A few months ago I was approached by a company that hands out brand new vehicles to automotive reporters to get their investigative opinions. Motor Trend, Auto Week, Car & Driver, and now, Telling Dad are all in the rotation.
Which is surprising considering I have made it abundantly clear on many occasions that I’m not a car guy. I drive ‘em, I don’t fix ‘em. And unless I’m adding fluids of some sort, I have absolutely no experience with anything under the hood. I can’t even talk to car guys because back when I was in high school, the only foreign language classes offered were French and Spanish.
Hearing it spoken, Carguyese seems like an easy enough language to learn. It’s one of the few on the planet where you can hold an intelligent conversation regardless of word arrangement. Just toss in a few conjunctions and you’re borderline fluent. Don’t worry about making sense. It’s irrelevant. Because no matter what you say, the person you’re talking to will always respond with a nod and a concurring, “Sounds about right.”
It’s just part of the car guy code.
In Carguyese, “I think the piston manifolds are misfiring because the carburetor’s gasket caps are too close to the pinion” is totally interchangeable with, “I think the pinion caps are misfiring the carburetor’s manifolds because of the piston gasket.”
Can you see a difference?
That’s because there isn’t one.
My first thought was that their email had been intended for someone else. Someone far more qualified to speak intelligently about a car’s features and accolades. When he confirmed that I was indeed the intended recipient and that they’d love to hear my opinion, I realized that they either felt sorry for me or they were on a mission to discredit their organization.
The deal is simple, they’ll provide me with a rotation of new cars to drive every few weeks and I’m under no obligation to publicize it. In fact, after they read this review, I’m pretty sure they’ll stress that point.
Grateful to even be considered, and not wanting to come off like some automotive diva, I pared down my list of acceptable vehicles to include any model Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, or Maserati.
To which they offered up a Kia.
My first concern was jamming my 6’7″ frame into a vehicle made famous by its ability to be stowed in a coat pocket when not in use. Kia, which translates to “shoebox” in Korean, isn’t exactly known for its cavernous interiors but I gladly welcomed the experience. If anything, it’d make for a great blog piece if I were forced to sit in the back seat with my head out the sunroof to drive it.
The gentleman mentioned that I’d be given a fully loaded Kia Sorento. Being unfamiliar with the Sorento, my brain conjured up visions of something slightly smaller than a Smart Car but with half the gerbil power.
I know here in America we measure things by horsepower, but I believe the FTC’s “Datsun Rule” mandates that if the driver outweighs the vehicle, its power rating has to be based on the torque generated by four individual hamster wheels. A rule that came about in the 1970′s after a beleaguered gerbil was discovered in a Datsun’s wheel well during a routine brake job.
“Sorry, sir. Looks like your rear passenger-side gerbil had a blowout. We can either fix it here or you can go down the street to Petco Auto Parts and fix it yourself.”
Curious to see how I’d have to contort my body, I Googled the Sorento and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was an SUV crossover. I don’t know what the crossover part means, but it sounds neat. Kind of like Hybrid and Hemi. No clue what they signify but it sounds car guyish to say it’s a Sorento Hemi-Hybrid Crossover, even if that’s entirely not what it is. Car guys don’t care. Words like these get their testosterone pumpin’.
I’ll say this, and it comes totally unsolicited and unpaid, I was incredibly impressed. While I can’t sit here and tell you about the Sorento’s wheel base, torques per square mile, or its engine liter capacity, I can tell you 10 non-Car Guy things I loved about it.
1. I had room to spare.
It’s rare when I can sit behind the wheel of a vehicle that isn’t a city bus and see clearly out the windshield. I usually enjoy a bird’s eye view of the sun visor, forcing me to compress my neck and peer out the tinted top portion of the glass. In the Sorento, my seat didn’t go all the way down and it didn’t go all the way back. My spine was aligned and uncompressed the entire time. I take back everything I ever said about Kia being named the Official Vehicle of the Lollipop Guild.
2. The kids loved it.
The true mark of a good vehicle is its Kid Approval Rating, or KAR, which is quite a coincidence considering this is how most children spell the word ‘car’ anyway. Children are far more stringent than automotive reporters and experts when it comes to doling out scores. Can the vehicle be used as a roving jungle gym? Is the panic button easy to press on the key fob? Can cracker shards be easily wedged and permanently lodged into crevices and stitching? These are the kinds of rigors a vehicle has to go through before it’s stamped with their muddy shoe print of approval. And when our kids discovered the “Smudge per Square Foot” handprint potential of the Kia Sorento’s dual moonroofs, it received one of the highest KAR ratings ever.
3. It has a 10-Year warranty.
While knowing that I wouldn’t be responsible for repairs for a decade is reason enough to consider buying one, I think the biggest benefit of the 10-year warranty is that it’ll take you this long to discover and break all the features. I’ve been driving this for a while and there are still buttons and knobs that I haven’t a clue what they do. Granted, the vehicle came with an Owner’s Manual, but there’s one major flaw. I’d have to read it.
4. I can see the toys I’m crushing on-screen while in reverse.
Kamryn’s first exclamation when the rearview camera appeared on the console was, “Ooo! A TV!” While pretty cool, it only has one channel and it only functions when going backwards. Having dealt with bikes and random play things scattered about our driveway since the day I had children, this camera is a Godsend. In the past, I had to wait for the crunch of a misplaced bucket or wiffle ball to know I needed to stop. With the Sorento, I can better teach these children a lesson about cleaning up their toys because I can more easily spot my targets.
5. It has climate controlled seats.
The driver enjoys a heated AND air conditioned seat. The passenger only gets the former. Kia doesn’t give a crap about passenger comfort on hot days unless you consider that they can control their own power window. It also comes with a heated steering wheel which sounds ridiculous until you realize that, well, okay, it IS ridiculous. You’d think they could take all the engineering and cash they spend so people can avoid wearing gloves and spend it on an automated in-seat vacuum for cracker crumbs instead. This is something people in any climate could use.
Note to Kia: If you ever implement my cracker vac idea, I demand that it be named the Greginator. That’s the only form of compensation I’d require.
6. It’s earned the right to be measured in horsepower.
This thing can MOVE. I was shocked when it accelerated faster than sun-casted shadows. While it tended to shimmy at 120mph, the needle dealio in the RPM window never hit red so I have to imagine that’s a good thing.*
* Do not try this at home. Find a highway.**
** This didn’t really happen.
I don’t know how many horses this engine equates to or what breed of horse it’d be, but if the Datsun Rule did apply to the Sorento, you’d be counting gerbils by the millions. Someone asked me if it was a V6 and I had to admit that I had no idea. I later discovered a V6 nameplate on the rear of the vehicle, so yeah, it’s a V6. It also has a 3.something liter engine and umpteen pounds of torque. If you really want to know this crap, ask an expert.
7. It has satellite radio and GPS
GPS is the only reason I’m not homeless. My nickname in high school and college was Magellan, and if you haven’t guessed it by now, it was one of those opposite nicknames. Like when an obese person is nicknamed Slim. Or a musclehead is nicknamed Tiny. Or when a Kardashian is nicknamed Wholesome. With the GPS I just tell it where I want to go and a sultry voice guides me there. With a few frustrated cries of “Recalcuating” along the way.
8. It has nice headlights and a sweet rear end.
I know I’ve said the same thing about Heather but this is different. I don’t intend on marrying the Sorento. Unless of course they’d offer one up for free in exchange for the publicity. If this is something Kia would consider, then bring on polygamy. Seriously though, I am obsessed about how a car looks from the front and the rear. There are some cars, like the Pontiac Aztec, where they probably paid royalty fees to Picasso for the design.
9. The driver’s seat could fold Origami.
Our current van, the Chrysler Ghetto & Country, has two seat adjustments: forward and back. For my wife and her spinal surgery site, it makes for a rather uncomfortable ride. The Sedona’s seat has more contortable functions and levers than a hospital bed. If zig-zags could drive, they’d drive the Sorento. It’s done wonders for her back and it’s like having our own personal chiropractor nestled in the foam. We might extract this seat and replace it with our van’s seat if I can find our ratchet set.
10. Michelle Wie gets to drive it next.
I know this has nothing to do with the vehicle itself but I think the fact that she’s beneath me in the queue speaks volumes. For if the company based the distribution order on golfing ability, this could open up a whole new world for me. After we exchange the Sorento for another new vehicle tomorrow, it’s heading right over to Michelle’s pad. Knowing that such a VIP will be clutching the very same heated steering wheel as me makes me wish they’d invented the Greginator even more.
Overall, it was a great experience. I haven’t driven a brand new fresh-smelling car in years. All we do is tootle around town in a 2004 Town & Country that smells faintly of feet. While we love not having a car payment, and it’s nice to know that we could feed for days on buried crackers and raisins if we were ever stranded, it’s going to hurt like a van seat when this car rotation gig is over.
Tomorrow we exchange the Kia Sorento for a brand new Mazda5. From what I can tell, they’re trying to bring an element of cool to the minivan. My first instinct is to laugh uncontrollably, but after Kia reshaped my opinion with this vehicle, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they’ve accomplished it.