KIA SORENTO BUYER'S GUIDE
A classy, great value family SUV with loads of space, great powertrains, an excellent warranty and fantastic customer support
This page was last updated: January 2018
Need to know
The Kia Sorento is a defining vehicle for Kia - it's the right styling package on top of the right powertrain. It's loaded with equipment, and the price is ... definitely not cheap, but certainly one of the market's best seven-seaters by any objective yardstick.
Sorento is far more engaging to drive than a Kluger, and it makes the Nissan X-TRAIL and Mitsubishi Outlander look like the kids who didn't try hard enough at school.
Sorento is an outstanding performer on safety, easily earning a five-star safety rating from ANCAP. The combined safety score for Sorento was 36.62 out of a possible 37 points.
- Long wheelbase delivers excellent 3rd row seating access
- Strong diesel with great new 8-speed auto transmission
- Much improved petrol V6 for 2018 (up from 3.3 to 3.5)
- Good comfort, refinement and dynamics (extensive Australian suspension tuning program)
- 2000kg max. tow capacity
- Brilliant value across the range (but not cheap)
- 7yr warranty (unlimited km) + 7yrs roadside assist
- 7yr capped price service
- 12mth/15,000km service interval
- Full-size alloy spare wheel and tyre
- Feels and looks 'Euro'
- Kia's customer support in Australia is excellent
- V6 is 2WD only - and breaks traction at the front very easily (but it is a lot cheaper than the diesel)
- No manual transmission
- Standard max. towel download just 100kg - and no load assist kit is available to increase that limit
- Still can't match the Kia Carnival people mover >> if you need to transport seven people frequently
- See why Carnival beats an SUV >>
- Side curtain airbags do not protect people sitting in row 3
Sorento model range has been re-jigged for 2018, with a new V6 petrol engine complementing the carry-over diesel, and slick-shifting 8sp auto is standard across the range
Engine: 2.2-litre 4 cylinder turbocharged diesel or
3.5-litre petrol V6
Fuel: Diesel or regular unleaded
Power: 147 kW @ 3800 rpm (diesel)
206 kW @ 6300 rpm (V6 petrol)
Torque 441 Nm @ 1750-2750 rpm (diesel)
336 Nm @ 5000 rpm (petrol)
Transmission: 8 sp auto
Economy: 7.3 L/100km (diesel)
10 L/100km (petrol)
Preferred model: GT-Line diesels
or (on a budget) Si V6 petrol
Manufactured: South Korea
Length: 4780 mm
Width: 1890 mm
Height: 1690 mm
Kerb weight: 2036 kg
Maximum tow capacity: 2000 kg
Maximum towball download: 100 kg
Seating Capacity: Seven
Safety: Five-star ANCAP
Warranty: 7 years / unlimited kilometres
Service: capped price for 7 years
Service interval: 12 mths or 15,000 km (whichever comes first)
Roadside assist: 7 years
Spare wheel: Full-sized alloy spare wheel and tyre
Download the official specifications >>
Kia Australia has a decent features comparison tool >> on its website.
This tool is great for drilling down into the granular detail of this specification grade versus the next one up, etc. Simply click the link above, then tick the Kia Sorento model variant(s) that are of interest to you, and browse away.
Kia Sorento: in detail
Sorento is better equipped than an Audi Q7, but only half the price. That doesn't exactly make it cheap - but it is excellent value, and sales are through the roof
Sorento is an excellent seven-seater SUV - it looks good, offers great build quality, tremendous value, a cracking warranty (seven years in Australia) plus low service costs and generally well thought-out design.
You can choose between a decent petrol V6 (2WD) and an outstanding diesel/AWD powertrain.
Sorento’s core strengths are: it’s good to drive, and the suspension has been tuned in Australia for Australian roads - a huge plus for ride and handling. So: Around town, on freeways, highways, backroads, dirt roads: it’s very capable.
Off-road, however, you’re barking up absolutely the wrong tree. It's time to re-boot the decision-making process if you plan on going off-road. This is a good vehicle to drive the family to the beach - not on the beach.
And for towing - you get 2000 kilos of tow capacity, which in practise is likely to be limited by the 100kg towball download limit. If you are new to towing, here's what you need to know >>
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 leap into the third row any time soon. (Octogenarians generally don’t leap.)
The consumer proposition is very solid: Seven-year warranty, seven years of annual capped price servicing, with corresponding roadside assist. And Kia offers excellent customer support in Australia if there’s ever a problem.
Kia Sorento is available with two powertrains and in four specification levels. There is a decent petrol 3.5-litre V6 paired to a front-drive system and an eight-speed auto, and an outstanding 2.2-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine mated to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system and the same eight-speed auto transmission.
If you’re equivocating on petrol V diesel, it's a big choice (because the diesel + AWD costs $3500 more).
If you're unsure about this: check out petrol versus diesel >>
The diesel is the pick - it’s awesome to drive, but the $3500 premium is not insignificant. It's a lot of cash, but you do get AWD, better fuel economy and substantially more low- and mid-rpm power delivery.
