Car review: Kia Sorento, the SUV that offers a premium bang for your buck

One word comes to mind when I look at the Kia Sorento: Sentinel.

Its towering presence, along with its formidable stature, hits you in the eyes. The pictures do not do it justice — there's just a different air when you're in the presence of this seven-seater turbocharged diesel beast of a sports utility vehicle (SUV).

Ranging from $164,999 for the SX to $184,999 for the top trim, GT Tech, the Sorento is not the cheapest. But how does it perform?

Formidable facade

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It stands tall at 1.7 metres upon 18-inch wheels (19-inch for the GT Tech), with a menacing piano-black front grill in a honeycomb pattern. The slivers of silver accents are barely noticeable from afar, adding to its ferocity.

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The headlamps are sat one after another in a cascading manner, like sprinters at the start line, raring to go. The daytime-running lights follow along the bottom of the headlamp cluster and turn downward with the grille. Four white fog lamps sit on the front bumper, magnifying the aura of this car.

At the corners are slits that are actually functional vents, directing air to the wheels. 

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The rear LED combination lamps depart from the tradition of a single cluster piece, opting for a two-piece separated look, similar to a Mustang. The rear indicators sit on the inner slotted piece. A high-mount brake light is integrated with the rear spoiler.

Also grouped together is a rear windscreen wiper that you'd miss if you're not looking for it. It sits in between the spoiler and the windscreen, hidden out of sight when not in use. Curves and bends of the rear body panel are in all the right places to give the Sorento a more elegant demeanour.

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Black and silver skirting run along the side of the car, serving as a reminder to its sports-utility class. Side view mirrors get a two-tone paint finish, as well as tiny bumps along the bottom that house the blind spot monitor camera.

Creature comforts

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Inside, the Sorento sports a firm, ergonomic leather steering wheel, with raised notches at the 10 and two hand positions. The buttons and switches on the multi-function steering wheel press well and are solid, which sounds mundane, but a cheaply put together button assembly would eat at you every single time you had to change the volume or set the cruise control.

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You also get paddle shifters on the Sorento, giving you the option for a more spirited drive. Coupled with the eight-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT), gear changes are instant and more importantly, seamless.

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From the cockpit you get a fully-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster — plenty of real estate for your driving information. The animations that come on whenever you start the engine or switch between drive modes are well-done and pleasant to look at, but can feel a bit choppy when switching between driving modes.

The digital gauges on the left and right switch to the camera feed from the blind spot camera when the signal indicator is turned on. On the dash you'll notice a cutout on the driver's side, where the heads-up display (HUD) projector sits. Instead of a glass or plastic piece, the Sorento's HUD is reflected directly off the windscreen for a more integrated driving experience.

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Following the housing of the instrument cluster is an integrated 10.25-inch touch screen infotainment system. The crisp display is also used for the 360-degree stitched camera view for a simulated top-down view of the Sorento and rear-camera view with steering guide lines when the gear is in reverse or when the camera button is pushed. In reverse gear, side view mirrors automatically tilt down for easier observation and manoeuvring.

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In the centre console, you get plenty of car control options, yet also plenty of space to hold small things like your keys. The two-cup holder is spaced out, such that you can easily fit two large drink cups (picture a typical cup where the top is wider than the bottom). 

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Under the air-conditioning controls is the power distribution artery of the Sorento. You get three USB ports (two for charging, one for infotainment unit access) plus a wireless charging dock. That's four simultaneous charging options. I don't know why you'd need four — unless you're a busy executive with two work phones and an iPad — but nobody's complaining. And these are just the ones up front (more on that later).

Switches on either side control the seat-warming and ventilated seats function. You probably won't use the seat-warmers unless Singapore freezes over but ventilated seats are an absolute godsend in this climate. You won't worry about your car baking under the sun in an open carpark because in under a minute you can have cooled air directed to your back and thighs. Sweat stains on your leather seats will be a thing of the past.

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Apart from the roominess and amenities aplenty in the front of the cabin, sensorial experiences are dotted throughout as well for a comforting, cosy ride experience. Customisable mood lighting seeps out of little metal etchings on the side, much like a luxury hotel room art piece. There's also plenty of leather to run your hands over all around. Superb insulation cuts out traffic noise apart from the purr of the engine at about 4000 to 5000 RPM (which is the only noise you'll want to hear). From the near-silence, the 12-speaker Bose sound system takes over to give you the ultimate eargasm during your journey. This is one car you do not want to get out of.

