Believe It Or Not, Kia Made The Second-Generation Sorento With A Stick: Weird Spec

Manual Kia Sorento Topshot

If you’re in the market for a family hauler and you’re a diehard member of the three-pedal rowing team, your options aren’t that open. It’s been years since a compact crossover was offered in America with a manual gearbox, and larger recently-produced two-row units are out of the question. Or are they?

Welcome to weird spec, a recurring series where I go over some of the more mundane oddities of the automotive world. It’s easy to tick off great options on great cars, but those who tick off strange options on normal cars deserve credit too.

Believe it or not, the second-generation Kia Sorento was briefly offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, albeit with limitations. For instance, you won’t get body-color mirrors, or a rear armrest, or really anything truly fancy. However, air-conditioning, power locks, power windows, and a stereo with Bluetooth, a USB port and an auxiliary input all come standard, as do 17-inch alloy wheels.

The interior still looks reasonably nice today. It’s hard to beat three rotary knobs for HVAC controls and although glossy dark trim isn’t to everyone’s taste, those looking to defend piano black and its ilk will enjoy the Sorento’ interior. It’s easy to see why so many people bought this generation of Kia’s midsize crossover given the modern amenities and spaciousness. Granted, you won’t find a dashtop digital clock on most new cars, nor will you find the other oddity located in the center console.

Manual Sorento Interior 2
Photo credit: Seller

See that? A manual handbrake, easy to adjust and prime for snowy shenanigans. It’s even console-mounted as opposed to the foot-actuated arrangements often seen in manual crossovers. You might even need it in an emergency case, given the big elephant in the room. Yes, these manual Sorentos are all equipped with a port-injected variant of the much-maligned Theta II engine known for rod knock and the occasional fire. To make matters worse, Kia hasn’t yet covered these vehicles under recall, although NHTSA investigators are looking into engine failures on 2011 Sorentos. Stranger still, the 2012 Sorento with the same 2.4-liter port-injected four-cylinder engine falls under recall, as does the 2012 Sportage with its port-injected engine built in South Korea. It’s worth noting that engine failures don’t appear to be as widely-reported on models with multi-port injection as they are on models with direct injection, yet they still can happen.

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Photo credit: Seller/Autotrader

At the same time, 175 horsepower at 6,000 rpm in a crossover weighing roughly 3,500 pounds doesn’t sound like it would have thrilling acceleration, and EPA fuel economy is slightly worse than on automatic models. Figure 20 mpg city, 26 on the highway, and 22 combined.

Manual Kia Sorento 1
Photo credit: Seller/Autotrader

Because the manual is limited to the base model, the Venn Diagram of midsize crossover buyers and manual gearbox enthusiasts is almost two separate circles, and the engines in these manual Sorentos could exit stage left at any moment, these things are relatively cheap. I say relatively because the used car market is absolutely insane right now. Sure, the one I’ve swiped the photographs of is listed for $8,000, but here’s one with 139,836 miles on it up for sale at a Ford dealership for $6,500.

I don’t think I’d advise buying a manual Kia Sorento, but I’m glad they exist. They’re true spec sheet oddities that make virtually no sense given the target market and yet still got made. Even if Kia only sold a handful, traffic’s slightly more interesting when you consider someone might be driving a three-pedal midsize crossover.

Lead photo credit: Seller/Autotrader

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39 Responses

  1. It’s kinda funny that the manual here is limited to the base trim, while the only way to get a manual on a modern Mazda 3 is to get it in a) top trim and b) as a hatchback. Just kind of odd how the market positioning has moved on manuals over just this past decade.

    1. Not quite. You do have to specifically choose the hatchback in Premium trim to get a manual option, but if you step up even further to the Turbo or Turbo Premium Plus, it goes away again. Still, out of the two body styles and seven different trim levels that the Mazda3 comes in, only one combination can be had with a manual transmission.

      It makes no goddamn sense. OEMs have no idea how to position manual transmissions in the market.

  2. Perhaps less of a shocker but still impressive, Ford still offered a manual transmission Fusion during that same time period. Same basic deal as here, you had to get the base model with the 4 cyl, etc.

    Have to imagine but a handful of them were ever sold…I’ve never seen one, and it appears automotive journalists doing test drives were the major market.

    But it’s almost retro – a domestic mid-range sedan with a stick, but in the ’10s.

