Car reviews - Kia - Sorento - Sport
Massively spacious yet shrinks around the driver, quality throughout, great driver assist tech, excellent infotainment, handles like a well-sorted sedan, great new transmission
Room for improvement
Feels more basic than it is in Sport trim, not as economical as hoped, brakes not the most confidence inspiring
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2 Feb 2018
SINCE the third-generation Kia Sorento launched in mid-2015 it has been a GoAuto favourite in the bitumen-biased large SUV segment.
For the 2018 model year Kia boosted standard safety and driver assistance equipment, with every variant now coming with autonomous emergency braking, radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and driver attention alert.
Also headlining the update are a new eight-speed automatic transmission, ride and handling tweaks, upgraded infotainment and, curiously, a slightly larger bodyshell that yields more interior space.
We spent 10 days living with a lower-mid spec Sport variant with a diesel engine and all-wheel drive. Safe to say, the changes have elevated our already high opinion of the Sorento.
Price and equipment
We are glad to see Kia democratising some excellent safety and driver assistance tech across the entire the family-oriented Sorento range.
In light of this, and numerous other improvements made to an already excellent car, we’re sure buyers will forgive the $1000 price increase on all variants but the base Si petrol, which has gone up $2000 to open the range at $42,990 plus on-road costs.
Our test vehicle was the Sport diesel with all-wheel drive, which costs $48,490 plus on-roads and represents a new trim level that replaces the previous Si Limited variant. In front-drive petrol form the Sport costs $44,990.
The reshuffled Sorento range goes all the way up to $58,990 plus on-roads for the diesel-only, sporty-looking GT-Line flagship, while the Platinum has been dropped.
In between the diesel Sport and GT-Line is the $50,490 SLi, which is also available with the petrol engine for $46,990.
On top of the already mentioned standard fit of autonomous emergency braking, radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance – that replaces lane-departure warning – and driver attention alert, the GT-Line gains blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera system and adaptive full-LED headlights.
The new 8.0-inch touchscreen is an inch larger than before and uses Kia’s latest software, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring plus DAB+ digital radio reception. In the SLi and GT-Line the regular six-speaker audio output is joined by a 640W 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium sound system (replacing the old Infinity setup) and the instrument cluster gains a 7.0-inch multifunction display that creates a pseudo-digital dash.
In addition to the usual Eco, Comfort and Sport drive mode settings is a new Smart mode designed to automatically adjust settings to suit driving style and conditions.
Typical of Kia, the Sorento’s standard equipment list is pretty long, over and above the aforementioned new additions.
Even at base SLi level, which comes with sat-nav including SUNA traffic alerts, dual-zone climate control with second- and third-row vents (the latter having their own fan control) plus a cabin air purifier.
Also standard are front and rear parking sensors with obstacle proximity display, a reversing camera with animated guidance lines, a digital speed readout and multi-function trip computer, automatic headlights, an electric park brake with auto hold, 17-inch alloy wheels with full-size alloy spare and tyre pressure monitoring, LED daytime running lights, front and rear fog lights, and cloth upholstery.
The Sport tested here gains black leather upholstery over the Si, while the SLi adds a self-dimming interior mirror, eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment with two-way lumbar support control, keyless entry and start, illuminated door handles and sill plates, LED tail-light clusters, rear privacy glass, aero-blade wipers, alloy pedals, an illuminated centre console and wood effect cabin trim.
When paired with Aurora Black or Gravity Blue paintwork, the SLi cabin can also be optioned with a two-tone ‘black and stone’ interior colour scheme for no cost over the $595 premium paint levy.
Buyers of the full-fruit GT-Line get 19-inch alloys, black leather with GT-Line logos and grey contrast stitching, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, two-position memory for the driver’s seat plus four-way lumbar support and extendable thigh support, eight-way power front passenger seat adjustment, an electric panoramic sunroof, a perforated and heated sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, retractable window blinds for second-row passengers, LED interior lighting and gloss black cabin trim.
Snow White Pearl paint is exclusive to the GT-Line, as are exterior embellishments such as the side steps, red brake callipers, and dual exhaust tips.
