Kia is looking to raise the compact SUV bar with its ninth new model for the U.S. market, the '03 Kia Sorento. A larger, more powerful SUV than its Sportage sibling, the five-passenger Sorento features a 3.5L/192-hp V-6 engine coupled to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The new model will be available in rear-drive and two four-wheel-drive configurations: part-time or on-demand.

Like the remaining Kia line, the Sorento incorporates the little extras that appeal to SUV buyers, including lots of storage space, an underbody-mounted full-size spare tire, flat cargo floor, split-opening rear hatch, underseat storage box, eight cupholders, and more. The Sorento will seat five passengers, including cargo space of 138.4 cu ft, some 5.0 cu ft more than the Jeep Liberty and Ford Escape. Towing capacity is rated at 3500 lb, and the Sorento will come prewired for trailer lights. A load-leveling system is available that will keep the vehicle on an even keel while towing or carrying heavy cargo.

Like all Kia models, the Sorento will be covered by the automaker's comprehensive warranty program, which includes a 10-year or 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, five-year or 60,000-mile limited basic warranty, and a five-year or 100,000-mile antiperforation warranty. Final pricing has yet to be announced, but we suspect it'll settle in the $20K range. Expect to see the new Kia in dealer showrooms by early fall.-Scott Mead

Price $20,000-$28,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD, 4WD, 5-pass
Engine 3.5L V-6
On sale in U.S. Fall 2002