Sorento R - Kia's big SUV gets a makeover

By Matt Greenop

There are a lot of hidden surprises in refined SUV

Kia Sorento R.  Photo / Supplied
Kia Sorento R. Photo / Supplied

Kia's big soft roader, the Sorento R, was updated this week in what looks like a facelift but which the Korean company assures us is an entirely new generation.

The seven-seater SUV had a drastic measure of dropping the floor by 10mm - and while it doesn't look like it's undergone many changes at all, there have been some serious revisions.

Whether it's a whole new generation is debatable, but there will certainly be another one along in 2014 when it is updated to reflect the new Hyundai Santa Fe.

Testing the current Sorento R two years ago, Driven was impressed by how refined it was over the somewhat clunky predecessor.

Kia, at the time revelling in the impressive abilities of former Audi head designer Peter Schreyer, had set out with the express intent to build a road-bound SUV that ticked all of the boxes for its core family market.

The levels of equipment and materials used were a huge jump over the tractor-flavoured second generation, and this next iteration has followed suit with a similar lift in quality that adds a high level of quality equipment, tech goodies and giving buyers some pretty serious value for money.

Kia is quite rightly concentrating on its 2.2 diesel across most of the range, with a diesel-heavy line-up an obvious indicator that Kia knows competing with Toyota's big Highlander in the petrol SUV behemoth market is not a reality.

Instead it's offering only two petrol models against a host of diesel models running from around the $50,000 mark and peeking over the magic $65,000 mark at the top end.

The front end of the 2013 model features a tasteful new lighting cluster, complete with LED daytime running lights, that angles more steeply into the tiger nose grille. The back end also gets an update, with a new rear spoiler and tailgate, integrated rear LED lamps. From the side, things are much the same as before though, with the same panels as before.

Underneath these familiar clothes though is a new platform with more torsional rigidity courtesy of stiffer steel than many competitors in the large SUV segment, 10mm lower ride height (which conversely means 10mm less ground clearance), new subframes front and back, including a more modern H-pattern frame at the front end and some radical suspension changes. It has increased strength where it counts for front and side impact and actually lost some pork in the process.

The all-wheel drive version has shed 79kg, and the city dweller 2WD loses 96kg. That said, this is still a weighty machine that tips the scales just shy of 2.5 tonnes. Suspension changes, including high performance dampers, help to keep this mammoth on the road, and make for a much-improved ride over the previous generation. Replacing the hydraulic power steering system with a motor driven version has proved another excellent move, and the new-gen Sorento feels more nimble as a result.

At this week's launch we spent some time in the forest, checking out the four-wheel-drive version's off-road ability which, frankly, is a far cry from what most buyers will be using these for - particularly when shod with road tyres. With the lower ride height there were a few moments of belly-slapping horror, but in general the vehicle conducted itself very well, coping with dirty great potholes and some gnarly angles with little drama. The approach angle is 19.7 degrees, departure is 22.4 - so you're not going to be winning any winch challenges, but if there's a tiny bit of off-road ambition, you're likely to get away with it.

Out on the open road, particularly over the twisting road that crests the Kaimai Range, the Sorento was a far more capable campaigner than its predecessor, exhibiting a bit of body roll, but digging in to push through with little more drama than the odd squeal of tyre when given some right-foot motivation.

On the inside the Sorento doesn't feel like the big beast that it really is, even with the third row of seats folded out. With full Bluetooth connectivity, including audio streaming, it is technologically able. But the new TFT LCD seven-inch screen that makes up the core of the instrument cluster is the star of the interior changes, which include better-feeling elasticised materials on the dash, and even a bit of leather here and there - for the money, this is a very well-sorted and a well-equipped vehicle, even at the range-topping premium specification.

The 2.4L petrol versions kick of the range, at $46,490 for the front-driver and $49,490 for the four-pawed model. The LX two-wheel-drive is the cheapest diesel derivative at $50,690, which then jumps to EX, LTD and then the mighty all-wheel-drive Premium with heated electric memory seats, smart auto steer parking and more for $66,190.

- NZ Herald

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