Clear White is the only non-premium option among the six available colours (seven on the GT-Line) and our Sport variant was finished in Platinum Graphite.
Considering there is just a $2000 jump in price from a petrol or diesel Sport to the much better equipped SLi, we’re not convinced by the value-for-money of the Sport’s premium over the Si ($2000 for the petrol or $3000 for the diesel) when all you get is essentially bigger wheels and leather.
But if you’re on a tight budget and leather is a must, the Sport makes sense.
Not that Kia cares, because high-spec Sorento variants are the best sellers. To put that into perspective, once premium paint and on-road costs are accounted for, there’s not much – if any – change from $65,000 when buying a Sorento GT-Line.
In Sport trim with its monotone black cabin colour scheme, the Sorento interior is pretty plain. It’s a shame, because Kia has thrown more soft touch materials and leather at the updated Sorento Cabin, which on closer inspection is incredibly well built and made from high-quality materials.
Seriously, Kia is approaching the cabin quality of luxury brands these days.
Textures, finishes and fit are all excellent – better than the posher-looking Mazda CX-9 interior – but the Sorento still really requires the SLi-only two-tone colour scheme to lift its ambience closer to that of the sumptuous-feeling – and admittedly more expensive – Toyota Kluger.
A modernised steering wheel and instrument pack, along with the bigger new touchscreen, all freshen the Sorento dashboard and we’re fans of the new climate control panel that looks and feels more expensive, while being more user-friendly with its integrated LCD display.
There’s more. For the previous generation Sorento’s mid-life update Kia switched to an all-new platform while retaining the original bodywork, so this time they’ve enlarged bodywork and retained the platform. That’s right, for what otherwise looks like a minor model refresh, Kia has physically grown the Sorento a couple of centimetres in length and height to increase cabin volume.
Without testing the old and new Sorento side-by-side it’s difficult to assess the impact of this, but we can report that with the driver’s seat positioned for a six-footer, another could comfortably sit behind them with the central bench slid forward to accommodate a third equally lofty person in the rearmost row (although their headroom and shoulder room were limited back there).
Even better, with both rear rows of seats in place a respectable amount of boot space remains (the shape makes it more usable than the on-paper 142-litre capacity). Better still, all the seat folding, tilting and sliding mechanisms are easy to operate with minimal physical effort. The Sorento’s fairly low-slung stance (for an SUV) and its large, wide-opening doors also made access a breeze.
With the exception of the less generously padded third-row, the leather seats of our Sorento Sport were plush and comfortable for long journeys. Although the backrest adjustment is via levers, drivers at both ends of the height spectrum were able to quickly find the right angle and a decent driving position.
Storage is a strong point, with a huge covered bin in front of the gear selector larger than those typically found under the front central armrest of many cars. People with massive-screened smartphones will be happy with this feature, especially as it also houses the USB port and a pair of 12V power outlets.
Beside the gear selector is a pair of well-sized cup-holders that can be hidden by a roller door and behind those is a slot across the centre console that we found ideal for stashing a glasses case (there is a proper sunglasses holder in the ceiling too).
The obligatory big bin – and it is big – is also located beneath the central armrest, and the glove box is generously sized too.
All door bins can hold drinks bottles and plenty more besides, there are net style map pockets and more cupholders for centre-row passengers in the fold-down central armrest. Occupants here also have access to another USB port and 12V socket. Those right at the back have a really useful large rectangular tray on each side, along with a cup-holder wide and deep enough to hold a large bottle.
Air-conditioning performance and ventilation throughout is excellent, and the Sorento picks up points for having face-level vents for rear passengers rather than those that blow down from the ceiling and can disturb infants in rear-facing capsules.
Talking of infants, the Sorento was easy to fit child seats into due to the presence of Isofix anchorages on outboard positions of the middle row and well-placed top tether points on the rear of the backrests.
The second row bench is also broad, leaving plenty of room for adults or other bulky child restraints, and its 60:40 split for sliding and reclining plus a 40:20:40 split-fold mechanism provides plenty of combinations for fitting different sizes of people and their luggage.