The most frustrating thing about the V6 is it being a front driver. It easily overwhelms the grip at the front and spins the wheels, especially off the mark, and especially in the wet. Then the traction control kicks in. It’s not a pleasant, refined experience. (V6 Toyota Kluger 2WD does exactly the same thing.)
Dual-zon Climate A/C.
LED daytime running lamps.
GPS with live traffic.
Lane keeping assist.
Auto emergency brakes.
Forward collision warning.
Driver attention alert.
3 child restraint anchors (2 x ISOfix).
17-inch alloy wheels.
Full-sized spare wheel & tyre.
Diesel AWD or V6 petrol powertrain options.
Drive mode select (Comfort, Sport, Eco, Smart).
18-inch alloy wheels.
Adaptive cruise control.
DAB+ digital radio.
Parking sensors front & rear.
Diesel AWD or V6 petrol powertrain options.
Automated tailgate (hands free function).
10-speaker premium audio.
Proximity key with pushbutton start.
Power adjustable driver's seat
LED rear lights.
Auto dimming rear view mirror.
Upgraded instrument cluster.
Diesel AWD or V6 petrol powertrain options.
19-inch alloy wheels.
Blind spot detection.
Rear cross traffic alert.
Red brake calipers.
Ventilated & heated seats.
LED headlamps with dynamic cornering function.
Power adjustment for driver and front passenger seat.
Heated steering wheel.
LED interior lights.
Diesel AWD powertrain only.
The right choice
You need to look hard at what you’re actually going to do with your new SUV.
Be objective and accurate.
The two basic SUV scenarios are: you want a big bus for all the domestic duties: the kids, their stuff, shopping, the extended family, the holiday up the coast. In other words: Normal driving, with seven seats.
Alternatively, you might need a truly hardcore off-roader like a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport >> to cross mighty rivers and beat the wilderness into submission, recreationally, while towing the QE2.
It’s essential to make this distinction. Because the softer option is always better to drive around town, on the highway - but it won’t do the hardcore stuff.
Conversely, the hardcore option will be far less refined to drive on normal roads (around town and touring) because all of engineering is a compromise, and you can’t beef up the off-road ability without copping a hit in refinement.
Forget what the self-help books say: you actually can’t have it all. To the uninitiated, the Pajero Sport (and vehicles like it including the Everest, Fortuner, Trailblazer, MU-X, etc) look similar to the Sorento (and Santa Fe, CX-9, Outlander, X-TRAIL, etc.) But beneath the skin, the former group are utes converted into wagons at the factory (Pajero Sport is based upon the engineering of the Triton ute, for example).
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 and decide the category of vehicle that is right for you first. Because if you have vehicles from each camp in your short list, you have not thought about this carefully enough.
If you’ve crossed this bridge of SUV categorisation and you’re shopping in the right aisle, the Sorento has significant core strengths.
CRITICISMS: WHAT'S WRONG WITH SORENTO
Sorento is certainly not perfect. No vehicle is. As noted above, the V6 (which is available in all grades except GT-Line) 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/spinning the front wheels if you're not careful.
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 - but it's still a lot more money.
The head-protecting curtain airbags do not extend to the third seating row, effectively limiting the protection to the two passengers in the back, in a crash. Hyundai Santa Fe is like this as well, but the Mazda CX-9 and Kia Carnival offer the protection of full curtain airbags in row 3. This is certainly something to consider if those third row seats are to be occupied often.
Kia Australia sales: Past decade
Kia Sales, Australia
Just to put Kia in perspective - in the 10 years (inclusive) between 2008 and 2017, the car market in Australia is up 17 per cent.
In the same period, Kia sales are up 178 per cent.
Frankly, some of the older, traditionally trusted brands are blowing it. Honda, Nissan, Holden, Ford - they’re all bleeding with hefty double-digit drops in sales and loss of market share. They dropped the ball in the GFC, or shortly thereafter.
Mazda, Hyundai and Kia are the big post-GFC success stories (along with Subaru). None of these brands have managed this popularity upsurge by magic. They’ve done it by making the product/value better. As in: better than the competitors’ products. Better to drive, better value, better features, and better to own. It really is that simple. Seizing market share ex machina. It would be very difficult to drive a seven-seat Nissan X-TRAIL against a Sorento (for example) and conclude objectively that the X-TRAIL is a better vehicle.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai is joined at the hip to Kia back in South Korea, and in many ways the Santa Fe and Sorento share the same DNA.
However, while Santa Fe remains a great vehicle following a host of mid-life upgrades, Sorento is currently in front.
Sorento is actually 90 millimetres longer than Santa Fe - and 80 of that is between the wheels. That means: better third row access and overall legroom for passengers in Sorento.
Santa Fe will likely be revised in 2018 with (possibly) the new 3.5 V6 that debuted in Sorento, plus the eight-speed transmission and a longer wheelbase, as well as cosmetic and equipment upgrades. Until then - Sorento's the pick of the litter.
Santa Fe was tweaked for 2018 with the removal of the manual transmission from the entry-level Active model, and the inclusion of the brand's 'SmartSense' safety features suite in the Highlander model - and pricing readjustments.
Hyundai also 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. Sorento remains locked at 100 kilos there, and the tow capacities of both max out at 2000kg.
Mazda CX-9 Touring will set you back about the same price as the Sorento GT-Line 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 GT-Line 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. But the curtain airbags protect the 3rd row occupants in the CX-9, and they do not in the Sorento.
Some 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 about the same size and the Kia is better value as well as more engaging to drive.
The Sorento offers four more years warranty (with capped-price service to match, and roadside assist.
The Kluger demands more frequent servicing (6 months or 10,000km) versus the Sorento on 12 months or 15,000km. And of course Toyota still has its obstinate head in the sand on Apple and Android phone integrations. Objectively, you’ve gotta give this round to the Sorento.
Frankly, X-TRAIL is a retarded competitor to the Mitsubishi Outlander. If you need a cheap seven-seater, Outlander is better, and if you've got the cash, spring for the Sorento.
Neither the petrol nor the diesel engines compare to the Sorento, and you cannot get a seven-seat X-TRAIL with AWD, perversely enough.
The third row is a joke - let's be kind: for occasional use only. And the CVT is a typical Nissan/Jatco unit - which is to say ... huge reliability question mark.
Outlander is definitely not winning any beauty contests any time soon, thanks to Mitsubishi's dubious 'Dynamic Shield' (yes, that is what it's called) styling.
Inspired by the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, clearly...
However, this vehicle is significantly cheaper than a Sorento, Santa Fe, Kluger or CX-9, and significantly better than its main competitor, the Nissan X-TRAIL. And it murders the Territory and Craptiva on all rational ownership metrics.
My full Outlander buyer's guide >>
THE EURO OPTIONS
When you look at Land Rover Discovery Sport (right) you see how ethically bankrupt the prestige vehicle segment really is.
The poverty pack Disco Sport is pretty close to Sorento GT-Line - in price. But that Land Rover really is 'poverty'.
Everything you want, which is standard on Sorento GT-Line, costs extra on the Land Rover. The big alloys, the high-intensity lights, the third seating row, etc.
Everything desirable is (seemingly) 'just' another two grand. 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. Fiscal exsanguination deatils here: Land Rover Discovery Sport report >>
All the 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.
This is 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 another $4075.
This feature is standard in Sorento Platinum, a vehicle costing half the price.
With the Sorento, if you come in expecting to pay $60,000 (or whatever) you'll find there's not $20k upsell in play.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo, etc., all upsell like it's 1980 all over again. It’s absurd.
For example, you pay $110,000 for a Volvo XC90 (right) and those Swedish meatball-eating muppets will attempt to charge you $2600 for adaptive cruise and $400 for heated front seats. These are standard features on Sorento Platinum.
Of course, Kia dealers are not 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.
Alternatively, you could buy the poverty pack of Volkswagen 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 four years’ less warranty. Of course the Sorento also has many more standard features.
The other thing nobody talks about is reliability and support - the Europeans offer typically poor reliability and terrible support.
With Kia, you get the exact opposite - excellent reliability and support, but obviously not as much brand cachet.
Holden Captiva 7
The price is right but everything else is wrong. Craptiva is a reliability disaster. It's one of the worst SUVs on Australian roads. Truly an appalling choice.
When you need Holden's assistance with some technical irritation ... good luck with that. Holden is one of the worst companies for compliance with Australian Consumer Law.
They are so bad that the ACCC recently took them behind the woodshed on it, with an enforceable undertaking. Basically, Holden has admitted its long-term track record of screwing customers over. More on this >>
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Grand Cherokee Laredo diesel is similar on price with the Sorento GT-Line. It’s a poverty pack and just a five-seater, but it's got the look and it goes great. You’d look good in a Grand Cherokee. Everyone does.
Unfortunately it’s also a Jeep, which means playing Russian roulette with reliability. Jeep is imported by Fiat Chrysler. According to the ACCC, Fiat Chrysler is the company that generates the most consumer complaints (as a proportion of vehicles sold) and sales are circling the drain.
Jeep is also a champion at issuing unlawful gag orders >>
Mid-spec Pathfinder is about the same price as Sorento GT-Line … 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.)
Pathfinder was damned to the top 20 least reliable cars list by Consumer Reports in the USA (like Choice here, only with balls and a budget). It is simply disgraceful that a company like Nissan would keep selling this heap of crap. You don’t need the pain.
In objective terms Sorento already in front of many competitors. Kia has made massive inroads into the Australian market with vehicles like this and the smaller Sportage >>
The badge will remain a hurdle for many potential customers, until perception catches up with the product. Buying a lesser SUV on the premise of it being a better brand might prove a painful lesson, too.
Take an objective test drive with an open mind. Before you do this, 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, in context. It discounts really well, too. Ask me about how to save thousands here >>