Sometimes, a stigma is a hard thing to shake. For quite some time now, Kia has been making well-designed cars that have had critical acclaim both here and abroad. However, you have to admit that if someone says Kia, the first car that pops into mind is the Pride.
We're far beyond the days of Kia making bare econoboxes. Perhaps, one can attribute Kia's upmarket aspirations to the Sorento. Besides, who expected a mid-sized SUV from Kia fourteen years ago? And ever since Kia poached Peter Schreyer, the former design boss of Audi, the brand has been producing truly stylish designs.
So now, we come to this, the third-generation Kia Sorento. While it's still a handsome SUV, does the Sorento back it up with substance? A week with Kia's largest crossover should answer this question.
There's certainly nothing wrong with its design. The front is a mix of both aggressive lines and soft curves. I particularly like the light arrangement and it complements well with the larger version of Kia's signature Tiger Nose grill. I appreciate Kia's effort with the fog lights too with its upswept, trapezoidal shape. Also, the unpainted plastic trim somwhat beefs up the look of this large crossover.
I could say that the lines on the Sorento are smooth and flowing. There's no line or design feature out of place. Also, the small windows have become a signature of the brand. As for the rear, it still looks good but I much prefer the look of the previous generation model. All in all however, there is a hint of European influences with its design. I will admit that the color isn't to everyone's liking however but kudos to Kia for offering something that isn't a shade of gray.
The interior is just as impressive as its exterior. It's well laid out, organized and boasts of soft padding even in places where your hands rarely go. Like its exterior, there are soft lines present in the cabin which flow into one smooth pattern. Perhaps its Peter Schreyer's influence but the design emulates those seen in European cars. If you take out the badges and let someone sit inside, it's likely that Kia won't be their first guess. There are, however, two things out of place in here; the rather old-style gear selector and the 2-DIN head unit.
Given its size, one would expect the Sorento to come with generous room inside. It delivers by offering loads of leg, shoulder and headroom from the front, all the way to the third row. Rare for a vehicle with a driveshaft is a relatively flat floor meaning you can set three people at the second row in comfort. So, there is a lot of space but it doesn't feel that way due to the fact that it has slim windows. Thankfully, the panoramic glass roof lets in a lot of light into the cabin. With it open, sitting inside the Sorento feels cavernous. As a bonus, there's air-conditioning for both second and third-row occupants.
Powering the Sorento is a 2.2-liter turbodiesel with pretty impressive numbers. Power is rated at 200 PS and delivers 441 Nm of torque to all four wheels. It then shifts via a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. There are also three driving modes to choose from with Eco, Normal and Sport. To my surprise, there was even a center differential lock, a rarity in crossovers. If these specs sound familiar, it's exactly the same powertrain combination found in the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Sorento's fraternal twin.
With those figures, the Sorento makes for a surprising brisk crossover. Despite lugging almost 2,000 kilograms, the engine pulls the Sorento with authority and gets to cruising speeds with just a twitch of the foot. The way it delivers power is with one big wallop. There is lag but the moment the turbo spools, it launches itself into the distance. Needless to say, overtaking is no problem; simply give the throttle a tiny squeeze and you'll be passing in no time.
Aside from packing quite the punch, its engine proved to be efficient too. During its time with me, I encountered extremely heavy congestion with average speeds at just 15 km/h. Despite that, it still returned 8 km/l while light traffic yielded 12.3 km/l. Cruising at 93 km/h, the fuel economy figures bump up to 15.6 km/l, with a fair bit of overtaking. These are figures you expect from an economy car, not a two ton, all-wheel drive crossover.
The engine aside, Kia's large crossover also proved to be a capable, comfortable daily driver and highway cruiser. Noise isolation was good despite the glass roof and, considering it was on 18-inch rims, the ride was well sorted. There was a hint of firmness as low speeds but the set up is soft in general, riding over bumps with minimal disruption felt inside. At higher speeds, there is a fair bit of wallow and heaves a little on expansion joints. That said, it isn't carsick inducing.
With its soft ride and comfortable characteristic, handling and dynamics isn't its forte. Granted, it's safe and secure but it won't engage you. After all, this is a pretty large SUV with shuttling families in mind. That said, the steering is devoid of feedback, you feel the body pitching even at low speeds and the brakes felt spongy. It's a bit of a land yacht if you decide to take it for a spot of spirited driving. Then again, that's not the point of this car.
As a car, it's an impressive piece of engineering. So why isn't the Sorento flying off the dealership lots? At Php 2,300,000, you expect a car to come fully loaded with features but its equipment list was on the bare side given the segment it competes in. While it is significantly priced lower than other large crossovers, there's just not getting over the fact that there is no touchscreen infotainment, power seats, HID headlights (yes, this still uses halogens), or even a reverse camera.
All is not lost however since it does have a full host of passive and active safety systems, and it's one of the few diesel offering among its peers (ie. Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9). To answer the question earlier, yes, the Sorento offers a lot of style and substance. While the Sorento lacks in equipment, it makes up for it by doing a fantastic job with the intangibles such as performance, comfort and quality. For some, that might be enough of a reason to consider it.