WITH THE SORENTO SLI DIESEL, KIA HAS FOUND A VERY HAPPY MEDIUM BETWEEN 'THE AFFORDABLE MAINSTREAM' AND PREMIUM SUVS.
From $49,490 (plus on-road costs) the mid-spec Sorento SLi diesel is not too basic, but not too lavish. It is a proper full-size seven-seater, yet, at the wheel, it shrinks, feeling neither too small nor too large.
The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel tested here costs $3500 more than the 3.3-litre V6 petrol, but you also score all-wheel-drive instead of front-drive for that surcharge.
In essence, it trades a little bit of speed for greater fuel economy and slight offroad capability – yet another middle ground.
We’ve been impressed by other Kia Sorento versions before, but is this SLi diesel the sweetest spot in the range?
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $49,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/441Nm 2.2 litre 4cyl turbo-diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.8 l/100km | tested: 9.9 l/100km
Styled between Europe and the US, and built in South Korea, the Sorento competes against native-foe the Hyundai Santa Fe, the locally developed Ford Territory, and the US-made duo of Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger.
While both the Santa Fe and Territory share diesel availability – something that is crucial to providing economy in a large, heavy package – the Pathfinder and Kluger are petrol only (though the Nissan can provide hybrid EV power in cheaper 2WD form, or more expensive AWD).
And, in a tightly-fought segment where ‘cost of ownership’ is a key factor in purchasing decisions, only the Kia provides a seven-year warranty.
- Standard equipment: cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry, multi-function trip computer, leather seat trim, 8-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, third-row fan control, electric tailgate, automatic dimming rear-view mirror, automatic on/off headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 7.0in colour touchscreen with AUX/USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 10-speaker Infinity audio system and satellite navigation
- Options fitted: None
- Cargo volume: 142 litres (7 seats), 605L (5 seats), 1662L (2 seats)
The Kia Sorento boasts the classiest interior of any Korean car imported locally. More than that, at this price point and in this segment, there is none better.
Nicely textured, soft-touch materials are awash over both the upper and lower-dashboard, even extending onto the lower parts of the door trims. The door armrests are of the plush, stitched-leather variety, so too the superbly contoured seats.
The twin colour screens – 7.0-inch in front of the driver, same-sized touchscreen in the centre – are high-resolution and the ergonomics of the audio and sat-nav system are the finest we’ve experienced in a Kia product.
If you’re not quite hearing the ‘premium’ perception of quality yet, then turn up the excellent 10-speaker Infinity sound system.
The only equipment items missing (but that we’d like standard) are heated front seats and an electrically adjustable passenger seat. The likes of a panoramic sunroof can be left to the positively loaded $55,990 (plus orc) Platinum grade.
Of course large SUV models are first and foremost about family-friendly functionality, and the Sorento scores here too.
Used as a five-seater, there is a huge boot and vast legroom for three passengers behind the parents up front. Trailing the centre console are air-vents for those middle riders plus both a USB port and 12v power outlet.
The thickly padded and comfortable middle row also reclines to maximise long-haul seat comfort. Alternatively, it also slides forwards and backwards allowing you to reduce middle row legroom, for example, when using the third row.
The bench itself is split 60:40 so there’s flexibility to move the sides independently.
The smaller ‘40’ section is placed kerbside, too, the backrest tipping forward then the bench sliding at the touch of a lever to permit third-row access.
The third row is split 50:50, the twin seats can either be folded into the floor or lifted via a simple pull-strap on either side. Kia couldn’t have made it any easier.
Third-row riders sit quite close to the floor, however, so kneeroom is compromised even with the middle row pushed forward.
Legroom there, though, is competitive with other SUV models in the class, but headroom is compromised for anyone taller than 175cm and you won’t have much boot space left. Still, the seats themselves are comfortable and there’s an air-vent on either side with separate fan control.
If you require outright space, choose the Kia Carnival people mover that trumps the Sorento in most things except quality-feel inside, but it also doesn’t drive as well (see below).
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 147kW/441Nm 2.2-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: Multi-link independent front and rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electric assisted mechanical steering, turning circle 11.1m
- Towing capacity: 750kg (unbraked), 2000kg (braked)
With the switch to a new generation of models with increased sophistication both inside and down below, Kia is forging ahead in leaps and bounds. The Sorento is no exception; it has great appeal for its dynamics and day-to-day driveability.
The 2.2-litre diesel puts its 147kW of power and 441Nm of torque to smooth, effortless use. The Sorento is not a fast car, but certainly quick enough.
Importantly, that sizeable torque figure – produced between 1750rpm and 2750rpm – means it is untroubled by any sized load you might care to squeeze inside its doors, and makes it also handy as a tow vehicle, rated up to 2.0 tonne (braked).
Excepting a fraction of ‘lag’ off the line, the engine is eminently responsive and teams fluently with the standard six-speed automatic. Considering the space and 1985kg kerb weight, an on-test fuel figure of 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres is excellent.
That test route included some dirt-road driving, which proved how far Kia has come as a brand. The ride quality in the Sorento SLi, which rolls on chubby 60-aspect 18-inch tyres, is very impressive.
It is not as beautifully plush as the Aussie-engineered Ford Territory, transmitting more minor road imperfections into the cabin, but the way it deals with rougher stuff is similarly outstanding.
In all conditions, whether pounding over a speed hump around town or touring an undulating backroad, this Kia maintains fine body-control. Better than that, its handling is tight and nicely balanced, rolling slightly more at the rear to help the nose point in tight situations.
The Hankook tyres provide surprisingly good grip and the stability control system is intelligently tuned.
The steering gives away points to the Territory, but its light weighting will be appreciated when parking or in tighter city lanes, and the alternate Sport mode adds some weight for highway driving.
It also tightens up the vacant on-centre patch that can otherwise demand minor corrections when on the freeway.
(The Ford steering-feel is sharper and more car-like, bordering on brilliant for an SUV; but the Kia’s still rates as “Very Good Indeed”.)
ANCAP rating: 5-stars. This model scored 36.62 out of 37 possible points (tested 2015).
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side, rear-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera and front and rear parking sensors
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Territory is simply unbeatable for steering, ride and handling, but its interior quality is below-average and third-row space non-existent.
Conversely, the Santa Fe has a great interior but its suspension tune is too harsh. The Pathfinder is bloated, both to look at and to drive, but it offers the most cabin space.
The Kluger is expensive, and being petrol-only it is thirsty, but it’s also now sweet to steer with a superb cabin.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We are very comfortable in commending the 2016 Kia Sorento SLi diesel to you – if shopping for a family car, this is a terrific way to spend your hard-earned $50,000.
Everything about this Sorento SLi diesel is a lesson in balance – it feels ‘premium’ but isn’t too ritzy or expensive, it offers space and amenity without feeling gargantuan (like a Carnival), it trades some pace to give you greater economy, and its well-sorted ride does not come at the expense of handling.
Put all that together, and you’ve got one very good car here.
That Kia offers a benchmark seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty is all the more reason to put this ultra-sweet diesel-engined middle-specification version high on the family-car shopping list.
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