I’ve always believed that one should err on the side of sophistication when it comes to selecting a motor vehicle… Refined products can, at a push, perform banal tasks when required, but, despite their best efforts, rudimentary vehicles don’t simulate sophistication with much success. The new Kia Sorento firmly falls into the former category and therefore appeals to my sensibility… Sure, it no longer offers low-range capability, but it’s mercifully done away with a ladder frame chassis too.
Whereas the previous Sorento was very much a butch SUV with a modicum of family appeal, the newcomer feels more like a medium-sized crossover. Its exterior design is softer, more individualistic, and undeniably eye-catching, especially from the front, which sports its own interpretation of the “tiger nose” grille that Kia design chief Peter Schreyer introduced on the Soul and Cerato. The black moldings, faux front air intake/foglamp design and elaborate wheelarches ensure that the overall look remains masculine and purposeful, although from the b-pillar to the rear, the design is very much a case of form following function…
After all, the Sorento needs to accommodate seven occupants in comfort, and for that you need cabin space!
The interior feels suitably upmarket, and although the interior plastics seem smoother and more substantial than in previous-generation Kia, they don’t quite fall into the tactile/soft-touch category. There is much to be said for the packaging and general fit and finish of the cabin, especially the metallic-look inserts and quality of the leather trim. The driver’s seat offers a multitude of electric adjustments, the middle row of seats has good legroom and the seatbacks can recline if necessary. Heck, even the third row of seats can offer adults comfortable passage on shorter trips, providing you don’t need much luggage room. In five-seater configuration, however, luggage capacity is plentiful and there’s a full-sized spare wheel behind the rear bumper…I may yet come to appreciate that bulky rear, after all.
As far as the driving experience is concerned, I never expected sports car responses or super saloon-rivaling driver involvement from the Sorento. The ride is on the firmer side (a nod to the overtly Eurocentric slant to the new model), but there are hardly any traces of cumbersome lurching or excessive body roll that can affect “big rigs” of its ilk. The 2,2-litre CDRi turbodiesel motor produces a useful 436 N.m at 1 800 r/min and is well mated with the slick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission… The braking feel is progressive in its weighting and the steering as accurate and fast as one might expect from a vehicle of this kind. My single biggest reservation is that the engine, flexible as it is, does tend to buzz and wring when you pile on the revs or manhandle the throttle pedal with too much vigour.
But that brings me to the best part… With a sticker price of just under R400k, the Sorento is not cheap, but it does offer a lot of kit and ability for the price. There are more than a handful of surprise and delight features to be had, from the extremely versatile audio interface, to extendable sun visors, Xenon headlamps, a rear-view camera with 3,5-inch screen display on interior mirror, smart key with button Start/Stop button and even a self-leveling suspension. Seven-seater Sorentos are only available in four-wheel drive configuration, which is a pity, because the best value in the range will probably be found lower down in the range’s price list.
Has the Sorento gone soft? I have little doubt that it will be able to cope with the odd jaunt of mild off-roading. I have driven it on dirt roads and it coped perfectly well. But that’s not the point. If you want to acquire a bakkie with a full-length cab to invade the bundu , that’s entirely justifiable. The new Sorento, however, represents a better-balanced and generously-equipped real world alternative… These vehicles spend the majority of their lives on tar and that’s simply where the Kia’s at its best.