Stephen J. Mraz
The on-demand four-wheel drive SUV is good looking, chock-full of amenities, performs well (even without a V8 engine), and has a semireasonable price tag $26,100 without options.
Under the hood, a 3.5-liter V6 with 24 valves pumps out 192 hp through a five-speed automatic transmission. That was enough to get me safely on and off freeways and up hills. Granted, I didn't have five other people and their luggage riding with me. Mileage figures are 15-mpg city and 20 mpg on the highway.
Speed-sensitive steering makes for crisp, responsive control. A double wish-bone coil spring with a strut damper and stabilizer bar up front and a five-link coil spring with a damper and stabilizer bar in the rear smooth out the bumps and reduce body roll for a controlled ride.
To shave weight while boosting performance, the SUV caries a limited-slip rear differential from Eaton. It uses high-temperature carbon-friction discs behind each side gear and preloaded by a central spring. So as torque increases, the clamping-force load on the discs increases. This makes the differential's bias torque proportional to the input torque, which should result in smoother engagement. The discs are made of carbon fiber with a carbon antiwear coating. And, according to Eaton, the discs are practically unbreakable and remain lubed for life.
Inside the vehicle, there's seating for six, plenty of cargo room when you remove the seats, and all the creature comforts. For the aviators in the crowd, or those just overly interested in the weather, the overhead console displays readings from an altimeter, compass, thermometer, and barometer (I wonder if the altimeter would read accurately when driving through Death Valley).
From a safety perspective, the SUV earned a five-star rating for passenger safety in side impacts from the National Highway Safety Administration. And from a reliability standpoint, which is difficult to assess in a one-week test drive, the manufacturer offers a 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Sorento was as fine an SUV as many costing $10,000 more and would make a good family car. Our test model, the EX version, has a $26,100 list and carries an optional rear spoiler ($200), tow hitch ($340), antilock brakes ($600), and a luxury package ($2,100). This package includes leather seats, heated front seat, automatic headlights and climate control, some chrome, a six-disc CD changer, and full-time torque-on-demand FWD.