Kia’s AWD Sorento R
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.