Kia’s AWD Sorento R

NZ Today - - ON MOTORING - STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEN STRUGNELL

It’s no ac­ci­dent that Kia has just re­ceived a top ten rank­ing in the pres­ti­gious JD Pow­ers world­wide sat­is­fac­tion sur­vey. Beat­ing out many lux­ury Euro­pean brands, the car maker that could now does. For­get your decade old pre­con­cep­tions; Kia is now up there with the best in the world and beat­ing them. Thanks to its strong suit, the two AWDs in the range, Kia can rightly claim to be class lead­ing.

And it is th­ese two ve­hi­cles that pro­vide Kia’s main­stay in sales in New Zealand and sev­eral other coun­tries.

I at­tended the launch of the lat­est and now fourth gen­er­a­tion Sorento R in Ro­torua and Tau­ranga re­cently to find out how much they’d moved on from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

To the ca­sual ob­server the new model looks much like the out­go­ing one and that’s no bad thing as it was ex­cel­lent and had held its ‘looks’. Though, there are some styling cues that give it away. Changed are the grill and front treat­ment and the rear lights as well as rid­ing 10mm lower, more on that later. All ver­sions run on al­loy wheels 17s for the petrol model and ei­ther 18 or 19 inch for the diesels.

The big­gest changes come un­der the bon­net and with in­creased elec­tronic wiz­ardry as well as a new top model called the Pre­mium.

The big­gest change – the adop­tion of elec­tric power steer­ing and the dele­tion of a hill de­scent con­trol – hints at the mar­ket pro­file Kia ex­pects this softer Sorento to ap­peal to.

To prove that it will still cut it in the rough and tum­ble off road con­di­tions, Kia New Zealand were keen for us to hoof it off road a bit and we ven­tured into the Ma­maku For­est. The deeply rut­ted tracks with very wet and muddy tun­nels on the forestry roads kept us on

our toes as we nav­i­gated the ob­sta­cles with no dam­age or un­in­tended stops for stuck ve­hi­cles.

Kia must have been keen to demon­strate just how clean the flanks of the Sorento stay in such con­di­tions giv­ing us a fleet of new black test ve­hi­cles. Still we man­aged to find dust and some very muddy un­der­sides for the groomers to earn their keep on.

What was sur­pris­ing was just how ca­pa­ble this sin­gle range 6 speed auto was off road. There were a few ar­eas off lim­its to us though for some very in­ex­pe­ri­enced mo­tor not­ers used to mo­tor­ways not goat tracks, the go­ing was tough enough.

Later I had both a white and a black one at home, a Pre­mium top model al­low­ing me to test its off road cred more thor­oughly and with the safety of the trac­tor, should I ‘over­cook’ the ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Not only did it cope with steep up­hill rut­ted tracks on the home farm, I found that de­spite the omis­sion of low ra­tio and a low­ered ride height to 180mm, it still out­per­forms most of the (soft road­ers) com­pe­ti­tion off road.

I drove through shin­gle and rock stream beds and up slip­pery mud cov­ered tracks with­out dif­fi­culty. Go­ing down an in­sanely steep in­cline, the ABS failed to pro­vide brak­ing and prob­a­bly was a bridge too far and I did find my­self won­der­ing at how wise the omis­sion of ‘hill de­scent con­trol ‘ was and why it’s still stan­dard fare on the smaller Kia Sportage. How­ever all was well as we slid to the base of the slope and sim­ply drove off with­out in­ci­dent.

Steer­ing was al­ways true and re­ally no more than a set of mud tyres in­stead of the smooth road ones would fix the is­sue.

Given all of that and a tow­ing sta­bil­ity func­tion to go with the 2000kg braked load tow­ing ca­pac­ity, the Sorento han­dled ev­ery­thing well, prov­ing Kia Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Todd McDon­ald’s claim that very lit­tle off road prow­ess had been lost.

What is gained in a low­ered ride height though is a huge in­crease in rear seat space, par­tic­u­larly leg room. It also meant the han­dling was sharper. More bite to the steer­ing and cor­ner­ing abil­ity par­tic­u­larly mid cor­ner, lifts the Sorento game markedly.

