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.
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.
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.
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