Safety and convenience are foundations for an impressive family SUV.
Few cars prioritise those elements quite so comprehensively as the new Kia Sorento. The previous model won our 2015 car of the year trophy, and the latest version promises to be even better with improved space and technology.
Priced from $46,990 drive-away to $64,990 drive-away, the Sorento is available in four model grades with a choice of petrol or diesel power.
The cheapest model has a 17-inch alloys, 8-inch central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus digital radio and the ability to connect multiple Bluetooth devices.
All other versions get a 10.25-inch high-definition screen with sat nav and split-screen functionality.
While every Sorento is generously equipped, range-topping GT-Line models get an eye-popping amount of equipment including a colour head-up display, digital dash, 64-colour mood lighting, a 12-speaker Bose stereo, an aircraft-like intercom system and quilted leather trim for $61,990 drive-away.
Power comes from a 3.5-litre V6 sending 200kW/332Nm to the front wheels as standard, while a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 148kW/440Nm adds $3000 to the bill.
Though both engines feature eight-speed transmissions, only the diesel gets a new dual-clutch auto that cuts fuel use from 7.2 to 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the new model.
Which is impressive, as the Sorento is bigger than before, with more cargo room and a longer wheelbase to improve rear passenger comfort.
Cupholders used to be the bragging point for seven-seat family machines. These days, a lot of kids – and grown-ups – might prioritise tech over hydration, so power outlets were a priority for folks tasked with reworking Kia’s family wagon.
So the number of USB points has grown from two to eight, including clever outlets on the back of the front seats. Unlike some rivals, none are tucked away in armrests, allowing all seven occupants to replenish their phone or tablet during a journey.
Cleverly, you can pair more than one phone with the car’s Bluetooth system at a time, allowing kids to play DJ while a parent’s phone remains ready to handle phone calls in a safe, hands-free fashion.
Kia chose to fit common USB-A outlets to the Sorento as opposed to the new USB-C power points found in some of the latest European models. That’s good news, as you won’t need to buy a box full of adaptors, though it might make the car feel dated in a few years’ time.
One-touch second row seats that slide and fold forward for quick access to the last row, which has air vents and airbag coverage. Adults in the middle row will appreciate the ability to slide their seat back for more leg room or tilt the backrest to get comfortable on long trips. Cupholders placed high near the door handles are easy to reach.
Every Sorento is stocked with impressive safety kit including a new centre airbag between the driver and front passenger, plus a comprehensive suite of driver aids necessary to be eligible for a five-star rating.
Auto emergency braking can react to cars, pedestrians, cyclists or trouble at intersections, and the car can also apply the brakes to stop you from backing into people, objects or the path of moving traffic. Blind spot warning, active cruise control and lane keeping assistance also feature. The car even has the sort of steering assistance normally found in high-end European machines, and the top model will reverse-park itself without the driver being present inside the car.
All of this is impressive.
But it can feel claustrophobic behind a wheel shaking to warn you of potential hazards, or twisting in your hands to guide you on its preferred path. The Sorento beeps, bongs, chimes and broadcasts surprisingly loud verbal warnings with frequency designed to maximise its safety score, if not driver satisfaction.
You might like that. Or you might spend the first couple of days with the Sorento trying to stifle some elements.
We tested the car in Sport+ trim with heated leather seats, 19-inch wheels and the optional diesel engine priced from $57,390 drive-away.
The motor is impressively frugal, helped by the new dual-clutch auto that shifts almost seamlessly at speed. A touch of lag can make low-speed movement less progressive than rivals with well-sorted conventional automatic transmissions.
Quiet for a diesel, the 2.2-litre unit lacks the refinement of modern petrol alternatives. But it has plenty of torque, and the all-wheel-drive system’s traction is a safer bet than the V6 petrol’s front-drive layout.
Kia’s locally-sorted suspension helps the Sorento feel more manoeuverable than most cars this size.
Roll is kept to a minimum, but aloof steering isn’t ideal. A slightly firm ride in our test example was exacerbated by noisy suspension that emphasised sharp bumps in the road. But the Sorento gets the big stuff right, with full marks for safety and convenience.
Thoughtful design, generous equipment and a seven-year warranty make the Sorento easy to recommend for folks who occasionally need seven seats. But big families will be better served by the more spacious Carnival people mover.
KIA SORENTO SPORT+ DIESEL VITALS
Price: From $57,390 drive-away
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 148kW/440Nm
Warranty/servicing: 7 years, unlimited km, $2401 for 5 years
Safety: Not yet rated, 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert
Cargo space: 605 litres