The original KIA Sorento was introduced by the Korean firm a decade ago in 2002. It was biased towards being a very capable off-road vehicle, built around a truck-like, ladder frame chassis and boasted an automated all-wheel drive system with low range gearing. So as a 4×4 it was quite a good choice. Due to the meteoric rise and dominance of several other better-known SUVs, the Sorento was relatively somewhat overlooked in the UK. Many buyers favoured SUVs born in either Germany or the Midlands if you get my drift, but I was always one of the original Sorento’s secret admirers from a distance, often double-taking them based on their sturdy looks. The original Sorento got a facelift later in its life, before KIA then launched this all-new one.
Despite the original KIA winning the hearts of most people in the automotive industry with its genuine off-road ability, KIA saw a new trend developing. SUV buyers were getting younger and the safe, high-up ride and practicality were becoming increasingly appealing to female buyers. So KIA toned down the serious off-road technology, set to work on a monocoque construction and duly set about making the new KIA Sorento more refined, sophisticated and practical than ever. And I do believe the Californian designers have made a very good go at making the new Sorento a crossover, car-like SUV rather than a specialist mud-plugger.
At home in the health spa car park?
No two ways about it, the KIA Sorento is a full-size SUV of mammoth enough proportions to cut it in the competitive surroundings of health spa car parks, urban express supermarkets and on the school run. The new Sorento is 4.86m long (95mm longer than the original), nearly 1.9m wide (about the same), stands 1.75m tall (which is 15mm lower than the original) and has a wheelbase of 2.7m. Backing up its shying away from the hardcore 4×4 scene, the new model sits 24mm closer to the ground than the original, sacrificing some ground clearance in the name of handling.
Bear with me here, but I think the new Sorento doesn’t look dissimilar to the latest Lexus RX from the front – which is a compliment. With its new ‘tiger nose’ grille and fresh styling, it definitely looks more modern than the original and in a general sense looks fairly handsome and certainly more attractive than some of its rivals. LED lights have been all the rage for a few years now so it’s no surprise to see that KIA have made quite a feature of the Sorento’s rear lights, which will certainly guarantee that you’re seen and safe. The black bumpers may not be to everyone’s taste if you’ve a preference for everything being colour-coded, but they emphasise the car’s ruggedness. In a boxy, SUV kind of way, the new model does look sporty, muscular, capable and practical in one combined package, so will certainly appeal to a good few fashion-conscious parents and single urbanites in equal measure. One could definitely park a Sorento on one’s drive with a feeling of pride. The ‘Bright Silver’ paint job really helped hide the accumulated mud and road grime. I would just personally love some running boards to finish its looks off.
Is the interior suitably modern and stylish too?
It’s clear that for the car’s £31,990 price tag, KIA have tried hard to pack as much technology, practicality and comfort as possible into the new Sorento, not just with the bare basics but going the extra mile in many ways, such as ‘Sorento’ lighting up in red along the door sills on entry and exit, the red glow behind the door handles, various patches of durable-feeling stitched leather and the large touchscreen system in the middle of the dashboard.
KIA have really tried to sex up the instrument dials, which are hooded in stitched leather in a ‘three cylinder’ layout, which makes them nigh on impossible for the passenger to see from their seat, but improve safety by reducing reflections for the driver. Look through KIA’s trademark 4-spoke steering wheel and the important dials light up in red, animated by high-tech 3D effects along with white illumination.
Getting comfortable in the large, electrically-adjustable leather seats was easy, offering just the right amount of support. The quality of the leather wasn’t as supple as in some other cars, but nevertheless felt very durable, which will put family owners in good stead. It’s worth noting that 5-footers may struggle to operate the pedals in the Sorento, no matter which way they adjust the seat, steering wheel and other controls.
All the stalks, buttons and controls are positioned where you would anticipate them to be and ergonomics are generally very good with no real complaints. The ‘Supervision’ trip computer button would definitely be better placed somewhere on the wiper or indicator stalk, where it could be more easily pressed on the move, rather than having to reach forwards to the press it on the instrument panel.
The KX-3 came fitted with heated, folding door mirrors, cruise control, an adjustable, leather-trimmed steering wheel, auto-dimming rear view mirror, 6-speaker audio system with RDS, CD and MP3 compatibility, useful USB, AUX and iPod ports and a dual zone air conditioning system with an ioniser. All such features worked well but the air conditioning system could have done to be a bit quieter.
Safety certainly hasn’t been skimped in the Sorento, with twin front, side and curtain airbags, active headrests in the front, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, adaptive brake lights, electronic stability control with downhill brake control, hill-start assist, ISOFIX tethers and anchors, deadlocks and of course an anti-theft immobiliser system. The Sorento achieved a full 5-star Euro NCAP rating and KIA has invested heavily in making it a safe vehicle, from side impact protection measures to the design of the various pillars.
