THE 2010 SORENTO is an important model for Kia, and yes, that's a line we seem to use a lot when talking about the smaller Korean's recent new models.
Trying to bust out from under the shadow of its bigger brother (Hyundai) has KIA having to work harder to get its new models noticed, let alone building market share.
Despite the tough economic climate, Hyundai has had an extraordinary year in Australia on the back of a keenly priced, modern and strong product range.
Now it's Kia's turn, if it can get the product mix and pricing right.
The medium SUV market is dominated by the big guns, Kluger, Prado, Captiva and Territory, each with 7000 to 9000-plus sales clocked up for 2009.
Well down that pecking order is the Hyundai Santa Fe (1864 sales at the end of September) and the now superseded Sorento (1012 sales over the same period). So it's a competitive market segment, and one with a truck-load of potential for the manufacturer with a good product at a fair price.
If Kia is going to be anything more than just a sideline player in Australia, it needs its new models to be visually appealing, confidence-inspiring, and serious value-for-money propositions.
Enter the all-new 2010 Sorento.
Based on the KND-4 concept revealed in 2007, the all-new look of the Sorento is the work of chief designer Peter Schreyer. His influence is evident in the company’s family ‘Schreyer Line’ grille, shared locally by the 2009 Kia Cerato sedan and Koup, and the 2009 Kia Soul.
Despite being 95mm longer than the outgoing model, the new Sorento loses 10mm from its wheelbase and, for a sportier look, 15mm has been chopped from its height.
Sharp headlights meet the Sorento's chrome grille-frame in what Kia Australia's Product Manager Nick Reid described at the launch as a 'mask-like' appearance. The unique clamshell-style bonnet and crisp masculine lines set the Sorento apart.
The profile bears other Kia trademarks, in particular the 'hockey stick' character line along the bottom of the doors and the prominent rear-pillar, both a feature on the Cerato sedan and Koup.
An unpainted grey-black plastic moulding runs along the bottom of the Sorento's sills, bumpers and wheel arches, designed for a sporty off-road appearance.
The new styling has radically improved the Sorento's coefficient of drag, dropping from the old model's 0.43 to 0.38.
To my thinking, the Sorento's individual styling elements work well, making it one of the more distinctive and handsome SUVs currently on the market.
The new Sorento is Kia's first genuine seven-seater SUV, with the stretched cabin providing ‘best-in-class’ space for occupants seated in the (optional) third row. Headroom is 906 mm and legroom 795 mm.
As with most seven-seat SUV's, the third row of seating is best suited to kids. In the Sorento's case they can double as an occasional seat for adults on shorter trips.
Of course, with the third row seating in place, storage is limited to 258 litres, but this is a limitation found in all seven-seat vehicles. Drop the third row and the space increases to 1047 litres. Second row down, and space jumps to 2052 litres.
The new Sorento's interior styling is a significant improvement over the outgoing model, and should immediately appeal to most buyers.
The cabin now boasts a refreshingly modern design and a high level of fit and finish. Put simply, the interior looks great and works well.
The only noticeable negative was the hard plastics that dominate the dash and doors. It remains to be seen if these surfaces will mark as easily as in those in the Cerato sedan.
Equipment and features
As with the Grand Carnival, the new Sorento is available in three trim levels, kicking off with the entry-level Sorento Si.
Standard features on the Si include 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, remote keyless-entry, fabric trim, folding power-adjustable side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering mounted cruise control, and dual-zone climate control.
The SLi adds 18-inch alloys, automatic headlights, LED tail-lights, leather trim, roof rails, and alloy pedals.
The range-topping Platinum includes a smart-key with dash-mounted ignition button, a panoramic sunroof, and more oomph for the audio system, courtesy of an external amplifier, centre speaker and sub-woofer.
The new Sorento has earned a 5-Star Euro NCAP rating, which is expected to see it awarded a 5-Star ANCAP rating from December 2009.
Standard active safety features include ESP (Electronic Stability Program), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Brake Control (DBC).
Inside, a six-airbag package is standard. Dual front-airbags, dual front side-airbags and full-length side curtain-airbags (linked to roll-over sensors as well as impact sensors) maximise head protection for all occupants.
Front seats in all models are equipped with ‘active’ head restraints.
The push for improved refinement, efficiency and on-road manners sees two new engines available in the Sorento range, and it's the new R-series diesel that takes pride of place.
