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Car reviews - Kia - Sorento - Si

Our Opinion

We like
Value, packaging, diesel efficiency and performance, versatility of interior space, warranty
Room for improvement
Numb steering, firm ride, no digital speedo on Si, dreary handling

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Kia logo22 Feb 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

UNCOMPLICATED is good, especially when you need a seven-seater wagon for a growing family.

For us, Ford’s terrific Territory TDCi hits the spot. But with AWD it breaches the $55K barrier, and for many buyers that’s a boundary too far.

Frankly, we didn’t expect Kia’s Sorento to even be in the hunt, even when it underwent a comprehensive (but near-invisible) makeover last year.

But only the bonnet, doors and roof panel are carried over outside, while underneath the structure has been altered for more interior space, beefed up to better driveability, and quietened down for extra refinement.

Here we’re looking at the cheapest diesel automatic currently available – the $40,990 Si CRDi AWD.

It might only have cloth seats, but this is no poverty pack, with six airbags, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, front fog lights with static cornering lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a five-year warranty.

Interior

Most people buy seven-seater vehicles not because they look good or drive well, but because they have to for their family’s transportation needs.

So let’s begin at the back, in full people-carrying, Mum’s Taxi mode.

The one-piece tailgate is light and doesn’t open too high for shorter people to reach, but offers what can only be described as a very small amount of shopping-bag space (258 litres) behind the third row. You can place the detachable luggage blind over a lidded cubbyhole that gives you a bit more storage, though.

Two average-weight adults of up to about 180cm tall will find short-term accommodation sufficient in the third row, though getting past the tumbled second-row seat does require some dexterity.

Once there you’re sat very low, like you’re deep in the spare wheel well. Unfortunately the ambience is about as inviting due to the overwhelming amount of hard black scratchy material around you. The upshot of that is decent head clearance, but the knees-up posture isn’t really very sustainable unless you’re a kid.

Kia’s put some thought back here though. Firstly, there’s still enough side window so it isn’t totally claustrophobic the middle-row backrests have a number of angle options that allow bigger knees a bit more breathing space if needed getting out again is simple thanks to easily-accessible release cords there are a trio of storage pockets, two headrests that sit flush with the backrest, and a reading light.

Things get better for the second row, since the Sorento’s packaging engineers have provided easy entry via big doors, sufficient three-abreast space for most families’ needs – with ample space beneath the front buckets, side air vents, a comfy cushion, those reclining 70/30 split backrests (with handy child-seat hooks immediately behind) that go back enough for people who need to nap, and your usual array of grab handles, reading lights, map pockets, cupholders (in the folding armrest), bottle holders, and a 12V socket.

Our test Labrador wanted us to add that the deep side windows go almost all the way down, for that head out/tongue-in-the-wind feel.

Finally, we’re up to the front seat area.

The Si may be the base series Sorento, and the cloth seats and sea of black plastic back that up, but Kia hasn’t been as stingy as some others, for the build quality is exceptional, the material quality more than adequate, and the presentation quite impressive.

This is your typical step-up-and-into SUV, affording excellent and confidence inspiring forward views, and better-than-usual side and rear vision (unlike the Santa Fe from sister company Hyundai), due to an unfashionably deep area of glass. This adds a light and breezy feeling inside that – in our books – makes the Sorento a superior people-carrying device.

For the driver, it’s all there – clear dials, logical controls, and within-reach switches, arranged within a modern and pleasant dashboard that is likely to offend nobody. We especially like the large instrument markings, big HVAC heater/vent buttons, abundance of face-level airflow, and massive centre bin-cum-armrest.

The good-looking wheel includes a multitude of handy remote switches, is tilt/telescopic in adjustment, and feels OK to grip, while a tasteful array of matt metallic-like plastic – offset by an attractive gloss-wood finish for the dash and door spears – complete the quality effect.

What don’t we like? While pairing the Bluetooth phone and music streaming is child’s play, the sound quality leaves a bit to be desired a little more legroom would be appreciated for taller front-seat occupants and although it works better than most others, the foot-operated park brake belongs in the belly of a brontosaurus.

By the way, if you use this only as a five-seater, the 1047L wagon capacity is a bonanza, with a long flat floor and lots of height for bulky items. And as a two-seater panel van the load options are enormous thanks to 2052L of capacity. Just beware that the wheel-arch covers are made from easily scratch-able plastics.

All in all, though, the Sorento makes for fine family-hauling transport inside.

Engine and transmission

Nobody expects tyre-shredding performance from a 141kW 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel crossover/SUV.

