What do you do when you already have the best-value large SUV in the segment? If you’re Kia, you execute specific, subtle tweaks to the 2018 Kia Sorento SLi and (hopefully) make it even better. From the outset then, we’re expecting the new Sorento to deliver, given it possesses such a solid platform to start with.
Read our full pricing and specification guide for detailed information.
Here, we’ve taken hold of the keys to the second-from-top SLi diesel Sorento. With pricing starting from $50,490 before on-road costs, this specification grade is excellent value and second only to the range-topping GT-Line, which starts from $58,990 before on-road costs.
By way of direct comparison, the petrol SLi starts from $46,990 before on-road costs. Keep in mind, though, that petrol Sorentos are all front-wheel drive – so if you want diesel, you get all-wheel drive into the bargain, and if you want AWD, it’s diesel or nuttin’.
SLi-grade equipment highlights are: leather trim, 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, proximity key, electric tailgate, electric front seats, privacy glass, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, LED tail-lights, roof rails, imitation wood trim and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The safety equation is, as we’ve come to expect from Kia, well taken care of with a full five-star ANCAP rating and inclusions such as AEB, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control.
Under the bonnet, you’ll find the same 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine from the previous Sorento, generating 147kW of power and 441Nm of torque.
Gone are the days when a four-cylinder was too small to power a seven-seat SUV, with the diesel engine and eight-speed automatic combination more than punchy enough to be competitive in this segment. The eight-speed auto (new for this MY18 upgrade, taken from the Stinger) is an excellent transmission.
For fuel consumption, Kia claims 7.6L/100km on the combined cycle, and during our time with the SLi our real-world figure was a decent 10.7L/100km.
We’d expect that number to improve as the engine loosens up more (a characteristic of diesel engines), and if you spend less time in stop/start traffic than we do on our morning commute. In fact, you’d be right to expect that to drop into the mid nines quite easily, given the eight-speed automatic.
To my mind, the Sorento is the most attractive seven-seat SUV at this end of the market, outshining both the Kluger and CX-9 with its classy look and understated styling. Changes from the previous model are few, and it still looks like a big vehicle when you stand next to it, there’s no escaping that fact.
The premium, quality feeling is something that remains when you step up into the driver’s seat and shut the door. There’s an insulated ambience to the Sorento’s cabin, with the sea of black leather and soft-touch finishes giving it that stately, high-quality appearance.
The driver-info dials aren’t as bang-up-to-date as the segment leaders, but they are clear and well positioned, while the 8.0-inch touchscreen is large, visible and well placed in the dash to be easily visible to both driver and passenger.
We tested both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and found them to work faultlessly – again as we’ve come to expect from Kia. The Bluetooth connection is also reliable for those of you preferring that connection – not sure why you would, though, with the ability to plug in directly.
The sound reproduction from the audio system is exceptional, too, with a quality soundstage that makes the most of your music library. While truly high-end audio installations will outperform the Sorento’s in a shoot-out, for a sub-$60K car, the system Kia has plumped for is sensational. Controlling the infotainment system – whether you’re using the direct smartphone connection or not – is as easy as it gets too.
If you like the smartphone connection, as we do, Kia's system is another poignant reminder of how much we’d love all manufacturers to give us a quality screen and let us work the rest out with our own devices. It’s so much easier, especially as we get access to more and more mobile data.
Leg room across both front and second rows is excellent, as is head and shoulder room. While taller adults will prefer not to head out on 1000km road trips in the third row, teenage children will be well accommodated for buyers who use that row regularly.
Put tall occupants into the front seats and there is still room across the second row for three adults.
The second-row seats slide fore and aft to tweak leg room for both that row and the third row if needed, and with the third row flat into the floor, there’s plenty of luggage space on offer. Third row up, there’s 142 litres, fold it down and there’s 605 litres.
Throughout the cabin, there’s a lot of useful storage in terms of wallets, phones, cup and bottle holders, and a whopping centre console bin as well. That one especially is perfect for mums who use the Sorento, where they can hide up to a medium-size handbag or laptop computer. There’s also some clever hidden storage under the dashboard ahead of the gear shifter.
As I alluded to above, the diesel engine is admirable not just on paper. It’s a little louder than we expected at start-up, but settles down as the revs rise, and has more than enough grunt to get up to speed easily.
Through the mid-range it keeps punching away, such that roll-on overtaking is as easy as it gets in this segment and it cruises along at 110km/h quietly and in a refined manner.
All in all, this specification Sorento positions itself as a clever and well-mannered family SUV. Even with five adults on board, it doesn’t feel weighed down or underpowered at any time.
The all-round driving experience is perhaps the Sorento’s killer blow in a segment that doesn’t always get driving dynamics right. Unequivocally more car-like than truck-like, the Sorento is effortless around town, riding comfortably on the standard 18-inch alloy wheels.
Part of that is due to intrinsic chassis design, but part of it is very much to do with the local suspension tune, which sharpens things up for Australian conditions. Once again, the local Kia experts have done a fantastic job.
The Kia Sorento is more nimble than any full-size seven-seat SUV has any right to be, the steering is light at low speeds and delivers that weighty reassurance at highway speeds, and the ride is comfortable and composed even over nasty surfaces.
The Sorento gets Kia’s excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and seven years of capped-price servicing as well. Those services are due every 15,000km or 12 months and will cost: $403, $471, $465, $664, $454, $570 and $482. Knowing what you’re in for, before you start, is a solid buying proposition and it’s why manufacturers are all moving to capped-price servicing.
The Sorento retains its position as the best value for money, quality seven-seat SUV option in the segment. It’s well designed, beautifully executed and comfortable to drive.
While the top-spec GT-Line gets a little more standard equipment, it’s hard to go past this SLi grade for the smart-money buy.