Kia's third generation Sorento SUV looks as if it's really hitting its stride. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Kia Sorento has ambition. What started life as an agricultural cheapie has been fettled and polished into something far more refined. This third generation model looks to have the finish and engineering to put the frighteners on the SUV-class high fliers.
Kia doesn't really adhere to the normal conventions of car manufacture. The South Korean company wants to get places fast, so its product planning is accelerated, compressed into The Matrix-style bullet time. Cars are launched, facelifted and replaced in half the time of many manufacturers. Take the Sorento. It first appeared way back in 2002 and hung around for seven years. Upon introduction it was probably the best car Kia made, but that wasn't too hard when the range included models like the original Rio and the Shuma. The second generation car got with the programme, being a far slicker thing. Introduced in 2010, it got straight onto the fast track; facelifted in 2012 and replaced in 2015 with this third generation car. The SUV market has evolved rapidly in that time and car makers can either invest to innovate or react. Kia's chosen the latter route with its Sorento.
The UK range hinges around a 197bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine that develops a peak torque of 441Nm. Sixty is 9.0s away from rest en route to 124mph. A great deal of work has gone into improving refinement, with a torsionally stiffer bodyshell, additional soundproofing, acoustic shields built into the engine bay, and a thicker dashboard. Depending on speed, ambient noise within the cabin is claimed to be between three and six per cent quieter than the previous car. An electric assistance motor is attached to the steering rack rather than the steering column as in the old Sorento, helping to improve steering accuracy and offer more detailed feedback. The fully-independent suspension retains the format of the outgoing model (MacPherson struts at the front and Kia's multi-link system at the rear), but features a range of modifications. At the rear, the subframe supporting the suspension has larger bushings to better isolate it from the cabin and the larger shock absorbers are now mounted vertically behind the axle line, improving body control.
Design and Build
The 'p-word' crops up in almost everything you read about the Sorento: premium. It marks a measure of Kia's ambition. No longer does the brand feel it's achieved something being accepted into the mainstream. It wants to keep on trucking and leave the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and such like behind. There's little doubt that the Sorento's exterior design looks agreeably upmarket. The styling work was led by Kia's Namyang design studio in Korea, with significant input from the brand's Frankfurt, Germany and Irvine, California studios. The face of the new Sorento incorporates long, wrap-around headlamps and more prominent fog-lamps, as well as a larger, more upright 'tiger-nose' grille, with a distinctive three-dimensional diamond pattern. In profile, it retains the Sorento's hallmark long bonnet and trademark chunky D-pillar, but a lower roofline, higher beltline and swept-back shape give the car a more assertive, muscular stance. The cabin follows a 'modern and wide' theme, providing the interior with a stable, horizontal layout and appearance. A higher proportion of soft-touch materials and leather aims to create a luxury feel. One of the most distinctive interior styling features is the Swiss watch-inspired centre-console, although to this eye it still looks more Casio than Rado. There's a stack of room inside there though, with five or seven seat models offered. The extra 80mm of wheelbase means greater legroom throughout. Cargo space also increases, and capacity with the third row seats folded flat is up 17.5 percent, from 515 to 605-litres. The Sorento also features a neat under-floor tonneau cover storage compartment.
Market and Model
Prices start in the region of £29,000 which is still excellent value for money. To put that figure into perspective, the similarly-sized Volvo XC90 will require you to dig in for another £20,000. In fact, Kia's asking for the sort of money you'd normally budget for something much smaller, such as a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V. At those prices, we'd forgive the Sorento for being a bit rough round the edges. The fact that it looks very well-appointed only makes its rivals' task even tougher. All four well appointed trim grades have seven seats, now with a 40:20:40 split in the middle row and a 50:50 split in the rear. A six-speed automatic gearbox is optional in place of the six-speed manual at the KX-2 and KX-3 levels and standard with the plush KX-4 model. From KX-2 upwards, buyers have the choice of ordering the car without the self-levelling suspension feature at a saving of £500. The Sorento debuts a number of technologies to improve convenience and further enhance the ownership experience. Select from an Around-View Monitor, with four cameras helping the driver to manoeuvre when parking, and a Smart Power Tailgate. This system opens the tailgate automatically when the key is 'sensed' in close proximity to the trunk, so owners can slide their shopping bags or heavy objects straight into the vehicle. Safety hasn't been overlooked either and the Sorento has been engineered for Adaptive Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning System, Front Collision Warning, Blind-Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and a Speed Limit Information Function, which displays the speed limit in the driver's instrument cluster based on cameras detecting roadside signs.
Cost of Ownership
In the UK all versions of the Sorento are powered by the 2.2-litre version of Kia's R-family turbodiesel engine, which now meets EU6 emissions requirements. It features a new, fourth-generation common-rail fuel injection system with increased injection pressure. For the first time in a Kia, automatic models as well as manuals feature the company's Intelligent Stop & Go (ISG) engine stop/start system to ensure that no fuel is used and no emissions are created when the car comes to a halt. This helps to improve both air quality and noise levels in urban areas. Automatic versions also have Kia's Active ECO feature, which adjusts the operation of the engine and transmission to promote maximum fuel economy in motion. As a result, all versions of this Sorento have lower fuel consumption and emissions. Manual models on 17-inch wheels have combined economy of 49.6mpg with CO2 emissions of only 149g/km, while for all automatics the respective figures are 42.2mpg and 177g/km. Residual values ought to hold up well, with used buyers keen to get hold of a smartly-styled car with a host of modern safety features and the balance of a seven-year warranty intact.
It's hard not to be impressed at the way Kia has gone about developing the third-generation Sorento. While some may grumble that we don't really need cars to get progressively bigger with each passing generation, few would have any complaints about the way the Sorento has matured. It's better looking than before and a good deal more design input has gone into refinement, both aural and haptic. It's just a more assured and confident design. What we're still not quite seeing is a pronounced Kia hallmark with this car. It still seems a fairly reactive move to the way the SUV market is developing. For many buyers, this is no bad thing. The Sorento looks a good deal more expensive than it is and even in a notoriously badge-conscious sector it would appear to be just too much of a bargain to overlook.