8 / 10
The updated Kia Sorento is set to launch in Australia with a revised exterior look and noticeable improvements to the interior. The Koreans have improved the package without altering the value-for-money proposition that has made its predecessor a worldwide hit.
Although it may appear as merely a facelift from the outside, the 2013 Kia Sorento is almost a new car underneath. Using the same platform as its cousin, the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe, the Sorento has a stronger and re-engineered bodyshell with minor improvements to the powertrain’s efficiency through lighter components.
Its biggest advantage is a revised locally-engineered suspension tune, which has brought the Kia Sorento’s ride and handling characteristics on par with the best in the business.
So far as engine and transmissions are concerned, the Kia Sorento remains unchanged. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol (204kW of power and 335Nm of torque) and 2.2-litre turbodiesel (145kW of power and 421-435Nm of torque depending on transmission) are currently the only two choices available with potential for a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol to join next year.
Kia continues the strategy of offering the petrol variants as front-wheel drive only while diesel models send power to all four wheels. Nonetheless, the company has made the SLi grade available for the petrol model, which was only available as a base Si model in the past.
Designed under the guidance of Peter Schreyer, the company’s head of design and the man responsible for numerous iconic Audi and Volkswagen models, the Kia Sorento has been given a nip and tuck. From the outside the look of the updated front and rear ends sharpen the Sorento’s appeal and Kia has taken the bold move of going for vertically-styled fog lights for both ends.
Unlike the new Santa Fe, Kia has ticked the box for LED daytime running lights (DRLs) for the entire Sorento range, which adds that extra element of visual appeal the company is so well known for. On the road it’s instantly recognisable as a member of the Kia family, which in this day and age, is a treat.
From an engineering perspective the new bodyshell is lighter than its predecessor, allowing for minor fuel economy and CO2 emission improvements across the range, but power and torque remain unchanged. The hundreds of hours of suspension tuning by Kia’s local team and Korean-based suspension engineers, have genuinely given the foreign SUV a local flavour.
Kia admits that it used the Ford Territory as a benchmark for ride quality and the BMW X5 as its template for handling characteristics. It’s fair to say the Sorento is almost as compliant as the locally made and tuned Ford Territory, but not all the way there. As for the BMW X5 comparison, it’s a great SUV to benchmark handling dynamics and the Koreans have made vast improvements as a result. Nonetheless, the Sorento is let down by its steering feel, which despite a new three-mode flex-steer system that tightens up the feel, is still a long way from its significantly more expensive German rival.
On the whole though, and comparing it against its actual peers, the ride and handling characteristics are on par with the best. An 18 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity has certainly helped and bumps can be heard but not necessarily felt. On dirt and loose surface roads the all-wheel drive Sorento is confident and easily manageable but the front-wheel drive can be a handful at times.
As for the suburban landscape, where the Sorento is likely to spend the majority of its life, the all-wheel drive diesel is noticeably more refined with smooth out of corner acceleration and generally better driving feel. In saying that, the front-wheel drive’s high-power V6 does provide more linear straight-line acceleration without the momentary lag felt in the turbodiesel.
The choice between petrol and diesel is not as straightforward as one may think. Although the diesel’s fuel economy is lower (6.6L/100km for manual and 7.3L/100km for automatic) than the petrol’s (9.8L/100km), it does cost around $3500 more (though you also get the benefit of AWD in the process) and part costs, and subsequently long-term ownership costs, are arguably higher as well.
In the real world, the diesel’s fuel savings will not equate to more than a few hundred dollars a year and if you don’t necessarily need the all-wheel drive system, the petrol starts to make a lot of sense. Unless of course, you want a manual Sorento or the range topping Platinum variant, both of which are available with a diesel engine only.
The six-speed automatic works in unison with either engine and provides smooth and seamless shifts. It does tend to prefer extracting power and torque from the V6 but so far as diesel automatics go in this price range, it’s only really comparable to the diesel Santa Fe for refinement.
Inside, things have remained relatively the same. The hard plastics on the dash and doors are carried over from the previous model, which is disappointing, as we would’ve preferred the use of soft touch plastics for general contact points, at least on the doors. The front and second row seats are comfortable for short or long trips and easily accommodate the average adult. As for the strictly kids-only third row, it’s easier to get into than most other 7-seater SUVs on the market. Kia has added a new digital dash display (SLi and Platinum) as well as cooled and heated front seats (Platinum) and a straight gate auto in place of the old step pattern.
Currently the diesel Kia Sorento Platinum, the most expensive model in the range, is also the most popular choice with buyers. This is likely to remain unchanged given the extensive equipment level offered in the $50,390 range-topper.
Speaking of standard equipment, even the entry-point into the range, the $37,490 automatic V6 petrol Si, comes with front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming capability coupled to a six-speaker audio system, dual zone climate control, second-row air vents, LED DRLs, 17-inch alloy wheels, the full compliment of active and passive safety features (dual front airbags plus side and curtain airbags for first and second row) and cruise control.
An additional $3000 will get you into an SLi grade which packs all the goodies of the Si plus 18-inch wheels, LED rear lights, rear spoiler, leather seats, a 4.3-inch colour screen with built in reversing camera, upgraded interior, powered driver’s seat, a 7-inch fully-digital cluster screen (speedometer and trip computer), the flex-steer system and more.
There’s the option of a satellite navigation system with a 7-inch LCD touchscreen and premium 10-speaker audio which will add a reasonable $1500 to the price. Kia will also offer free map updates for the first three years as part of the deal.
For those that must have it all, the platinum model demands $6400 on top of the SLi but gains 19-inch alloy wheels, sat-nav and stereo system plus a giant panoramic sunroof, active HID headlights, smart-key entry and start system, power passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats and privacy glass.
The other main benefit of buying a Kia Sorento is the company’s five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing. The average 15,000km or 12-month service is around $350 but gets to around $600 at the 60,000km service before going back to normal.
Overall, the Kia Sorento SUV further enhances an already competent and well-equipped package. Regardless of your attitude towards Korean cars, if you’re in the market for a large SUV, you’d be mad not to test drive the Kia Sorento.