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New Sorento set for SUV top spot?

2009-11-18 13:21

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Kia
Model Sorento
Engine 2.2l turbodiesel, 3.5l V6
Power 147kW @ 3 800r/min, 206kW @ 6 300r/min
Torque 436Nm @ 1 800-2 500r/min, 335Nm @ 5 000r/min
Transmission Six-speed (manual/auto)
Zero To Hundred 9.6 (diesel), 8.1 sec
Top Speed 190km/h
Fuel Tank 70l
Fuel Consumption 6.6-7l/100km (diesel)
Weight 1 720-1 810kg
Boot Size 1 041l (full capacity)
ABS Yes, with EBD, HAC, DBC
Airbags Six
Tyres 235/65 R17, 235/60 R18
Front Suspension McPherson struts, coil springs
Rear Suspension Multi-link
Service Intervals 15 000km (petrol), 20 000km (diesel)
Let’s not be coy. Kia’s product portfolio has never constituted an assortment of particularly stylish cars. Practical? Yes. Decently engineered? Fairly.

Since appointing former Audi design genius Peter Schreyer to revamp its cars and give the brand some identity, Kia has brought to market new cars that are not only good value, but peculiarly soft on the aesthetic senses too.

After designing one of the most iconic cars of the last 25 years (Audi’s TT), Schreyer decided he could do with a new challenge. His distinctive touch can now be seen locally on the new Sorento.

Kia’s full-sized SUV has admittedly gone a little softer in its second incarnation.

It's now set on conquering RAV4 market share, instead of towing an off-road trailer from Gauteng to Gobabis and back. Although the 2t tow rating does best most 4x4 bakkies…

Specification is differentiated by the two-seating configurations on offer (five- or seven) which sport 17- or 18-inch alloys respectively, instead of the previous Sorento's African Safari friendly 16-inch jobs.

Chasing RAV4s instead of Fortuners

Beyond the newfangled exterior design, new Sorento, as a whole, is significantly different to its forebear.

It rides upon a monocoque chassis (instead of a ladder-frame) and exchanges a transfer case for simple all-wheel drive technology with push-button enabled 50/50 split front/aft axle torque distribution lockability when needed.

For some first generation owners, who sought out Sorento as a bargain low-range enabled SUV with flattering equipment levels, the repositioning of Kia’s full sized SUV as a soft-roader will be wholly disheartening. This would be missing the point to an extent.

Fortuner has the transfer-case SUV market saturated. Kia knew it lacked the brand equity to effect conquest sales – no matter how strong its value offering was. Understandably then, it has moved into the burgeoning (and murderously competitive) soft-roader SUV market, instead.

Bigger and better

The new vehicle is 95mm more substantial bumper-to-bumper than its predecessor. It’s 15mm lower too, with 19mm less ground clearance and 215kg less mass.

Proportionally, the appearance is chunkier, primarily thanks to widened wheel spacing – with the front track widened by 38mm and the aft axle wheels now 40mm further apart.

Forget about the alterations in terms of the car’s dimensions though. The new Sorento is, plainly, just infinitely better looking than the old one was.

Beyond the contoured grille (with its characteristic floating KIA badge), neatly raked headlights and deftly finished sheetmetal surfacing, the overall proportions of the Sorento are faultless. There are some good looking cars in the soft-roader class (Tiguan, Freelander 2) and Sorento can match them curve-for-curve.

Interior architecture shadows European shapes and hues. No fake wood either - mercifully. Foot operated parking brake could do with a flip-switch fascia replacement...

Tidy interior

Access the cabin and Sorento’s pleasing design aesthetic continues.

The lack of silly Oriental teak wood insets and peculiar Korean texturing is a massive boon. Like the Pro_Ceed and Cerato, Sorento’s cabin is simple and uncluttered.

It hardly lacks for discernable elements of design flair either. Keeping the driver informed is a stylish tri-cluster recessed dial set-up, with red instrumentation backlighting (fortunately it’s not orange) contrasting perfectly with the cabin’s dark ambience.

Equipment levels are good too.

All new Sorentos feature a complement of six airbags, dual-zone climate control, leather seat trim and sound system connectivity via USB portage or an iPod.

