By Alistair Kennedy
It’s a bit of a stretch to call Kia the sleeping giant of the Australian automotive industry but for a company with such close links to its high-flying Korean sibling, Hyundai, it has long been something of an under-performer.
That’s all changed in the last two years with back-to-back growth in sales of 20.5 per cent in 2015 and 26.5 per cent in 2016 and Kia has now moved into the top 10 of overall motor vehicles sales for the first time.
This week’s test vehicle, the Sorento, is the larger of Kia’s two SUV models and it has been an important contributor in the sales growth following the arrival of its current third generation model in mid-2015.
Sorento comes in four grades.
In rising order of equipment and price they are Si, SLi and Platinum. Prices range from $40,990 for the petrol two-wheel-drive Si to $58,490 for the turbo-diesel AWD GT-Line.
Sorento is neat and compact with a high bonnet and the characteristic Kia grille flanked by large cutouts for the foglights and eyebrow headlights topped by LED daytime running lights.
Both the grille and lower air intake have an attractive honeycomb fill.
The roofline flows gradually downwards from above the front seats to the rear and, while it does reduce headroom in the third row seats that’s only going to be a problem in the unlikely event of adults occupying the seats.
Kia Sorento is a seven-seater, effectively an SUV-people mover crossover, so outward vision is important and the side windows are large and extend all the way to the rear.
Likewise the rear of the vehicle is squared-off to enable 320 litres of luggage to be carried even when all seven seats are in use.
That increases t0 1077 litres with the third row seatbacks folded, and a van-like 2066 litres with the second row also folded.
Standard across all three models are roof rails and rear spoiler.
SLi and Platinum add a hands-free powered tailgate and LED rear combination lights with the Platiunum getting a panoramic sunroof.
The Si rides on 17-inch alloy wheels; the SLi on 18-inch alloys and Platinum and GT-Line on 19s.
The latest addition to the Sorento range, the GT-Line, added in late 2016, gets chrome wheels, stainless steel side steps, red brake calipers, red leather trim, paddle shifters, LED ice cube fog lamps, chrome accented interior and GT-Line badging.
Two engines are available, 3.3-litre V6 petrol and four-cylinder 2.2-litre turbo-diesel.
The V6, offered only in the 2WD models, generates 199 kilowatts of power and 318 Nm of torque at a very high 5300 rpm.
The AWD Sorento models, to cater for the potential extra demands, get the diesel engine which produces 147 kW of power and a healthy 441 Nm to torque between 1750 rpm and 2750 revs.
All Sorento models have a six-speed automatic transmission.
Sorento’s tech features use the the Kia audio-video navigation (AVN) system using a 7.0-inch LCD touchscreen.
All models get satellite navigation with SUNA traffic information, Aux and USB input and Bluetooth functionality. Pairing is intuitive and fast.
The Si has a six-speaker audio system, higher specced models a 10-speaker premium Infinity sound system powered by an external amplifier. Both have speed dependent volume control.
Sorento has a five-star safety rating from Australasian NCAP. There are six airbags, including front-to-rear curtain coverage.
All models have ABS with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution; elctronic stability control; vehicle stability management; hill start assist; emergency stop signal; reversing camera; front and rear parking sensors and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
The Platinum adds lane departure warning; smart cruise control; blind-spot detection and rear cross traffic alert to the driver safety aids.
The new GT-Line is the first Sorento to feature autonomous emergency braking.
Entry and exit is easy with little bending and straightening requires. The front seats are large, comfortable and supportive.
The middle row second row seas can slide back and forward with plenty of legroom for the tallest of adult passengers when set in the rearmost position.
The rearmost pair of seats and the centre seat in the second row are best left for children.
On the road we found the big Kia to be quiet, comfortable and smooth. It’s clearly focussed mainly at the people mover rather than the off-road market, which makes plenty of sense given the current buyer trends.
Suspension and steering have received significant Australian input and there’s good road grip without any obvious loss of comfort.
We did take it for a brief off-road excursion where it handled dirt sections with some big potholes without any problem.
There are three drive modes, Normal, Sport and Eco modes.
During our test period fuel consumption of the turbo-diesel averaged out at 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, not that far above the official 7.8 L/100 km.
We then switched to ECO mode for a 50 km economy run on the motorway and outer Sydney suburbs where we averaged an impressive 6.3 L/100 km.
Combined city/rural fuel usage from the V6 petrol is listed at 9.9 L/100 km.
We opened this review by highlighting Kia’s spectacular sales growth over the past couple of years.
One of the major reasons for this is the company’s industry-leading seven years, unlimited distance warranty.
It’s been a very clever marketing strategy because it is attracting many first-time buyers to the brand.
Many of these newcomers will have stepped into a Sorento and we’d be surprised if they haven’t been impressed by this large, versatile vehicle with its excellent combination of style, carrying capacity and sophistication.
To inspect the Kia range contact Berwick Kia, 2-12 Clyde Road, Berwick. Phone 9709 1900.
Si 2WD 3.3-litre petrol five-door wagon: $40,990 (automatic)
SLi 2WD 3.3-litre petrol five-door wagon: $45,990 (automatic)
Si AWD 2.2-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $44,490 (automatic)
SLi AWD 2.2-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $49,490 (automatic)
Platinum AWD 2.2-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $56,590 (automatic)
GT-Line AWD 2.2-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $$58,490 (automatic)