Updated Sorento an appealing choice

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Up front, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, with driver and passenger separated by a generously proportioned centre bin and armrest. Photo: David Thomson

The current Kia Sorento has been a popular choice over the past few years for those looking for a medium-large sports utility with three rows of seats. It has also been a bit of a favourite for Drivesouth, with the turbo-diesel particularly well suited to motoring in our part of the world.

But resting on one's laurels is not a recipe for success in our highly competitive SUV market, which is why a raft of changes to the Sorento for the 2018 model year is important for Kia.

On the mechanical side, the focus is on a new eight-speed automatic transmission in place of the previous six-cog gearbox. At the same time, the 3.3-litre V6 petrol has been dropped from the regular line-up, available on special order only.

That leaves the Sorento as an all-diesel, all-auto, all-wheel-drive range, comprising the $59,990 EX, the $63,990 Limited, and the flagship $73,990 Premium.

All three variants feature subtle exterior styling changes, including revised front and rear bumpers that add 20mm to the Sorento's overall length. There are new LED headlights and tail lamps, a darker metallic finish to the grille and new alloy wheels (18-inch on the EX, and 19-inch on the Limited and Premium).

Inside, there are seating changes up front to improve comfort and lumbar support, a new steering wheel, a revised instrument cluster and new climate control LCD display. Perhaps most importantly for the modern world, the updated Sorento gains Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.

Other features that come at entry level include keyless entry and push-button start, leather trim, a power-operated driver's seat, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, dual zone climate control, a 7-inch colour centre touchscreen, and a full-sized spare wheel. The EX also provides tyre pressure monitoring, blind spot detection and lane-change assist, and a rear cross-traffic alert system.

The Limited adds lane keeping and departure warning to the safety specification, and picks up a premium Harman/Kardon audio, an 8-inch centre touchscreen, satellite navigation and heated front seats. The Premium is quite a step up price-wise but there are plenty of extra features, including forward collision warning and automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, a surround view camera, auto-dipping headlights, a panorama sunroof, heated and chilled front seats and heated middle-row seats, rear climate control and a power-operated tailgate.

Drivesouth's chance to become acquainted with the updated Sorento was behind the wheel of the EX.

Although there is some extra equipment this time round and a greater use of soft-touch surfaces, the essentials of the Sorento have not changed with the update.

Working from back to front, boot space with the third-row seats raised is adequate (just) for everyday needs, at 142 litres. Those seats, which are configured as a pair and designed principally to accommodate children, fold flush into the boot floor individually when not used. The rear load cover also sits under the boot floor when not required.

With both rear seats stowed, boot space rises to 605 litres, which is good although not class-leading. It extends to a maximum 1662 litres when the middle seats are also folded forward. The middle seats are split 40-20-40 with a fold-down centre armrest. There is plenty of headroom in the middle row, and ample leg-room too unless the seats - which are mounted on rails - have been shifted fully forward to boost rear room.

Up front, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, with driver and passenger separated by a generously proportioned centre bin and armrest. There is a further lidded cubby forward of the gear lever with USB, AUX and dual 12-volt sockets and another USB and 12v plug at the base of the centre bin for middle-row occupants.

While the Limited and Premium variants go bigger yet with their 8-inch centre touchscreens and superior sound system, the smaller 7-inch touchscreen and standard audio of the EX is fine. Bluetooth connectivity is easy to achieve, as is the new Android Auto synchronisation.

While EX's standard equipment list is OK, there are a few features from further up the range that it would have been good to see as standard on the EX too.

The power-operated tailgate tops my list, as the Sorento tailgate is hefty and shorter users in particular may find lowering it manually a struggle. Kia has also missed the chance to make the strongest possible safety statement by not fitting its full DRiVE WISE safety suite - including lane departure, forward collision and autonomous emergency braking systems - to the EX.

More positively, the EX boasts the same mechanical package as its siblings, and that package has become all the better with the new eight-speed automatic.

Designed in-house rather than sourced from elsewhere, the new gearbox is an innovative design that Kia says includes 143 newly-patented technologies. Most importantly, it requires fewer control valves than usual, enabling a more direct and efficient mechanical link and quicker shifts.

The transmission provides four driver-selectable modes; Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart. Aside from the ability to lock the differential via a button behind the gear lever, the Sorento's four-wheel-drive system is fully automated.

The new gearbox is mated to a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that carries over virtually unchanged from the pre-update Sorento, with peak outputs remaining at 147kW of power and 441Nm of torque. Producing peak torque from a mere 1750rpm, this has always been a decent engine that is responsive from low revs. It performs all the better now it is combined with a state-of-the-art transmission.

One of the biggest gains with the move to a new gearbox is improved economy. This is rated at 6.5l/100km on the standard cycle test, which is a striking 17% increase over the pre-update Sorento's 7.8l/100km return.

Performance and mechanical smoothness are also much improved, with the test car being long-legged and fuss-free during extended highway driving. The suspension is tuned to prioritise ride comfort over absolute handling prowess, which is entirely appropriate for a vehicle of this type. Even so, and helped by changes to the rear suspension introduced with this update, the Sorento responds well for a vehicle of its size and bulk when pushed through twists and turns.

Wind noise is well contained, and the engine reasonably muted when cruising or under light-to-moderate throttle loads. It's a shame, though, that road noise on coarse chip Kiwi surfaces is not better contained.

While not perfect in every respect, recent changes have done more than enough to ensure the Sorento remains an appealing choice for those after a decently proportioned seven-seater SUV.

Updated Sorento an appealing choice
At a Glance
KIA SORENTO 2.2 TURBO DIESEL EX

 

For: Improved economy and performance, decent road manners, spacious and well-finished cabin.

 

Against: Full safety specification reserved for top-flight models, coarse chip road noise.

 

Verdict: Update does what is required to keep this generation Sorento up with the play.

 

Overall Rating: ****

Design & Styling: ***+

Interior: ****

Performance: ***+

Ride & Handling: ***+

Safety: *****

Environmental: ****+

 

SPECIFICATION

Price: $59,990

Engine: 2.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, maximum power 147kW@3800rpm, maximum torque 441Nm@1750-2750rpm.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive.

Safety Rating: 5-star European NCAP.

Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, EBD, ESP, BAS.

Wheels and tyres: alloy wheels, 235/60 R18 tyres.

Fuel and economy: Diesel, 6.5l/100km on standard cycle test, fuel tank capacity 71 litres.

Emissions: 170 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

Dimensions: Length 4800mm, width 1890mm, height 1690mm.