KIA SORENTO

BEST IN CLASS, IF NOT QUITE THE BEST IN SHOW

ALEX INWOOD

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Stage ONE

KIA’S third-gen Sorento rolled onto the tarmac at Lang Lang’s proving ground with a confident swagger, and rightly so. Just five issues ago, the Sorento (in range-topping Platinum spec) made history by trouncing its rivals to become Kia’s first Wheels comparison-test winner.

So a little self-confidence is deserved, and the Kia’s kudos only increased during the static introductions on Day One of COTY testing.

The judges applauded the Sorento’s handsome styling and sportier stance, which, thanks to a new platform shared with the new-gen Carnival, is 15mm lower and 5mm wider than before. It’s also 95mm longer and, importantly, boasts a wheelbase stretched by 80mm, which led to another point of judging praise – interior space and comfort.

The roomy cabin’s premium feel, Euro design and quality materials also received nods of approval.

As did the Sorento’s bigger boot, which has grown to one of the best in class at 605 litres, with the comfortable and airy third-row seats folded flat.

Throw in keen pricing, which starts at $40,990 for the gutsy Si V6 petrol, an extensive list of standard equipment and Kia’s unrivalled sevenyear warranty, and the Sorento scored well against COTY’s function and value criteria from the get-go.

On the move, all judges applauded the Sorento’s sense of body integrity and impressive NVH levels; improvements helped by a stronger bodyshell now made up of nearly 53 percent high-tensile steel.

But praise was less unanimous on Lang Lang’s ride and handling circuit. The two-tonne SUV’s well-sorted, locally tuned suspension impressed us with its taut body control, entertaining balance, and decent ride on tortuous, pockmarked tarmac.

And Kia’s engine choices – a 3.3-litre petrol V6 and a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four – proved to be gutsy and smooth. What let the Sorento down was its performance on wet or slippery surfaces.

A combination of poor tyres on the front-drive V6 base car (235/65R17 Nexen NPriz RN7) and an ESC calibration that failed to act quickly enough, then intervened by grabbing brakes with the fury of seven hot suns all at once, was an unsettling combination on a wet road.

The result is a seven-seat SUV that can easily be provoked into alarming oversteer, which, while fun in a messy kind of way, is hardly the desired handling characteristic for a suburban family hauler. Yet even in the dry, the almost overpowered front-drive V6 petrol would axle-tramp under hard acceleration, lacking the all-wheel-drive surety, cohesion and balance of the $55,990 top-spec Platinum diesel. Thankfully, Kia predicts that more than half of all Sorento sales will be the noticeably superior AWD range-topper.

Hardly a stellar scorecard then, but these dynamic shortfalls shouldn’t detract from the Sorento’s obvious strengths, which lie in its seven-seat packaging, its value and terrific aftersales support.

There’s no denying the Sorento is an SUV that stands head and shoulders above its peers. However, that probably says more about the calibre of the Kia’s medium SUV competition than its all-round excellence as a family express. Under the intense scrutiny of COTY testing, being best in class will only get you so far.

BODY

Type 5-door wagon, 7 seats Boot capacity 605 litres Weight 1921kg – 2036kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout front engine (east-west), FWD/AWD Engines 3342cc V6 (199kW/318Nm) 2199cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (147kW/441Nm) Transmission 6-speed automatic

CHASSIS

Tyres 235/65R17 – 235/55R19 ADR81 fuel consumption 7.8 – 9.9L/100km CO2 emissions 205 – 230g/km Collision mitigation .

Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $40,990 – $55,990

E U R O P E A N A C C E N T

Sorento’s Euro-chic cabin is a highlight and is both bristling with equipment and well-packaged.

Penned by Kia’s design studios in Frankfurt and California, the continental influence is obvious in the refreshing minimalism, classy layout and the tactile leather (and heated) steering wheel in Platinum models. The roomy second row is split 40/20/40, while the Sorento also boasts one of the best third rows in its class. There’s excellent vision, ample space, and seats that are easy to erect.

“BETTER IN AWD FORM, DESPITE THE DIESEL’S LESSER PERFORMANCE” NATHAN PONCHARD

“BIG, HEAVY SEVEN-SEATER HANDLES WAY BETTER THAN IT HAS ANY RIGHT TO” BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS