Kia has chosen to tread carefully with its updated Sorento large SUV, refining its seven-seater rather than revolutionising it.
Large SUVs are a tough market to crack, with Toyota practically owning the segment thanks to one-two leadership of the class divided between its soft-roading Kluger and off-road-ready Prado.
Other ‘proper’ 4x4 competitors like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Isuzu MU-X have also outpaced the Sorento so far this year and Kia has no answer for those ladder-frame off-roaders.
Instead Kia has other three-row crossover style SUVs in mind, like the Mazda CX-9 and cross-town rival the Hyundai Santa Fe. Both lead the Sorento on sales, but with a gentle rework and added safety across the range Kia is hoping to find itself in the driveways of more Aussie families in 2018.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $44,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 206kW/336Nm 3.5-litre 6cyl petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.0 l/100km | Tested: 11.4 l/100km
The 2018 Kia Sorento Sport is a new addition to the range for 2018, though technically the Sport steps in where the previous Si Limited used to sit, one rung up from the base-model Si.
Both four-cylinder diesel and V6 petrol engines are available - the V6 with front wheel drive only, or the diesel with all wheel drive. As tested here the Sorento Sport V6 starts from $44,990 plus on-road costs, a $200 step above the Si V6.
New for the 2018 model year, the Sorento now comes with a slightly larger 3.5-litre engine (previously a 3.3-litre) backed by an eight speed automatic where a six-speed used to be used.
There’s a new larger infotainment system, and crucially for family buyers all new Sorento models now come with autonomous emergency braking and additional safety systems like driver attention alert and lane keeping assist.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, dual-zone air conditioning, third-row ventilation and fan control, wood-look trim, adaptive cruise control, seven seats, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Aux and USB input, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, six speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 142 litres to rear seats, 605 litres to second row, 1665 litres to first row
The Sorento is a fairly large vehicle, there’s no doubt, and once you step inside it’s obvious the company has used that size to its advantage.
There’s genuine space inside, and it’s hard to find a seat that isn’t easy to stretch out in. The first two rows are particularly accommodating, and even the third row isn’t such a penalty box - particularly if second row travellers are happy to slide their seat forward a little.
Importantly for those in warmer climates, the Sorento also includes third row air vents with a seperate booster fan to keep everyone comfortable
The interior carries a reasonably upmarket feel, helped out by the standard inclusion of dual-zone climate control and leather trim on the Sorento Sport. Also, somewhat surprisingly, the Sport packs in distance-keeping cruise control and glossy dark wood trim too.
The latest generation of Kia’s infotainment system resides within the dash, with a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen display, built-in satellite navigation, and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring with compatible devices.
It’s a fairly easy system to get familiar with quickly, although the new search-style address input for the nav system can be frustrating at times, unable to find results for known addresses more often than not.
Interior space is also utilised well when it comes to storage with big door bins, a roomy centre console, and enough space for odds and ends, although the interior is still no match for the storage-obsessed Toyota Kluger.
Behind the rear-most seats the Sorento can carry a rather slim 142 litres of cargo, but to the second row there’s a more useful 605 litres, or a full 1665 litres with all seats folded flat.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol V6, 206kW @ 6300rpm, 336Nm @ 5000rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: 320mm vented front discs, 305mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering, 11.4m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 2000kg braked, 750kg unbraked, 100kg towball load
Under the bonnet Kia as swapped out the previous 3.3-litre V6 engine from earlier versions of the Sorento for a 3.5-litre V6 which produces 206kW of power and 336Nm of torque, bringing a minor bump of 7kW and 18Nm.
The new engine is also paired with a new transmission, in this instance an in-house (Hyundai-Kia) designed eight-speed automatic in place of the previous six-speed auto, with Kia claiming internal changes result in faster gear changes.
Put into a cycle of daily driving the Sorento V6 makes good use of its available grunt, and torque delivery over a wide rev band results in smooth and linear acceleration apart from an at-times eager step off that sees the front wheels chirp from standstill all too easily.
Kia only pairs all wheel drive with its diesel engine for the Sorento range, so buyers looking for the extra reassurance of all-wheel-grip would need to make the $3500 to the Sorento Sport diesel.
Once rolling, the eight-speed auto behaves well, unobtrusively cycling through gears, and happy to let the driver rev out the perky engine should they desire.
Drive modes have been revised and include the usual Comfort, Eco and Sport settings which are joined by a Smart mode which monitors driver inputs and selects the corresponding mode without the need to make a manual adjustment.
Kia has also made changes to the Australian-tuned suspension in an attempt to reduce body roll in corners without harming ride quality. There’s still plenty of ride compliance over rough roads, but the size, heft and raised ride of the Sorento mean that it will still lean through corners fairly easily.
Some surfaces can create a suspension boom that reverberates through the cabin, but once you’ve loaded it up with passengers it becomes less prominent. Other sources of noise, like tyre and wind roar are also well managed.
Overall the ride quality feels spot on for family duties. The Sorento can deal with lumpy rural roads without bobbing and bucking over corrugations, and feels secure and stable under freeway conditions.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Kia Sorento scored 36.62 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2017 based on crash tests conducted by Euro NCAP in 2015. Specifications have been updated to reflect the added safety systems but occupant protection scores remain the same.
Safety Features: Previously only top-tier Sorento models featured autonomous braking but now all models in the range feature the technology, including pedestrian detection.
Other standard features include six airbags (dual front, front seat side, curtain for first and second row), front load-limiting seatbelt pretensioners, ABS brakes, electronic stability and traction control, driver fatigue monitoring (called driver attention alert) and lane keeping assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Kia offers a seven-year capped price service program at 12 month or 15,000km intervals. Pricing per service varies from $252 for the cheapest, up to $538 for the most expensive (at six years or 90,000km) with full terms and conditions of the program available from your Kia dealer.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Also newly equipped with an eight-speed automatic, the Toyota Kluger features one of the most practical interiors in terms of small-item storage and is perfectly lounge-like to ride in with a decently grunty petrol V6 lying in wait should you need it.
Mazda opts for four-cylinder petrol power instead of a V6 or diesel, and the result is big torque and low noise. The CX-9 presents as semi-premium in the interior and though it’s specious it’s not quite as sprawling as the Hyundai.
The Hyundai Santa fe is starting to look a little old against some of its competitors, but that hasn’t changed its position as a good value, well equipped, and spacious family SUV.
There’s an unavoidable America-centric feel to the Nissan Pathfinder, once a proper 4x4 but now just another soft-roader with budget-friendly pricing and soft dynamics, but lots of space inside.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With safety - and the ability to avoid an accident - a growing concern for Australian families, Kia’s decision to include autonomous emergency braking is a wise one, putting it on level pegging with big SUVs from Mazda, and Hyundai.
The new, slightly larger, and slightly more powerful V6 engine is a likeable unit, and makes getting the best out of the generously proportioned Sorento easy.
Vitally though, on the inside the Sorento is big enough to deal with family-sized loads easily, giving everyone enough room to set up comfortably. Though it may not be packed full of bells and whistles, it covers the basics and throws in a few nice bonuses.
Were it not for similarly impressive efforts from rivals, the Sorento would be easy to recommend - but there’s a wide range of other, equally impressive, large SUVs available in Australia.
That’s not to diminish what Kia has done, but if you’re looking at a three-row family SUV you have the luxury of choice when it comes to finding one that’s the right fit for you and your family.
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VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Kia Sorento - Prices, Features, and Specifications