Car reviews - Kia - Sorento - range
Exterior styling, Interior quality, well-matched diesel engine, versatile cabin arrangements
Room for improvement
Dull colour options, Si seat adjustment, occasionally clunky transmission
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4 Jun 2015
LONG gone are the days when Kia was perceived as a bargain basement option, and with an ever-maturing and evolving line-up, the Sorento is the next model to be given a major makeover.
The company says the big SUV’s styling and interior reflects the taste of European customers – customers who are prepared to put a premium on panache – but are the Sorento’s 2015 updates worth the accompanying price increases of between $2000 and $4500?In a word, yes, but let’s look into exactly why we think a slightly more expensive Kia Sorento is a good thing, starting from the outside.
Like its partly mechanically related Carnival people-moving sibling, the new Sorento has taken a huge leap forward in aesthetics and, while the car-maker is touting the look as European, we think an interesting blend of America-centric and Euro design is both fair and a compliment.
At a distance you would be forgiven for thinking you are tailing a Jeep Grand Cherokee with its solid stature and chunky red-top-clear-bottom light lenses.
Coincidence?Then we move to the front where we find a bold, well-finished grille that dominates the nose, flanked by headlights that are a drastic improvement over the previous version.
Depending on the variant, the Sorento is available in seven colours but none are particularly adventurous if you were after a tone that celebrates the drastic improvement in design. How many shades of silver are necessary?Once inside the Sorento, the huge leaps forward in styling continue with quality and design that many European manufacturers would be proud of and could even struggle to match.
Like many models in the Kia fleet, the Sorento’s cabin and dash in particular is simple without being basic. A good example of restrained and careful design.
We couldn’t find a single surface or material that wasn’t pleasantly textured or made from a decent grade material. The Sorento’s dashboard is the highlight of the cabin with a restrained but likeable layout and a sweeping continuous design that carries through from one front door to another, much like the Audi A7.
Even in entry level Si variants the interior is sharp and pleasant with the cloth covered seats both comfortable and understated. We found the lack of adjustment on the driver’s seat a little difficult to get used to.
In higher grade SLi and Platinum, the extra seat adjustment is very welcome and we found the perfect posture for spending extended periods behind the wheel.
In any other pew though, occupants are well looked after with comfortable seating with tilt and slide for the second row, and even heating in higher-spec versions.
Moving back to the third row and we find one of the Sorento’s key defining features and a third row of seating. While the two spots are perfect for young children, adults would soon get tired of the confined space but for a majority of circumstances having the extra row would be very handy.
When not in use the two seats fold flat, providing ample boot space and for even greater load-carrying capacity, the second row also folds and tumbles with a handy remote release in the boot.
For more conventional family hauling situations, the middle row has Isofix child seat anchors for two seats.
Another good feature is automatic opening boot for SLi and Platinum versions, which opens under its own steam when it senses a key the correct key in the vicinity. The system is easier to use than other manufacturer’s solutions that require a foot to be waved under the bumper or a push button.
Offered in with a choice of two engines, the 2015 Sorento can be powered by either a 3.3-litre petrol V6 driving the front wheels, or a 2.2-litre diesel that sends power to all four corners – the version we started in.
About town the low-revving engine is well behaved and surprisingly quiet with a smooth pull away and lots of low-down grunt. Acceleration is respectable and while a fully loaded Sorento would obviously dent the performance somewhat, the oil-burner is a great match with a significant 450Nm of torque.
A well-positioned driving seat allows a good view of surroundings and made the Sorento feel smaller than it is, and the deceptive size also adds to the driving enjoyment when on the open road.
Kia’s local chassis tuning engineers have done a great job with the Sorento and the big SUV manages to be both quiet and comfortable even on some deteriorating surfaces, but also fun to throw around on better roads.
For a large high-riding car the Sorento is surprisingly good in the twisty bits with lots of confidence-inspiring grip from its Dynamax four-wheel drive system and more than enough grunt from the diesel four cylinder to keep things progressing nicely.
Flicking the Drive Mode button into the Sport setting made a notable improvement to steering weight and was particularly noticeable when winding-off lock when coming out of corners.
Even when really hammered, the Sorento’s body doesn't roll as much as you would expect from an SUV, and would lean over only a few degrees (Kia’s top local chassis engineer says about 3.5 degrees) before stabilising mid-corner.
Sport mode also holds the revs up higher and kept the diesel engine in a useful torque band, and combined with increased throttle sensitivity, we never felt compelled to reach for a non-existent gear-shift paddle.
The ergonomically excellent steering wheel is also worth mentioning and sits comfortably in the hands. On SLi and Platinum versions the wheel has a curious gloss plastic insert in the top section, which felt a little strange and we would have preferred a continuation of the top quality leather all round.
When cruising more sedately the diesel was whisper quiet and barely perceptible, while minimal road noise was only added to by a little door mirror wind noise.
Changing into a petrol-powered Sorento brings a silky smooth V6 with more power than the diesel but at a cost of torque. When overtaking, the free-revving nature of the petrol engine was useful and pushing it out to the red-line produced a lovely note.
For everyday motoring we missed the abundant mid-range torque of the diesel, and its more efficient fuel use (Kia says under 10.0 litres per 100km) would also make a difference at the bowser.
Flicking the V6 version into Sport mode seemed to have less of an effect to the steering weight – perhaps due to the fewer kilograms up front – and the front-drive only chassis cannot match the diesel for confidence inspiring grip.
Pushing the V6 hard results in some complaints from the tyres and understeer but the effective torque vectoring system gathers everything up efficiently.
Like the diesel, the petrol is also eerily quiet when cruising.
Generally speaking, the six-speed automatic transmission worked well with both engines, particularly the diesel which had well matched and spaced ratios across all speeds.
Cog-swaps were largely smooth, but when upshifting, the auto would occasionally change too aggressively with a jolt felt by occupants.
Finally, we sampled the top-of-the-range Platinum Sorento which is only available with the gutsy diesel and comes complete with accoutrements such as no-cost optional two tone interior, the largest wheels at 19-inches and a flurry of extra safety gear.
We did not warm to the black and “stone” cabin leather and would probably prefer to live with more forgiving black. The larger wheels are easily the most handsome in the range and had no discernible effect on handling or ride – for better or worse.
Active cruise control, city braking, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert are all welcome technologies in a car that carries precious people and covers lots of kilometres.
For its third-generation the Kia Sorento has taken a big step up with drastically improved styling, rewarding but comfortable ride and good levels of equipment in all variants.
For us, the excellent diesel is the champion of the engines and combined with all-wheel drive the Sorento deserves the title of a sports utility vehicle, and combined with the fine leather interior of the SLi the mid-range variant is the value pick.
However, for those ferrying families for long trips the extra safety kit of the Platinum is well worth stretching to, with a slightly larger budget.
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