Midsize SUV; Built in South Korea
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear- or 4-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $3,900 – $16,000*

2003 Kia Sorento

2004 Kia Sorento

2003 Kia Sorento

Kia Sorento interior

  • Cargo room
  • Passenger room
  • Ride
  • Automatic-transmission performance
  • Fuel economy

Sorento has been priced like a compact SUV when new, yet it acts like a midsize and impresses for its interior decor and features-per-dollar, as well as Kia’s generous warranty. South Korean vehicles tend to suffer from poor resale value, so a Sorento could be quite appealing in price on the used-car market.


Introduced for 2003, the Sorento was a five-passenger sport-utility vehicle, priced to compete with compact SUVs. Similar in size and weight to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, however, the Sorento offered the size, power, and type of construction more typical of larger, midsize models.

With its separate body-on-frame design and heavy-duty four-wheel-drive system, this model bucked the trend toward car-based unibody construction. The sole engine was a 192-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, also used in Kia’s Sedona minivan. A four-speed automatic was the only transmission.

Two-wheel drive and a choice of two four-wheel-drive systems were available. Both 4WD systems had a limited-slip rear axle and low-range gearing, but the extra-cost Torque-On-Demand setup could be left engaged on dry pavement.

LX and upscale EX trim levels were offered. On both versions, head-protecting curtain side airbags for the front and rear seats were standard, but antilock braking was optional.

All Sorentos had 16-inch wheels, a rear liftgate with separate-opening rear window, and a full-size spare tire mounted beneath the rear underbody. Air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, a CD player, and 60/40 split folding rear seatback were standard.

Kia was owned by Hyundai, and the South Korean companies shared warranty coverage of 5 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 10/100,000 powertrain, and a 5-year/unlimited-mileage roadside assistance. Competitive vehicles included the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Nissan Xterra, and Toyota Highlander.

Yearly Updates

2004 Sorento
A manual transmission and a Sport Package became available for the 2004 model year. The four-speed automatic transmission was joined by a new five-speed manual. Torque-On-Demand 4WD was included in the optional Luxury Package. Also for 2004, LX models offered a Sport Package with the new manual transmission, side steps, alloy wheels, keyless entry, and a roof rack.
2005 Sorento
A five-speed automatic transmission edged aside the four-speed unit this year. A five-speed manual gearbox also remained available.
2006 Sorento
No changes in 2006 for the Sorento.
2007 Sorento
Kia’s midsize SUV got more power for 2007, plus standard ABS and traction/antiskid control. It retained a V6 engine, but replaceed a 192-hp 3.5-liter with a 262-hp 3.8-liter. Previously optional, ABS became standard, as did new-for-’07 traction/antiskid control. All ’07 Sorentos also got minor appearance changes inside and out.
2008 Sorento
Base and LX models got “downgraded” to a 242-hp 3.3-liter V6, while the top-line EX retained a 262-hp 3.8.
2009 Sorento
Sorento got slightly freshened exterior styling.


longitudinal front-engine/rear- or 4-wheel drive

Kia’s 3.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam V6 engine, rated at 192 horsepower, mates with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Sorentos may have either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with low-range gearing. For 2005, a five-speed automatic replaced the four-speed. For 2007, Kia’s midsize SUV got more power. It retained a V6 engine, but replaceed a 192-hp 3.5-liter with a 262-hp 3.8-liter.

dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.5/213
Engine HP 192
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 217
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
5-speed automatic
dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.8/231
Engine HP 262
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 260
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic


EPA rating of manual-shift model with 2WD is 15/19 mpg; four-speed automatic with 2WD is 15/20 mpg; five-speed automatic with 2WD is 16/22 mpg.

Road Test

Automatic-transmission Sorentos have decent punch off the line, plus solid passing power. Unfortunately, the automatic “hunts” between third and fourth gears on rolling terrain, and is occasionally reluctant to downshift. No limited-slip rear differential or traction control has been available on 2WD models, so 4WD is a must for snowy conditions. We recommend Torque-On-Demand for its all-surface convenience, though any 4WD Sorento has better offroad capability than AWD car-based rivals. Towing capacity is 3500 pounds.

