Jez Spinks sees if the ageing Kia Sorento still stacks up in the competitive seven-seat SUV segment.
An all-new Kia Sorento could land as early as late 2014, though for now the current, second-generation model continues as a credible contender in the world of seven-seater family SUVs.
This version of the big brother to the popular Sportage five-seat SUV emerged in 2009, with a major overhaul in late 2012.
As is the trend these days, the Kia Sorento is available in models where only the front wheels rather than all wheels are powered, to keep the entry price (and fuel consumption) down.
That price is $38,490 for the Si trim grade, or $40,990 for the SLi we’re testing here.
If all-wheel drive is a must-have, it’s a $39,990 starting point for the Sorento, while Kia also splits the 2WD and (part-time) AWD models by drivetrain.
Front-drive Sorentos come with a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, where the all-paw versions adopt a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel.
The diesel is the pick for fuel economy, with the auto’s official consumption figure of 7.3 litres per 100km comfortably eclipsing the 9.8L/100km of the auto petrol. (The diesel drops to 6.6L/100km if you don’t mind a manual gearbox.)
There’s also greater driveability – provided by a generous 436Nm (421Nm manual) of pulling power produced between 1800 and 2500rpm where the V6 petrol maxes at 335Nm and not until 5000rpm.
Kia’s V6 still has plenty of likeable qualities, however. While it’s not always helped by the six-speed auto that can be slow to hold the right gear on hills, it’s a good-sounding engine – if a touch too vocal at higher revs – and it makes the Kia Sorento feel responsive and fleet footed in the city, if not as effortless as some rivals also with six-cylinder petrol power. Its throttle response is also better than the alternative diesel engine.
A relatively light kerb weight of 1831 kilograms helps – itself stemming from the fact the Kia Sorento is one of the shorter large SUVs at 4.7 metres, where most rivals are 4.9 metres or longer.
That makes it easier to park than competitors such as the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9. A standard rear-view camera and both front and rear sensors – a rare combination in the class – then makes fitting into that spot a doddle.
Fitting people into Kia’s biggest model isn’t quite as straightforward.
Only the middle row seating on the passenger side tumbles forward to allow easy access to the third row (though kids might be happy to clamber over the seat that merely folds down on the driver’s seat).
And it is best to put kids rather than adults in the back row as headroom and legroom is restrictive – the former actually offering the least amount in our comparison test of large family SUVs. The second row seats don’t slide forwards or backwards, either.
It’s also not ideal that the Sorento’s curtain airbags don’t stretch to the third row, though there is a maximum five-star crash rating overall.
Air vents are provided for all rows – something that can never be taken for granted – while adults will be more comfortable in the second row that offers decent legroom.
Place occupants in all seats and the boot is not one of the larger cargo spaces in the segment, though use only five seats and a 1047-litre hold (measured to the roof) becomes more competitive.
Seats are made of cloth in Si spec, leather for the SLi – which may make that trim the pick for parents mindful of wiping up vomit in the rear seats.
The handling of the Kia Sorento certainly shouldn’t make kids car-sick. While not in the same league of satisfaction as the dynamically brilliant Ford Territory, the South Korean SUV has assuring levels of grip and composure.
Also noteworthy is steering that is not traditionally a forte of South Korean vehicles but here is smooth, light and precise.
If Kia Australia’s local tuning team have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with the steering, a bit more magic dust needed to be sprinkled over the suspension to make it ride more effectively.
The Sorento is a bit clumsy when it comes to tackling speed humps, with the dampers struggling to control both the lift and then landing of the body, and is jittery over inconsistently surfaced roads.
For buyers who rank value and running costs rank higher than the way a vehicle drives, only the twin Hyundai Santa Fe (which doesn’t come with a six-cylinder petrol option) can say ‘snap’ to the Kia’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Kia also scores well for servicing. While not as cheap as the Holden Captiva 7 to get a mechanic’s TLC, it costs just $1013 over three years at an annual/15,000km frequency – or $1579 if 60,000km is first clocked up on the odo.
That $1013 figure is about half what it will cost to service a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder or Mazda CX-9.
And standard key gear on all Kia Sorento models, in addition to the aforementioned sensors and reverse-view cam, are LED daytime running lights, foglights, electrically adjustable driver’s seat (six-way on Si, eight-way on SLi and range-topping, diesel-only Platinum), cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, dual-zone climate control and colour touchscreen (4.3 inches in the Si and 7.0 inches in other grades).
Sat-nav is a $1500 option for this SLi we’re testing.
The 7.0-inch infotainment display is one of the best in the world of seven-seater SUVs, with high-resolution graphics and a perfectly logical interface.
Add the TFT instrument dials also standard in the SLi, and the dash design of the Kia Sorento looks particularly smart.
Interior quality, fit and finish also holds up well when compared with competitor models.
If you’re already settled on buying a Kia Sorento, the SLi petrol is a good pick if you don’t strictly need all-wheel drive and also saves an extra $4500 that also brings the diesel engine alternative.
If weighing up against other brands, the Sorento doesn’t have the big space and clever seating flexibility of the likes of the Pathfinder or Kluger. It also won’t delight keener motorists like a Territory, CX-9 or Grand Cherokee will.
But it does offer seven seats in a slightly more convenient size, its petrol V6 is highly competitive, and the interior quality and presentation of the Kia Sorento sits at the higher end of the scoring table.