On paper, the 2015 Kia Sorento presents all the right ingredients to make the perfect seven-seater family SUV, but how does that translate to real world ability?
The third-generation Kia Sorento is the accumulation of all the knowledge and technical knowhow that the South Korean brand has gathered in the last few years. It delivers unbeatable value for money in a highly competitive segment, but as is the case these days, value for money isn’t all that matters.
The new Kia Sorento is based on an entirely new platform, one that it shares with the recently launched Kia Carnival. It’s bigger, heavier and having carried over its drivetrain to an extent, it’s subsequently thirstier (albeit slightly).
From the exterior, the new Sorento looks unashamedly like a Carnival in SUV form. The front headlights and grille, as well as the rear taillights are almost too similar to its people mover cousin, which in this case is a good thing because both cars are lookers.
Nonetheless, Kia seems to be running into the problem that German luxury brand Audi now faces, which is the overwhelming similarity of its designs across the model portfolio. That should come as little surprise considering the man in charge of Kia’s design philosophy, Peter Schreyer, is a former Audi designer. But in the world of Kia, being compared to Audi in design is not exactly a negative.
The interior has also undergone significant improvement compared to not only the previous Sorento but any other Kia (bar the similar Carnival) before it. Gone are the days of base models equipped with bugger-all features, as even the entry point petrol Si (priced from $40,990) gets a decent 7-inch touchscreen with full satellite navigation functionality and decent interior trim.
Click to read the full breakdown of the 2015 Kia Sorento specification & pricing.
Kia Australia will offer the Sorento range in either a front-wheel drive petrol, or all-wheel drive diesel. The decision not to offer the petrol as an all-wheel drive may seem peculiar, but the 2.2-litre diesel is by and large the pick of the range when compared to the underwhelming 3.3-litre V6 and Kia freely admits that half of all buyers will opt for the top-sec $55,990 platinum version offered exclusively in a diesel AWD configuration.
The petrol model delivers 199kW of power and 318Nm of torque. Not utilising a direct injection system (as seen in the new carnival) means it misses out on 7kW and 16Nm. It’s certainly not lacking in power but torque could be better and that deficit is certainly felt when encountering a hill. Kia claims fuel usage of 9.9L/100km.
The diesel has 147kW of power and 447Nm of torque and considering the weight of the diesel Sorento, the high torque output is a godsend. Kia claims fuel usage of 7.8L/100km and after 500km of driving we easily achieved that figure.
Both engines are coupled to an ageing (but super smooth) six-speed automatic transmission and neither have start-stop functionality.
At around $60,000 on road, the most popular Sorento is by no means cheap. So, does it deliver?
It’s good to assess the Kia Sorento with some perspective and limited brand bias. The new Sorento is currently rated as the safest SUV in Australia by ANCAP, regardless of price. That means it’s safer than the recently launched (and significantly more expensive) BMW X5 as well as the likes of Mercedes-Benz ML and Audi Q7.
In a logical word, a once ‘cheap and cheerful’ brand should not outdo the luxury Germans when it comes to safety. Nonetheless, it has. That says something that can no longer be ignored. The South Koreans mean serious business.
Ignoring the safety accolades, there’s then the seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with capped priced servicing, a point of difference that no other car company has so far matched in Australia.
For the moment though, we are going to ignore those two facts because ultimately you need your family SUV to be more than just safe and reliable, you want it to be fun and enjoyable.
Behind the wheel the Kia Sorento feels heavy. With a kerb weight of 1921 kilogrammes for the petrol and 2036kg for the diesel (the 125kg difference is mostly a result of the all-wheel drive system), there’s no denying the large SUV looks and feels its size.
We found its driving dynamics to be compromised as a result (made worse by a 40kg+ glass panoramic sunroof upsetting the balance in the top-spec Platinum) with our test drive through Port Douglas’ windy roads showcasing overwhelming weight transfer from one side to another.
This is further compromised by the motor driven power steering system (MDPS) that can feel lifeless at low speeds and vague when pushed. You can fiddle with the drive mode selector to modify the steering weight, going from normal to eco to sport, but we found the artificial force added to the steering wheel did little to compensate for not having a genuinely intuitive connection to the front wheels.
In both its on road manners and steering ability, it’s still behind the likes of the Ford Territory, which is more than a decade old. In saying that, for regular drives through town and long distance cruises along the highway, most buyers wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference.
Even so, it’s surprising considering the emphasis that Kia Australia puts on localised testing, which has resulted in a unique suspension setup just for our market.
Fortunately then, the new Sorento rides rather well over the bumpy stuff (so long as those bumps don't appear mid-corner) and the most pleasant surprise is just how quiet and refined the cabin has become. Even when driven over genuinely poor roads, the noise levels transmitted inside are minimal.
Speaking of the inside, the folks at Kia have essentially taken what BMW used to do well – simple and classy interiors – and applied that theory to the new Sorento.
The switchgear, the buttons, the surfaces, it all feels great to use and touch. There’s a level of luxury-feel to the way the buttons on the centre console respond when pushed. If you were to remove all the badges of the Sorento and an X5 on the inside, the uninitiated would find it hard to tell one is meant to be a luxury car while the other comes from Kia.
We found the 7-inch touch screen in our test car a little finicky, in that we had to force press using our fingernails to get it to register some clicks, but after a restart the problem went away. Kia would benefit from utilising a rotary dial.
The infotainment system is super fast to use and the satellite navigation is one of the best in the business. Nonetheless, it suffers from the same problem as all other Kia (and Hyundai vehicles) by employing a relatively reflective screen that tends to be difficult to use in direct sunlight. A problem most other manufacturers have long ago solved by using anti-reflective coating techniques.
The interior itself is spacious with even the third row capable of comfortably seating fully grown adults for short drives. We found the biggest issue with the third row being the process of getting in and out (and lack of anchor points for child seats), while the second row resides on rails so you can create more knee-room when required.
With all seven seats in play you’ll find storage to be somewhat compromised, but with only five, or even six seats in use the storage compartment will be more than enough to handle a large pram, sporting equipment and the weekly shopping.
There are air vents in all three rows standard across the range (commendable as plenty of rivals make that an option), while three 12v auxiliary charging points and two USB ports should keep the gadgets juiced up.
Apart from front and rear parking sensors, half a dozen airbags, a plethora of electronic traction control systems as well as a reversing camera, which is standard across the range, the Platinum version comes with a load of active safety features, including some useful ones such as active cruise control (follow the speed of the car in front), lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.
We found ourselves turning off the lane departure warning immediately as its over zealous governance of lane markings – enforced by an infuriating series of beeps - is similar to an apathetic government employee enforcing correct bureaucratic procedure above all logic.
Overall, the 2015 Kia Sorento is an excellent choice for buyers looking for a family-friendly, feature packed, luxury appointed, super safe and well warranted SUV. There’s no doubt that it’s the best large SUV on the market for the money.
However, it’s not perfect and its overwhelming positives are unfortunately tainted by its average driving dynamics, which although we have to point out, are generally meaningless for buyers in this category.