Kia Sorento 2020 gt-line (4x4)
launch-review

2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line diesel review

Australian first drive

Kia's all-new large SUV promises to be better in every respect, but is it enough to take on such polished segment leaders?
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With an onslaught of incoming fresh metal, the large-SUV segment is going to get a shake-up. And the latest new kid on the block is the 2021 Kia Sorento.

Our first taste of Kia’s new large SUV comes in flagship form: GT-Line, with the more expensive diesel all-wheel-drive powertrain.

Whereas the range starts at $46,990 drive-away, this diesel GT-Line weighs in at $64,990 and is also offered drive-away.

While Toyota’s indefatigable Kluger manages to still dominate the outright large-SUV sales race against newer and glitzier competition, CarAdvice has always rated the previous UM Sorento well. Good practicality, solid suspension and drivetrain, and that stonking seven-year warranty leave little room for complaint.

This new Sorento will look to build upon those strengths, and throw a few more in the mix for good measure. This new model (not a facelift) brings new technology, improved safety, more gadgets, and an updated look.

READ: 2021 Kia Sorento price and specs

Price (MSRP)$64,990
Options as testedNA
Servicing 1yr/15,000kmTBA
Warranty7 year/unlimited kilometre

Drivetrain

Under the bonnet of our tester lies a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine, which makes 148kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm at 1750–2750rpm. That’s one kilowatt more than the outgoing model and one newton-metre less.

This engine is quite new, however. Fuel injector pressure has been boosted to 2200bar (just below 32,000psi), and the engine block is now 19.5kg lighter thanks to alloy replacing cast iron.

The other choice of power plant, a 3.5-litre petrol V6, also sports reduced outputs: 200kW and 332Nm, down from 206kW and 336Nm. We aren’t sure of the reasons why, but we are guessing more stringent WLTP testing criteria are to blame.

Perhaps Kia (and Hyundai, for that matter) is focussing its future driveline tech on electric and hybrid power, rather than investing in new internal combustion engines.

Not all of the driveline is a carry-over affair: new diesel-powered Sorentos are equipped with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s a new wet-clutch design, and will likely see service in Hyundai’s forthcoming i30N hot hatch.

While dual-clutch transmissions can offer good gains in fuel economy over a traditional torque converter gearbox, low-speed smoothness and manoeuvrability can suffer.

Fortunately, Kia’s transmission is smartly tuned to inhibit such behaviour. From the driver’s seat, you can feel the clutch packs coming on gently, and working in sync with the brakes to pick up any slack before any free rolling occurs.

It’s still not as painlessly simple as a torque-converter automatic transmission: the clutch take-up still feels different from the driver’s seat. But it’s one of the best implementations I’ve come across.

I often find myself left-foot braking at low speeds with other dual-clutch gearboxes to help with a smoother take-off. But this new Sorento seems to do the hard work for you. Once take-off is taken care of, gear changes are sharp and smooth, and seemingly getting the best out of the 2.2-litre oiler.

Fuel economy is good, too. While our consumption averaged out at 8.5 litres per 100km, we saw as little as 6.0L/100km on a highway run. This compares to Kia’s claim of 6.1L/100km on the combined cycle, and as low as 5.3 on the highway run.

Engine configurationFour-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Displacement2.2 litres (2151cc)
Power148kW @ 3800 rpm
Torque440Nm @ 1750-2750 rpm
Power to weight ratio76kW/tonne
Driveall-wheel drive
Transmission8-speed (wet) dual clutch automatic
Fuel consumption (combined cycle)11.4L/100km
Fuel tank size60L

Interior

There is plenty of European influence flowing through the Sorento’s interior: dual-outlet trapezoidal air vents with plenty of silver garnishing, a rotary gear shifter (with real knurled aluminium, by the way), and no shortage of glossy piano black.

The central infotainment screen, Kia’s new 10.25-inch system, is surrounded by some familiar non-button buttons and flows with some extra piano-black framing into (in our case) an even bigger 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster. Both are crisp, glossy, and easy to use.

Along with looking impressive, this onslaught of technology also brings some handy features. Some are genuinely useful, like the ability to project your voice into the rear seat via the audio system, and the pop-up blind-spot cameras when you flick on your indicator. Other features, perhaps, are a little more kitsch.

The centre console is mounted high with plenty of storage in front of, and behind, the two cupholders. There are three USB points hidden within the lidded front storage compartment, and the GT-Line gets an inductive charging pad as well. For raw storage and practicality, the Sorento does more than just look good.

It seems your leather ain’t luxury these days unless it’s perforated, and the Sorento’s pews have more holes than Coober Pedy across all three rows. The second-row outboard seats are heated, and front seats get heating, ventilation and electric adjustment. All seats are plenty comfortable, as well. This would make for a comfortable long-range hauler and urban assault vehicle.

It’s worth noting that the transmission tunnel in the second row is more mole hill than mountain, and doesn’t impinge on foot space. In terms of space and comfort, the Sorento’s second row hits the spot well. Along with air vents, there is a 12V outlet, three USB points (two of them being mounted in seat backs), and door-mounted cupholders. Bottles can go in the lower part of the door card, and there’s a fairly typical fold-down armrest and dual cupholder in the middle seat.