As for fuel economy, a 2004 EX 4WD model with automatic averaged 16.6 mpg in a city/highway mix, which is on par with other midsize V6 SUVs. Sorentos use regular-grade fuel.

Ride quality varies. The Sorento smothers modest road imperfections, but larger bumps and sharp-edged ruts jolt. Rough surfaces can induce tire pattering, while large humps and dips trigger hobby-horse pitching.

Steering has produced diverse opinions. Some testers have called it vague, demanding considerable turning effort; others considered it accurate and direct. Handling is comparable to most other truck-based SUVs, cornering with noticeable body lean and modest tire grip. Standard four-wheel disc brakes provide good stopping power, but ABS should have been standard in this class, and some testers have complained of dull pedal action.

Kia’s engine is noisier and less refined than most rivals’. Wind noise and coarse-surface tire thrum intrude, but aren’t irksome.

Gauges and controls are conveniently located, clearly marked, and brightly illuminated. The standard climate system has small, hard-to-decipher dials. Optional automatic climate control is much better. Interior materials and assembly are a notch above domestic-brand rivals, especially with the Luxury Package.

Front seats are comfortable and supportive, with ample head and leg room even for above-average-size adults. Step-in height is reasonable for a truck-based SUV, though running boards have not been available. Wide rear doors open to roomy, comfortable seating, with two adults the realistic limit for long-distance treks.

For cargo-hauling capacity, Kia makes the most of Sorento’s relatively large size. The spare tire is tucked below the frame. After removing headrests and flipping the cushion, rear seatbacks fold easily to provide a flat load floor. The separate-opening hatch window is a convenience, as are power points for rear-seat and cargo areas. Interior cubbies and storage compartments abound. Cupholders are positioned for easy use.


Model Tested: 2004 Sorento EX 4WD w/automatic and Luxury Pkg.

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 5
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 4
Steering/Handling - 3
Quietness - 4


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 7
Room/Comfort Rear - 6
Cargo Room - 7


Value - 5

Total: 51


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
106.7 179.8 73.3 68.1
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
66.4 21.1 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.7 39.5 42.6 36.1
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2004 Sorento EX 4WD w/automatic and Luxury Pkg. 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 5


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Description: The airbag warning light may come on, but no problems exist and replacing the airbag diagnostic unit eliminates these false alarms. (2002-05)
Air conditioner
Description: A knocking noise from the A/C compressor is corrected by installing an improved clutch assembly. (2007)
Cold-starting problems
Description: The engine may hesitate after a cold start on vehicles equipped with a manual transmission requiring reprogramming of the engine control computer (PCM). (2004)
Engine mounts
Description: A few vehicles have had problems with head gaskets leaking on the 3.5L V6 due to a damaged block. (2004)
Hard starting
Description: A campaign was conducted for a hard- or no-starting problem due to crankshaft pulley bolt coming loose. (2003-04)
Description: The 2.0L or 2.4L engine may be hard to start, or may not start at all, due to throttle stuck shut from deposits. (2006-09)
Electrical problem
Description: The engine may run rough or hesitate, and the check engine light may illuminate due to faulty oxygen sensor(s). (2006-07)
Description: Chatter and eventual damage to the front differential may be caused by lack of tire rotation (or mismatched tires) on four-wheel-drive systems

Recall History

2003 Sorento
Description: Fuel leakage may occur from tubes near the fuel tank.
2006-07 Sorento
Description: The stop lamp switch in the affected vehicles may malfunction and cause the brake lights to not illuminate when the brake pedal is depressed or may cause the brake lights to remain illuminated when the brake pedal is released. A stop lamp switch malfunction may also affect the operation of the brake-transmission shift interlock feature so the transmission shifter would not be able to be shifted out of the park position. Dealers will replace the stop lamp switch free of charge.
2007-2008 Sorento
Description: Miscalibrated Occupant Classification System (OCS) may mistake an adult passenger as a child and deactivate the airbags.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.