Although some parts of the interior are of a high standard, the overall quality isn’t going to leave premium SUV manufacturers like Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover quaking in their boots, as I found a lot of the plastics quite hard, rough to touch or generally a bit cheap-feeling. Granted, not many people caress every surface of a car quite as keenly, if at all, compared to car reviewers – so family buyers who are looking for a tough, long-lasting car for ferrying the kids around will be quite pleased with the new Sorento. Although some bits feel low quality, they don’t feel like they will break and they should prove easy to clean, especially if you choose a black interior like the one I had. I liked the chunky, obvious buttons, such as the large round one for opening the petrol cap, plus the large diff-lock and hill descent buttons and the bonnet release handle.
How about storage, which is an all-important aspect for some buyers? The Sorento rates highly in this regard, with a large, illuminated and lockable glovebox, ample storage bins in the doors and a refreshingly rectangular and deep 15.9 litres central storage console under the front armrest. Having got used to a cavernous central storage console in my Vel Satis, which is easily able to swallow a dictionary, it’s disappointing to find so many cars which have been given L-shaped or otherwise fairly useless storage holes. But not so in the Sorento, which gets the thumbs-up from me here. For storing magazines or road atlases, the back of the front seats come equipped with nets, but it’s somewhat debatable as to whether a hole-less pocket would actually work better for some items.
For the tech-heads out there, the Sorento came well-equipped, with a very easy-to-use touchscreen system for controlling the fairly good audio system, the sat nav and the Bluetooth telephone. The sat nav proved a doddle to use once it understood that I wanted it to default to United Kingdom each and every time, and aside from her inability to pronounce ‘Bolton’ correctly, the lady inside the sat nav had one of the most calming GPS voices I’ve heard. Operating the radio via the touchscreen was a piece of cake as well, so I had no complaints with the unit. The Bluetooth phone system recognised my Samsung perfectly from the word go and never failed to sync, but the quality of the calls could have been better, voices being a bit tinny at both ends.
To make reversing less like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle, KIA have fitted a reversing camera, so parking was never a problem and I managed to reverse into the very tight driveway with no trouble at all, and got myself out of some very restricted parking spaces.
Room for the kitchen sink?
The top of the range KX-3 edition I drove for the week had 7 seats, the rear-most two typically folded flat into the boot floor by default. The middle row of seats has ample legroom even for those over 6-feet tall and they will certainly enjoy riding along high up in the back of such a roomy family SUV. The centre armrest in the rear comes with 2 cupholders but no storage area. The two full-size rear-most seats are easy to erect by simply pulling on the strap, although like most 7-seater vehicles, they are not overly easy to access unless you’re especially flexible.
In 5-seater mode, the Sorento’s boot is large enough to swallow significant loads within its 531 litres, which is up on the original model. Fold the 60:40 middle seats down and you’re presented with 1,525 litres to fill. So for families with 2 or 3 children, the Sorento should give them more than enough room, providing you’re not intending to ferry grandfather clocks around too often. However, in 7-seater mode, there’s hardly any boot space at all – technically 111 litres, which in the flesh looks like just enough to squeeze a couple of briefcases or shopping bags into. The boot isn’t thwarted by a pronounced lip, so loading in is quite easy and the boot is well lit courtesy of the various lights at the rear. All versions of the new Sorento come with a robust tonneau cover to hide the boot’s contents, along with a secure storage box under the boot floor – and the KX-3 also came with a useful luggage net.
Bathing the already roomy cabin in extra light is made easy courtesy of the panoramic, one-touch sunroof in the front and the second sunroof in the rear, with its own independent blind.
Is it any good to drive?
The 2.2 litre, diesel CRDi ‘R’ engine is what you would expect in terms of sound, emitting a bit of clatter when you first turn the key, but then settling down to an acceptable level thereafter. Although the gearstick feels a bit naff, the clutch is lovely and should be easy for most people to get used to quickly and visibility is very good, what with the high-up ride, the large windscreen and massive door mirrors with repeater lights. Once you get used to the longish bonnet, you should find the Sorento easy to judge size-wise and I had no blind-spot issues at all.
The original 2.5 litre diesel engine Sorento produced 168bhp, so the new 2.2 litre diesel ‘R’ unit is impressive as it delivers more brake horse power (194bhp to be exact) whilst being more economical at the same time. The more powerful 2.2 diesel I drove is quoted as being capable of giving you 42.2mpg on the combined cycle, compared to 35.8mpg from the outgoing 2.5 litre model. KIA have achieved something special with this engine in that it outperforms some 3.2 litre diesel engines in rival SUVs, in terms of pace and economy. Okay, it’s not the quietest, but finding a super-quiet diesel SUV is a challenge and most buyers will find the Sorento acceptable and won’t notice its sound, except when stuck in slow-moving traffic queues for prolonged periods. Prospective Sorento owners who do a lot of commuting may gel better with the automatic version.
A bit clattery, yes, but the 2.2 litre engine will shift the Sorento forwards briskly when required and can get you from 0-60mph in 9.1 seconds which isn’t bad at all for a car of this size and weight. Top speed is limited to 118mph, but let’s face it, who drives at those kinds of speeds on Britain’s roads?
