‘Milestones’ – well John Bertrand steering the yacht ‘Australia II’ across the finish line in Newport, Rhode island to capture the America’s Cup, was certainly one for Australia. And at Kia, the launch of the Sorento seven-seat mid-size SUV in 2009 is already marked as one.
Sorento, a handsome mid-size SUV, penned by the brilliant German designer Peter Schreyer, brushed aside its Korean rivals to become a hot property around the world, including – most tellingly - SUV-crazy North America. In fact U.S. models are manufactured at Kia’s North American plant and last year Sorento racked-up more than 130,000 sales to rank as Kia’s biggest-seller ‘Stateside’.
Not that Sorento has been flying solo in Kia’s incredible recent success – there are other Schreyer creations, Sportage, Optima, Cerato…oh well, the man just doesn’t design duds.
So getting the first Sorento update spot-on was critical and it’s here now. Looks are evolutionary but massive changes are under the skin – chiefly the chassis (shared with the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe) plus extra interior space.
And Kia’s strong value story continues with the new entry-level Sorento Si diesel starting at $38,990 (that’s $1,000 less than the previous model) while the entry-level Si petrol is stickered at $37,490 (just $500 north of the previous model).
Kia Sorento Overview
Australia has been an important part of Kia Sorento’s global success. Local sales are up again this year – in fact at the end of September, in a market running nine per-cent ahead of last year, Kia’s sales are up by 23 per-cent. And Kia’s SUVs (Sportage and Sorento) are hot – sales up by 26 per-cent over last year with Sorento itself up by 20 per-cent.
When the new Sorento models hit the showrooms, Kia reckons sales will lift from the current rate of 260 per month to around 400 per month.
For the Sorento running changes, Kia has altered the model lineup adding the SLi grade to two-wheel-drive versions - reflecting the popularity of these types of SUVs with the ‘school run’ market segment. The diesel lineup continues to be exclusively all-wheel-drive and the top-specification ‘Platinum’ grade also remains exclusively diesel. An additional model joins in both two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive called ‘SLi Navigation’ (and you can guess the details there).
The full eight-variant range is:
Si Automatic 2WD $37,490
SLi Automatic 2WD $40,490
SLi Navigation Automatic 2WD $41,490
Si Manual 4WD $38,990
Si Automatic 4WD $40,990
SLi Automatic 4WD $43,990
SLi Navigation Automatic 4WD $45,490
Platinum Automatic 4WD $50,390
Kia Sorrento Engine
Surprisingly Kia Sorento’s 2.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine isn’t making a comeback and, at launch, the new model comes with a choice of two engines – 3.5-litre V6 petrol or 2.2-litre turbo-diesel. However Kia says its handy 2.4-litre Theta II direct-injection petrol engine is under consideration for later introduction.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the V6. With maximum power of 204kW at 6300rpm and peak torque of 335Nm at 5000rpm it has plenty of pep and, combined with the extra sound insulation included in the facelift package, certainly makes for a quiet operator even when working hard.
The diesel is Kia’s excellent R-Series 2.2-litre turbo-diesel with 145Kw of power at 3800rpm and peak torque of 436Nm from 1800rpm (automatic) or 421Nm (manual).
Drive is to the front wheels or all four wheels via six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. For the model update the automatic transmission changes to a ‘Straight Gate’ version.
Fuel consumption (combined cycle) is rated at 9.8l/100kms (petrol), 6.6l/100kms (diesel manual) and 7.3l/100kms (diesel automatic).
Kia Sorento The Interior
Kia’s designers sought to prove a more premium look/feel inside the new Sorento.
And that quest got off to a good start with the new bodyshell delivering a 10mm lowering of the cabin floor which the interior designers translated into 30mm of extra legroom for the second-row passengers and an extra 9.0mm for those seated in the third row.
Seats are new, with Platinum and SLi models scoring leather trim and eight-way power adjustment plus lumbar adjustment for the drivers’ seat. Platinum models go further with four-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat and heating/ventilation for both front seats.
Platinum and SLi models add a new SuperVision instrument cluster with a LCD TFT display screen boasting crisp graphics and bold colours.
Models fitted with satellite navigation (SLi Navigation and Platinum) switch to a new centre stack with the large seven-inch screen and premium audio with 10 speakers.
All Kia Sorento models come with a reversing camera with a wide 130-degree view and front/rear parking sensors.
Plus there’s a new, softer leather wrap for the steering wheel and automatic versions adopt the ‘Straight-Gate’ gear selector with a leather boot.
Luggage space is unchanged at 2052-litres (all seats folded) or 1047-litres with the third row folded or 258-litres (all seats in-place).
Kia Sorento Exterior & Styling
Under the direction of chief designer, the re-work of styling for the latest Sorento is very much the work of Kia’s North American design studio headed by Tom Kearns. While key dimensions overall length (4685mm) wheelbase (2700mm) and width (1885mm) are identical to the previous model, the newcomer is 10mm lower at 1700mm.
At the front, immediately noticeable are the new-design headlights (HID Xenon on Platinum model), DRLs and vertical-axis fog-lights. There’s also a new front bumper and grille.
But the most dramatic change is at the rear where Kia’s designers went for a new tailgate design in order to give the appearance of greater width. This is enhanced by new tail-light clusters.
Range-topping Kia Sorento Platinum gets a further boost by switching to 19-inch alloy wheels ( a good-looking 10-spoke design) while Si and SLi score new design 17-inch and 18-inch designs.
Kia Sorento On The Road
In developing benchmarks for its unique local suspension tune for the Sorento, Kia’s Australian engineering team carried-out back-to-back tests with Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory, Holden Captiva and BMW X5. The team felt the going-in position was the ride in the previous Sorento was a smidge too hard.
At the end of around 1,000kms of testing over a variety of roads in Sydney and the NSW Central Coast, not surprisingly, the locally-developed Ford Territory garnered top marks for its ride, while the X5 was number one for handling. That drew a line in the sand to develop the Sorento’s local spec – more complex than normal running changes because of the all-new platform (shared with the Hyundai Santa Fe), stiffer/lighter body structure and the introduction of ‘Flex Steer’ in SLi and Platinum models (three driver-select settings – ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Comfort’ - provide altered steering weights).
The other focus in developing the new Kia Sorento was refinement. As well as the stiffer bodyshell, Kia fitted vibration-damping subframe mounts, a sound insulator to the transmission tunnel and three-layer insulation to the firewall.
In a nutshell, the Kia Australia team settled on a specified local tune for the dual-flow dampers, thicker anti-roll bars (23mm front/22mm rear) and revised spring rates.
Stopping power has improved with the front brake discs enlarged to 320mm in diameter (rears remain 302mm).
After one day covering sealed roads and various dirt tracks around Hobart, there’s no doubt Kia Sorento’s ride and handling continues to be a standout. On-road grip is impressive, there’s little body roll and suppression of bumps is particularly good.
In automatic, both petrol and diesel models accelerate well for overtaking and freeway merging however we did like the extra versatility of the diesel manual.
A special mention for ‘Flex Steer’ – over the high-speed sections in a Platinum grade turbo-diesel, a switch to ‘Sport’ model delivered an instantaneous switch to a heavier feel. No change to the ratio, but better feedback for the driver.
Kia Sorento Challenges
Just a couple of points deductions: V6 petrol is a bit harsh when changing gears under hard acceleration and the excellent handling of the Kia Sorento does highlight a lack of side support in the front seats.
Kia Sorento Verdict
Kia Sorento has been a Car Showroom favourite since we first drove it back in 2009 on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Predictably Kia has taken a smart approach in developing this major running change.
The extra legroom addresses a shortcoming, the styling changes aren’t over-done and the extra quality for the interior rounds-out a well-executed facelift.
And again we’re drawn to the nice overall package of the Kia Sorento – the sizing is just right, it’s not cumbersome for school run mums and it’s competent as a seven-seater.
Kia Sorento The Opposition
From sister company Hyundai, the all-new Santa Fe is the most obvious rival for Kia Sorento. Priced from $36,990 (petrol 2WD) and $37,990 (diesel AWD) the Santa Fe comes to play with the same platform as the Sorento (and Hyundai Australia’s local suspension tune) and slick all-new looks.
Also from Korea, Holden Captiva 7 is in the mix (from $32,490 for petrol or $35,490 for diesel). At the limit, the Captiva’s chassis is not as sharp as the Sorento’s.
Which brings us to the Ford Territory. Without a doubt the Territory is one of the best cars ever built in Australia and while it’s a little more expensive than the Kia Sorento, you do get a lot of car for your coin. For some, the Territory may be a little too big.