All the seats fold flat into the boot floor, with a big 605L available with the third row put away and 1662L with all five rear positions stowed. Kia has also designed the cargo blind well, with two installation positions to account for different central bench recline and slide positions and a place to stash it under the boot floor.
On the move, the Sorento is as quiet and refined as the cabin quality promises.
Road noise is well suppressed and we only detected significant wind noise when driving headlong into a strong southerly at 110km/h.
Visibility is excellent. Big, deep windows, a windscreen that provides an IMAX-like view of the road ahead and A-pillars far back enough to reduce blind-spots at junctions.
The radar cruise control is among the best and the Sorento keeps true to the selected speed on undulating roads. Likewise the lane-keeping assist that comes close to matching the efficacy of similar systems fitted to much more expensive models.
Kia’s latest infotainment system is also an impressive piece of kit, easy to use with smooth graphics and accurate sat-nav that can chime to warn of all kinds of road hazards and speed traps. The current speed limit is also displayed on the nav screen and flashes red if this speed is exceeded.
Pairing a phone to the Bluetooth hands-free is simple, but simply plugging a smartphone in to use the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is even simpler.
Good work Kia, we had precious little to complain about inside the Sorento Sport.
Engine and transmission
Like the Toyota Kluger that was updated last year, the latest Sorento now has an eight-speed automatic transmission. When we tested the V6 petrol-only Kluger, it made a meaningful difference to fuel consumption (and therefore emissions). The Kia, not so much.
Petrol Sorentos remain front-drive and, in addition to the eight-speed auto, switch from a 3.3-litre V6 to a bigger 3.5-litre unit that churns out 206kW and 336Nm (up 7kW and 18Nm), with official combined cycle consumption of 10.0L/100km (0.1L/100km higher than the smaller engine it replaces).
For comparison, the official combined cycle of an all-wheel-drive Kluger is 9.3L/100km – from an engine that is more powerful than the Kia’s at 218kW/350Nm.
No wonder more than two-thirds of Sorento buyers go for the diesel.
Officially, the carryover 147kW/441Nm four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine fitted to our AWD test car now consumes 0.6L/100km less fuel on the combined cycle, equating to 7.2 litres per 100km, but we averaged a much thirstier 10.L/100km during the 10 days of mixed driving conditions we subjected it to.
Much, much better news came from a clear 125km motorway journey, during which our Sorento returned an astonishingly frugal 5.6L/100km.
Questionable fuel consumption benefits aside, the new eight-speeder is a pearler and is brilliantly calibrated to compliment what was already a great diesel engine. Echoing our impressions of the Sorento’s interior quality, this drivetrain combo is approaching the levels of seamlessness and refinement that was once the preserve of luxury brands.
The 2.2-litre diesel remains quiet and smooth with peak torque coming in at 1750 rpm and maintained until 2750 rpm, followed by max power at 3800 rpm. It doesn’t mind being revved out and doesn’t sound strained or exhibit excessive vibration when asked to do so, but with so many ratios now on offer there is rarely a reason for extending it in this way.
What this all achieves is a feeling of effortlessness and the low-rev cruising is truly serene. Unladen, the diesel Sorento can dash up a motorway on-ramp or execute an ambitious overtake far more willingly and confidently than you’d expect. It isn’t held back much by having some weight on-board, either.
For general duties the new transmission is almost invisible in its slick operation, especially impressive in the way it combines engine braking with the adaptive cruise control’s brake actuation.
Push the Sorento harder and perhaps the kick-down response could be a little swifter and manual changes a bit snappier. Selecting Sport mode does hasten kick-downs but it also tends to run two or even three gears lower than it would in Eco or Comfort, which gets a bit annoying.
But we understand that Sport mode would only ever be selected for temporary use to perhaps negotiate hills with a load onboard or if a keen driver is blasting the Sorento around.
A keen driver blasting a Sorento around? Read on.
Ride and handling
For this update, further tweaks were made to the Sorento’s Australian-tuned ride and handling setup with the goal of improving ride comfort and cornering stability.
There’s a European-style initial firmness to the suspension travel that is most noticeable at lower speeds but the Sorento remains admirably adept at soaking up road imperfections.
