ANYONE who thought that the Korean motor companies were taking the coming year off to watch how their sponsorship money was being spent at the forthcoming soccer world cup hasn’t been paying much attention to the pages of this magazine over the past few months.
Kia, in particular, has been extremely busy, launching important new models into some of the largest segments in this market.
The Cerato (tested in our December 2009 issue) has already succeeded in creating a stir in the sub-compact market, and now it’s the turn of the latest Sorento to mix it up in the highly competitive SUV segment.
Penned under the supervision of new design boss Peter Schreyer, the latest Sorento may be larger overall than the model it replaces (although it has the same width), but it’s also a whole lot sleeker and more stylish than the fi rst incarnation.
The styling carries distinctly European lines that exude a sense of class and distinction, even if they do make the new model appear slightly less rugged.
A new signature grille separates narrow wraparound headlamps up front, large wheelarches house smart-looking alloy wheels, and LED technology highlights the tail-lamp clusters and horizontally-opening tailgate.
Overall, all testers commented favourably on what is a classy new design. From the raised driving position, all-round visibility is good and there is a sense of spaciousness in the cabin whilst still feeling comfortably enclosed.
Standard full-leather upholstery adds a touch of class and all the plastic trim used around the cabin seems well put together and have a quality feel about them. Electric adjustment on the driver’s seat works in tandem with rake and reach orientation on the steering column to ensure that a comfortable driving position is achieved.
Ahead of the multifunction steering wheel a large three-dial instrument cluster, including a comprehensive driver information display, is easy to read.
An extensive standard specification list, including keyless go, climate control, all-electric windows, cruise control, an allinclusive audio system and rear parking sensors, adds to the comfort levels of the new Sorento.
A nifty rear-view camera, with its display incorporated into the rear-view mirror, is provided as standard fitment to all seven-seater models. On these versions the additional two seats are neatly housed in a 50:50 split below the boot boards of the luggage compartment when not required.
Access to these seats is via a folding 60:40 split second row. With only the harshest of road imperfections knocking through to the cabin, Kia’s engineers have succeeded in giving the new Sorento an impressively compliant and comfortable ride in everyday driving conditions.
A new, compact, MacPherson strut set-up has replaced the double wishbone arrangement found up front on the previous model and a fully independent multi-link suspension has been developed for the rear.
Speedsensitive hydraulic power steering adds both comfort and an additional safety element to the driving experience.
Thanks to the development of the all-new monocoque, Kia has also managed to lower the centre of gravity of the new model by 54 per cent. This translates to improved on-road handling characteristics with less bodyroll.
On this top-of-therange diesel version, the parttime all-wheel drive system monitors grip levels and will transfer power to the rear wheels as required.
The system can also be locked in a 50:50 front/rear torque split at speeds of up to 30 km/h, should the driver choose. These all-wheel drive models also feature hill-start and descent control systems.
At launch, the new Sorento is available with a choice of either a 3,5-litre V6 petrol engine or, as featured here, an all-new 2,2-litre turbodiesel unit. This third-generation common-rail engine develops 147 kW of power at 3 800 r/min and, when mated with the six-speed automatic transmission, offers 436 N.m of torque between 1 800 and 2 500 r/min (422 N.m with the six-speed manual option).
As impressive as this abundance of torque, available from low down on the rev band, is the notably smooth delivery of this shove.
The transmission will shift effortlessly through its gears when steady progress is required but is able to efficiently drop down to the appropriate cog for overtaking manoeuvres or when quick bursts of power are called for. This transmission also features an unnecessary manual override facility.
Overtaking acceleration figures recorded on our test strip confirm that this engine/transmission combination is more than capable of keeping the nearly 2-ton Sorento up with traffic. We were able to achieve an impressive best 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 9,56 seconds…
The large brake pedal is easy to modulate and is linked to an ABS system that includes EBD and brake assist technology. On our test day the Sorento recorded an “excellent” rating in our 10-stop emergency braking test. A total of six airbags are fi tted around the cabin.
Korean motor companies have learned quickly and are now seriously taking the fight to their European and Japanese rivals.
Gone are the slightly clumsy lines that sometimes made vehicles from that part of the world stand out in the crowd for the wrong reasons.
In their place are sharp, classy, and distinctly European fi nishes. This, combined with huge improvements in interior fit and finish along with packages that leave very few “extras” boxes unticked, have made these models difficult to ignore.
With the new Sorento, Kia has not only stepped up a league in terms of its brand image in this market, but also now has a serious contender for top honours in the soft-roader SUV category.
Be sure to follow the progress of our recently obtained long-term test unit.