Making the leap from mainstream to premium is not a simple task. Volvo managed it with the XC90, but is Kia on the right track with the new Sorento? We line them up to see which is the better category-crossing prestige SUV.
We've seen it before, and not just in Star Wars, a circumstance where the student becomes the master. A changing of the guard, if you will.
It's a trope that tells a story of growth, perseverance, and sometimes the ability to overcome great odds. It works in film, it works in sport, and it works in the automotive landscape.
When the second-generation Volvo XC90 launched in 2015, it catapulted the iconic Swedish brand right into the middle of the prestige market. The car took a big step forward in style, luxury and technology, but left a gap for buyers who may have previously looked to Volvo as a stepping stone from a mainstream badge to a truly premium one.
So where the XC90 had completed its training and ascended to the role of the master, who would step in as the apprentice?
In 2016 the new Mazda CX-9 made claim to this position and has held the spot largely unopposed, until now…
The all-new Kia Sorento has impressed the team here at CarAdvice since it arrived in Australia late last year. A new-found sense of style, long equipment list and impressive on-road manners have pushed the once outlying challenger to a genuine premi-ish proposition.
But just where does the line between a high-specification mainstream brand meet or cross that of a premium one?
To find out, we line up the peak-level 2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD diesel with the former holder of this genre-spanning position, the 2021 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum.
Price and Specification
The top of the range 2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line is priced from $66,290 before options and on-road costs. I say options, but as the car comes stacked to the roof with equipment, your only choice is one of seven paint colours (metallic is $695 extra).
To step into a 2021 Volvo XC90, you’ll need $90,990 (an extra $24k) for a D5 Momentum. While we’ll use that as the basis for this comparison, our photography car is actually a $95,990 D5 Inscription variant.
You can have some fun with the Volvo options too, which along with the nine paint choices (metallic is $1900 extra), can see your price heading north pretty swiftly.
Considering the most expensive previous-generation Sorento (in 2018) was $58,990, and the one before that was $50,790 (in 2013), the Kia flagship has certainly moved its way upmarket (to the tune of 30 per cent).
Conversely, at the same time in 2013 the previous generation XC90 came in at $69,460, not far off where the Kia is positioned today, and signifying a rise of 30 per cent to the current car.
For some day-to-day context though, if you were to run them through a five-year finance package, your hand will be in your pocket to the tune of an extra $100 a week for the Volvo.
Not insignificant, but not out of the realm of possibility. Remember, we’re looking to see just what that jump up to the next level looks like.
Standard equipment in the Sorento includes 20-inch alloy wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, a full suite of safety technology, adaptive LED headlamps and a panoramic sunroof.
The Volvo naturally includes a full range of safety technology too, and while the sunroof in Sweden is a $3000 option, you do get quad-zone climate control, heated seats, adaptive LED lighting and 20-inch wheels as part of the standard fare.
Shaking the numbers out as they are, the Kia clearly wins the value proposition here and takes the early lead.
|2021 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum||2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD|
|Premium paint cost||$1900||$695|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km||7 years / unlimited km|
|Servicing cost (3-years / 5-years)||Currently included (was $1500 / $2500)||$1287 / $2393|
|ANCAP Safety Rating||5-star (2015)||5-star (2020)|
Style and design
As far as the Kia Sorento has come, it still doesn’t quite have the presence of the XC90.
From the ‘Hammer of Thor’ daylight running light signature, through 20-inch wheels (our car has optional 21-inch rollers), and those cool-stacked tail lamps, the Volvo’s stylish design betrays its now six-year-old market position.
Don’t discount the Kia’s ‘Americool’ style though. Here too, the 20-inch wheels, slick LED running lamp signature, multi-beam headlight array and cool metallic detailing give the Sorento a modern and up-market feel.
The twin-unit tail lamps are a bold and unique design choice, but I feel they work well with the Sorento’s muscular lines. The fact that it looks clean, modern and premium in a simple white finish say a lot about the car’s inherent form factor.
But, it’s no Volvo.
The big Swede and its adherence to the Scandinavian theme of ‘Lagom’ is exactly as translated, just right. Both cars are back on an even keel.
Cargo space and volume
Both our cars fit their role as family transport very well. With seven seats and three rows apiece, the big SUVs offer plenty of practicality but the slightly larger footprint of the Volvo does give it the upper hand in terms of overall space.