During a week of very much real-life driving, much of it spent on the motorway in rush-hour traffic or driving around town, the Sorento impressed me by coming very close indeed to the manufacturer’s quoted combined MPG figure. 39.6mpg from a quoted 42.2mpg is admirable considering that a large chunk of my driving was done at speeds of less than 10mph during the week. On a long motorway cruise, the Sorento averaged 42mpg and even when driven very hard after a purposeful reset, I still achieved low to mid 30s.
The 6-speed gearbox was largely very good, if perhaps a little notchy through the first few gears, but once on the open road the Sorento felt overall very smooth and cruised well. It’s just a shame that one or two rattles made themselves evident, which surprised me, as did the bonnet resonance at speeds over 50mph, given the 3,500 miles on the clock.
The Sorento took even the sharpest of corners very well, never making me doubt its good handling. Okay, it’s never going to give you hot hatch style responses, but I thought body roll was minimal and the steering was agreeable for such a large vehicle. The gear ratios are quite long which is typical of big 4x4s, but once you find the right rhythm, you can work your way up the gears quite keenly. So overall, I enjoyed the way the Sorento drives, especially when assessing it from the perspective of the majority of family buyers.
The original KIA Sorento was a hit with caravaners owing to its immense towing ability, at 3,500kg. But despite the new Sorento ‘only’ being able to tow 2,500kg, this is going to be way more than most people actually need.
But has it developed a phobia of rough terrain?
KIA having toned down the off-road ability of the new Sorento doesn’t show through as far as I can tell, but then again I didn’t exactly go wadi bashing in it. I did, however, drive on many very rough country tracks, up ice-covered, grassy slopes, through troughs and ditches and across rocky terrain. Especially when I locked the rear differential using the button to the right of the steering wheel, the Sorento gobbled up such off-road surfaces and never struggled at all. It oozed a constant feeling of ability and confidence and I fully expect that this new model will still be capable of dispatching plenty rather more hardcore off-road climates.
In the green stakes, the Sorento fared well when it came to fuel economy, achieving close to the quoted average of 42.2mpg, so you shouldn’t become sick of the sight of the garage forecourt. The 2.2 CDRi KX-3 manual version I drove falls in VED band I and the BIK is 27% for you company car purchasers. It sits in insurance group 30 and routine servicing comes every year or 12,500 miles, whichever arrives first. And emissions wise the 2.2 litre engine tested here puts out 177g/KM of CO2. KIA estimate that you will spend about £385 on servicing components over a 3-year ownership period. And if the number seven is inexplicably nagging the back of your mind, it’s because KIA offer an amazing 7-year, 100,000 miles manufacturer warranty, which for the first 3 years is unlimited. The paintwork warranty is 5 years and the Sorento comes with a 12 years anti-corrosion warranty, plus a year of European roadside rescue courtesy of KIAssist.
Overall a good buy, then?
The latest Sorento is an extremely good all-rounder and is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. It’s definitely a force to be reckoned with, boasting a very good engine and gearbox combination, offering plenty of space, practicality and off-road ability. It’s just a shame the interior cabin quality wasn’t better, to make its somewhat expensive price tag fully palatable. Despite its small number of flaws, KIA have done wonders with this latest Sorento so it’s definitely worth shortlisting whoever you are.
© Oliver Hammond
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant
Specification of KIA Sorento 2-2 CRDI KX-3 AWD Sat Nav Tested
Engine: 2,199cc, 4-cylinder, 16 valve
Max Speed: 118mph
Max Torque: 311/1,800 – 2,500 (Nm/rpm)
Quoted MPG: 32.1 Urban, 51.4 extra urban, 42.2 combined
Emissions: 177g/KM CO2
VED Band: I
Insurance Group: 30
BIK Taxation: 27%
Luggage capacity: 1,525 litres with the seats folded, 111 litres with 7 seats erected
Gross Weight: 2,510kg
Max Tow Weight: 2,500kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 70 litres
Our test car came with the following options fitted as part of the KX3 spec:
18 Alloy Wheels + full size spare
Chrome front grille
Xenon headlights with auto levelling
Front headlight washers
Tinted privacy glass (rear + tailgate)
Front wiper de-icer
Rain-sensing front wipers
Body-coloured door mirrors (electric, heated, folding)
Chrome door handles
Black side sill and wheel arch mouldings
Chrome tailgate finish
Black leather upholstery
Heated front seats
60:40 split folding 2nd row seats
50:50 split folding rear seats
Dual auto air conditioning with Ioniser
Panoramic sunroof and rear sun glass
Driver’s seat height adjuster with lumbar support and electric adjustment
Adjustable steering wheel, leather-trimmed
Auto-dimming rear view mirror
RDS radio and CD audio with MP3 compatibility
Front centre speaker, external amp and subwoofer
USB, AUX and iPod ports
6.5” touchscreen sat nav system
Bluetooth phone system with voice recognition
Steering mounted audio and phone controls
Twin front, side and curtain airbags
Front active headrests
ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution
Adaptive brake lights
Electronic stability control
Downhill brake assist
Advanced anti-theft, immobiliser and alarm
7-year/100,000 miles warranty
5-year paint warranty
12-year anti corrosion warranty
KIAssist European roadside recovery