Introduction

Long ago, sport-utility vehicles replaced the station wagon as the quintessential family hauler. In the beginning, truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs were all there was. But car shoppers' desire for a more mild-mannered city SUV eventually gave birth to the crossover -- an SUV based on a passenger car. Nowadays, it seems like crossovers will eventually inherit the Earth. But one vehicle that has kept in touch with its traditional SUV roots is the five-passenger 2009 Kia Sorento.

The Sorento, like most traditional truck-based SUVs, is built on a sturdy body-on-frame chassis and has a solid rear axle suspension. This allows it to tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, about 1,500 pounds more than most other small and midsize crossovers can handle. Opting for the four-wheel-drive model gives the Sorento a decent amount of off-road ability, too, thanks to its low-range gearing. This is still a modern Kia, though, with a choice of two capable V6 engines, an impressive list of standard features, attractive styling and substantial warranty coverage.

Alas, this old-school approach leaves the 2009 Sorento somewhat outclassed in terms of all-around polish. Its lackluster fuel economy, less-than-stellar brakes and trucklike ride make it seem out of touch with what most people want out of a small or midsize SUV these days. While the Sorento is a capable alternative to the similar-in-concept Jeep Liberty, we think you'll probably be happier with a dedicated on-road crossover like the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander or Toyota RAV4. And if you really do seek an old-world SUV with substantial off-road prowess, we think the Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser are better and more desirable choices.

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