The Kia Sorento was first introduced to the Australian market in 2003 and is set to stay there until at least 2015, which is very much a testament to its continuing popularity.
Aesthetically the Sorento has not changed a great deal, with changes to the front and back fascias being the only immediately noticeable changes across the 2003, 2008, 2010, and 2012 versions. Perhaps the most noticeable of these changes is the front grille, which received its most striking transformation in 2009 when the more corporate-looking ‘tiger nose’ was introduced.
The Sorento began life as a mid-size 4X4 as remained so until 2009, after which the new version became a crossover 4X4 in a bid to make it drive more like a station wagon. Accordingly, the original truck-based frame was replaced with a new unibody frame and improvements were made in increased steering responsiveness and the way in which the fully independent suspension was introduced. Additionally, approximately 215kg were shaved off the weight of the Sorento, making the new crossover more agile on corners than its predecessor, although it can still make for a bumpy ride on very tight corners.
When the Kia Sorento was first introduced, it came with 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic gearbox options that have since expanded to include 5-speed automatic (in 2007) and 6-speed manual (in 2009) gearboxes. As of 2011 all models come with 6-speed gearboxes as standard. Two-wheel and four-wheel drive options have been available since inception and continue to be so.
CO2 emissions on later models have been cut from 177g/km to 153 g/km due to Kia’s new ‘exhaust-gas re-circulating system’, creating a manual gearbox with a fuel economy of 6.6L/100km and an automatic gearbox that consumes 7.3L/100km.
The 3.5L V6 unleaded petrol engine has a fuel economy of 9.8L/100km, with a power rating of 204kW at 6300rpm and a torque of 335 Nm at 5000 rpm. The 2.2L diesel engine, with a maximum power rating of 145kW at 3800rpm, has a peak torque of 436Nm at 2500 rpm with the automatic gearbox and 421Nm at 1800 rpm for the manual.
The perceived lack of steering responsiveness has been a criticism levelled at the Sorento, and accordingly Kia has increased ‘torsional rigidity’ by an impressive 18% in a bid to improve handling.
Throughout its lifespan, the Sorento has continued to get lighter in weight. This is particularly true of the 2012 models onwards, which weigh a staggering 215kg less than their most recent older sibling. This has had a noticeably positive effect on acceleration, cornering, and braking, making the ride a lot smoother and quieter, especially along winding roads.
The Kia Sorento has won particular plaudits for its safety features, with front and side curtain airbags, as well as stability and traction controls. The 2011 model has a 5-star safety rating awarded by the crash safety experts at ANCAP. The Sorento’s excellent 4-cylinder brakes and anti-locking braking system have come as standard since its introduction to Australian shores in 2003.
Since 2012, standard kit in the Sorento has included the requisite cruise control, remote central-locking, power windows and exterior mirrors, and climate control. Impressively, the Sorento now also includes a multi-function, leather steering wheel, a shift knob, and a 6-function trip computer. Higher-end models now also come with enlarged sun-visors with extenders as well as keyless entry and tailgate release.
Every model in the Sorento range includes a 6-speaker audio system with a CD player, an AM/FM radio, a USB port for mp3 player compatibility, and Bluetooth functionality for media streaming.
All models come with front and rear parking sensors, and both higher end models add a reversing safety camera with a 130 degree wide-angle lens that is optional on the lower-end 2.4 litre models.
The Kia Sorento’s nearest rival is perhaps the Hyundai Santa Fe. Indeed, both cars in the 2.4-litre category share the same engines. Both 4X4s are 7-seaters, and both cars have issues with space in the 2 seats at the rear, yet the Sorento offers slightly more room. The Sorento has slightly better fuel economy in the lower end category and slightly less fuel economy in the higher category.
So there are not many major differentiations between these two awesomely-priced 4X4s. However, what makes the Sorento shine is the simply excellent array of standard and optional kit in its different models, fully justifying the extra $2000 that you should expect to pay for the Kia.
Although the Kia is unlikely to maintain a high resell value like a BMW X3, the 7-seater Kia Sorento starts at $37,490, which represents great inverted-snob value for a 4X4, especially considering the wealth of kit that now comes standard.