With more kit, a new gearbox and improved comfort, the 2018 Kia Sorento takes a good thing and makes it better.
There's a lot to like about the 2018 Kia Sorento (link opens in new tab). There was before, too. The previous model was a good rig – if not great – and its new-generation successor improved on the formula when it launched in 2015.
Now, for the 2018 model year, the Korean manufacturer's big seven-seat flagship SUV has been made better again. Standard-fit safety is improved, ride and handling has been given a good going-over, and the infotainment offering is enhanced, too.
Four variants are offered in the updated range, starting with the Si and moving through Sport, SLi and the top-shelf GT-Line. And, while the equipment list has grown, pricing has too. The range now opens $1000 dearer at $42,990 for the Si, and that theme continues for all models except for the GT-Line, which is 'only' $500 pricier at $58,990 before on-road costs.
Upgrade highlights include a new eight-speed automatic transmission of Kia's own in-house design, and a new 3.5-litre petrol V6. Improvements have also been made to ride and handling, thanks to both the global engineering team and Kia Australia's own efforts.
On the styling front, the Sorento gets new bumpers at both ends, a subtly new black-and-chrome design for the grille, new LED daytime running lights up front and a new look to the LED signature of the tail-lights. The GT-Line also gets full-LED headlights that turn with the steering wheel.
New-design 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheels are featured for each model, along with a new steering wheel and gear-knob design. And, for the top-shelf GT-Line model, there's a perforated steering wrap and new black leather trim with grey stitching and the GT-Line logo embroidered in the seatback.
A new 8.0-inch main display replaces the old 7.0-inch unit in all models, and you'll also find satellite navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and DAB+ digital radio across the range.
More, there's 10 years of map and traffic data in the mix, too. Lastly, opt for the SLi or GT-Line and you'll get upgraded to a 10-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, replacing the Infinity pack previously offered. (It's worth noting, Infinity is a subsidiary of Harman.)
SLi and GT-Line models also get a bigger 7.0-inch colour curved driver display behind the steering wheel, while lower-spec models get a cheaper monochrome 3.5-inch rectangular unit – although this too is an upgrade.
Safety upgrades for the entire range include autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, advanced smart cruise control, and driver-attention alert. The GT-Line adds a 360-degree camera view, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert.
Disappointingly - a reader and current owner has reminded me - there is still no automatic window-wipers function or high-beam assist anywhere in the Sorento range, despite being available to the UK market which sources its cars from the same factory in Korea. Both can be had in the newer, smaller Sportage.
Engine options include the Hyundai group's now familiar 'R Series' 147kW/441Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, along with – interestingly, and a little confusingly – a return to the 3.5-litre version of the 'Lambda II' petrol V6 family, from which the outgoing 3.3-litre engine also hails.
The 3.5-litre engine offers 206kW and 336Nm of torque – 7kW and 18Nm more than the 3.3-litre engine it replaces.
Those are minor jumps in power and torque, but fuel consumption has increased by 0.1L/100km to 10L/100km and CO2 emissions have likewise increased from 230g/km to 235g/km.
Kia hasn't offered any detailed explanation for the change in engine, although it is known the decision was one made globally and not by the local arm.
The higher emissions number suggests the swap is not one driven by overseas regulatory demands, but it could be that production focus for the 3.3-litre engine's block and componentry has shifted to its turbocharged application in the Stinger, and Hyundai's Genesis G70 and G80 models.
If that's the case, don't be surprised to see the Carnival make the same switch at some point. If it does, that'll be worth a laugh: the Carnival's version of the 3.3-litre engine has direct injection, so it already makes the same 206kW and 336Nm offered by the 3.5-litre unit.
A more significant change is the upgrade to Kia's eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. This unit debuted in the Stinger, and it replaces the outgoing Sorento's six-speed shifter.
Thanks chiefly to that upgrade, the diesel model now lists fuel use at 7.2L/100km, marking a 0.6L/100km improvement.
Kia claims quicker and smooth shifts with the new eight-speed, and while the improvement is clear on both counts, any sudden call for power will still be met with some hesitation while the system interprets your command.