    1. Ford did allow some options on the Fusion with a manual – you could get an SE with the sport appearance package, moonroof, etc. It wasn’t as loaded compared to the initial 2006 models (where you could get a loaded *manual Mercury Milan*, even) but oddly, a bit more in the way of options than the platformmate Mazda6 offered – couldn’t even get a moonroof IIRC after 2009 on the 6 w/ MT.

      I think MY2012 was base-only though as they got ready to redesign to the global design – which in turn did allow more options again like leather even. At least on the options sheet, it might have been just for the press mag test cars.

      1. Jesus you are the platonic ideal of the driver that Buick was searching for when it did its “reinvention.” I’m not worthy.

        I bet there’s less than one hands’ worth of you in the entire country…Buick should have tracked you all down and gotten you to appear at events as its “see we told you enthusiasts like Buicks again!” example!

    2. And that manual Fusion continued for another two years, only available with the midlevel 1.6 turbo. I’ve got a ’14 and it’s actually a really great car. Not super fast or sporty, but an entertaining version of a workaday family sedan.

  3. You know what’s even weirder? Mazda offered both generations of the three row Mazda 5 in the US with a MT. No Theta II engine woes either, just good ol’ MZR goodness and it’s own snowy shenanigans enabling center console oddity.

    You think the Venn gap of the Kia is wide? Try sliding door microvan buyers and MT enthusiasts. Still there’s no greater fun to be had with sliding doors.

    1. I’ve had two of the Mazda5’s with the manual – a pre-facelift ’06 and a post-facelift ’12. The earlier one (Bessie) was fun and felt a bit lighter on its feet, but the later one (Kaylee) is by far the better vehicle.
      1) The rust-proofing does seem to have improved considerably. I literally had to cut out about an inch radius around the rear wheels of the earlier one and a large chunk of the rear inner wheel well to re-seal things, plus every bolt smaller than an M10 had about a 50% chance of breaking if I needed to loosen it. The ’12 is much much better in this regard.
      2) The 2.5l engine in Kaylee is a bit more powerful and torquey, although the extra weight does tend to cancel this out a little.
      3) Earlier models only got a 5-speed manual that had the engine spinning at almost 4000 RPM on the highway. The later models got a 6-speed that, along with a different final drive ratio IIRC, drop that to a more bearable 3000 RPM. Still a bit loud, but much better.

      I still have the ’12, and best of all it was pretty cheap with the manual – only $5000 back in Feb 2021 with about 110k miles, and in a great burgundy-red color.

      1. I bought (and still drive) a 09 Mazda 5 with a stick. $17.5 OTD new.

        It has the 2.3L with the 5 speed. The ’09s and later also have a vent blower in the aft center console to better cool/heat the back.

        Gotta keep it going so the kid I brought home from the hospital in it can learn to drive it.

        I’ve loaded that thing up with a 4 bike rack on the roof and full of camping supplies and it still goes…

      1. I almost bought a manual Mazda 5 back in 2010 or so, I drove it 3 times before I decided on slightly older protege5. I would have been happy with either but my 22 year old self couldn’t quite be convinced that a mini mini van was “cool” even though I really liked it.

      2. Bought a 2007 Mazda 5 w/ 5 speed manual trans. Great vehicle.

        Hit 193k miles, and met a deer it didn’t like… Only issues I had were with shitty passenger-side engine mount, with FoMoCo label…

        Car & Driver already worked on an MS3 into Mazda 5 swap.

      1. I drove a manual CX-5 when I worked at a Mazda dealer years ago, it was fine. It felt just like a manual 3 with a slightly more upright seating position.

        If I was in the market for a CX-5, I don’t think I’d get a manual though. The only way to get a manual was on the base spec where you couldn’t even get AWD

      2. You must have really long lower legs. I’ve owned 2 of the Mazda5 with the manual, and both generations had the shifter practically coming out of the dash, quite close at hand from the steering wheel. Sure, the seating position is higher than in the related Mazda3 since it’s a taller vehicle, but the controls all moved up too.

  4. It is also weird (sad) to see the dumbing down of the American driver. I still drive my 1986 VW Vanagon Westfalia with a manual gearbox. In fact, most Vanagons were sold with a manual, not because it was any cheaper (Vanagons were not inexpensive) but because people preferred them that way. Of course, now kine is running a 240 hp flat-six with a five speed…

    1. That sounds like an awesome Westy. I grew up riding around in a ‘78 westy (type ii). My dad had a friend with a corvair swapped Bus when he was growing up. He said those busses were never meant to go that fast 🙂

      So is yours Porsche swapped (my guess)? I guess there is a chance it’s a subie H6 as well.. Cool vanogan either way!!

