Not too big and none too small. Hardly expensive yet far from spartan. On paper at least the 2018 Kia Sorento Si could simply be tagged the ‘Goldilocks’ large SUV.
Recently facelifted, the Sorento is still much larger than the five-plus-two-seat versions of the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail. It is also a fraction bigger than its Hyundai Santa Fe cousin and also the newer Skoda Kodiaq.
Yet this Kia also happens to be smaller and more affordable than the gargantuan Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger brigade. What it attempts to do is mix the value, efficiency and around-town nimbleness of the smaller group with the space, practicality and performance of the larger class.
Sounds good on paper, sure, but is this V6-engined base model a happy medium, or out of its depth at large?
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $42,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 206kW/336Nm 3.5 V6 petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.0 l/100km | Tested: 12.6 l/100km
Kia is a king at making its range simple. Priced from $42,990 plus on-road costs, this Sorento Si then steps up $2000 to the Sport and another $2000 to the SLi. Given how well-equipped this base model is, though, splurging on more isn’t necessary.
Note the 17-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assistance, dual-zone climate control, digital radio and satellite navigation – all standard. This seven-seater is no stripped-out special (hello, Toyota Kluger GX…)
Meanwhile the $44,990 (plus orc) Sorento Sport adds 18s, leather seats and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, and the $46,990 (plus orc) Sorento SLi pitches in with keyless auto-entry, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electric tailgate and 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio. Disappointingly, though, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert are reserved for the diesel Sorento GT-Line at $12K upstream.
Speaking of diesel, a 2.2-litre turbo four-cylinder is otherwise available as a $3500 option on Si, Sport and SLi, adding all-wheel drive and torque, yet reducing fuel consumption. We’ll see if it’s worth it over this 3.5-litre petrol V6, front-wheel drive.
Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, and keyless entry.
Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth phone/audio streaming, digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring connectivity, satellite navigation and six speakers.
Options Fitted: None.
Cargo Volume: 142 litres (7 seats) or 605L (5 seats)
Premium brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz should be scribbling notes on the interior quality of this Kia, because it soundly trumps their price-point models.
Have a look inside the respective 2 Series Active Tourer or B-Class, and check the use of hard and shiny trim around the lower dashboard. Then analyse the materials used in this Sorento, which consists almost entirely of subtly grained soft-touch plastic covering the middle of the doors and dashboard upwards. In its large SUV segment, meanwhile, only the Mazda CX-5 Sport comes close to matching it.
Thankfully even this Si gets satin-chrome doorhandles and vent trim, as well as (surprisingly tasteful) dark woodgrain, all of which makes it feel far from base-grade.
There’s also auto up/down power windows all-round, electric-fold mirrors, a high-resolution 8.0-inch touchscreen, a USB port and 12-volt socket duplicated in both front and middle rows, and twin-third-row air vents with separate fan-speed dial.
Only the monochromatic trip computer display, the absence of keyless auto-entry and the fact you need to pull up the tailgate betray the fact that this is the entry point to the range. Even the lack of leather and driver’s seat electric adjustment isn’t an issue, because the front seats are supremely beefy and superbly comfortable.
The middle bench, meanwhile, slides backwards and forwards to increase or decrease legroom depending on whether more or less boot space and third-row room is required. In any case, it’s spacious and soothing back there.
The centre bench is also split 60:40 with the smaller portion on the kerbside and perfect for right-hand drive markets where kids easily enter the back seats away from traffic; the opposite being true for the European-built, left-hand drive-biased Kodiaq.
The Kodiaq has the measure on the Sorento for packaging efficiency, though. The Skoda is shorter yet it offers more boot space in either five- or seven-seat mode, and comparative legroom. Where the Kia hits back is with plusher twin-back seats and more legroom, plus those third-row air vents absent in that rival or the Mazda.
The sixth and seventh seat also drop into the floor with a simple pull-lever-then-push arrangement. It couldn’t be easier.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 206kW/336Nm 3.0 V6 petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Forget the SantaFe ActiveX and its 3.3-litre V6 engine, priced from $39,990 plus on-road costs – it’s soon replaced, and the $3000 jump to this Sorento Si with a 3.5-litre V6 engine is worth it. No beating around the bush – we’ll say it straight up.
Meanwhile, ultimately, both the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine in the identically priced Kodiaq 132TSI 4x4, and the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol in the CX-9 Sport are both more efficient engines than this old-school petrol V6.
The Kia gives away nothing to them in terms of sweetness and performance, though, thanks to 202kW of power at 6300rpm and 336Nm of torque at 5000rpm.
Teamed with a new eight-speed automatic transmission, and there’s immediate response and impressively creamy refinement to be enjoyed. That is when a driver can get it all to the ground, though, because frankly the Nexen N-Priz tyres can be a low-grip disappointment. Off the line, they screech even on light throttle, while at low speeds around a round-a-bout they even howl distantly.
The upshot? Buy a Sorento Si and swap the tyres. Immediately.
Kia needs to solve this issue, because this large SUV is otherwise a delight to drive. Pause the hype around the rear-wheel drive Stinger large liftback, because this is easily the South Korean brand’s most successful locally developed chassis tune.
The steering is consistently weighted and direct, the ride quality is lush yet controlled, and the chassis challenges the Kodiaq and CX-9 for handling smarts. Even pushing through the tyre deficit on a twisty road, the Sorento offers lovely balance and an intelligent electronic stability control (ESC) tune. It can actually be quite fun.
Yet we would also strongly consider spending that additional $3500 on the diesel, even if it erodes some of the stellar value equation. With 147kW at 3800rpm and 441Nm from 1750rpm, delivered to all four wheels, there’s less pressure on the dud tyres. More torque makes it feel more effortless and it’s pretty much just as quick.
On paper this V6 petrol claims to drink 10.0 litres of regular unleaded per 100 kilometres, but on test we achieved up to 17.0L/100km in heavy traffic, 15.0L/100km in regular urban conditions, 9.0L/100km on the freeway and arterial roads, for a 12.6L/100km total. Meanwhile, the four-cylinder diesel claims 7.2L/100km, though…
5 Stars – the Kia Sorento scored 36.62 out of 37 points when tested in 2017.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, driver’s knee and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assistance, and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years, unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Annual or 15,000km servicing intervals with a capped-price cost of $252/$444/$302/$560/$284/$538/$301 over seven years or 105,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The SantaFe is old and awaiting imminent replacement, the CX-9 is brilliant but enormous, while that latter description can be applied to the Pathfinder and Kluger – but beyond space, they’re otherwise deeply average.
Size-up your family, because the Kodiaq is smaller yet more efficient inside, just as quick yet more efficient in terms of petrol usage, and equally as appealing to drive. But without the third-row room and air vents of the Kia, it may be too small for some.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There are only two criticisms of this Sorento Si and each can be solved – they are the dud tyres and the thirsty V6. But hold up, because the old 3.5-litre is a lovely engine that saves $3500 up front over a diesel that will only save in the long run.
For $43K plus on-road costs, this Kia doesn’t feel like a base model. It is packed with active safety technology and impressive standard equipment, it gets relatively affordable servicing and a long warranty, it boasts a high-quality cabin that is also roomy and practical for seven people, plus its steering and ride quality are terrific.
As aforementioned in this test, smaller offerings from ‘premium’ brands have greater failings at this price, and yet they none seat seven in comfort and deliver such enormous manufacturer support.
So it may be Skoda Kodiaq for smarts and efficiency, and a Mazda CX-9 for outright space and sophistication – but the Kia Sorento truly does tread a fine middle ground.
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