In recent years, many of the seven-seat SUVs on the market have proven to be among the most impressive vehicles out there. Just look at the likes of the Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Kia Sorento – all of which are vehicles that have proven a family bus need not be frumpy and uninspiring to drive.
And it’s the latter that’s in question here, as Kia has completely reimagined the biggest SUV it sells Down Under for the 2021 model year. It’s an all-new car sat on a new platform, and it certainly looks it, with it sporting an impressively sharp and stylish new design, and an equally impressive array of standard kit as well.
While the range kicks off from $46,990 for a base S Petrol, the GT-Line Diesel model on test here is the priciest in the lineup at $64,990 drive-away, but before you scoff at the thought of paying that much for a Kia SUV, take a seat inside it and have a poke around, and you’ll see that your money is going a very long way.
Its interior not only looks thoroughly modern in keeping with its classy and properly expensive-looking exterior that remains surprisingly true to the concept drawings, but it showcases some clever attention to detail that you’ll wish other manufacturers thought of when designing their family-oriented cars.
Things such as the four smaller additional air vents below the larger main ones on the dashboard to fill in an airflow dead-zone, the cupholders designed into the rear seat armrests on the door cards, the integrated rear sunshades, a USB charging port in the back of the front seat, third-row fan controls, and even an intercom system for the driver to speak to passengers in the rear – presumably for telling your kids to put a lid on it if they’re getting unruly – are all things that prove Kia has been thoughtful when it comes to designing this thing.
Then there’s the list of standard equipment which makes a mockery of what most luxury brands offer. Heated and ventilated front seats with power adjustment plus memory for the driver, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, a digital gauge cluster, a panoramic sunroof, a Bose audio system, configurable ambient interior lighting, wireless phone charging, a 360-degree camera along with novel blind-spot monitoring cameras, powered tailgate, Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capabilities, and even a Remote Smart Parking Assist feature – which allows you to move the car forwards and backwards remotely from the keyfob for fitting into tight parking spaces, or helping you brag to your mates about your new ride being remote-controlled – which at this price point means it packs a big punch and leaves you wanting for nothing.
There are some particularly funky touches on the interior to help it stand out, too. For some retro appeal, the infotainment system icons are represented by neon signs, while one of the configurable gauge cluster designs features digital watch numbering on the dials.
The array of materials is up a notch from what you’d expect in a Kia, too, as all key contact points feel plush enough with an array of Nappa leather and metal throughout, and all the switchgear – particularly innocuous things that show real attention to detail, such as the switches for the heated/cooled seats – feels particularly high quality, too.
Worth noting, though, is that while there’s plenty of ergonomically-considerate space in both the first and second rows, the third-row will be a real squeeze for adults to fit in even with the sliding second-row pushed forward – which, of course, robs room from passengers there – so if you’re a family of giraffes, or more simply plan on carting six or seven adults around with regularity, you’ll want to look in the direction of the much larger Carnival, or alternatively the Hyundai Palisade if you’re still after an SUV given the closely-related Kia Telluride sadly isn’t offered Down Under.
And, as far as the competition is concerned, it’s worth noting that while the Mazda CX-9 is getting on in years, it does have a far more commodious rear pew, but if it’s only occasional use the third-row will be seeing – or if you’ll simply be using it as a five-seater with a massive boot, keeping the seats folded down – it presents a strong use case in that regard.
Dubious third-row aside, it’s safe to say, then, that this latest effort in a line of cars designed to lift Kia’s brand image certainly does the trick as it really does look and feel the part. And what’s more, the good news continues out on the road as well.
Two drivetrains are set to be offered across the entire Sorento range, with a big 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with an eight-speed torque converter auto and front-wheel drive presenting itself as the cheaper option.
However, the car tested here, like all of the first few months’ supply of Sorentos, was fitted with what I think is the smarter drivetrain option – a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that makes 148kW and 440Nm, which is backed by an all-new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive.
Although it’s not going to rival oilers from the likes of BMW for refinement – as at low speeds this engine can sound a tad gruff, if accompanied by a healthy dose of turbo whooshes – the diesel does remain very much in the background when you’re simply cruising along, with its low-speed grumble effectively silenced. It packs a healthy amount of torque, too, with its strong mid-range making for effortless overtaking on country roads.
The dual-clutch ‘box is a slick unit, it must be said, and although it doesn’t deliver the truly instantaneous gear changes of a Volkswagen DSG, it is still very prompt – particularly when commanding it with the flappy paddles – and delivers the direct-feeling gear changes desired from such a transmission, while also being impressively smooth even at lower speeds.
It’s backed by a good all-wheel drive system, too – although a part-time system that’s typically front-biased, flick it into Sport mode (or its lock mode for use on terrain such as muddy farm tracks) and it’ll send power to all four wheels constantly which helps this big bus feel nice and sure-footed.
And, certainly, while you’ll never mistake it for a sports car, the Sorento displays impressive poise on the road. The locally-tuned suspension setup is absolutely bang-on, blending impressive ride comfort with good lateral balance for what is a tall and heavy vehicle, and the weight of the steering rack has been dialled in just as well, too – not too heavy or too light, if still lacking in feel a touch as nearly all electric power steering systems do.
Ultimately, though, it’s a car that really doesn’t put a foot wrong on the road, and it shouldn’t put too big a hole in your finances, either. Sure, it mightn’t be the cheapest thing out there in top-spec form – few good seven-seaters are – but it will be cheap to run, as the diesel returned a truly impressive 7.7L/100km after 560km of mixed driving. If you’re prepared to deal with the low-speed diesel clatter and your hand reeking of the stuff every time you’ve fuelled it up assuming you haven’t gloved-up, I’d really haggle hard that you opt for the diesel as the pros really do outweigh the cons in this instance.
Factor in Kia’s impressive seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, along with seven years of capped price servicing and complimentary roadside assistance, and it really does make a very strong case for itself. Arguably, all you’d ever need is one of the more entry-level models, sure, but factor in the sheer amount of kit fitted to the GT-Line and it’s a mighty good deal even at 65-large.
It might have a third-row only really suitable for younger kids, but the new Sorento really does impress both as a seven-seat family bus or simply as a plush five-seater with a massive boot and Euro-rivalling levels of equipment. It might not reinvent the wheel when it comes to cars in this class, but it really does nail the brief, and shows that Kia – a company in the midst of reinventing itself – clearly has a clever team behind it that’s on the right path.
2021 Kia Sorento GT-Line 2.2D List Price: $65,290 | As Tested: $65,985
Pros: Looks sharp and has the interior to match, interior wants nothing in the way of standard equipment, frugal and torquey diesel engine, might be pricey but the bang for your buck is there
Cons: Third-row only really suitable for younger children, diesel clatter at lower speeds
In a nutshell: Even in pricey top-spec form, the new Sorento looks to be an incredibly smart buy, offering immense levels of standard kit and a strong value proposition. Its chief rivals in the segment ought to be worried, as this thing is a big step up.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Kia Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.