Kia Sorento 2021 gt-line 7 seat

2021 Kia Sorento long-term review: Introduction

$64,070 Mrlp
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What’s it like living with our 2021 Drive Car of the Year winner?
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My neighbour, Alex the restaurateur, is what I’d call a non-denominational car enthusiast. He sees the different test cars parading through my driveway week in, week out, and shows a keen interest in almost everything regardless of race, colour or creed.

For the Honda Odyssey, he wanted to experience its “limousine-like plush interiors” and magic doors. The BMW M2 CS that followed had him wondering about the potency of its 3.0-litre monster mill. Before that it was the Audi E-Tron – “How affordable are EVs, really?” – and its cameras for mirrors, which he helped me figure out.

Almost the minute the 2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line long-termer pulled into my driveway, he sent me a text: “So, do you like Kia’s Darth Vader design language?”.

The Snow White Pearl paint ($695) and black highlights sure make this Sorento look like a stormtrooper SUV, and it doesn’t take much imagination from there… The angular headlights are the eye slots, and those obtuse DRLs describe the helmet’s ‘cheeks’ perfectly. Once you see the Star Wars visage, it’s impossible to unsee it.

2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD
Engine configuration2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Power and torque148kW at 3800rpm, 440Nm at 1750–2750rpm
Transmission8-speed (wet) dual-clutch automatic
Drive typeAll-wheel drive
Tare weight1908kg
Fuel consumption (combined-cycle claim)6.1L/100km
Fuel consumption (combined cycle on test)7.5L/100km
Boot volume187L to third row, 616L to second row
Key competitorsHyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Kluger

Alex likes the front more than the rear: “To me the rear looks less mature, unfinished perhaps”. But, overall, he’s a fan: “I'm always surprised how long it's taken brands to realise that you need to design desirable-looking cars to make them truly desirable. Surely that's obvious, but judging by the boring designs out there, it clearly isn't”.

The Kia Sorento’s styling is definitely not boring. Kia has created a car that’s interesting and evocative both outside and inside. And yes, I’m a fan. It’s bold but not brash. It’s classy and a little bit edgy, but won’t age poorly. Unlike Alex, I like the rear. Those vertical tail-lights and vents really tie the machine to the road visually.

My interest in the Sorento runs more than skin-deep too. Regular readers will know that it won the 2021 Drive Car of the Year overall award. Judges lauded its integration of next-generation safety and assistance technology, its fundamentally strong family car attributes, excellent diesel drivetrain, and overall ease of driving to give it the prize ahead of a very strong field.

Rest assured that doesn’t mean we think the Sorento is perfect, and it won’t prevent us from criticising it in this series of long-term test reports if criticism is warranted. Whereas Drive Car of the Year is an intense five-day melting pot, a long-term test gives us months to immerse ourselves in all facets of a car’s capabilities.

For a car like the Kia Sorento large SUV that’s important because of its range of capabilities. This car promises to be a seven-seat family wagon, weekday workhorse, weekend getaway vehicle, commuter king, country-road cruiser and more. So that’s exactly what we will do over the next few months, and we will report how it performs every step of the way.

Our Sorento GT-Line AWD test vehicle sits atop Kia’s Australian SUV line-up with a price of $67,290 drive-away plus $695 for Snow White paint. Now, before we delve into the standard features list, I should tell you we are not going to delve into the standard features list. We’ve written a lot about the Sorento – Sam’s launch review, Rob’s review of the Sorento S and Justin’s review of the Sorento Sport to name a few. Then there are the pages and pages of 2021 Drive COTY coverage.

Instead, we are going to talk about this car’s features as we use them. Yes, even the active safety features, of which the Sorento has many. And yes, I fervently hope not to end up talking about its passive safety features. In fact, let’s quickly tick that box now: five stars from ANCAP, including 82 per cent adult occupant protection, 85 per cent child occupant protection, 63 per cent vulnerable road user protection, and 89 per cent for safety assist.

Right, now on to the more enjoyable stuff, starting with one very sweet small-capacity turbo diesel that, although similar in outputs to the engine it replaces, has been comprehensively overhauled beneath the surface and remains a very capable and competitive unit.

All Sorento AWD models are powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 148kW and 440Nm that has one of the more responsive throttles among today’s diesels. This engine produces peak torque from 1750rpm and is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission making for smooth, effortless acceleration.

It’s all very refined and capable at real-world speeds, but one gripe – I told you we’d criticise where necessary – centres on the Sorento’s very low-speed crawl. I’m talking the kind used to inch into a car space or reverse out your driveway while checking the footpath for kids, cats, dogs and other oblivious lifeforms. At this pace our Kia is not happy. It jerks and surges in gentle waves as though the dual-clutch transmission and brakes are fighting each other to engage and disengage.