Still, after the usual off-the-line momentary hesitation, the Sorento CRDi feels surprisingly sprightly around town – and turns downright brisk if a spot of mid-range acceleration is required.

That’s because there’s up to 436Nm of torque being transmitted to the front wheels (the rears only kick in when traction losses call for it, though a 50/50 lock for up to 40km/h can be had via a press of a button), via a smooth if not especially snappy six-speed auto gearbox, with most of it readily available from very low revs.

Even though the Sorento’s revvy R-series diesel engine ranks as one of the smoothest and quietest of its type anywhere, Kia has done a fine job isolating a good deal of unavoidable diesel din from entering the cabin, so while you’re aware that this isn’t a petrol unit, mechanical refinement levels are commendably high.

Only when fully laden does the Sorento’s relatively small capacity engine become obvious, but even then there’s still plenty of pulling power (towing capacity is rated at 2000kg/2500kg for the cheaper manual version).

Kia claims a barely believable 7.3L/100km for the average fuel consumption figure. Ours hovered between the low-9s and 10.1.

Ride and handling

The good news is there are a number of inferior rivals to the Sorento dynamically.

The bad news for Kia is that it lacks the finesse of the BMW X5-bothering Territory.

But the fact is, the Sorento needs to beat neither Bavaria’s nor Broadmeadow’s best, because the way it drives is good enough.

The electric steering may feel artificial and remote, but in terms of lightness, manoeuvrability, and around-town ease, most drivers will find it AOK.

Even when pressing on, the 1960kg Kia handles deftly enough to inspire confidence, gripping the road consistently, and though out of its comfort zone, the Sorento isn’t too cumbersome or roly-poly.

The Koreans say they’ve spent time tuning the chassis for Australian conditions, and though the rear end can hop around a little through bumper corners, it is all kept in line by an eager stability control system and a set of brakes that rank highly for pedal feel and retardation. Keeping you from having an accident is this Kia’s main concern.

We’d like a bit more suppleness from the suspension, and better noise isolation from the road and tyres, but really, again, the Sorento soaks up most urban bumps and humps with adequate capability.

Although we rarely venture off-road for our GoAuto road tests, we did try it out in a flat field full of dried ruts and gravel: the Kia sailed through, thanks mainly to its good ground clearance (185mm) and selectable/lockable 4x4 access. But we wouldn’t venture on to anything more demanding.

Safety and servicing

Five-year’s worth of unlimited kilometre warranty, with fixed-price servicing included, is music to the ears for those needing an inexpensive and cheap-to-run school-run/school-holiday vacation bus.

For the record, it should cost you $314, $374, $368, $559, and $351 at every 15,000km interval in the first five years respectively.

On the Euro NCAP front, the earlier, 2009-2012 XM Series 1 Sorento scored a maximum of five stars – though like most big blunt SUVs it trails for pedestrian safety.

Verdict

We admit expectations were low when Kia lent us its unassuming and unpretentious Sorento Si AWD diesel.

And while it lacks the dynamic polish and driver involvement of the class-leading Ford Territory, a handy price advantage coupled with light and easy controls, low running costs, and very family friendly packaging means the Kia might be just the ticket if it’s an uncomplicated and affordable seven-seater SUV you need.

Rivals

1. Ford SZ Territory TX AWD TDCi: , From $48,250 plus on-roads., Australia’s first SUV is still a towering achievement in terms of driveability and packaging, thanks to lusty V6 diesel, sophisticated suspension, and tough, family-orientated interior.

, 2. Mazda CX-9 Classic FWD: , From $44,525 plus on-roads., No diesel option limits the Japanese seven-seater SUV’s appeal, but a smooth drivetrain, enjoyable dynamics, quality interior, and plenty of space ensure the biggest Mazda is still in the hunt.

3. Hyundai DM Santa Fe Active CRDi AWD:, From $41,990 plus on-roads., Big and brash inside and out, the Santa Fe makes for a slick seven-seater SUV experience, and provides plenty for the money, but the feel-free steering, gloomy rear décor, and firm ride are off-putting.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Kia XM II Sorento Si AWD CRDi
, ENGINE: 2199cc 4-cyl DOHC diesel
, LAYOUT: AWD, transverse
, POWER: 145kW @ 3800rpm
, TORQUE: 436Nm @ 1800-2500rpm
, TRANSMISSION: 6-spd auto
, 0-100km: 9.9
, TOP SPEED: 190km/h
, FUEL: 7.3L/100km
, CO2: 192g/km
, L/W/H/W’BASE: 4685/1885/1700/2700mm
, WEIGHT: 1831kg
, SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Multi-link
, STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
, BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
, PRICE: From $40,990 plus on-roads

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