Kia Sorento has some form added to its functionality

Kia adds more style to its seven-seat SUV

Make: Kia

Model: Sorento

Year: 2013

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: March 29, 2013

Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 12:14


At this stage every dog on the street with even the most fleeting interest in chasing tyres knows the Koreans are on a roll. If the biggest motoring story of the moment is VW’s ambition for world domination, then the next story is the consistent growth of sister brands Kia and Hyundai.

Even in a European sales market that resembles a motorway pile-up, the two brands are steadily winning ground on established brands.

Kia might not have recorded the headline-grabbing sales growth of Hyundai, but it has had some of the best-looking new cars on the mainstream market.

Which brings us to the Sorento. Earlier versions of this car were more about grim, affordable functional motoring. It was simply about balancing a bit of off-road motoring needs, towing ability and seven seats with a family budget.

Kia claims this new version brings a little bit of desirability to the table. Styling is down to personal taste and I had a long – if not very heated – debate with a fan of this car about its looks. While he loved the updated styling that brings the Sorento into line with some of Kia’s more striking models, I see it as largely a new front nose on a standard SUV format. From the windscreen back the car doesn’t look all that different to the previous SUVs that rolled off Korean-owned production lines over the last decade. Sleek up front, boxy at the back. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which camp you fall into.

Perhaps my views are formed on the fact that I’ve come to regard the Kia design as among the best in the mainstream market over the last few years. From the striking Soul to the gorgeous Optima, Kia has been turning out some of the best-looking and eye-catching models on the market over the last seven years. Even the Sportage, which didn’t win me over in terms of dynamics, is still a great-looking crossover. Against this backdrop, the Sorento seems a bit mundane.

Yet styling was one of the priorities for the Sorento team. This time it wanted to win over the heart as well as the head. That has even meant sacrificing a little on the functionality, as the towing capacity of the new Sorento has been reduced. It is also lower to the ground up front, reducing its off-road ability.

Inside the function continues to dominate form, with the seven-seat option a boon for families but it’s all a little sparse on star attractions. The cabin just doesn’t seem to come up to the standards of the rivals, reflecting a time before Kia’s style revolution. It’s got the requisite Bluetooth connections and let’s you play audio from your smartphone remotely, but the rather harsh plastics let it down.

On the road things get better. The 2.2-litre diesel engine puts out a very credible 194bhp and doesn’t lack in terms of power. It might not be a racer off the line, but it’s respectable given its size. Emissions of 155g/km are also a major improvement on the 177g/km of the previous version.

Hefty challenge
The Koreans have delivered on their promises in the past, be it to improve styling, deliver sales and improve comfort features. The next challenge for them will be to widen – and improve – their powertrain portfolios. That’s a pretty hefty challenge but they now have the global scale to make it happen. Expect to see more discussions about engines, emissions and powertrains coming from the Koreans in the coming years.

While it does boast a solid four-wheel-drive system, once more with Kia we find that the ride is not as adept as rivals, nor is the steering as communicative. It copes fine with general roads but loses its poise on more challenging back roads. That’s a similar impression I got with the Sportage and both ride and handling seem similar to what you get when driving in the US. Perhaps Kia, with eyes across the Pacific, is tuning its cars to US more than European tastes. It’s understandable, if a little regrettable for us.

The Sorento starts at a very reasonable €37,990, which for a seven-seat family car with four-wheel-drive and some of that long-forgotten SUV kudos is a competitive offering. It’s chief rival is arguably the Santa Fe from its sister brand Hyundai. However, while it looks better than the Sorento and comes in two-wheel drive format for just €5 more than the Kia, it’s not as practical. The third row of seats in the Hyundai are rather cramped, headroom is only suitable for small children and the overall layout is more of a 5+2 than a full seven-seater. Also, when you add four-wheel-drive – standard on the Sorento – the price rises to €41,995. It’s a tight call: for styling and a more premium feel it’s the Santa Fe, but for family functionality its the Sorento.

Another rival is the Mitsubishi Outlander, with a similar powertrain, seven seats (again a 5+2 format in reality) and priced at €36,950. And in the warranty wars Mitsubishi has seemingly topped Kia with its new eight-year offering. Both firms have the eye-catching headline figure, but in reality the Hyundai could prove more attractive to the higher-mileage motorists as it might only last five years but is offered with unlimited mileage.

The Sorento might not have the styling of its sister models but its functionality will win it favour with its core family audience. It’s a competitive offering from a brand that seems set to rise up the sales ranks in the next few years.