  5. When my wife and I were in the market for a new car in 2015, we were only considering manuals, and one model that was available with a stick—at least hypothetically—was the Honda HRV. We test-drove an automatic because that’s what the dealer had on-hand, and decided against it for a variety of reasons. But as I recall, the dealer could only locate one HRV with a stick in the USA anyhow.

    1. This situation is caused by the way new vehicle inventory is ordered in the US. Dealers order cars before they have buyers, and they know they can sell an automatic to any potential buyer but can only sell a manual to few of them. So they order automatics.

      Dealerships are also owned by old men convinced Americans will never want hatchbacks. These are the guys who will represent the dealership at whatever meeting or convention the manufacturer holds, so their feedback is what counts.

      Considering we have to wait for cars or fight for inventory right now anyway, maybe we should just be able to order them as we want and wait an extra bit for delivery.

      1. They don’t think Americans don’t want hatchbacks – what is a crossover but a hatchback with extra height? They think that the residual on a CUV is higher than that on a hatchback, giving them more money.

        Dealers want whatever they can get the highest margin on. Hatchbacks are typically on the lower end so they have the lowest margin. Dealers would much rather sell you a two year old crossover based on that platform, way more money in it.

  6. A good weird spec story would be the 2005 to 2007 Chevy/GMC pickups you could get with the L33 engine. Only available in short bed, extended cab, 4WD trucks, it was a all aluminum 5.3 motor with a bunch of different internals to push out 310 hp.

  7. I wonder if Kia developed a manual version for the cheap end of the European market. It’s changed a lot from twenty years ago (when basically no one drove a manual), but automatics are still thought of as luxury options, given that everyone had to drive a manual to pass their driving test anyway.

    1. Definitely for international markets. The 2nd-gen Sedona offered a manual elsewhere at the time too.

      It is odd they bothered with it in the U.S., but there were a few base model SUVs that still had manuals then and the basic powertrain was already in other models so guess it wasn’t a lot of effort.

  8. This seems to suffer from the same problems as the other few manual options offered in the US. You have to get a base (or close to base) trim and in a lot of cases that means no available AWD.

    Like an idiot, I spent years trying to get my wife to drive a manual. Now she absolutely insists on it. Considering we are in an area that got 10 FEET of snow our first year here and she has to commute, AWD is also on her requirement list. She’s in a ’17 Forester right now, and the only real options at the time for manual and AWD were Mini, Jeep and a few Subarus. We bought the best trim of Forester we could with a manual. Sadly, there was an XT Forester available that year… only with a CVT.

    We’re already frustrated looking for potential replacements.

  9. I had a 2006 Hyundai Tucson with a 5-speed, and even though its not your typical candidate for 3 pedals, it was better for it. Terrible 4 banger that you had to wring the shit out of, but with a 5-speed, it was actually engaging, in a segment that otherwise would have been bland. Repaid costs were nominal after 160k miles as well, and I rung this thing all to hell.

    1. Honestly any car you can get with a manual is a car you want a manual in.

      From tractor type engines to screaming rotaries a manual transmission is the way to go.

      I’m not buying another ICE car unless it has a manual. I’ll row my own gears till there are no more gears to row or no more me to row them, whichever comes first.

  10. I’m not sure this car is made better by having a manual transmission. It seems like the kind of vehicle that is intended to be ignored as much as possible by its owners. Just throwing a manual into the mix wouldn’t suddenly make it a fun driver’s car, it would just make it more of a hassle.

    1. I dunno, the manual used to be the transmission choice for utility and simplicity. I don’t see why this would be any different, just a very usable, if slow, version of a practical car. Might not be fun, but at least the stick would allow you to eke the most out of the 4-cylinder powertrain. I’m guessing a slushbox with the 4-cylinder would be even more miserable, so by that margin it’s a bit more enthusiast-adjacent?

  11. I have to think that the only people to buy these new in the US is someone looking to flat tow behind a motorhome.
    I briefly owned an early 2000’s Explorer sport that was 2wd manual that original owner dragged all over the country behind a Winnebago. Thought it would be awesome with a 5.0 and T5 swap but never got around to it.

  12. I love a good Ugly Stick! These manual Sorentos unfortunately aren’t good Ugly Sticks, in the sense that they’re missing the “good” part. I just wouldn’t enjoy waking up every weekday wondering if my engine is about to a) throw a rod, b) self-immolate, or c) need another quart of oil for the third time this month.

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