2021 Kia Sorento review
Our independent 2020 Kia Sorento review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
I used to think of the Kia Sorento as a bit of an oddball choice. A decade ago the nameplate was still unproven as a long-term prospect, but the big SUV had done well for the Korean brand. This last few years, it has become a solid performer for Kia with an excellent value package though slightly fusty styling inside and out to remind you that this was almost a transition car for Kia…a little reminder of days past.
Except it wasn’t – it was hugely comfortable, reliable and loved by everyone I know who has one. It went from being an afterthought – oh, you can look at the Kia Sorento…if you want – to a front-of-mind, crowd-pleaser. That’s not easy to do up against its sister brand’s Santa Fe, Mazda’s CX-9 and the hugely successful Toyota Kluger.
Then in the middle of all this misery, comes a brand new Kia Sorento. Some things haven’t changed – you can get a V6 front-wheel drive, a four-cylinder turbodiesel all-wheel drive and it’s still good value. What has changed is that Kia has taken the humdrum seven-seater SUV and turned it into a proper head-turner.
How much does it cost?
The new fourth-generation Sorento comes in four specification levels with two engine choices across the range. Where it says petrol, it means a front-wheel drive, 3.5-litre V6, and when it says diesel, it’s a 2.2-litre all-wheel drive turbo diesel, which I talk about lower down. RRP is the first number, the number in brackets is the driveaway price.
The S petrol starts at $45,850 ($46,990), the Sport petrol is $48,470 ($49,990), the Sport + petrol rises to $52,850 ($54,390) and the GT-Line petrol is $60,070 ($61,990).
Dropping back down to the S diesel, you start at $48,850 ($49,990), move to the Sport diesel for $51,470 ($52,990), the Sport + diesel moves on to $55,850 ($57,390) and the GT-Line lands at $63,070 ($64,990).
The S kicks you off with 17-inch alloys, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, manual seat adjustment, active cruise control, power windows and mirrors, cloth interior, 8.0-inch media screen and air-conditioning. That looks a bit skinny, but it’s a lot of fine-looking car for the money and it includes a full-size alloy spare.
Going for the Sport gets bigger wheels measuring 19-inches, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, front rear LED fog lights, high beam assist, 10-way electric seat adjustment, 10.25 media screen, dual-zone climate control, third-row fan control and vents and sat nav.
Sport + adds keyless entry and start, fake leather seats (no shame there, they’re quite nice), heated steering wheel, second and third-row USB ports and heated front seats.
The GT-Line is packed with extra stuff like around-view cameras, electronic child safety lock, rear occupant alert, panoramic sunroof, projector-style dual-LED headlights, 12.3-inch fully digital dashboard, quilted Nappa leather seats (fancy), 14-way electric seat adjustment with memory, head-up display, 64-colour interior mood lighting (does NOT throb with your music, don’t be silly), wireless phone charging, heated outboard rear seats, heated and ventilated front seats and a driver in-car intercom.
The GT-Line also adds Remote Smart Parking assist which lets you use the key to remotely pull your car out of a parking space. Except in WA. You might be able to close your borders, but you can’t move your car without being in it. Those two are unrelated, but it’s the best WA joke I can come up with that won’t get me killed.
What does it cost to own?
Kia’s unbeaten seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is present and correct and remains the standout package. Except for Ferrari having the same length of the warranty, if not unlimited kilometres. So you’re in good company.
You also get roadside assist and capped price servicing for the duration of the warranty.
What’s the exterior like?
Mint. Kia’s design-led strategy has yielded a cracking design. Yes, it’s a boxy seven-seat SUV, but it’s cooler than before. From the new tiger grille at the front wrapping seamlessly into the headlight units and the separate daytime running light arrays all the way to its funky spliced taillights, this is a lovely piece of design. I’m quite taken with it.
What’s the interior like?
Also mint. From a thoughtful layout to superb materials and interesting textures, the cavernous interior is a lovely place to be in. I’ve only driven the Sport + and really loved it, everything feels nice, it’s hugely roomy but it’s so premium feeling. Impressively so.
Little things like matching fonts on all the screens make a huge difference to the perception of quality and this is not the Kia of old. That’s not to tarnish old Kia, because the cars were solid, have proven reliable and packed in some good gear. But the design and thoughtful touches here elevate the brand and expectations.
What’s the infotainment like?
The range-opener S soldiers on with the older version of the media software (or at least it looks like it) on an 8.0-inch screen that looks lost in the space occupied by the larger screen which is available in the rest of the range. It does have the saving grace Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (via USB), Bluetooth with multiple phone support, and DAB digital radio.
That larger unit measures 10.25-inches with a new software system behind it and it looks the absolute business. The high-resolution screen shames the Kluger’s ridiculously cheap aftermarket-looking screen and is up there with Mazda’s latest version of MZD, which isn’t yet in the CX-9. It also has sat-nav and split-screen functionality and in the GT-Line, an in-car intercom (for when you need to attack a rally special stage? I guess?). That car also has a 12-speaker Bose-branded system.
Of particular note is the cutesy display in the radio screen where the frequency numbers are displayed in old light-bulb graphics.
As if to reinforce the idea this system is from a luxury German brand, there’s a Sounds of Nature feature that fills the cabin with relaxing sounds. No whale song, though. Seriously guys, what the hell.