Still, a sedate tour through the New South Wales towns of Lithgow and Katoomba saw the gearbox prove itself smooth and quick in regular shifts, and that's the majority of your daily drive right there. Switching to Sport mode from Comfort (or Eco, or the new intelligent Smart) will quicken things up a little, but transform into a sports car, it don't.
No surprise, the smaller of the two engines continues to be the pick for a quick take-off, offering its full 441Nm of torque from 1750 to 2750rpm, while the V6 lumbers through to 336Nm at 5500rpm.
Nonetheless, little engines in very big cars never fill me with confidence, and it's a full complement of family and luggage – this car's specific purpose, really – that could really have you wishing there was a bigger diesel under the bonnet.
As for the 3.5-litre engine's embiggened (a perfectly cromulant word) numbers, I confess I'd be stretching to say I could pick any genuine improvement in application on the road. It pulls as hard as the 3.3-litre engine – that is to say, slowly but somehow satisfying – but it's no clear leap, and any found would likely be thanks more to the new automatic.
To their credit, both engines delivered impressive fuel figures, being subjected to the gruelling pressure of Australia's motoring press on the launch event – a brief window of two days across multiple locations and surface types.
On the first day, cruising in the V6 petrol from the airport along Sydney's freeways, I was sitting on 7.7L/100km, only just missing the 7.6L/100km figure claimed for highway consumption. As we neared Lithgow, and after some extensive touring up and down the mountainous highways of the area, that figure crept up to 8.7L/100km – still neatly below the 10L/100km combined figure claim.
Stepping into the diesel after lunch for a pressing drive to Katoomba – again through a rather indirect and circuitous route of town streets, mountain climbs and highways – my combined average came to 7.8L/100km. That's above the 7.2L/100km claimed for the diesel, but not by much.
The following day, the diesel did even better, returning us from Katoomba – again via the scenic routes through Hawkesbury Heights and Winmalee – to a mass of traffic on the lead-in to Sydney airport, with an average of 5.9L/100km. Go figure.
Still, for my money, the 2018 Sorento's big pluses come with the Korean and local tweaks to ride and handling.
The Sorento already handled bumps and imperfections well in its previous form, a testament to the work Kia's Australian arm does on every model it brings into into the country.
In this latest upgrade, Kia's global arm has revised the sub-frame and rear mounting bush, and Kia Australia has done its thing again. The Sorento absorbs bumps and pot holes nicely, while delivering a compliant ride on unsealed and patchy roads.
In the corners, too, body control is clearly improved again, with a fairly impressive resistance to roll – especially when one is mindful this is around 2000 kilograms of large seven-seat SUV.
Another key change is through the wheel, with revisions to the rack-mounted motor-driven power steering – including stiffer torsion bars – offering good weighting and on-centre feel. Response feels quicker in Sport mode, too.
As we've covered now fairly exhaustively, interior space and comfort in the Sorento is also quite good. There are a few new material upgrades in the cabin, Kia says – although I couldn't pick them and they couldn't quickly tell me precisely which surfaces I should press my finger in to be newly impressed...
No need, though. Up front and in the rear, there's no real sense that Kia has cut any corners with this one. Most surfaces are either soft or satisfyingly solid – no flimsy lunchbox plastics in here.
Space is great in the front two rows and decent in the third, as we've covered in previous reviews and our long-term testers, and you can read those here.
Like all Kia models, the Sorento is covered by the company's seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with seven years' capped-price servicing and roadside assistance.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km. Pricing for the 2018 model's plan is still to be confirmed, but as a point of reference, the outgoing model's servicing costs fell between $403 and $664 depending on the schedule – totalling $3509 for the life of the plan.
Perhaps the biggest grievance for some buyers, will be towing. There's a braked towing capacity of 2000kg across the range, but a downball rating of 100kg will effectively limit overall capacity in most cases. And, unlike the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Sorento can't be optioned with an upgraded tow kit.
In all, though, it's not hard to recommend the Sorento. This SUV has always been well-equipped, comfortable, spacious and capable.
In this updated form, it packs more in for a fairly reasonable price impost, it rides and turns better, and its high-value seven-year/unlimited kilometres warranty is still – somehow – an industry-leading offering.