I suppose I could always get out and use Remote Smart Parking Assist instead, which I have renamed 'Scare Hell out of the Missus Assist'. We were about to head out shopping, you see, so I put junior in his baby seat, and then locked the car before Rachel or I could get in. Then I started the engine remotely from the keyfob, and started the car moving forward out of the driveway.

When I looked to see her reaction to my cleverness, it’s fair to say the grin on my face was not mirrored. Instead, she looked halfway between screaming in terror and taking a hatchet to my head.

Remote Smart Parking Assist – just one of the Sorento’s many technologies – is not recommended for scaring the mother of your infant son, I’ve now been told. Instead, it is intended to help you drive into and out of car spaces too narrow to open doors. Will it prove useful during our months with the Sorento? I hope so, because otherwise it’s just a gimmick.

I’m also not totally sold on the Sorento’s suspension tune. For 95 per cent of the time it’s blissfully smooth, ironing out small to medium amplitude bumps and ruts. But on some of the roads around my place, the cracks come in twos like small channels across the road.

The Sorento’s suspension isn’t quick enough recovering from the first to soak up the second, and it can crash through in a very unrefined manner. It’s to be expected, really, because the relatively low-profile 45-series tyres standard on the GT-Line can’t deliver the same hit-soaking ability as the taller-sidewall tyres fitted to the other models.

In context this is a minor gripe, because the Sorento rides smoothly and silently the vast majority of the time, like a car costing twice what it does. And it’s a gripe I’m more than happy to live with given everything else the Sorento does so well.

The cabin itself is most accommodating, especially on a cold Melbourne morning. Heated seats are something you don’t know you need until you have them, although the Sorento’s do take a bit to heat up.

Electric driver’s seat and manual steering wheel adjustment means the driving position is easy to get right, although it’ll be a fight in the office to see who gets one of the two memory positions. Visibility all around is excellent, and the wing mirrors are suitably large for good rearward vision alongside the car.

That said, the 360-degree camera is truly excellent and renders the mirrors practically unnecessary at low speeds. And the camera displays that pop up in the instrument binnacle when you go to change lanes are impressive but are taking some getting used to. When I’m changing lanes, I’m usually looking in the mirrors or at the traffic in front. Looking down into the instrument cluster is not second nature, and it also doesn’t feel right. Maybe time will change that?

Something that has proved useful on every trip is wireless phone charging because it’s just so natural to jump in and put your phone on the slanted charger spot at the base of the centre console. In some other cars, it’s a tiring game of 'where’s the sweet spot?' as you adjust the phone waiting for the screen to give the charging signal. In the Kia, it’s impossible to miss because the sweet spot is big.

2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line AWD
ColourSnow White Pearl
Price (MSRP)$67,290 drive-away, exluding options
Fuel tank size67L
Servicing 5yr$2393
ANCAP safety ratingFive-star
WarrantySeven years / unlimited km

Next in order of usefulness (after the steering wheel, pedals and gear lever, of course) are the steering-wheel-mounted buttons for answering calls and adjusting the sound system, and for engaging cruise control because I live in Melbourne, the speed camera centre of Australia.

Which brings me to my next most-used item – speed camera warnings. Or should that be black-spot warnings, because as we know, speed cameras are a road safety tool deployed at notorious traffic black spots. On my trip to work there are three notorious traffic black spots: one on the Westgate Bridge; the second downhill into the Citylink Tunnel; and the third on Kings Way crossing Park St. Luckily, the Sorento warns me on approach to every one of them so I can be hyper-vigilant about my speed. My wallet thanks the Sorento too.

The Sorento’s digital radio and 12-speaker Bose sound system have rekindled my talkback radio love affair, because it makes the digital channels of AM radio stations not just bearable, but also blissfully clear in tram-line-riddled Melbourne. Tom Elliott on 3AW and the SEN Sport boys come crystal clear into the cabin – a cabin impressively well-isolated from outside noises to begin with.

Next up are the second-row doors that give access to the second- and third-row seats – both of which have ISOFIX anchors, which is handy for families larger than mine. Right now, I only need one baby seat, and it’s a doddle to install because the door opening is generously wide and the middle row slides fore and aft to make room.

The boot has come in handy on my weekly trips to church, AKA Bunnings. It may be a relatively small 187L with the third row of seats in place, but I haven’t needed them yet, so the 616L of space with them stowed has been far more useful.

In the months ahead, we'll test the Kia's maximum carrying capacity and head off-road to see how far this SUV can get beyond the bitumen. And who knows, perhaps we will do both those things with my neighbour Alex and his family on board, so he can spend more time with the Sorento and see if its styling matures on him.

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