The boot of the Volvo expands from 397L with all seven seats up, through 775L as a five-seater, to 1951-litres with everything folded flat. In terms of luggage luxury, the floor is trimmed in plush carpet, there is a flip-up barrier that stops things from floating around the larger space, a 12-volt outlet and flip-out hooks.
Under the floor is a temporary spare wheel plus the jack and necessary tools.
Worth noting that the third-row seats aren’t powered and due to the length of the boot floor, unless you have really long arms, they are very hard to fold back in place from the rear of the car. You have to do it from the back doors with the second row flipped out of the way.
Or, you know, get the kids to do it.
In the Sorento, the seven-seat boot is 187-litres, the five-seat configuration is 616-litres and the full-fold two-seat setup a cavernous 2011-litres. Here too, you’ll find a 12-volt outlet, tie-down points, a jack and tools under the floor, but the spare itself is mounted under the car.
However, there are buttons that allow you to quickly fold the second-row from the boot, plus there are straps on the back of each third-row seat to not only release them to fold, but also make them really easy to fold back up again.
So it’s a win to the Volvo for space and a win to the Kia for usability. Neck and neck again.
|2021 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum||2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD|
Given the predominant passengers in both these wagons are likely to be your family, and probably some of their grotty friends, let’s start with the third-row and work our way forward.
Access to the back-back of the Kia is very easy, with a simple push-button that allows the seatback to flip forward and the base to slide. The movement of the seat itself is smooth and requires minimal effort. And if there’s one thing kids are good at, it’s minimal effort.
Access is easy (or more accurately for any other 46-year olds out there, it is ‘possible’), and room is probably adequately comfortable for pre-teens. If anyone is much taller, they will need to slide the second-row forward to enable extra legroom.
You do need to pull the headrests up as part of the seat setup, but there are air vents plus a slick knurled fan-control knob, a phone holder and cup holder plus a USB port on both sides for extra comfort and convenience.
Over in the ’90, the access isn’t quite as well-sorted, with a more traditional lift-and-pull function. The seat here is much heavier but moves forward enough to let even adventurous dads squeeze in.
Passengers are accommodated with vents, storage, cup holders and speakers, but sadly no USB ports or air conditioning controls.
Again the longer wheelbase (2984mm against 2815mm) helps to provide just a bit more room, to perhaps extend the usefulness of the space to middling teens.
Moving to the middle row of the Volvo, and the leather seats of our test car are particularly soft and comfortable. With plush-pile carpet underfoot, leather door pads and other high-end materials and build quality throughout, the Volvo is a very luxurious environment to spend time in.
You can recline the rear seats for a bit of added comfort too.
There is a fold-down armrest with a built-in cup holder integrated into the back of the middle seat, plus Volvo’s clever flip-up booster seat in the base. The rear of the centre console houses controls for the air conditioning as well as the vents themselves (there are more on the B-pillar), plus a pair of USB-C ports behind the 12-volt cover.
Map pockets and bottle bins in the doors help with storage, integrated blinds in the doors, and there is good headroom (I am 6’3”) even with the optional panoramic sunroof in place.
The rear seat of the Sorento might not be as plush, but it offers an impressive rake of recline for longer-haul comfort (assuming there is no-one in the third row of course).
Our GT-Line specification car includes rear heated (outboard) seats, and integrated window blinds like in the XC90.
There are convenient cup holders in the doors and in the centre armrest, as well as bottle bins lower down, map pockets on the back of the front seats, a 12-volt outlet and a USB port on the back of the console, some really nice air vents, plus another two USB-ports on the back of the front seats themselves. It is inclusions like this that makes the more modern nature of the Sorento very apparent.
There’s also a button that allows you to adjust the position of the front passenger seat to afford the rear-left passenger some more legroom. It’s great if you are roleplaying an arriving VIP, but if you’re going to throttle the kids if they play with this on a family road trip, you can turn it off.
The quilted leather seats are very nice, but the bench is much firmer than in the Volvo. There’s not as much headroom here either, with my hair brushing against the sunroof housing. That’s an extreme point though, as in general, the cabin is very spacious and comfortable.
Worth a note here too, are the long rear doors that make getting in and out very easy. The car is equipped with an exit warning system that lets you know if a car is approaching from behind, which is actually pretty handy, as the long doors make it hard to see out before you open them.
