment, though the difference in character between the two is notable. Ford will be making the same switch away from truck-style Explorers soon, too, Kia's ahead of the curve on this one. There's a muscular 3.8-liter V6 in the Sorento, which drives either of two different types of four-wheel-drive systems through a five-speed automatic transmission.
The engine is strong and relatively smooth, and the transmission goes about its business unobtrusively. It's interesting to note that the Ford Explorer is following the same path out of truckishness, as the old Sorento is very reminiscent of the original Explorer's character. It's a friendly, playful, puppy-dogishness about the truck that gives it a winning personality.
Handsome and understated
The careful styling of the Sorento was certainly influenced by the Lexus RX, and the clean looks won't be dated in a year's time, mocking you from the driveway like a plastic-cladded Pontiac Grand Am. It's handsome, especially in two-tone, and depending on how dressed up you find it, the Sorento can project an upscale attitude above its station in life.
Nothing in the interior is as high-quality as what you'd find in a that upper-echelon of luxury SUVs, or even one of the Sorentos competitors fully tarted up. Either way, it's a solidly designed interior that's a comfortable respite from any storm. Keep in mind that at this point, you're dealing very much with 2003's news, so interior materials and fitment won't be at the vanguard of what's popular now. That said, the controls don't feel cheap, even if some of the surfaces and plastics inside might.
Ready for the hard work
Being a real truck, with a real four-wheel-drive system, the Sorento will get you through terrain that would flummox the more modern and carlike crossover vehicles. Truck-ness also denotes more durability, as the componentry is expected to take some abuse. Consumer Guide doesn't flag any drivetrain components as exceptionally weak, though reliability for the first-generation Sorento is the very definition of midpack, at 51 percent.
Behind the wheel
Driving the Sorento, you're reminded of the underpinnings regularly. It's a solid-feeling vehicle, though luxury isn't its mission. Over some surfaces it trembles a bit, like you'd expect from a body-on-frame vehicle. The upside of the purposeful ride and handling is that you'll be able to work the Sorento harder than a car-based crossover. It will tow, it will go off road, it will take abuse that would break something more light-duty. The 3,500 pound tow rating seems a little low considering there are front-wheel-drive minivans that best that, but towing numbers have been declining for a while.
The crux of the biscuit: Value
Finding a new 2009 Sorento will mean a closeout price, while the used market has beaten prices down by virtue of less-than-exceptional resale values. Thinking of a Sorento as a good value that will do its job without complaint and won't vacuum out your wallet is the way to go. Kia offers a lengthy warranty, and we have no reason to believe that a Sorento maintained regularly would have any trouble staying on the road for as long as the owner desires.