It's better equipped than an Audi Q7, and independently rated as safer than a Volvo XC90 - and only half the price of those Euro SUVs. But would you pay $60,000 for a Kia flagship?
Sorento is, overall, an excellent seven-seater SUV - it looks good, great build quality, tremendous value, cracking warranty - seven years in Australia - low service costs and generally well thought-out design. Decent petrol V6 and an outstanding diesel powertrain.
Sorento’s core strengths are: it’s good to drive (for a seven-seater). Plenty of local suspension tuning for Australian conditions has really paid off. So: Around town, on freeways, highways, backroads, dirt roads: it’s all good. Off-road - you’re barking up absolutely the wrong tree. Time to re-boot the decision-making process if you plan on driving much off-road. This is a good vehicle to drive to the beach - not on the beach.
Outstanding. Five-star ANCAP safety rating. What’s astonishing, though, is the safety score: 99 per cent. Audi Q7: 94 per cent. Volvo XC90: 97 per cent. About the only Sorento criticism here: no head-protecting curtain airbags for the third seating row, and the pedestrian protecting active bonnet, available in Europe, was deleted for Australia.
Comfort levels, ergonomics: all good. Really good. Access to rows two and three: no problem, as long as you’re not planning on asking your octogenarian parents to hop in third row any time soon. (Octogenarians generally don’t hop.) And the consumer proposition is very solid: Seven-year warranty, seven years of annual capped price servicing. And good customer support if there’s ever a problem.
Kia Sorento is available with two powertrains and in three specification levels. There is an adequate petrol 3.3-litre V6 paired to a front-drive system and a six-speed auto, and an outstanding 2.2-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine mated to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed auto transmission.
If you’re equivocating on petrol V diesel, I’ve done a comprehensive report on choosing the right fuel >> The diesel is the pick - it’s awesome to drive, but it’s $3500 more than the petrol. A lot of cash, but part of that price hike is because the petrol Sorentos are only front-drive, whereas the diesel is on-demand all-wheel drive. So it’s really diesel plus the on-demand all-wheel-drive system for $3500.
The most frustrating thing about the V6 - apart from the thirst - is it being a front driver. It’s too easy for the powertrain to overcome the available grip, taking off at the lights. Then the traction control kicks in. It’s just not a pleasant, refined experience. (V6 Toyota Kluger 2WD does exactly the same thing.) Buy the diesel if you can.
There are three model grades - Si, SLi and Platinum. The V6 petrol is available in the entry-level Kia Sorento Si and the mid-spec SLi only, while the diesel is available across the range, in Si, SLi and the range-topping Kia Sorento Platinum. Prices range from about $45k (V6 Si) to about $60k (Platinum diesel). This is recommended drive-away pricing, before any discounting. You should factor in a bit of a discount. Contact me >> for details on getting the best price on a Sorento.
There are basically three solid competitors in this class: Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2016 Mazda CX-9. There’s really a good reason not to buy the others, basically. X-TRAIL & Outlander: too cheap, equalling too nasty, and technically under-done. Kluger: too expensive, no diesel, eclipsed (in particular) by the new CX-9.
Kia Sorento Si
Sorento Si standard features: 17-inch alloy wheels, GPS sat-nav, rear-view camera, electronic park brake with hill holder, front and rear parking sensors
Kia Sorento SLi
Sorento SLi standard features: (In addition to Si.) 18-inch alloy wheels, automated (hands-free) tailgate, proximity 'smart' key and pushbutton start, 10-speaker Infinity audio system
Kia Sorento Platinum
Sorento Platinum standard features: (In addition to SLi.) 19-inch alloy wheels, panoramic glass roof, blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control
Choosing the right SUV
The first thing you must do, if you’re in the market for any SUV, is to look hard at what you’re actually going to do with it, and be objective and accurate. Otherwise, you park your arse in the wrong vehicle, then it’s complete anarchy. Like having sport without drug cheats, or footballers who can punctuate. And nobody wants that - the world’s gotta make sense, right?