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Rather than just catering to the comfort of the driver and front passenger, the size of this absolute unit of an SUV means plenty of space for those in tow. The middle row is great to seat three, even for "oversized" adults like myself. The middle seat also pulls out to convert to an armrest and cupholders. The panoramic sunroof is, well, a panoramic sunroof. It stretches across the length of the car, treating those in the middle to an extended, unblocked night-sky view. Passengers in this row can roll their whiskey in their rock glasses while they pretend that you, the driver, are named Jeeves and serve as their chauffeur.

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There's also an integrated privacy screen and sun shade for the middle row passengers so they can pretend to be chauffeured around. When not in use, it's retracted into the door, almost flush with the panel. Remember when I was talking about charging ports up front? You get two more in the middle row, built into the electric seats of the front (the driver gets memory settings for two), plus a 12 volt cigarette lighter port below the middle-row air conditioning block. 

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The third row seats two more with comfortable space lengthwise, but not heightwise. Sitting in that row means sitting with raised knees. That being said, you are looking at an SUV. It's a good option to have an additional two seats but if comfort for seven adults is what you're after, you should be looking at an MPV. Otherwise, kids should sit just fine in the back. The rear-seat-occupiers are not forsaken by any means — you get another 12-volt cigarette lighter port in the last row, speakers, and compartments for phones, knick knacks and cups.

Belly of the beast

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On the roads, the Sorento has four driving modes: Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Smart. The GT Tech comes with three additional modes: Mud, Sand, Snow. With a 2,151cc turbocharged engine, the Sorento produces 200 horsepower and 440 Newton-metres (Nm) of torque. When the turbocharger spools up, you get a kick of power boosting the car forward, making overtaking a breeze.

At a 1,757 to 1,892kg kerb weight range for the SX and SX Tech trim and 1,819 to1,954kg for the GT Tech, you'd think moving this behemoth would not be so effortless, yet it is. Almost deceptively, it lists 0-100km/h timings of 9 seconds (SX and SX Tech) and 9.2 seconds (GT Tech), but while driving you'd think it way faster. For its weight, it still drinks decently, averaging 12km/L of diesel over the test drive period.

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The Sorento is front-wheel drive, except the GT Tech trim, which gets all-wheel drive. Road imperfections are unnoticeable owing to the front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension. Driving over humps won't toss you around like a metal spring inside a protein powder shaker bottle. Cornering in the Sorento, even though a high-riding SUV, handles well and doesn't make you feel like you'll be thrown off course, or worse, roll over. Complementing its handling with the power it's packing and a sports mode, this SUV is geared up for spirited driving if you do feel in the mood for it.

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Overall, I am thoroughly impressed with the Sorento, and it'll be one of my more fondly-remembered cars for its looks, drivability, comfort and amenities. It's not the cheapest seven-seater SUV, and it definitely defines itself upon that fact. Nothing about the car feels cheap, yet you still feel like its getting you a good premium bang for your buck.

Specifications

Engine

CRDI VGT Diesel

Fuel

Diesel

Transmission

8-speed DCT

Engine displacement

2151cc

Max power

200bhp

Max torque

440Nm

0-100km/h

SX, SX Tech: 9 seconds
GT Tech: 9.2 seconds

Fuel consumption

SX, SX Tech: 17.5km/L
GT Tech: 16.7km/L

Fuel tank capacity

78.5L

VES banding

SX, SX Tech: B
GT Tech: C1

Wheel size 

SX, SX Tech: 18"
GT Tech: 19"

F/R brakes

17” disc/17” disc

Safety features

Advanced seven-airbag system, anti-lock braking system, electronic stability control, downhill-assist control, multi-collision brake assist, electric parking brake, smart cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward-collision avoidance assistance, blindspot view monitor, blindspot collision avoidance assist, HUD, surround view monitor, parking distance warning, rain sensing wipers, tyre pressure monitoring system

Additional features

10.25" infotainment unit with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry and start, paddle shifters, power tailgate, heated and ventilated seats, mood lighting, exterior door handle lighting, Bose 12-speaker sound system, wireless charger

Price

SX: $164,999

SX Tech: $174,999

GT Tech: $184,999

Colours

Snow White Pearl (pictured), Silky Silver, Steel Gray, Aurora Black Pearl, Platinum Graphite, Essence Brown, Gravity Blue, Runway Red, Mineral Blue

We'll love to know if you have any suggestions or models that you'll like us to take a look at.

jayjaylin@asiaone.com.