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Car reviews - Kia - Sorento - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Turbo-diesel low-end torque, towing capacity, rugged construction and off-road ability, interior comfort, smooth petrol engine, prices
Room for improvement
Noisy diesel engine, no stability control in 4WD, overly soft suspension, stability control intervention, vague steering, manual gearbox shift quality, handling

14 Aug 2007

WITH a huge range of vehicles extending all the way up to the Toyota Prado and including a bunch of capable benchmarks like the Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger, the medium SUV market segment is a very competitive place to be these days.

Kia was one of the early entrants with the Sorento and enjoyed that advantage for a couple of years, but the model began to struggle against newer rivals from around the world that were able to exploit the trend towards turbo-diesel engines.

Now the value-oriented Korean company finally has a diesel variant as part of a facelifted model range and it expects to capitalise, underscoring the benefits of the new diesel along with the vehicle’s off-road ability and towing capacity.

The 2.5-litre turbo-diesel looks the part on paper and provides the sort of low-end power and response you expect, but it has to haul around some 2640kg. And it is anything but refined, sounding as noisy and clattery as diesels from the past.

It is also held back, especially when driving on the dirt, by heavy intervention of the throttle-only traction control/electronic stability control system, straining against a tight leash that creates more frustration than control.

Not having the ESP operate in 4WD mode seems like a major safety shortcoming, but in terms of driving enjoyment the vehicle steers better without it, as we discovered by turning it off while negotiating both fast and slow dirt roads in 2WD.

While the manual gearbox, available only in the base model, was less than impressive, the new five-speed semi-automatic that comes standard with every other model was altogether more likeable and provided smooth changes – though they seemed to be slower in manual mode.

We mainly experienced the new 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine in some tough off-road conditions where its comparative lack of power was revealed, but it proved to be a smooth and quiet performer that was well-suited to the vehicle and really quite competent.

Despite its off-road credentials – it has a dual-range transfer case and a solid ladder-frame chassis rather than a monocoque body – the Sorento is anything but hardcore and is clearly designed for urban duties.

Its super-soft suspension absorbs the bumps as you would expect, but the vehicle floats so much that anyone with a family had better stock up on car-sickness tablets before going on holiday.

The suspension also feels mismatched front-to-back, so there is not only plenty of side-to-side pitching but also some rocking between the nose and tail.

Not surprisingly, the handling never feels secure, especially on dirt, where the road-biased tyres scrabble for grip.

The steering has an incredible 3.7 turns lock-to-lock and, as you might expect, feels vague and unconnected.

On the plus side, the Sorento looks neat and the interior is well done, if a little bland. It is very comfortable and the seats thankfully proved to be very supportive over a long drive program.

There is no questioning the Kia value proposition and the new Sorento is undoubtedly a step forward, but the engineers still have a lot of work to do on NVH and driving dynamics to be regarded in the same class as the likes of Territory and Kluger.

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