The two basic SUV scenarios are: you want a big quasi-car for all the domestic duties: the kids, their stuff, shopping, the extended family, holiday up the coast. Normal driving, with seven seats. Alternatively, you might want that hardcore off-roader to - I dunno - cross mighty rivers and generally beat the wilderness into submission.
It’s essential to make this SUV distinction up front. Because the softer option is always better to drive around town, on the highway - but it won’t do the hardcore stuff. And the hardcore option will be stupendously, breathtakingly shit to drive on normal roads … because all of engineering is a compromise, and you can’t beef up the blue singlet factor without copping a hit in terms of on-road refinement. Forget what the self-help books say: you actually can’t have it all.
So: if you are weighing up (for example) a Pajero Sport - or some other hardcore off-road vehicle - against a Sorento, perhaps it’s time to reboot the big upstairs operating system, because if one of these types of vehicles is right for you, the other will be comprehensively wrong.
If you’ve crossed the bridge of SUV categorisation and you’re shopping in the right aisle - here’s the Sorento next to the Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Kluger, with X-TRAIL, Territory and Outlander in the discount bins out the front. The Sorento has some core strengths, flowing from a massive R&D injection at Hyundai-Kia during and since the GFC. Old Kia was definitely bad Kia - but new Kia: good Kia. Trust me on this.
Kia Australia Sales 2008-2015
Just to put Kia in perspective - because I get a lot of ‘old Kia / bad kia’ brand reaction from ordinary Aussie car buyers - since the GFC, the Aussie car market is up about 10 per cent. But some of the older, traditionally trusted brands are blowing it. Toyota, Honda, Holden, Ford - they’re all bleeding with hefty double-digit drops in sales and loss of market share.
But Kia sales have actually grown 72 per cent in the same time. Hyundai and Mazda: also massively up. None of these brands have managed this by retaining Mandrake the friggin’ Magician to run the marketing team. They’ve done it by making the product better. As in: better than the competitors’ products. Better to drive, and better to own. It really is that simple. Seizing market share ex machina.
FULLY LOADED: KIA SORENTO -Vs- HYUNDAI SANTA FE
Hyundai - despite being joined at the hip to Kia back at head office - got rather worried about Sorento - because Sorento raised the bar and put Santa Fe under significant pressure. Sorento is actually 90 millimetres longer than Santa Fe - and 80 of that is between the wheels. That means: better access and legroom for passengers in Sorento. That’s a prime consideration in a seven-seater. CX-9 is significantly bigger again, however, by another 150 millimetres.
So Hyundai had this Sorento-inspired Santa Fe terror attack - not the jihadi kind; the Stephen King kind - and added a bunch of cool features to Santa Fe to level the playing field. Notably: Adaptive cruise control and robotic parking. Sorento Platinum has adaptive cruise but not the automated parking.
I did a full test on that automated parking system with Santa Fe. It was great. Frankly it made me look like a comprehensive parallel parking peanut. Seriously, it’s a pretty good system. (If you don’t mind being humiliated by a robot.)
See the automated reverse parking system in action >>
Hyundai Santa Fe
Length: 4690 mm
Automated parking system
Regular cruise control
5 yrs warranty
Lifetime capped servicing
10 yrs roadside assist
Length: 4780 mm
Blind spot assist
Adaptive cruise control
7 yrs warranty
7 yrs capped servicing
7 yrs roadside assist
So: apart from the 9 centimetres and the auto parking, Santa Fe and Sorento are pretty much line-ball. Identical diesel powertrain. Same price (ish). Similar features. Hyundai has a five-year warranty and capped price service for life, and 10 years of complimentary roadside assistance. Kia: seven, seven and seven. Personal preference is the biggest factor, and styling the biggest differentiator between the two.
Sorento is squeezing Santa Fe as a direct competitor, and vice-versa, and the new Hyundai Tucson (right) is piling on the pressure on Santa Fe from below. Interestingly, the Kia Sportage (released in the first half of 2016) is now doing exactly the same thing to the Sorento. Pictured above: 2016 Kia Sportage (left) and Hyundai Tucson (right).
