Beauty of new Sorento is more than skin-deep

By David Linklater

Kia ups the ante with more bang for the bucks

The self-parking system takes the angst out of taking the sizeable Sorento into the city. Pictures / David Linklater
The self-parking system takes the angst out of taking the sizeable Sorento into the city. Pictures / David Linklater

Excuse me for saying so, but Kia seems to have done things a bit backwards here. When it comes time for a major facelift, most carmakers maximise the marketing potential by making a model that at least looks new, even if a few corners have to be cut on the stuff under the skin. It gives the right impression, even if the driving experience isn't entirely different from what has come before.

Kia should perhaps be admired for doing the opposite. Given the choice of where to spend its money, the Korean brand (a subsidiary of Hyundai) spent up large on the underpinnings, at the expense of new sheet metal.

Really, it's quite hard to pick the new Sorento from the old because the major body panels are the same. Kia is counting on potential customers valuing substance over visual status.

The Sorento was always a good thing to drive, but the latest one really does up its game in terms of steering, handling, body rigidity and safety.

The steering is now electrically assisted, which saves fuel, and also allows for a trick piece of self-parking technology (more about that in a minute), while wider tracks and a lower centre of gravity (the whole car is 10mm closer to the ground) really have sharpened up the whole dynamic package. It's still not a vehicle to throw around it weighs in at over 1.7 tonnes, for a start but Sorento is predictable and beautifully composed on-road.

Off-road? It was never meant to head too far off the beaten track, even less so now with reduced ground clearance. But the four-wheel drive system works well on loose surfaces and the revised 145kW/436Nm 2.2-litre diesel engine is muscular down low in the rev range.

But really, Sorento still belongs on the seal and while it's a sizeable vehicle, the self-parking system (standard on the upmarket Limited and Premium models) is obviously intended to take much of the angst out of urban driving.

I wouldn't normally bother with such technology but I have to say the Kia system is particularly effective. My Sorento seemed able to slot itself into a space just millimetres from the kerb, at a pace as fast I could have managed on my own. Possibly faster.

Is the $66,190 Sorento Premium tested here worth the $5700, ahem, premium over the already well-equipped Limited model?

Not all of the extra kit in this flagship model tugs at the heart that controls the wallet, but a couple of desirable items might just sell it: adaptive headlights, which turn with the steering wheel, are hardly high-tech these days but they are exclusive to the Premium in the Sorento range. The Limited has heated front seats, but the Premium adds ventilation to cool you during hot summer days. A power-operated passenger seat is also part of the Premium package I guess your other half might appreciate that.

Extras include a heated steering wheel and panoramic glass roof.

Can we talk about Sorento without mentioning the rival from parent company Hyundai, the Santa Fe? In future, we probably can because the latest Santa Fe is all-new and has a generational jump on the Sorento. Which is not ostensibly a good thing, but with the Hyundai's price advancing too, this Kia can now present as the value-for-money alternative - even at the significant sticker price of our top-specification Sorento Premium.

The bottom line

Proof that you cannot judge a book by the cover: Sorento looks same-again but has advanced significantly under the skin.

- NZ Herald

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