Many car makers are now deleting the diesel option from their local model line-ups. Hyundai, for example, has no diesel variant in its new 2021 i30 range and Toyota’s RAV4 now offers petrol/electric hybrid power instead of diesel for buyers who prioritise fuel economy.
Diesel still makes sense in big, heavy SUVs, though, for exactly the same reason it’s still used in 99.99 per cent of trucks. As a fuel for shifting a substantial mass with maximum efficiency, it works.
This week we’re testing Kia’s new Sorento, a large seven-seater SUV, powered by a 2.2-litre four cylinder turbodiesel that’s being asked to move more than two tonnes fully laden, yet can do it while returning single-figure fuel use and close to 1000km on a tankful. Range anxiety? What’s that?
Kia’s fourth generation Sorento kicks off at $46,990 drive away for the 200kW 3.5-litre V6 petrol/eight-speed auto/front-wheel drive S model. Sport is $49,990, Sport+ is $54,390 and GT Line is $61,990.
The 148kW 2.2-litre four cylinder turbodiesel is paired with a dual-clutch eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive in the same models grades: S, at $49,990; Sport at $52,990; Sport+ at $57,390 (tested here) and GT Line at $64,990.
Sport + is the value sweet spot in the Sorento range, with partial leather upholstery, luxuriously comfortable, power-adjustable heated front seats, tinted glass, a power tailgate, keyless entry/push-button start and 19-inch alloys as standard. Fit, finish and material quality is excellent.
Infotainment is via a hi-res 12.3-inch screen atop the dash. The left side of the screen is too far away to reach easily, the menu layout is complex and stand-alone voice control is not provided (you need to connect with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to use voice commands) so it requires too much eyes off the road time to use safely on the move. Wireless phone charging is not included.
All seats in Sport+ get USB connectors, cupholders and storage and Sorento is one of more spacious, practical seven seaters around.
There’s lots of (adjustable) legroom in the 60/40 split-fold second row, plus adjustable backrest angle, and all you have to do to access row three is push a button, though the gap for access is still tight. Vents are provided for each row, and row three in Sport+ also has fan speed control.
Row-three seats are fine for kids up to teen age. They are manually raised from the floor with a strap.
Rear passengers (which in most cases would be kids) can’t open a door if a cyclist is approaching from behind. An airbag between the front seats is a first for the class, but curtain airbags do not extend to the end of row three – a potential deal breaker for many parents.
Kia’s new turbodiesel is an all-alloy engine that weighs 19kg less than the iron block engine of the same capacity in the previous model.
It goes nicely, too, with big grunt off idle and through the mid-range that makes for completely effortless progress in the higher gears, even when fully loaded. Power drops off a cliff at about 4000rpm, but it doesn’t matter because you never have to go there. It responds strongly and immediately whenever you put your foot down, and can hold its own with Europe’s best diesels.
Eco/Comfort/Sport/Smart (adaptive) drive modes are provided, but Sport is not at all sporty, just a touch busier. Sand/Mud/Snow traction control/torque distribution modes can also be selected on unsealed surfaces. The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission works almost — but not quite — as smoothly as a torque converter automatic, and is employed to maximise fuel efficiency.
Which it does. The test car used 6.5-7.0L/100km on the highway; expect 8-10L/100km in town.
Kia puts considerable effort into tuning its suspension for Australia’s rugged roads, and it really shows in Sorento Sport+, which has one of the best ride/handling compromises of any seven-seater SUV, regardless of price.
Handling is remarkably taut and tidy for nearly two tonnes, with disciplined body control and secure roadholding from the firm, fixed rate suspension, complemented by adhesive Continental tyres. The ride is controlled, compliant and comfortable, especially at speed on country roads, where many seven-seaters get pretty nautical and, for the kids in the back, nauseous. Steering is typical big SUV, though, in that it feels remote and imprecise.
I know I need a seven-seater to transport the tribe, but I would really, really like one that doesn’t drive like a bus.
It looks European, and drives European, but the price tag is South Korean.
As a drive, Sorento diesel is one of the best seven-seaters on the market, however no curtain airbag coverage for row three, and user unfriendly infotainment, hurt it.
Hyundai Santa Fe, from $47,020
A twin under the skin with the just superseded Sorento. Runs a 147kW 2.2-litre turbodiesel/eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive. A new model is imminent, so deals should be doable.
Mazda CX-8, from $46,910
A direct seven-seater rival, though slightly smaller. The 140kW 2.2-litre diesel/six-speed auto is available in front or all-wheel drive.
KIA SORENTO SPORT+ VITALS
Price: $57,390 drive away
Warranty/servicing: 7yr w’ty; $3463 for 7yrs
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel, 148kW/440Nm
Safety: Not yet tested, 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keeping, adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert
Spare: Full size alloy
Boot: 616L (five-seater mode)