This means, of course, that Kia and Hyundai dealers are under massive pressure right now to shift stock, in a congested market. And that’s a commercial opportunity for you to drive the price down - if you know how to exploit it. The clock up on the wall in the dealership is always on ‘discount o’clock’ - so that’s nice.
EURO-ZONE: VALUE & PRICING
Sorento is not cheap, but it’s very good value. When you look at (say) Land Rover Discovery Sport, you see how ethically bankrupt the prestige vehicle sales strategy really is. The poverty pack Disco Sport is pretty close to Sorento Platinum - in price. But that Land Rover is a poverty pack. Everything you really want is gunna cost extra. The big alloys, the high-intensity lights, the third seating row. Et cetera.
Every time you tick one of this infinite series of ‘factory options’ boxes with the Land Rover, it’s another two grand. Two here, two there. It adds up very fast ... but the dealership will doubtless offer you an espresso to distract you from any mental arithmetic you might be attempting, to keep track of the ballooning price.
See how LR's 'fiscal exsanguination' works: Land Rover Discovery Sport report >>
All premium Euro brands do this: Audi is a gold-medal-winning specialist at this up-selling process. You walk into the dealership expecting to pay about $60,000, and you emerge with telltale bruising, $90,000 out of pocket.
It’s a vulgar, egregious process. If you buy that Slovakian-built Audi Q7 (right) - $114,00 drive-away, thank you very much - and you want adaptive cruise control, an Audi dealer will require you to grab your ankles and part with another $4075. But this feature is standard in Sorento Platinum, a vehicle costing half the price.
The point is: Good value, and minimal upselling at the dealership. If you come in expecting to pay $55,000 for a Sorento Platinum, that’s pretty much what you actually pay. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo. It’s absurd. I mean, you pay $110,000 for a Volvo XC90 (above, on right) and those Swedish meatball-eating muppets will attempt to charge you $2600 for adaptive cruise and $400 for heated front seats. Really. They will. Standard features on Sorento Platinum.
Of course, Kia dealers are hardly saints. They won't be afraid to rip you off or sell you high-priced finance or that reprehensible paint, fabric and rust protection you absolutely don't need. You still need to protect yourself and be an advocate acting in your own self-interest.
Here's how to beat a car dealer >>
DAS JOKE: KIA SORENTO -Vs- VOLKSWAGEN TOUAREG
Alternatively, you could buy the poverty pack of Touaregs. Of course, you will need an additional $12,000 just to get in the door. That's a lot of extra hoot. And there’s no question the Sorento’s engine is doing a much better job than the Volkswagen's, with basically the same outputs from 25 per cent less capacity, and you only get five seats with the Touareg, as well as a staggering four years’ less warranty. Of course the Sorento also has bigger alloys, a proximity key and a better audio system, and a full-sized alloy spare. (Touareg has a space saver. Go figure…terribly impractical.)
I’m not that big on implied status of this and that, but at its most generous I think you could probably prosecute the case that being made in Slovakia is on a similar rung of the reputational ladder as being made in South Korea. The Touareg is manufactured in the Slovak Republic, and is thus about as authentically German as me. And there’s Volkswagen’s notorious commitment to reliability and customer satisfaction to consider (ie: none). Hard to put a price on that - at least, a positive one.
You could take the badges off the Kia Sorento Platinum and convince many people it was a Volkswagen. Blind man’s bluff. But if you did that, you probably also couldn’t convince the same people they were actually in a Kia. Reality lags behind reputation...
Engine: 3.0-litre V6
Economy: 7.2 L/100km
Injection: common rail direct
Power: 150kW @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 2750 rpm
Transmission: 8sp auto
Manufactured: Slovak Republic
Warranty: 3 yrs / 100,000 km
Engine: 2.2-litre inline 4 cyl
Economy: 7.8 L/100km
Injection: common rail direct
Power: 147kW @ 3800 rpm
Torque: 441Nm @ 1750-2750 rpm
Transmission: 6sp auto
Manufactured: South Korea
Warranty: 7 yrs / unlimited km
POVERTY PACKS: KIA SORENTO Si -Vs- TOYOTA KLUGER GX
If you look at the poverty pack Sorento Si, it’s line-ball on price with the base model Toyota Kluger. And people will say: ‘Toyota versus Kia - what an absolute no brainer’.