Again, we’re at an impasse. Both cars are very practical and comfortable for up to five passengers but the Volvo steps ahead in terms of overall luxury and quality, where the Kia takes the lead with added features and convenient technology integration.
|2021 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum||2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD|
Behind the wheel
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. No one makes seats like Volvo.
The Nappa-tripped, power-adjustable, heated seats are so plush and supportive on every drive, you’ll wonder what you ever did without them. The driving position is excellent, there’s great visibility all around, including through the big wing mirrors and neat frameless rearview mirror out the back window, even if the rear headrests are deployed.
The rest of the cabin trim is impressive too, with lovely open-pore wood, stitched leather and jewel-like switchgear completing the modern, Scandi-style of the Volvo.
A wireless phone charge pad, a spot for your key, two cup holders and a 12-volt outlet are below the neat ‘roller door’ in the centre console. Within the storage cubby behind are two-more USB ports. The chilled glovebox is a nice touch, but the remote button to open it is still a bit strange.
Worth noting here is that in bright sun the centre speaker of the Harman Kardon sound system in the top of the dash reflects in the windscreen, which can be distracting. And, more amusingly, the car still uses the old-style mirror control switches from the original XC90. If it ain’t broke etc…
Across in the Sorento, the quilted Nappa leather seats aren’t quite as comfortable and supportive as those in the Volvo, but that is not to say they don’t do a good job. Heating and ventilation are standard, as is powered lumbar support and adjustment with memory.
There’s leather on the door pads, the armrests, and on the dashboard itself. It’s a very well put together environment, but just not as premium as the Volvo is.
Storage is impressive, with a deep centre console, door bins, three USB ports and a wireless charge pad, a pair of cup holders and another key holder. There’s no way to cover these when not in use though, which is a bit of a pity. It doesn’t impact the way you use the car but is perhaps another step the Kia could have made toward a more polished premium appeal.
That said, there are some very nice elements like the knurled drive selection and Landrover-like rotary transmission dial. Plus the air vents are impressively intricate, and there are a lot of them!
The heated, leather-rimmed wheel is nice to hold and vision from the driver’s seat is good too, the wide rearview mirror offers a good angle out the back window even with the headrests up.
It really is an impressive cockpit for a car at the Sorento’s level, but it is still eclipsed by the fit, finish, and overall implementation of the Volvo. As per the 2018 World Cup; Sweden one, Korea nil. Volvo takes the lead.
Technology and infotainment
Both our SUVs are chock full of convenience and safety technology, with the Volvo’s system still quite impressive considering it is now over five years old.
In the middle of the dashboard of the XC90 is a 9-inch portrait-style touch screen that has support for Apple Carplay and Android Auto, as well as integrated navigation and DAB+ digital radio. The screen itself is crisp and there is plenty of information presented through the swipe-style interface, but it can be a bit cumbersome to use on the move, and you can quickly find yourself down a number of layers within the menu navigation without a clear path to get back.
The car features a long list of safety and assistance inclusions, from a clear 360-degree camera and automatic parking assistant to AEB and intelligent adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist.
There’s also the ability to log into your MyVolvo online account and manage over-the-air software updates through your phone’s data connection.
In front of the driver is a 12.3-inch configurable instrument display that is clear and easy to read. There’s a head-up display too.
The newer platform of the Sorento ensures no technology stone is left unturned, with a 10.25-inch central display, and a fully digital instrument cluster just the start of the features.
As in the Volvo, the Kia supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, also includes integrated navigation and DAB radio, but adds some neat extras like the ability to ‘speak’ to rear passengers while using the stereo speakers as a public address system.
There’s a surround-view camera here too, plus a handy swipe in-and-out split-screen display which enables you to show two key points of information at the same time.
The system is very well featured, however it feels as though it was designed for left-hand-drive markets as the volume control is all the way across the passenger side of the centre stack, which makes it a bit awkward to use on the move.
Here too, safety technology is expansive, with a full range of active and passive assistance functions on offer, including adaptive cruise control, AEB and rear cross-traffic alert. The Kia offers a clever blind-spot camera system that projects an image in the left or right-hand dial of the instrument cluster when you are changing lanes, as well as a centre airbag to protect front-seat occupants from knocking together in the event of a collision.
Plus, as a neat party trick, the GT-Line Sorento can be remotely moved in and out of a parking spot by using the keyfob as a control device. It’s more fun than useful, but again another impressive inclusion at this level.
It’s the more modern platform of the Sorento that gives it the upper hand in the tech stakes and returns us to an even score.