Where the ride comfort really comes into its own is body control. The Sorento isolates its occupants from twists and turns in the road, which is a massive advantage for a car destined to be crammed with children and their vulnerability to motion sickness. Youngsters in both rear rows also get an excellent view out, also helping prevent unscheduled vomit stops.
Few SUVs can be driven along even a mildly winding road without either upsetting passengers or frustrating following traffic with progress that is slowed to a rate compatible with the intestinal fortitude of fellow occupants.
But the Sorento can. Bravo!Even better, the Sorento never feels as big as it is, which makes it completely unintimidating to punt around town or manoeuvre in tight spaces – again helped by the superb visibility that eases the judging of distances from obstacles.
For the family buyer this car is favoured by, a rare solo sojourn along twisty roads reveals the big Kia’s hidden talent: It drives like a well-sorted sedan out here.
That big windscreen and wonderful body control combine with accurate and informative steering, a communicative chassis and surprisingly grippy Nexen N Priz tyres – at least in the dry conditions of our test – to deliver serious fast-road confidence and competence.
Again, Kia is chasing some much more expensive metal with the way the Sorento handles.
Except for the brakes, which have an awful wooden pedal feel and less than confidence-inspiring stopping power.
But apart from that, the Sorento really is one of those cars that can keep everybody happy.
Safety and servicing
The Sorento has one of the highest ANCAP-rated cars on the market with an almost-perfect overall score of 36.62 out of a maximum 37 points. Of course, this translates into a five-star result.
In the frontal offset test the Sorento scored 15.62 out of 16, with a full 16 points gained in the side impact test and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’.
In addition to this update’s range-wide addition of autonomous emergency braking, radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and driver attention alert, across every Sorento. Standard safety equipment includes six airbags – dual front, side, and curtains covering the first and second rows.
There are also the usual anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, stability control and traction control.
Kia’s market-leading aftercare program comprises a seven-year warranty, seven-year capped servicing, and seven-year roadside assistance.
Under the capped-price program, the seven 12-month/15,000km service intervals cost between $307 and $664, averaging at $454, or a total cost of $3179 over seven years (correct at time of writing).
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, we came away from our 10-day Sorento experience seriously impressed.
Lower-spec variants like the Sport we drove can look and feel a little frumpy, but there is still a lot to like.
We reckon the SLi is the range’s value champion, with heaps of extra equipment over the Si and Sport for not all that much more money.
Road-oriented seven-seat large SUVs really don’t get much better than this without bearing a German premium badge. All things considered, we reckon this updated Sorento is segment benchmark material – especially as its two closest competitors, the Kluger and CX-9, both lack a diesel engine option.
Mazda CX-9 Sport AWD ($47,890 plus on-road costs)
Some consider the CX-9 the segment leader and we agree it is a thoroughly modern and genuinely upmarket feeling machine that also happens to offer plenty of practicality mixed with engaging dynamics. But it only really comes into its own in higher trim levels that start to get expensive and while Mazda’s cabin design is attractive, the build quality doesn’t convince like the Sorento does.
And there’s no diesel option.
Toyota Kluger GX 4WD ($48,500 plus on-road costs)
Recently updated with a suite of safety and driver assistance tech across the board, but Toyota’s systems are not a patch on Kia’s equivalent. Space and practicality are strong points, as is the luxurious interior. If you do a lot of open-road driving the silken and sonorous petrol V6 and eight-speed auto are unexpectedly frugal. But the roly-poly round-town ride is unacceptable from a road-biased SUV.
Hyundai Santa Fe Active diesel ($44,850 plus on-road costs)
Despite imminent replacement with an all-new model, the Santa Fe remains a great large SUV choice. Owing to its relatively compact dimensions it can’t compete with the CX-9, Kluger or Sorento on space and practicality, but it’s still up there in terms of ride, handling and sheer ease-of-use.
Nissan Pathfinder ST AWD ($45,490 plus on-road costs)
Another petrol-only affair (although a curious supercharged petrol-electric hybrid is available), the Pathfinder is generously sized with an epic cup-holder count. An update did raise the rather low dynamic bar somewhat but it still lags behind the best in many areas, especially in terms of interior presentation and quality.
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