The seven-seater Sorentos add a reversing camera and push-button starter.

Third row seating fold flat completely, second row tumbles on the left side to allow last row access. Full-size sparewheel mounted underneath the loadbay, instead of underfloor.

Eurocentric dynamics

Strikingly styled and well equipped, Sorento’s potent dynamics bolster the product offering even further.

Currently only the turbodiesel models are available locally, with the 3.5l V6 fleshing out the powertrain line-up during the second quarter of next year.

I can hardly imagine this being an issue for SUV buyers. Sorento’s new piezo injected engine is simply an exceptional compression ignition unit.

Displacing only 2.2l, it employs a variable geometry turbocharger (electronically modulated), 32-bit ECU module and no compromise 1 800 bar common-rail diesel injection system. When you tally the peak power and torque figures – 146kW and 435Nm - they come off as thoroughly sufficient for an SUV application.

The R2.2 Sorentos drive through six-speed transmissions, of either the planetary geared two-pedal or driver actuated three-pedal variety. It’s notable that Kia designed the six-speed automatic transmission in-house, instead of contracting out to a third party supplier…

Diesel engine is remarkably good. Has quite exotic drinking habits, considering local 50ppm diesel availability. Only needs servicing every 20 000km too. Kia's 5 year/100 000km maintenance plan should keep owners happy though.

A very urban SUV

On Kia's KwaZulu midlands test route, the R2.2 auto I drove was probably the best balanced car (never mind SUV) I’ve driven this year form a dynamic perspective. The engine, transmission, brakes and damping play off each other with exceptional synergy.

Admittedly we test drove the new Sorento at sea-level - yet I believe it should be as seamlessly swift at Reef altitudes as it was on the roads around Durban.

Sorento's damping is decidedly road-biased though. This became conspicuously apparent over a dirt-road section, where the Sorento displayed admirable tracking stability, yet resonated a fair volume of surface abrasion into the cabin.

On sweeping roads the electronically assisted power steering was quick and accurate with body roll expertly controlled – even by road car, as opposed to SUV, standards.

Sorento averages around 7l/100km when driven decently. Factor in a properly sized 70l tank and range is excellent. Tiptronic shift regime on automatic models don't always follow the driver's commands though.

Sophistication at a a price (and it's not Rand denominated)

It really is a lovely car to drive – refined yet powerful, comfortable yet boasting confident dynamics. Yet there are a few small issues.

Firstly, with no reduction ratio transfer case, a slimming of approach and departure angles and truncated ground clearance. this is an SUV with a degree of traction security, not an off-road vehicle.

It might purport to be permanent all-wheel drive, yet we all now that’s just a euphemism for front-wheel drive with rear axle engagement in substrate surface conditions.

You can actuate a push-button 50/50 torque split function, yet it disengages above 30km/h – like most other all-wheel drive cars lacking a centre differential and apportioning torque via a clutch pack.

This 30km/h threshold can become a bit of an issue if you’re trying to keep up momentum in sand – which is the soft-roader’s primary off-road terrain. It’s even more disconcerting when you have 200km of treacherous Namibian dirt-road ahead and would like to travel at 80km/h with 50/50 split traction security – which is the advised way to go about forbidding dirt roads…

Sorento’s second handicap – and this applies to other vehicles in class too – is it’s fabulous R2.2 turbodiesel engine.

Those magic piezo ceramic injectors, which provide the injection pressure and flexibility to spool up such impressive outputs, are simply intolerable of substandard diesel fuel. It’s either 50ppm or nothing.

These issues aside, the new Sorento is up against RAV4, CR-V, Tiguan, Freelander 2 and Nissan’s X-Trail – all very good cars. Amongst these very capable competitors, Kia has perhaps elevated the standard with new Sorento, which has the makings of a great car…


R2.2   2WD  Manual         5 Seater      R339 995
R2.2   2WD  Automatic     5 Seater     R349 995
R2.2   4WD  Manual          5 Seater     R359 995
R2.2   4WD  Automatic     5 Seater     R369 995
R2.2   4WD  Manual          7 Seater     R389 995
R2.2   4WD  Automatic     7 Seater     R399 995


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