BUYERS GUIDE - SOFT-ROADERS
Although built on the parent company’s – Hyundai’s – Santa Fe platform the Kia Sorento has styling, powertrain and suspension settings of its own. This test is of a 2015 model and we haven’t updated it, because Kias and Santa Fes are getting ‘softer’ and less suitable for bush work every year.
The 2014 Sorento was available in three trim levels – Si, SL1 and Platinum – with a choice of a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, or a 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine and both engines were available with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
The petrol engine had power output of 204kW at 6300rpm and maximum torque of 335Nm at 5000rpm. Better for towing and off-roading is the intercooled turbo diesel, with maximum torque of 421Nm (manual) and 436Nm (auto) between 1800rpm and 2500rpm, with 145kW of power at 3800rpm.
The six-speed manual transmission utilised multi-cone synchronisers for improved shift quality and a button-operated reverse gear lock-out. A gear shift indicator prompted the driver to shift gear to maximise fuel economy.
The six-speed automatic transmission, with sequential manual mode, had an Active ECO system that modified engine and transmission control to smooth out throttle response and potentially increase fuel economy.
In mid-2015 the Sorento range was upgraded and the manual tranmsission option was dropped.
All 2015 models featured standard satellite navigation, new soundproofing material for the transmission tunnel; thicker dashboard soundproofing; larger engine and transmission mounts for greater powertrain refinement and, for diesel models, a new DPF cover and an acoustic shield integrated into the engine’s timing chain cover. Cabin noise was reduced by 3-to-6 percent, Kia claims.
The 3.3 litre MPI V6 petrol had reduced outputs of 199kW and 318Nm, but a revised version of the R2.2 diesel had slightly increased power and torque:147kW and 441Nm.
Owners could customise the car’s driving characteristics to match current driving conditions with the Drive Mode Select system, activated via a switch on the centre console: ‘Normal’ mode was best suited for day-to-day driving; ‘Eco’ mode reprogrammed the shift points of the automatic transmission to achieve optimum fuel economy and ‘Sport’ mode allowed the gearbox to delay shifting and reduced the level of steering assistance for a sportier feel.
All grades had ABS , ESC (electronic stability control), BAS (brake assist), VSM (vehicle stability management), HAC (hill start assist), ESS (emergency stop signal), rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors and tyre pressure monitoring. There were six airbags, including front-to-rear curtain coverage.
The Sorento’s Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system helped ensure the car remained stable when simultaneously braking and cornering, particularly on low-grip surfaces, by carefully controlling both the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and R-MDPS. Both systems were activated as soon as the car’s sensors detected a loss in traction, helping the driver to remain safely in control of the vehicle.
The 2015 Platinum grade scored Lane Departure Warning, Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Sorento 2014 – previous model
Ergonomics for driver and passengers were first class, with second row seating that slid, reclined and two-way split. The second-row and two third-row seats folded flat easily and near-side access to the third row seats was quite good, thanks to a tumbling second-row seat. Seat reconfiguring could be done one-handed.
A rear view camera, climate control air-conditioning and cargo area roller blind were standard across the range.
SLi and Platinum variants featured roof rails, solar glass with dark tint aft of the B-pillar; retractable mesh blinds on the second-row windows; remote keyless entry (with push-button start on the Platinum model) and auto-dimming mirror. The Platinum model also had a full-length panoramic sunroof with electric tilt-and-slide glass front section.
SLi and Platinum models had an eight-way power driver’s seat, with lumbar support.
The Platinum model also scored HID Xenon headlamps and LED rear combination lamps.
There was a 12V outlet in the console and one in the second row. There were also USB and AUX sockets in the console.
Speed sensitive electric power steering was standard on the Sorento, offering three driver-selected steering calibrations: Normal for balance between steering effort and feedback; Comfort for low-effort manoeuvring and Sport for higher wheel effort, with increased feedback.
The Sorento had an electro-mechanical multi-plate 4WD coupling, working in conjunction with the Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system. The system transferred torque front to rear and applied individual wheel braking to adjust torque delivery to each wheel.
In loose or slippery conditions 4WD ‘Lock’ mode was engaged at the push of a button, giving a 50:50 power split front:rear. When the vehicle reached 40km/h the system switched to ‘Auto’ mode, and once vehicle speed dropped below 40km/h the system re-engaged ‘Lock’ mode.
The active safety systems in the vehicle included electric power steering, ESC, TCS, ABS and EBD.
Hill start assist control was standard.
The Sorento featured six airbags, including driver and front passenger, and side curtain airbags in the front and second rows.
All models had a six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB inputs. The system featured an LCD touchscreen and the Platinum model comes with satellite navigation system that had quite good bush road and track mapping.
Towing capacity was 2000kg for petrol and auto diesel models and 2500kg for the manual diesel. A $980 heavy duty towbar and rear coil spring kit lifted standard towball capacity from 120kg to 150kg.
The Sorento had a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, complimentary roadside assist for 12 months and capped price servicing for three years.
RRPs for 4WD Sorentos ranged from $39,990 to $50,790.
On and off road
The evaluation Sorento was a diesel/auto Platinum model. Fuel consumption in town, country and trail driving, with a light load averaged 7.2L/100km, which was excellent. Loaded, the consumption inceased to 8.5L/100km, which was still very good.
While fuel consumption was very good for this class of vehicle we felt that the Sorento’s 64-litre fuel tank was marginal for long distance touring in Australia. However, those towing a camper or van could always stow a couple of diesel jerry cans on the trailer.
The diesel engine’s performance – solo and when towing – was effortless, with no sign of turbo lag. The auto box shifted smoothly and kept the engine operating in its most economical zone whenever possible. The six-speed auto’s overdrive gearing kept cruising revs to 1750rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h.
Ride, handling and steering were first class and the variable-assistance power steering was quite functional. On loose dirt, where it’s easy to dial in too much lock on occasions, the ‘Sport’ steering setting weighted the rim effort nicely and gave good feedback of tyre grip.
The Sorento may share the Santa Fe’s platform, but its suspension felt sharper on bitumen and a tad too firm on dirt.
Like all softroaders the Sorento had limited off-road ability, but an experienced off-road driver can take one to places that may surprise traditionalists. However, limited ground clearance and mechanical vitals that were covered by only a plastic underbody shield needed to be considered when off-roading.
The Platinum’s 19-inch, 55-profile tyres were unsuited to any type of off-bitumen driving and we were nervous when off the blacktop. Without the Sorento’s full-sized spare wheel we wouldn’t have ventured off-road at all.
For those who want to go bush in a Sorento Platinum we’d suggest trading the larger wheels for the Si model’s 17-inchers or the Sli’s 18-inchers. Kia dealers should be only too happy to do this.
There are light-truck-rated bush tyres that can fit on the 17-inch wheels and an example is a 225/70R17LT that has only slightly more diameter than the standard 235/65R17 passenger car size, but with much greater carcass and tread area strength.
Forget any prejudice you may have about Korean vehicles: the current Kia models were beautifully made and mechanically as good as European vehicles costing more than twice as much.
The Kia Sorento was an excellent seven-seat SUV, with good performance, quality fit and finish, comfortable ride, predictable handling and braking and realistic towing capacity.