What was also no­tice­able was the dif­fi­culty in up­set­ting the poise of the big SUV, which would trig­ger the ESP light. It just didn’t hap­pen till I took it out on the pad­dock at home flick­ing it from left to right.

Still pow­ered by ei­ther the 130kW/227Nm 4 cylin­der petrol or the magic, quiet 145kW/436Nm diesel, the Sorento like it’s sta­ble­mate from Hyundai, show the way in main­stream diesel tech­nol­ogy.

All the usual niceties are pre­sen­tCDAM/FM USB MP3 Blue­tooth en­ter­tain­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions suite op­er­ated from the steer­ing wheel, dual zone cli­mate air, mul­ti­func­tion trip com­puter, cruise con­trol and auto lights and wipers.

In­side the tech­nol­ogy con­tin­ues with re­mote key­less en­try and start, re­vers­ing cam­era, across the range.

Strangely Kia didn’t opt for a Sat Nav, along with arch ri­val Hyundai who is still to of­fer one.

The top mod­els get pow­ered full length sun­roofs (cov­er­ing front and mid row seat­ing) with a pow­ered roller blind to cover them.

Also pow­ered are the leather heated and cooled front seats. The cool­ing func­tion works bril­liantly and is ideal on those hot sticky days. For cold win­tery morn­ings the heated steer­ing wheel is a real boon and not gim­micky. What might at first look a bit of a gim­mick on an SUV is Self park­ing for par­al­lel parks. Re­ally though it is also a stroke of ge­nius and so far the only sub 70k SUV to of­fer it. If you haven't driven a ve­hi­cle with this tech­nol­ogy, it is an uncanny ex­pe­ri­ence. Firstly driv­ing past a space at 40km/h or less, the car in­di­cates the spot is OK to park in. You then se­lect re­verse and LET GO of the steer­ing wheel. It spins it hard left then straight ahead stop­ping be­fore hit­ting the car be­hind. Se­lect for­ward to cen­tralise your po­si­tion in the park and it's all over... done... fin­ished!!!

I liked it, as the rear cam­era shows the dis­tance to the ve­hi­cle be­hind giv­ing an air of con­fi­dence. Once you've used self park­ing on a big ve­hi­cle, you'll de­mand it on ev­ery new car you try.

On the wide open ex­panses of South Is­land roads the big Kia re­ally is in its el­e­ment. Seal or un­paved metal, it re­mains an en­gag­ing drive with good feel, though easy to throw around when the go­ing gets twisty. The trip from Christchurch to Blen­heim with five aboard and their lug­gage for an overnight stop was so ef­fort­less. Not sure if it was the com­pany or the car as the time just van­ished over the 300km trip. Equally on the re­turn the ‘gnarly' Hun­der­lees south of Kaik­oura were dis­patched with a dis­dain for the tight turns that mark a well sorted chas­sis and sus­pen­sion. We didn't try seven up though with an in­crease to both leg and head room on the 6th and 7th seats – they just might be OK for more than just the kids.

The in­te­rior pale red ‘mood' lamp LED strips add to the am­bi­ence of the ve­hi­cle in poor or night light­ing con­di­tions mak­ing it feel cosy. Not a big is­sue though but one that shows at­ten­tion to de­tail that wins awards and re­tains cus­tomers.

En­try level petrol mod­els start at $46,490 and our Pre­mium Diesel ver­sion tops the range at $66,390. I didn't drive the petrol ver­sion though past ex­pe­ri­ence would in­di­cate it too will be a very ca­pa­ble and im­mensely prac­ti­cal ve­hi­cle for the bud­get con­scious or those who only want a front wheel drive ver­sion. Kia claims fuel con­sump­tion at 8.6 l/100km for the petrol ver­sion which seems con­ser­va­tive as I achieved 6.9 on the diesel com­pared to Kia's claim of 7.1 l/100Km.

The lat­est 4th gen­er­a­tion Sorento moves the bar and re­tains its pric­ing which gives it an edge over its sib­ling Santa Fe.

Sorento at home on or off the road

Lat­est model has more stream­lined rear lights

Well laid out ‘in­tu­itive’ in­te­rior.

And heated rear seats. Flat floor space when seats are folded gives 1.8 me­tres of length.

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