Kia Sorento Review - Long Term Update

$37,490 Mrlp
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Off-road Sorento still manages to mix it with the big boys... just.

Off-road Sorento still manages to mix it with the big boys... just.

Words by Matt Brogan Photos by Andrew Spence & Brendan Nish

This month's update sees our long term Kia Sorento Si put through CarAdvice's grueling 4WD test route near Angelsea, Victoria. With enough challenges to try the mettle (pardon the pun) of even the most serious 4WD, Sorento made it to the other end of the course - attempted on the same day by the new Toyota Prado and Mitsubishi Challenger - without the need for a snatch strap.

First challenge for the day was a series of deep wheel ruts aimed at trying the Sorento's ground clearance. With only 184mm of clearance on offer (at kerb weight), Sorento isn't exactly the highest riding 4WD on the market, a fact proved by the marks to the front bash plate.

With a little patience and careful wheel placement the track was tackled successfully, but slowly, with my colleagues a little miffed at having to wait for me to pick a cautious line through the deep ruts their higher-riding 4WDs managed with relative ease.

Meeting back with the team at the end of the section, it was obvious just how much of a punishing this early section of the route had taken on the car's front bash plate. Although no damage was done, it's evident that the lower ride height that makes Sorento such a (comparatively) sharp handling vehicle on-road, makes it conversely susceptible to the high centres often encountered on well worn 4WD tracks - a fact worth keeping in mind if you're planning a serious off-road expedition in your own Sorento.

From here the course tightens up in to a winding bush path barely wide enough for the Sorento, but ideal for testing the turning circles of our 4WDs. As the track meanders up and down hill through this heavily treed section, it's obvious SWB (short wheel base) offerings fair best at this kind of work, though with Sorento's 10.8 metre turning circle, we made it to the other end without the need to reverse, a positive trait to possess in a 4WD, especially when slippery going or narrow tracks makes multiple maneuvers an unnecessary or risky burden.

The undulating track in this section also gave us cause to test Sorento's suspension articulation which again proved limited. Bigger moguls saw Sorento cocking it leg on more than one occasion, though somehow I doubt it was simply marking its territory.

Interestingly during these maneuvers we also discovered a little body flex caused the doors to become a touch tight in the jambs (see video below by Paul Maric), something not experienced in either of the other two vehicles at the same juncture.

Kia's move to a monocoque body with the new generation Sorento seems to explain the movement, which although seems isolated to this particular and rather stressful maneuver, was not a trait noticed on Kia's previous generation, ladder-framed models.

Fortunately no lasting movement seems to have occured, nor have any rattles developed since.

As we progressed further through our day the hill descent / ascent was next on the agenda. I was a little reluctant to put the Sorento through this next section, as without low-range, felt the undertaking might be a little much for the transmission. It turns out I was right.

Descending the steep, rocky section of the course Kia's HDC (Hill Descent Control) system was put to task - and it seemed to work relatively well. The Sorento carried a little more pace on the precipitous downhill section than I would have preferred were I at the controls alone, and a little braking was required to avoid deep, body damaging wash-aways, but otherwise no manual intervention was used in our ride to the bottom. The return to the top would prove a little more eventful.

Climbing the hill at pace the centre differential lock seemed happy enough to distribute power evenly between the front and rear wheels, but in slowing down for sections certain to do under-body damage, Sorento's electronically controlled driveline became confused when splitting torque from a stationary start on the steep incline causing a lot of wheel spin up front (where the power wasn't required) and almost no drive to the rear (where more drive would have been rather handy).

Suffice to say we made it to the top, and no we didn't resort to the snatch strap, but there was a lot more throttle required than should have otherwise been necessary to engage the front:rear drive ratio needed to tackle such a climb... and a lot more dust.

Then came the warning light.

It seems my predictions were correct, and upon reaching level ground, I consulted the owner's manual. It was determined that the unusual little yellow light was indeed the transmission temperature warning, though my nose could have determined the same outcome. So after a brief interval to allow for cooling, the light extinguished itself and we set off again for a brief highway run to our next location.

Heading back in to the bush north of Anglesea a few sandy trails were encountered that would again challenge the Sorento's all-wheel drive system, though this time with a little more success. It seems the faster pace these wider, flatter tracks allowed agreed with the Sorento and let its centre diff. lock drive both the front and back wheels with a lot more drive. The loose surfaced section proved incident free and we were soon back on roads more familiar with the weekend escapes Sorento's designers no-doubt had in mind, but not for long.

As any 4WD enthusiasts will attest, good approach and departure angles (along with high ground clearance and satisfactory suspension travel) are important in getting an off-road vehicle in - and more importantly out of - those places the family sedan can't reach. So with that in mind we found our favourite section of "look at the sky" track to try it out.

The Sorento shines in both approach and departure departments with the spare wheel and exhaust tucked tightly under the Sorento's large rear end. The overhangs are quite short too, especially up front, meaning the body work is kept safely out of harm's way when meeting again with the flat section of road.

Sorento's break-over angle is respectable given its lower ride height - and longer (2,700mm) wheelbase - but even so it didn't seem to prove an issue during our test, which in all likelihood is as demanding a course as you'd ever expect to try in such a vehicle.

With four people on board for a lot of the day, and the climate control running constantly, fuel economy did suffer during our off-road jaunt. Sorento managed 801 kilometres from the tank this time round (or 8.73L/100km).

While it was slower going than the two companion cars also on test, Sorento did manage to complete the same course admirably tackling all except one track that was only conquered on the same day by Toyota's new Prado (Challenger also failed to complete).

The tracks tried were all well in excess of what you'd be expecting to try in a vehicle not exactly matched for the conditions, and in that respect, this was a little bit of an unfair test of the Sorento's abilities.

But reagrdless of this, we made it to the other end unscathed proving that, if you need to tackle such demanding feats, the Sorento will manage... if only just.

A complete picture gallery of the Sorento's off-road test can be found below. Next time, we tackle an extended range highway trip.

For a full review of the up-spec Kia Sorento Platinum, click on this link.

Fuel Consumption Progress:

  • Fill #1: 8.43L/100km (830km)
  • Fill #2: 8.28L/100km (845km)
  • Fill #3: 8.55L/100km (818km)
  • Fill #4: 8.73L/100km (801km)
  • Fill #5: 7.98L/100km (877km)