What is the storage like?
Cracking interior, this. Front seat passengers have a good place for a phone, two cupholders and big door pockets that include bottle holders and a decent centre console bin. Move to the middle row and you have a cupholder built into each door-mounted armrest as well as two more in the centre armrest. Third-row passengers also get a tray for their phones, a cupholder each and USB ports in some grades.
As well as being a longer car, the wheelbase has up by 35mm to improve interior space. Legroom is up 93mm in the middle row – you can tell by the huge rear doors – although some of that is at the expense of third-row passengers (I reckon that’s because almost nobody uses them). Oddly, the third-row headroom has risen along with the front row’s.
With all seats in place you have 187-litres of cargo space (up 45), with the rears folded you have 605L (up 11) and with the middle row down you have a massive 2011L, somehow 349 more than before.
What engines are available?
As I’ve already mentioned, two.
The 2.2-litre SmartStream diesel has 148kW and 440Nm of torque. This new version is 19.5kg lighter courtesy of an aluminium block while Kia says the improved official consumption figures are the result of reduced friction.
The diesel’s eight-speed twin-clutch transmission sends power to all four wheels. The official combined cycle figure comes in at an impressive 6.1L/100km, 1.1 litres better than the outgoing car. Kia reckons this new wet clutch system is good for 300,000km, too. We’ll find out soon enough.
For petrol fans, the 3.5-litre V6 makes a return in Lambda III form, with 200kW and 332Nm. Coupled with an eight-speed torque converter automatic, it only comes with front-wheel drive.
What about fuel economy?
The petrol V6 drinks regular unleaded at the rate of 9.7L/100km on the combined cycle while the diesel is a creditable 6.1L/100km.
What’s it like to drive?
One of the things I didn’t like about the Sorento was it was a bit soft and marshmallowy. That translated to a nice highway vibe but was uninspiring around town. Kia’s local team cheerfully tell us the new car was tweaked for local tastes and benchmarked against some heavy hitters, such the VW Touareg, Volvo XC90, BMW X5, CX-9 and, obviously, Santa Fe.
Kia fixed that. The new Sorento is a much more dynamic-feeling car. The new suspension set-up is much more confidence-inspiring when you’re moving along at speed in corners as well as being a lot more positive around town.
There is a lot less body roll to contend with and the all-wheel drive diesel has more grip. It feels a bit lighter on its feet and seems happier in all road conditions. It’s even fun to hustle the all-wheel drive in corners, with nicely-weighted steering in Sport mode.
The drive modes subtly play with the steering, throttle and transmission responses but never lets the car get shouty or, worse, too soft and slow.
What I wasn’t prepared for is how quiet it is. Bombing down the freeway to the south coast and then dipping in and out of Kangaroo Valley with a softly-spoken passenger, neither of us ever had to raise our voices, no matter the surface. Being a loudmouth, I had to lower my voice to match the interior hush. This is genuine Euro-level refinement without the German-style tyre noise.
The engineers have added a bunch of new sound-deadening measures such as acoustic film on the windscreen, various new bushes, and materials in the carpet to reduce sound. The diesel has hydro bushes to further isolate the engine from the cabin. It has worked.
And all of the slack of the previous model as gone, replaced with positive throttle, steering and suspension responses to make the Sorento feel thoroughly modern but without losing its comfortable car for all vibe. Well, maybe not for third-row passengers, but you can’t have it all.
How safe is the new Kia Sorento?
As with the old car, the Sorento arrives from Korea packed full of safety stuff. But wait, there’s more than the previous model. Along with seven airbags (including a centre side airbag), you get ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (camera or camera plus radar depending on spec), reverse cross-traffic alert, parking collision avoidance (GT-Line only), driver attention detection, multi-collision braking (applies the brakes after a crash to stop you rolling into another one), blind-spot detection, blind-spot collision avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, safe exit assist (like Audi’s exit warning) and in the GT-Line the blind spot view monitor which flashes up a camera image in the digital dashboard of what is in your blind spot.
The models with camera-radar systems feature pedestrian (warning and braking), cyclist (warning and braking) and junction protection (stops you sailing out into cross traffic at the front between 10 and 30km/h).
What are the alternative options?
The obvious rival is its sister car, the Hyundai Santa Fe. Big and bold like the Kia, it’s about to get a facelift for its controversial (well, sort of) face and no doubt some new tech.
The Toyota Kluger is comparatively expensive and nowhere near as nicely designed. It feels very American and very old, with hefty fuel consumption, tech-lite interior and a thoroughly uninvolving driving experience. I get why people like it but it’s just so boring. And expensive. Did I mention that?
The Mazda CX-9 is gorgeous but only comes in turbo petrol form and has a dark interior. It drives well in all-wheel drive form but the front-wheel drive scrabbles a bit in the wet because the standard tyres aren’t very good.
The bottom line
The fourth-generation Kia Sorento has catapulted the car into the front of a tight pack. There are so many good choices in this segment – and a couple of dodgy ones – that it’s now harder to choose. The Sorento, though, is stylish inside and out, has a few tasty bits in the GT-Line not found this side of a hundred grand and is cheap to own and run.
What I can’t let go without mentioning again is just how lovely a thing it is to look at. And that’s no mean feat for a big unit. This kind of look and feel is not easy to pull off at this price point