Equal op­por­tu­nity

The Advertiser - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR

AUSTRALIA is ad­dicted to SUVs — they are our new fam­ily cars and we sim­ply can’t buy enough of them.

Mums and dads love th­ese “faux-wheel-drives”, even if they never plan to leave sub­ur­bia, be­cause they’re per­ceived as es­cape ma­chines.

Com­pe­ti­tion for buy­ers is fierce and if you’re an emerg­ing brand like Kia — Hyundai’s smaller sib­ling — you have to over-de­liver if you want to be per­ceived as an equal.

The lat­est Kia Sorento is new from the wheels up. Pre­vi­ous mod­els, although sound, were a mish­mash of older Hyundai un­der­bod­ies.

This time Kia gets the new threads, and Hyundai is play­ing catch-up. No hand-me-downs here and the im­prove­ments clearly show.

De­signed pri­mar­ily for the US mar­ket, the Sorento is big­ger in ev­ery di­men­sion but the big­gest gains have been in qual­ity and re­fine­ment. The in­te­rior — in­clud­ing su­per-soft­touch ma­te­rial on the dash­board, con­sole and door trims, the gloss black and al­loy­look cabin high­lights — would have once made BMW proud.

Kia cov­ers all as­pects of func­tion­al­ity. So all four doors get auto-up power win­dows and the sun vi­sors ex­tend to block sun from the side or near the rear view mir­ror.

The re­vers­ing cam­era (stan­dard on ev­ery model) now has lines that swivel with the steer­ing, so you know where the car will end up.

Park­ing sen­sors front and rear make it eas­ier to squeeze into tight spa­ces and the turn­ing cir­cle is 11.1 me­tres, on par with some pas­sen­ger cars.

There are eight cup hold­ers for seven seats, three 12V sock­ets (two front, one rear) and USB ports front and rear.

Air­con­di­tion­ing vents ex­tend to the third row of seats and ac­cess to the back bench (still for kids only) is eas­ier now the sec­ond row tilts and slides in one move­ment.

The side cur­tain airbags ex­tend to the third row (in many three-row SUVs, they don’t — we’re look­ing at you Ford Ter­ri­tory and Holden Cap­tiva).

A large dig­i­tal speed dis­play in the mid­dle of the ana­log in­stru­ments will help in not get­ting pinged and there is a full-size al­loy spare in the boot. There’s not much Kia hasn’t thought about — in­clud­ing touch­screen nav­i­ga­tion as stan­dard on all mod­els.

There are three mod­els, Si, SLi and Plat­inum, rang­ing in price from $40,990 to $55,990 plus on-road costs. The dearer mod­els gain a larger nav­i­ga­tion screen, 10-speaker au­dio, dig­i­tal in­stru­ment clus­ter, tinted rear win­dows, auto tail­gate, sen­sor key, leather trim and roof rails.

The flag­ship Plat­inum gets all the bling: en­gine stop-start, high in­ten­sity head­lights, LED tail-lights, sun­roof, 19-inch al­loys and the full safety suite, in­clud­ing radar cruise con­trol, blind spot warn­ing, rear crosstraf­fic alert and lane de­par­ture warn­ing.

ON THE ROAD

Petrol mod­els are front-drive only and the diesel vari­ants have on-de­mand all-wheeldrive (the rear wheels get power only when sen­sors de­tect a loss of trac­tion).

We start our test-drive with the price-leader, the petrol Si at $40,990. First im­pres­sions? Stunned by the quiet­ness.

Kia has loaded the Sorento with sound dead­en­ing be­hind the dash and un­der the floor; it even has felt-lined wheel arches to re­duce road roar in the dry and wa­ter-spray noise in the wet. Kumho tyres on 17-inch wheels have big juicy side­walls to soak up most bumps, thumps and noise.

The steer­ing feel, fine­tuned lo­cally across the range, is OK but not class-lead­ing. It’ll do the com­muter work with lit­tle ef­fort and that mat­ters most.

Next up, the SLi diesel (this grade is also avail­able with a petrol en­gine) and an­other wel­come sur­prise.

The clat­ter of the 2.2-litre turbo diesel is muted, as is the road noise from Hankook tyres on 18-inch wheels.

I’m not nor­mally a fan of diesels — es­pe­cially for city and sub­ur­ban driv­ing where fuel econ­omy benefits are mar­ginal — but it’s the pick of the two. That said, the V6 is a smooth op­er­a­tor, is more than will­ing and able and is also $4500 cheaper than the diesel from the kick-off.

On av­er­age an­nual driv­ing dis­tance, it would take at least 10 years to pay off the diesel’s price pre­mium in fuel sav­ings. The oiler is bet­ter suited if you plan to tow or do plenty of free­way driv­ing.

Last up is the Plat­inum and, un­usu­ally for a flag­ship, it’s nois­ier than the oth­ers — per­haps due to the (rel­a­tively) low pro­file 19-inch tyres mak­ing more road noise. The up­side is that it steers a lit­tle more sharply.

VER­DICT

The Sorento is a mas­sive leap for­ward for the class and the brand but doesn’t steer as sharply as a Ford Ter­ri­tory.

With a bit of homework, Kia could have a class leader. Its seven-year war­ranty should get an hon­ourable men­tion — it’s the best cov­er­age in the busi­ness.

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