Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
Kia Sorrento Platinum
Korean beauty
February 2010

NOT long ago, it would have been hard to conceive that Kia could come up with an almost $50,000 SUV capable of stealing sales from its Japanese and European rivals.

Value for money has always been the mantra of this Korean brand so the new Sorento opens up a whole new market.

We are not saying it isn’t a bargain when you factor in all its quality equipment, but you have to be more cashed up than the brand’s traditional patrons.

The 2010 Sorento, now a seven-seater, has entered an 18-strong field in the mid-sized SUV segment, headed by the Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger. Other contenders include the Holden Captiva, Mitsubishi Outlander and Sorento’s sibling, the Hyundai Santa Fe.

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.

The price for the base model is still competitive _ from $36,490 _ but we tested the top-of-the-tree Platinum that will set you back $48,990 plus on roads.

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

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.

All Sorentos have AWD (no low range) and the diesel automatic, as we discovered, 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.

Packed with many features usually reserved for more expensive vehicles, the Kia Sorento is going to change perceptions of Korean-built cars.

It looks great, is silky smooth to drive, and the diesel version is very impressive.

With the family-friendly seating, it’s sure to cause a sensation on the soccer-mum circuit.



ENGINES: 2.2 litre turbo-diesel 16-valve 4-cylinder

POWER: 145kW at 3800rpm

TORQUE: 436Nm from 1800-2500rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

ECONOMY: 7.4 litres/100km

TANK: 70 litres

PROS: Economical, smooth and quiet diesel engine, flexible seating

CONS: Less off-road ability, lower towing capacity

BOTTOM LINE: $48,990