Third-row space is quite good. There is no drop-down foot well, but because there is a sliding second row with adjustable backrests, you can apportion space for both rows to be comfortable enough. Adults in the third row will rub their head on the headlining a bit, and the window design is a little small for looking out of, but that’s all pretty typical feedback for third-row occupants.

Good news for those in the cheap seats are cupholders, USB points (making for eight in total) and air vents. There’s even a fan speed controller. One-touch buttons slide and fold the second row forward, and the Sorento’s 60/40 split favours our right-hand-drive market.

In terms of space, there is 187L of space on offer with all three rows, which is enough for a few bags of groceries and a small pram. Five seats make for a generous 616L boot, while converting the Sorento into a two-seater yields 2011L.

It's worth noting these numbers are an improvement over the previous-generation Sorento. Kia tells us the new platform offers better interior packaging overall, and yields a slightly more spacious interior.

The GT-Line Bose-branded sound system offers 12 speakers (six more than lower-specification models), but we noticed a lack of outright punch and clarity when going all-out with fast, heavy music. While we are sure it's an improvement over the cheaper system, it might leave those with high expectations feeling a little underwhelmed.

Length4810mm
Width (excl mi1900mm
Height1700mm
Wheelbase2815mm
Ground clearance176mm
Boot volume 7 seats187 litres
boot volume 5 seats616 litres
Boot volume 2 seats2011 litres
Tare mass1908kg
Wheels/tyres20-inch / 255/45 R20 Continental
Full Size Spare?Yes

On the road

With MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear independent suspension, Kia is continuing its tradition of locally developed tuning for the Australian market. And like the old Sorento, the end product is a package that holds no clear flaws.

Suspension components, like the tyres, are now sourced from German suppliers. ZF Sachs dampers use pre-loaded disc technology in the shim stacks, and allow more progressive and precise damping and rebound tuning. It’s the second time such dampers have been used on a Kia, and they leave the Sorento with a commendable mix of good bump absorption, nice body control, and an overall balance that makes it nice to live with.

Even with 20-inch wheels fitted, our GT-Line tester never lost composure on the typical bumps and joins that pepper Sydney’s roads. I reckon some 17-inch or 18-inch rims might ride even better.

The steering feels somewhat heavy at a standstill and low speeds, without that overt lightness that electric power steering can accommodate. Once rolling, the Sorento’s steering is once again described as balanced: responsive, but not overly so.

While gaining one kilowatt and losing a newton-metre, the 2.2-litre diesel engine benefits well from the more efficient and responsive dual-clutch transmission. First gear is noticeably short and yields a brisk jump off the mark. Through the gears, and up to highway speeds, it’s commendably smooth and punchy. From my seat-of-the-pants, some additional performance for the 80–120km/h split wouldn’t go astray. It’s not bad, but scenarios like highway overtaking feel less muscular than around town.


Ownership

Another clear strength of the Sorento is Kia's seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. This is backed up by seven years' worth of roadside assistance and capped-price servicing, making it one of the best permanent offers in the business.

The capped-price servicing schedules and costs have not yet been detailed, although visits to the workshop are required every 12 months or 15,000km.

While an ANCAP test (and result) is still forthcoming, the Sorento promises to be a strong player in terms of safety. The seven airbags in the cabin includes curtain airbags that reach (but doesn't fully cover) the 3rd row, and a front centre airbag. All markets except for the Korean domestic market miss out on an eighth knee airbag for the driver.

There's also a litany of active safety tech on offer: autonomous emergency braking that works on pedestrians, cyclists and intersections, and rear cross-traffic alert (and autonomous braking in that direction). Blind-spot monitoring is augmented by blind-spot view cameras and collision avoidance, along with level-two autonomous adaptive cruise control, lane-follow assistance and driver-attention warning.

There's also Safe Exit Assist, which uses parking sensors to lock doors and stopping potential altercations with incoming cars.

Along with Remote Start, the Sorento is able to be driven slowly forwards and backwards in a straight line via the key fob. It's called Remote Start Park Assist, and is there to help you access your doors and boot when parking is particularly tight.

Special mention goes to the 360-degree camera system, which has splendid clarity through the infotainment display and a wide variety of viewing options.


VERDICT

In the all-important sense of moving the game forward, Kia has done enough with the new Sorento to not only stay with the ever-evolving pack, but also break new ground and put it amongst the best of the breed.

While we can't be sure until we do a proper head-to-head comparison, this new Sorento seems able to hold its head high against high-specced segment favourites like the Santa Fe Highlander, CX-9 Azami and Kodiaq RS.

Prices have gone up, and this new Sorento doesn't fight so much as the practical value proposition like the older model. Sixty-five grand is a lot of money at the end of the day. Bang for your buck is still there when you look at the inclusions and quality of execution on offer.

Look beyond the bells and whistles, more importantly, and you're still left with a large family SUV with good bones, plenty of practical touches, and a nature that is undoubtedly easy to live with.

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