On the road
If there is an area where the premium positioning of a car is most justified, it is on the road.
The Kia Sorento is powered by a 2.2-litre 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with 148kW and 440Nm available. Power is driven through an 8-speed DCT to a variable-torque split all-wheel-drive system.
For any off-road adventures, the Kia includes a terrain-select function that adjusts torque split and traction control settings when off-road, and throttle response and gear shift timing when on.
Peak power is available at 3800rpm, but peak torque is in a small band earlier in the rev range, from 1750-2750rpm. This gives the Sorento strong response off the mark, and the dual-clutch transmission works smoothly both off the line and when shifting on the move.
Push things harder, and the car will increase in noise and harshness above 3000rpm, where you’ll find the response eases somewhat. Kia claims a combined fuel consumption cycle of 6.1L/100km, where we managed 7.2L/100km on our test loop.
The car rides well, even on its big wheels, and while it doesn’t have the plushness of a car running on air suspension, for a big wagon, it is impressively composed at both urban and highway speeds.
Under the nose of the Volvo is another diesel, but this time a twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 173kW and 480Nm available.
Like the Kia, the Volvo’s peak torque window is quite narrow, peaking between 1750 and 2250rpm, where peak power needs the diesel to spin out to 4000rpm.
The 8-speed automatic also drives all four wheels through a variable torque split system, and while ‘technically’ slower to shift ratios than the multi-clutch unit in the Sorento, is smooth and accurate from a standstill, and on the go.
Eager off the mark, and still willing once you are moving along, the twin-turbo is able to pile on pace as requested, seemingly getting smoother with every increase in revolution speed.
Even pushing toward 4000rpm, the car doesn’t raise its rattly voice as much as expected and does feel substantially more refined than the Kia.
It’s frugal too, with our 6.4L/100km use still ahead of Volvo’s 5.9L/100km claim, but under what we saw in the Sorento.
Comfort levels are high here too, although the 21-inch wheels aren’t shy to communicate sharper hits through the steering wheel. On general urban running duties though, the XC90 is consistently well mannered over surface changes, offering a compliant and comfortable experience for all on board.
After a mixed urban and highway loop, it was clear the Volvo is the more mechanically sophisticated of the pair. The clean and willing performance of the small twin-turbo diesel, impressive ride comfort and insulated nature of the cabin gives it the edge over the well-sorted Sorento. We’re neck and neck again.
|2021 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum||2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD|
|Engine format||2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel||2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||173kW @ 4000rpm||148kW @ 3800rpm|
|Torque||480Nm @ 1750-2250rpm||440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive (constant with variable torque split)||All-wheel drive (constant with variable torque split)|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic||8-speed DCT|
|Power to weight ratio||83.6 kW/t||77.6 kW/t|
|Fuel consumption (combined - claimed)||5.9L/100km||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel consumption (combined - on test)||6.4L/100km||7.2L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||71-litres||67-litres|
|CO2 emission||154 g/km||159 g/km|
Kia has lead the market with a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for a number of years now. Paired with a capped-price servicing program, that will see you run $1287 for the first three years and $2393 for five years, makes Sorento ownership an easy to manage proposition.
However, Volvo may only offer a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, but servicing for your XC90 is now included in the purchase price. A three-year package did cost $1500, and five-year $2500, but a five-year, 75,000km service plan is now included with a new XC90, which surprisingly gives the Volvo the edge in the ownership stakes.
The very fact that we are discussing a Kia in the same context as a Volvo is a testament to how far the Korean brand has come and more importantly, how impressive the new Sorento is.
It is a highly practical, very comfortable, premium and well-featured family SUV, that is sure to reward owners with many excellent years of motoring, but it isn’t quite at the polished level of the Volvo XC90.
Even considering the XC90’s age in the market, it is still a stylish and refined family hauler, with excellent space and well-proven practicality.
The level of refinement across the board does make the 2021 Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum the winner here today, despite its $24,000 price premium.
And therein lies the clincher.
Yes, the Volvo is the better car in our comparative context, but whether the edge it provides is worth the extra $24k up front or ongoing $100 a week spend, is entirely up to you.
The 2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line is tantalizingly close to that true premium space in so many ways, while it is currently worthy of its bracket-crossing apprentice status, it only seeks to hint and what may lay in store next for the Kia badge, as it strives to one day become the master.
Thanks to Volvo Cars Brighton for the supply of the XC90 for our photography.