They often say that less is more. It’s certainly true when you’re considering the asking price of a new family car, like the 2021 Kia Sorento.
While Australia has often been thought of as a country happy to spend up on high-spec models, it’s often further down the ladder of grades that you will find the so-called sweet spot.
We’ve been impressed enough with the Kia Sorento to award it Drive Car of the Year, and we've spent plenty of time with the diesel variants. Now it's time to look at the base-level Sorento, the cheapest model in the range. And before you account for on-road costs, you’re looking at a large SUV with room for seven on board for just below the 50-grand watermark: $49,290 drive-away.
|Key details||2021 Kia Sorento S V6 petrol|
|Engine||3.5-litre petrol V6|
|Power||200kW @ 6300rpm|
|Torque||332Nm @ 5000rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque converter automatic|
|Dimensions||4810mm long / 1900mm wide / 1700mm high|
|Boot space 7/5/2 seat (VDA)||187-litre / 616-litre / 2011-litre|
|Price (MSRP)||$49,290 drive-away|
With less bells and whistles to wade through, you’re forced to look more closely at the bones of the Sorento to see if it still makes sense. So, what’s included in the specification?
S is the only grade to get the smaller 17-inch alloy wheels, with higher specifications getting 18-, 19-, and 20-inch wheels at each respective grade. And while kerb appeal might take a hit, having more sidewall in the rubber does seem to help smooth out the ride quality. The Kia Sorento S also misses out on tyre pressure monitoring, which is something the more expensive models enjoy.
Big-ticket items that give away the base specification are cloth seats, manual seat adjustment, manual air-conditioning, and no upper-cabin air vents or booster fan controls in the third row.
Other details include no sliding function on the sun visors and a smaller 8.0-inch infotainment display. Other specifications get a larger 10.25-inch system, and the next-grade-up Sorento Sport gets 10-way electric seat adjustment for the driver.
The base-specification Sorento gets adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and automatic wipers, but no push-button start or keyless entry.
Safety is thorough, even in this base specification. Basics like a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors are covered, along with blind-spot monitoring, blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assistance, autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian, cyclist, and junction detection), driver-attention alert and safe-exit assist alert.
This is bolstered by eight interior airbags – including a centre airbag for the first row – and a five-star ANCAP safety rating, which landed in mid-2020.
It all seems like good value, then, provided buyers are not averse to things like cloth seats and no climate control.
Infotainment misses out on size, but still has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio. Native navigation is missing compared to other specifications, but it’s a good unit nonetheless.
The steering wheel is nicely finished, and I can say with authority that grubby seats wipe down well after my kids marked their territory.
The ride quality of the Sorento definitely benefits from smaller-diameter wheels. While other grades – even the 20-inch wheels of the GT-Line – are far from what I would call bad, there is a welcome sense of suppleness in this S specification that’s quite enjoyable. Kia seemingly hasn’t skimped on rubber choice either, with quality brand Continental employed for the 235/65 R17 size.
So, pragmatically speaking, the S specification scores some points against its in-house rivals in this regard.
And while the more expensive materials in higher grades certainly don’t go astray, the basic cloth seats in this spec do the job well enough. Two tones and some texturing break up the potential of monotone, and you can’t really knock the comfort or ergonomics.
The 3.5-litre petrol engine might sound familiar, but it has been updated with this new-generation Sorento. It’s called ‘Smartstream’ making 200kW at 6300rpm and 332Nm at 5000rpm.
While that peak torque figure is close to the redline, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the driving experience. If feels torquey enough in the middle of the rev range, and has enough flexibility in conjunction with the eight-speed automatic gearbox for smooth responsiveness. Rolling acceleration is strong, and there’s plenty enough grunt to make those front tyres sweat from an enthusiastic standing start.
Unlike rivals including the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9, the Sorento V6 is front-wheel drive only.
We used an impressive 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres on average during our highway-heavy driving loop. That’s good, but we also saw up to 13.0L/100km at times when doing more heavy work through town.
This compares to Kia’s official claims of 9.7L/100km (combined), 7.5L/100km (highway) and 13.7L/100km (urban). If you’re keen for more efficiency and fewer visits to the servo, then you’ll want to consider the 2.2-litre diesel engine. It costs an extra $3000, and comes with all-wheel drive via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
And while all of that safety technology is good to have, we found that the lane-departure warning can be too intrusive. It’s especially the case when lane markings come and go, and you’re looking to use all of your lane amongst highway traffic. I ended up turning it off 90 per cent of the time.
The Sorento’s real strength as a family car is most evident in the second row, where there is loads of space on offer to soak up adults and child seats alike. Rearward-facing child seats – the most demanding in terms of real estate – can fit easily without impinging on front-row occupants.
The seats fold and slide with a 60/40 split, and offer decent access to the third row with a one-touch button.
Cupholders in the doors are a nice touch, along with room for a bottle further down. And the pull handle also doubles as a small storage nook. There are also air vents and USB outlets, both mounted on the back of the centre console. And, of course, there’s the regulation flip-down cupholder and armrest in the middle.
The third row has a 12-volt outlet, cupholders and a light, and you can drop the third row via buttons.
The boot offers a little bit of room as a seven-seater, but grows commensurably as a five-seater. A full-sized spare wheel, located under the floor of the boot, is always nice to see.
187 litres of boot space is useable when all seats are employed in the Sorento, which then grows to 616 and 2011 litres as you drop down rows.
And provided that you scootch the second row forward a bit – which there is space for – you can fit an adult into the third row with decent comfort. You can also fit kids in the back with top tether and ISOFIX points, but it’s worth noting that side curtain airbags don’t extend fully to the third row.
The exterior of the Kia Sorento S spec is a little more demure with less chrome garnishing, but the design is still striking enough. There are plenty of sharp elements going on, especially when compared to the rounded-off old model.
Kia has been producing a lot of good work lately, and this new Sorento is perhaps one of its best. It’s still impressive in this base specification, where family buyers can bag something big, comfortable, safe and versatile for under that 50-grand threshold.
One can always justify going further up the ranks of specification and spend if they’re able to, and the range-topping Sorento GT-Line is undoubtedly impressive. But so is this S spec.