A New Hope?
I will always consider the second-generation Sorento as one of my favorites.
Even today when I pass by one on the road, I keep thinking that's a well-sorted crossover. I liked the height, the ride, the features, the interior, the versatility with the fold-flat seats, and how well it actually drives. The lines and proportions are just right and the look certainly aged well; many of the owners seem to be taking care of their vehicles. But perhaps the thing I like most is that it's the Kia for those that don't want to conform and get a Fortuner or a Montero Sport.
Of course, times have changed, and the generation that followed wasn't quite as popular. Maybe part of it is because the price really shot up, or maybe it just doesn't have as striking a look as its predecessor in its prime. I can easily attest that the second-gen Sorento is a far more common sight than the one that succeeded it.
Now we're onto a new generation, and it promises a lot. I mean, it has to. It's new hope, but they're charging almost PHP 2.6 million for the one I'm driving: the SX in white pearl.
Yes, Kia is well past any notion of being the cheaper Asian car after Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, and the like. Actually, for the last 15 years, their prices have really been increasing, and you can see that with the Sorento. The first generation was just under PHP 1.4 million, while the top-of-the-line model I drove in 2010 was almost PHP 1.8 million, and that was succeeded by a model that cost PHP 2.3 million in 2015.
So where did that money go to? Is this that much better than anything else at the same price range?
An argument can be made for the design. Kia is perhaps the first Korean automaker to really invest in its designs early on. They started hiring European designers to help revamp the image of their brand, and it really paid off. If you're a person who really buys a car for curb appeal and for how it glimmers at you in its fully waxed and polished glory at the showroom, then this is the crossover for you.
Kia really nailed it with the look. The front end is something I really like; it reminds me of the Stormtrooper helmet, especially in this shade of white with black accents. The grille has these neat details, as does the tailgate. And here's my favorite bit: Kia didn't resort to chrome. Actually, Kia does something that I really prefer: they don't like using too much chrome. Even the new Kia logo has a satin sheen about it, not polished chrome.
In pictures and on video, the Sorento looks small when it really isn't. This is slightly longer than a Fortuner, closer in width to an Explorer, and just about as tall as a Mazda CX-9. The proportions do look good, but I do wish it had more height and more than the rather low 176mm official minimum ground clearance. Put a pin in that for now because we'll cycle back to that later.
The interior design department does seem to be getting a good chunk of the R&D budget because it really does look different and striking. The wheel looks and feels fantastic, as does the gear selector. Kia worked to create a continuous strip that has the digital instrument cluster and infotainment screen lined up; it reminds me of how you would arrange a neat multi-screen gaming setup.
The wood grain panel they selected is really nice, and the leather is too, but perhaps what really draws the eyes are the A/C vents. I don't normally talk about A/C vent design, but what Kia did was really unusual with the split upper and lower vents. It just looks like it was lifted from a space fighter or something.
The thing we have to get out right now is how heavy the Sorento is on buttons. In this modern age where cars are so sophisticated that many automakers are relocating many of the controls to the main/infotainment screen, Kia didn't see the need to. There are a lot of functions on the car that still use physical buttons, so you will need to spend some time getting familiarized with everything from the drive modes, the dual-zone climate system, the Apple Carplay/Android Auto functions, and the many features like the lane-keep, 360 camera, so on and so forth. It doesn't seem shortchanged when it comes to features, but there are a few notables missing like adaptive cruise control and a panoramic glass roof.
Even though it can seem overwhelming with the controls, it's still quite intuitive that you can just get in, power it up, and go on a drive. The first thing that becomes clear when you do so is how low it feels when you're driving it. Normally I prefer setting the driver's seat to the lowest possible setting, but if you do that in a Sorento it really will feel like you're riding in a sedan and not an SUV. When you pass by a PPV like a Montero Sport, a crossover like a CR-V, or even an MPV like an Innova, you will feel low especially when you compare the height of the side mirrors. You can set the seat higher of course, but it may seem unnatural.
Being somewhat car-like in its driving position does lend it some very sedan qualities, and that's not a bad thing. It feels nimble and composed even when cornering at a good speed; clearly, Kia learned a lot with the arrival of key people from other companies (e.g. BMW) that helped them develop cars like the Stinger. I should have known it would handle pretty well, as the shock towers under the engine bay are already connected by a built-in strut bar that also serves as a chassis cross-member under the windshield. You do feel a bit more of the road as a consequence, but not anywhere enough to make it feel uncomfortable. Also, I was mostly driving alone, so this seven-seater wasn't really utilized to its full capacity.
That said though, I think Kia was aiming for a more executive-type vehicle with the Sorento. Yes, there is a third row, but it's really more for kids because it can feel tight for adults. But what I'm getting at is the space that exists on the second row. There are USB ports there, a center armrest, and rear A/C vents, but what's telling is the seat adjustment on the passenger side backrest so the driver (chauffeur) can move it all the way forward. That's a feature normally seen on an executive saloon like the Camry, which gives a clear indication of the target market of this.
Despite these leanings towards use by the boss, the Sorento is a pretty versatile everyday vehicle should you choose to drive it yourself. If you need to load stuff for a road trip or after a shopping spree, there's a power tailgate, and both rows of seating in the back fold flat very conveniently; you don't have to go around to the second row to fold them because of a control panel on the right side of the cargo area. In max cargo configuration, this Sorento can take on items up to 69” long.
As a personal vehicle, it is very nice. The powertrain is composed of a 2.2L diesel featuring many of the latest toys from Kia, particularly with the 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox with several drive modes; activate any of them and the tacho/speedo digital gauge display does change. Oh, and my favorite parlor trick here has to be the signals; touch the indicators, and the tacho or speedo changes to a camera view of the lane you want to go to.
In town, it's not the smoothest as is typical of DCTs, but on the highway, it's absolutely in its element. And there's no disputing its outstanding efficiency: in the city, you can easily expect 13 kilometers per liter (moderate to light traffic) and on the highway don't be surprised if you're reaching 20 km/l if you're managing your throttle well.
The real question is who is the Sorento SX for because at just a smidge under PHP 2.6 million, there are a lot of options already. What Kia did was really dial the Sorento towards the car side of the crossover spectrum rather than the SUV side, which is why it feels like a low riding vehicle, but a nice handling one and a very refined cruiser. If you're after something more SUV-like because you live in an area with potential flooding or intend to visit places that demand something more rugged, then this won't suit your needs. It's not even all-wheel drive.
If those car-like qualities are what you're after, then this is a solid pick. This would also be great if you're frequenting the expressways a good bit because on the highway it's just a quiet, efficient, and smooth operator.