Toyota has spent millions promoting its purportedly legendary build quality and reliability - quite successfully. But if you lose the spin they’re both front-drive V6 petrols with the about same performance and economy.
I don't generally comment on aesthetics, because it's in the eye of the beholder, and all that, but in this case it would have to be one helluva dark night before the Kluger started to look even halfway attractive...
The Kluger is manufactured in the United States, and I’m not sure the US does a better job than South Korea, bolting anything together, at least not these days.
Sorento beats Kluger on objective criteria: The Sorento’s got four more years’ warranty, GPS, an electric park brake, tyre pressure monitoring, climate air conditioning and front parking sensors to match the ones at the rear. (Poverty Kluger is rear-sensors only.) Objectively, you’ve gotta give this round to the Sorento.
Toyota Kluger GX
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Fuel: 91 RON unleaded
Economy: 10.2 L/100km
201 kW @ 6200 rpm
337 Nm @ 4700 rpm
Transmission: 6sp auto
Warranty: 3 yrs / 100,000 km
Kia Sorento Si
Engine: 3.3-litre V6
Fuel: 91 RON unleaded
Economy: 9.9 L/100km
199 kW @ 6400 rpm
318 Nm @ 5300 rpm
Transmission: 6sp auto
Manufactured: South Korea
Warranty: 7 yrs / unlimited
KIA'S GIANT STEP FORWARD FOR DESIGN
When you look at, or jump in, a Sorento, it looks and feels premium. Soft-touch surfaces, premium materials, integrated design. Generally. You get 80 per cent of Audi for a third of the price.
One of the smartest things that mob at Kia ever did was poach Peter Schreyer - the bloke who originally designed the Audi TT. Peter Schreyer is the reason why most Kias look good today, and of course he went on to bigger and better things at Hyundai-Kia.
You’ve got that neat three-spoke wheel that screams ‘Audi’ and the tiny airbag module in the hub, that says ‘Porsche’. You’ve got the upmarket instruments. And you get almost none of that dipshit design that says ‘we were inspired by the hydrodynamics of mating porpoises’, or something, which South Koreans were so good at being so bad at, a decade ago.
Ford Territory: Don't Buy
Ford Territory Titanium diesel - that’s an option. If you hate yourself. World’s dodgiest outdated diesel engine. Same outputs as the Sorento 2.2, but from a bigger, much thirstier, older engine.
The Territory is on death’s door, the third seating row’s a joke and the plastic interior might as well have come out of North Korea. Nice one, Ford.
Holden Captiva 7-seater: Definitely Don't Buy
Well, the price is right but, frankly, everything else is so wrong. Craptiva is a disaster. It’s under-done, chronically unreliable - and Holden is the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of car companies, when you need their help.
You know: when you need Holden's assistance with some common, known, minor technical irritation, such as your Captiva being completely rooted and apparently un-fixable, and you need your money back.
Good luck with that. I mean, they're only legally obliged to do it. See why Australia desperately needs lemon laws >>
My full report on the aptly nicknamed Holden 'Craptiva' is here >>
Jeep Grand Cherokee: Cool, but Crap
Grand Cherokee Laredo diesel is line-ball on price with the Sorento Platinum. And, ok, it’s a poverty pack and just a five-seater. But it’s got style. It looks good, and it goes great. You’d look good in a Grand Cherokee. Everyone does.
Unfortunately it’s also a Jeep, which is like loading up three or four chambers in your grandpappy’s Colt 45 Peacemaker and playing a game of Russian roulette with reliability. Jeep, at both the importer and dealership levels, is one of the least reliable brands, and if anything does go wrong, getting a resolution can be like negotiating for your life with the mafia. They are almost as bad as Volkswagen.