The all-new common-rail injection DOHC ‘R 2.2’ diesel features 16-valves and double overhead cams, developing 145kW and 436Nm from just 1800rpm (422Nm when matched to the manual transmission).
The previous model's 180kW/309Nm 3.3 litre V6 petrol engine has been replaced by Hyundai-Kia's Theta II 2.4 litre four-cylinder unit developing 128kW and 226Nm of torque.
Available only in 2WD and paired with the automatic transmission, Kia claims that the petrol engine is good for 9.2 l/100km on the combined cycle. The diesel, on the other hand, comes with a choice of manual or auto and is rated at 6.7 l/100km (for the 4WD manual) and 7.4 l/100km (for the 4WD automatic).
Transmission choices include a six-speed manual or automatic, with both transmissions featuring 'high' top gear ratios for improved fuel economy during highway cruising. According to Kia, both transmissions have been engineered specifically to suit the Australian market.
The previous model's rugged body-on-frame chassis has been dropped in favour of the dynamically superior and lighter unibody or 'monocoque' construction.
Kia says that while the move to a unibody layout has resulted in reduced towing capacities of 2500kg for the manual and 2000kg for the auto, its research shows that most Sorento buyers aren't looking to lug spectacular loads.
Nor, it seems, are they looking to head too far off the beaten track. The new Sorento now features independent multi-link rear-suspension, in place of the outgoing model's solid rear axle, while a dual-range transfer case is no longer available.
The previous model’s double-wishbone front suspension has been replaced with a newly-developed lighter, less expensive and more compact MacPherson strut arrangement, mounted on a lightweight hydro-formed subframe.
An automatic self-levelling system is available on all diesel models, that ensures an optimum ride-height is maintained under varying load conditions.
Front brakes are 321mm ventilated discs, while the rear brakes are 302mm solid discs. ABS anti-lock and EBD brake-force distribution systems are fitted as standard.
Kia expects the bulk of the Sorento's sales to be the 4WD SLi model, despite the absence of a 'proper' 4WD's towing ability and high/low transfer case.
Kia's launch drive program took in a range of poorly-maintained streets, smooth highways and unsealed roads that ranged from reasonable to rough. The intention was clearly to showcase the Sorento's new chassis and underpinnings.
First impressions from behind the wheel suggest that the Sorento has now matured into a dynamically superior, more efficient, refined and powerful SUV.
The new suspension manages a good compromise between ride comfort, body control and feel at the wheel. Perhaps a little on the firm side with only two passengers on board, it is calibrated to carry a family and their luggage in comfort.
Road noise is comendably low, and the R 2.2 diesel is impressively quiet. It is also a torque monster, with that 436Nm making short work of hills and overtaking.
In typical diesel style, the R 2.2 is at its best in the low to middle revs, but there is big torque on offer and big dollops of it persist beyond the optimum rev range.
Officially, the 4WD auto Sorento should average 7.4 l/100km on the combined cycle, but the best we saw was 9.2 l/100km on the first leg of the launch drive and 9.8 l/100km for the second leg.
To be fair though, at no time were 'the horses spared', and we have no reason to suspect that the diesel Sorento won't return 7.4s or better. The Sorentos currently running in the Global Green Challenge are all running at well under 6.0 l/100km.
Kia is clearly expecting buyers to opt for diesel power, and with class leading levels of performance and efficiency on offer why wouldn't you? This expectation probably explains why there was only one petrol engined Si at the launch, and unfortunately we didn't get to sample its wares.
The 2010 Sorento is impressive on many levels. The new Kia SUV now leads 'the pack' for style, challenges the current crop of medium SUV's on packaging, and offers a first class diesel drivetrain.
But it won't have that wonderful diesel to itself for long.
Hyundai has fitted the same R 2.2 diesel into its popular Santa Fe SUV, and is launching the updated model later this week, making it the Sorento's most evenly matched challenger. (Some sibling rivalry that we will follow with interest.)
All else being equal, we think medium SUV shoppers would be well-served to check out the new Sorento's handsome lines, refined on-road manners, immensely strong diesel and tastefully stylish interior.
We'll be booking a week with the new Sorento and providing a full review in the near future.
|Trim level||Engine|| Trans |
|Drivetrain||Seating|| Price |