Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
Kia Sorento
Kia’s rising star
November 2009

EVERYONE loves an SUV, it seems.

There are now 18 models to choose from in the mid-sized segment, which is becoming more competitive by the second with talk of two newcomers reaching our shores early next year.

From somewhere near the tail of the pack has charged perhaps the unlikeliest of contenders _ a Korean-built wagon, formerly regarded more as a value-for-money choice than a high quality conveyance.

The 2010 Kia Sorento wowed the Australian and New Zealand motoring press at a special launch at the Hyatt Coolum late last month.

Kia has sold 900,000 Sorentos globally (9000 here) since it was introduced in 2002, but decided the time was ripe to up the ante.

Gone is the budget look and feel. Off-road toughness and towing capacity for Grey Nomads has been sacrificed for a much smoother, upmarket vehicle aimed at youngish families on $70k-plus incomes.

The price, as you would expect, is still competitive _ from $36,490 _ but this is an offering that will change the way people think about the brand.

The new Sorento, like many of its rivals, is available in 2WD (entry level petrol automatic) and also has diesel versions with six-speed manual or automatic transmission in three specification levels _ Si, SLi or Platinum.

They have AWD and the diesel automatic, as we discovered in a 200km preview drive in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, is the pick of the bunch.

The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, a piece of world-class engineering, is Kia’s new pride and joy. With 145kW of power at 3800 revs and 426Nm of torque available from 1800-2500rpm, it makes light work of any challenge it is set.

It is athletic off the mark and easily maintains momentum up hills without the traditional downward gear change and engine roar of similar sized chariots.

Economy is another great strength with the diesel auto sipping only 7.4 litres for every 100km covered.

There’s no doubt that the longer, lower, lighter Sorento has been designed to be more car-like.

The ride is an each-way bet _ not too firm and not too soft _ and there is good body control even through tight corners.

Space and flexibility of seating are other assets, with all Sorentos coming with seven seats.

The most rearward are easily hidden flat, allowing for excellent luggage space.

If you need to take a couple of extra kids to soccer or nippers, up they come and off you go.

The 3rd row also has a 50:50 split.

The capacity will put the Sorento head to head with Holden Captiva, Hyundai’s Santa Fe and the Mitsubishi Outlander, while its other rivals loom as Toyota Rav4, Nissan X-Trail, and Subaru Forester.

Target customers are 35 to 50-year-olds, many with children.

The family buyer will also be lured by a Euro NCAP five-star safety rating and an array of creature comforts, including 25 conveniently-placed compartments.

There’s six airbags, advanced ESP (Electronic Stability Program), TCS (Traction Control System), ABS, EBD and Brake Assist.

Sorento Si comes with these features plus 17 inch alloys, front fog lights, electric folding outside mirrors with LED indicators, leather wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and door trim, cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls, power windows, keyless entry, MPS compatible CD player, and self leveliser (on diesel model).

The SLi spices things up with 18 inch alloys, rear view camera, leather seats, 8-way power driver’s seat, auto headlights, mood lighting and 3rd row vents and fan controls.

Platinum buyers will get a panoramic powered sunroof, HID type front headlights with wipers, 6 CD changer, and push button start smart key entry system.

The move away from its rugged predecessor is evident in the new exterior and interior styling, which is sleeker and more elegant.

Kia has left no stone unturned in its quest to make this a winner and the new Kia Sorento, which is on sale now, is sure to find plenty of admirers.


SEATS: 7 (all variants)

ENGINES: 2.4-litre DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder petrol or 2.2 litre turbo-diesel 16-valve 4-cylinder

POWER: 128kW at 6000rpm (petrol), 145kW at 3800rpm (turbo-diesel)

TORQUE: 226Nm at 3750rpm (petrol), 422-436Nm (manual/auto) from 1800-2500rpm (turbo-diesel)

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual or automatic

ECONOMY: Petrol 2WD auto 9.2 litres/100km, diesel 4WD manual 6.7 litres/100km, diesel auto 7.4 litres/100km

TANK: 70 litres

PROS: Economy, diesel version is brilliant, flexibility of seating

CONS: Less off-road ability, lower towing capacity

BOTTOM LINE: From $36,490 (petrol 2WD auto) to $48,990 for Platinum diesel auto