Jeep is also a champion at issuing unlawful gag orders >>
Mazda CX-9: Update Well Worth the Wait
Mazda CX-9 Touring will set you back about the same price as the Sorento Platinum and comes with on-demand AWD and a brilliant turbo petrol 2.5 engine with direct injection. The powertrain is brilliant - delivering diesel-like mid-rpm power and superb peak power at manageable revs as well. Peak power (think: overtaking) is 170kW at 5000rpm while peak torque is amazing: 420Nm at just 2000rpm. Fuel economy is tremendous as well (8.8 L/100km combined cycle) and the vehicle is even bigger than the Sorento - so passenger space is superb. Of course, the range-topping Azami is $69,000, drive-away (recommended price), and for that cash you could have the Sorento Platinum and a very upmarket holiday. Unfortunately, CX-9 is fitted only with a space-saver spare tyre and comes with the typically Japanese warranty of just three years.
Nissan Pathfinder: CVT from Hell
Finally, the mid-spec Pathfinder ST-L. Same price as Sorento Platinum … of course, it’s Japanese, but this vehicle is still $14,000 away from being the Pathfinder flagship. And it comes with that delightful Jatco CVT. (You know, the one that’s been destroying itself prematurely all over the world for the past couple of years.)
This transmission is the one Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn arced up over so monumentally in the public domain. (Jatco is 75 per cent Nissan-owned, and there was a real samurai sword in the boardroom-style extreme makeover at Jatco as a result of blowing it so badly and so publicly, for so long.)
It is simply disgraceful that a company like Nissan would keep selling that box of donkey doo-doo to the public. You don’t need this pain.
CRITICISMS: WHAT'S WRONG WITH SORENTO
Sorento is certainly not perfect - and here’s where it’s not perfect.
As noted above, the V6 - which is available in Si and SLi, but not Platinum - is not available with all-wheel drive, and it easily overwhelms available grip at the front if you get too enthusiastic with your right foot. It’s always chirping the front wheels.
The diesel seems expensive, at $3500 extra, and it's copped a share of criticism for this - but it's unfounded criticism. You have to put in perspective that this price also includes stepping up from front-drive to all-wheel drive.
That’s a lot of extra, beneficial hardware for the price.
The steering wheel on SLi and Platinum (right) is horrible. Anyone who thinks it’s a classy idea to have a highly polished, 60-degree, fake wood crown on a steering wheel, on any car, in the 21st Century is so out of touch with reality that they might as well be a politician.
TOWING: IS SORENTO UNDER-DONE?
Two tonnes is the Sorento tow capacity, and that’s OK, but here in Australia we have this mentally retarded attitude to towball download.
Many Aussies expect a 10 per cent (200-kilo) download limit, but Sorento limits the ball load to 100 kilos. And that is a lot of load on your balls, let’s face it, but it’s going to be a deal breaker for some, who will regard it as insufficient.
Hyundai offers a Genuine Load Assist kit for Santa Fe - basically a set of variable-rate replacement rear springs - and this kit pumps up the ball load capacity of Santa Fe to 150 kilos.
Strangely, Kia discontinued its equivalent ball-enhancing kit with the launch of this model. So if you’re planning on towing two tonnes or thereabouts, that might be a reason to jump for the Hyundai Santa Fe instead.
KIA SORENTO TOWING CAPACITY
SORENTO Si, SLi & Platinum
Petrol, diesel, AWD & 2WD variants
Towing capacity, unbraked: 750 kg
Towing capacity, braked: 2000 kg
Maximum towball download: 100 kg
Sorento is the vehicle Kia needs to leverage is reputation in line with the Japanese. In objective terms it's already in front of many competitors, and the badge is likely to remain the biggest hurdle for many potential customers, until perception catches up with the product. If that's you, leave those perceptions at the door and take an objective test drive with an open mind. Before you head off, read my guide to test driving like a pro >>
The new Sorento has a great engine and driveline in the diesel, sensational interior space, a huge complement of standard features and a great many standard (Euro-shaming) creature comforts for driver and passengers. The warranty is unbeatable, and the styling is in front of many Japanese competitors. Its not a cheap vehicle, but it offers excellent value. It's certainly not perfect, but the criticisms it deserves are fairly minor.