HOEDSPRUIT, Limpopo Province - The third generation of Kia’s top-end wagon, the Sorento, has just been launched in South Africa with an all-new bodyshell, a powerful new diesel engine and a level of interior design and quality that takes the car to indisputably luxury standards.
The four-model range is in showrooms now in five or seven-seat configurations and with a number of optional extra-cost items at prices ranging from R379 995 for the 2.4 LS petrol entry model through to R634 995 for the top 2.2 CRDi SX 4x4.
David Sieff, marketing director for Kia South Africa, recalled a little of the Sorento’s history during a conference as part of a media test-drive from Nelspruit (Mbombela) in Mpumalanga to Hoedspruit in far north-eastern Limpopo Province.
'INTERIOR A STEP-UP'
“The first Sorento was a 2.5 V6 back in 2002,” he explained, “but then came designer Peter Schreyer and the original car’s ladder-frame chassis gave way to a monocoque body. A facelift followed but now we are into the latest design and the Schreyer language continues.”
He sees the 2015 Sorento’s main competitors as Toyota’s Fortuner – though some might regard that as more rugged and off-roadish, I reckon – as well as Chevrolet’s Captiva, Kia sister company Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and resurgent Volvo’s XC 60.
“The interior,” Sieff adds, “is a fantastic step up.” No argument there: the first thing you’ll notice as you slide on to the Sorento’s leather upholstery (cloth in the 2.4 petrol model) is the pervasive aura of quality and the way-functional design of the whole facia assembly - particularly the soft finish on the top.
A 10.5cm touchscreen comes with the car; a giant 25cm screen is an option though being an option on the top model at R635 000 seems a little over the top.
WHEEL RIMS - PICK YOUR SIZE
The car is slightly longer and wider but has a marginally lower roof than its predecessor. The extra length allows for more space for the five or seven seats – the latter arrangement a continuation from previous models as an option with the extra two folding into the cargo space floor and the centre row folding forward at the touch of a lever for easy access to them.
There’s also a choice of wheel rims: 17, 18 or 19” in a variety of designs.
This new Sorento has already received the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s five-star overall safety rating. Orth Hedrick, a Kia vice-president for product planning, said: “The rating is a testament to Kia’s commitment to safety. The Sorento is the perfect getaway vehicle for adventurers and families on the go who can feel confident knowing their vehicle scored the highest rating achievable.”
The core of all this, the automaker says, is the car’s “significantly enhanced” platform which is 14% more torsionally rigid than the previous model thanks to the use of 53% “advanced high-strength steel’, more than double that of the previous model.
“That and other changes to the assembly process,” Kia says, “have combined to make the new model the most robust and durable Sorento yet.”
'RED DOD' THINKS IT'S COOL
The 2015 Sorento (and sister car the Soul) also scored top marks in the most recent JD Power quality report, its best ranking yet, according to Sieff.
The designers originally nicknamed the Mk.III Sorento ‘Streetwolf’; imagine a wolf in sinuous motion and you can see where they were coming from – Kia describes the car as “sleek and sinuous in profile” with “a bold on-the-road presence”. The ‘Red Dot’ people agreed, apparently, and gave the car its first product design award earlier in 2015.
The jury, Kia reports, rated the car on finish, degree of innovation, environmental impact and safety.
The front design incorporates long, wrap-around headlights and more prominent fog lights; the now iconic “tiger’s nose” grille between them has been reshaped slightly but is still eminently recognisable in other drivers’ rear-view mirrors.
How big is the car? It’s 95mm longer at 4780mm, 15mm lower at 1685mm) but five mm wider at 1890mm).
Kia’s design team in Frankfurt, Germany, have, Kia says, created a more sophisticated, more luxurious cabin, featuring significantly higher quality materials with what it calls “a modern and wide” theme.
THREE SCREEN SIZES
“It’s evident through the horizontal layout of the instrument cluster, interior trim and the wraparound dashboard that extends right to the door trim,” the automaker says. “ A higher proportion of soft-touch materials and leather creates a modern, luxury, feel to the cabin and gives the new Sorento the ambience of a genuinely premium interior space.”
The entry-level Sorento models have a nine cm mono LCD screen between two analogue dials in the centre of the instrument binnacle. It displays all major trip-data information, among them fuel range and average and instant fuel consumption.
Screen size grows on more expensive models to an 18cm colour TFT LCD with more information displayed. Also added is a digital speedometer a multi-function steering wheel to select the data display.
All models, however, come with a radio / CD / MP3 player, multimedia ports for USB and auxiliary connections, and six speakers. Higher grades also add a reversing camera.
KEEPING THE TUNNEL QUIET
None of which is much use unless the car is quiet at speed – and this Sorento certainly excels here. Diesel or petrol, engine noise is so muted it is barely audible – if you fly, think of a Boeing in cruise mode. Seriously, this is a silent cruiser.
There’s extra sound-proofing on the transmission tunnel, a 29% thicker dashboard soundproofing panel, larger isolating engine and transmission mounts and an acoustic shield in timing chain cover. Every little helps!
While the driver (in upper models) is being cosseted by semi-silence, his/her seat will have been adjusted through a 10-way system that now includes lumber and thigh support; there’s also a memory facility once you’ve got things just right (does the external mirrors, too!).
For the first time, the Sorento has been equipped (some models) with radar-operated blind-spot warnings – about time... near misses as the lane-change indicator is operated in freeway traffic are becoming too frequent – we bet you’ve come close a few times! The same system works to alert the driver if the car is lane-drifting.
Also new, Kia says, is an automatic tail door which opens when the key fob is within 700mm of the sensor. Automatic load-shedding for shoppers. The door also power closes.
Right, now on to the important stuff – the two engines...
TURBODIESEL COMPONENTS UPGRADED
Sorento units for South Africa will have a choice of only two, a 2.4 four-cylinder petrol that has been with the Sorento entry models almost since birth (127kW/225Nm) and a 2.2 turbodiesel (147kW/440Nm).
Both engines have been tuned for more mid- and low-range torque and the turbodiesel has component upgrades to improve smoothness and efficiency. A six-speed manual or six-speed auto send movement to the front wheels or, in the upper models, all four.
The AWD system, Kia’s Dynamax, balances torque distribution front/rear depending on which axle is demonstrating better grip – or the driver can invoke a lock to send equal torque to all four corners. Think Kalahari sand... or mud.
Traction control has also been added to upper models to cool things through corners – and that’s even before the electronic stability control cuts in; simply put, if understeer is detected the outer rear wheel will be braked gently to pull the vehicle back into line.
Upper models (autobox, remember?) also get a choice of three driving modes: Normal (commuting), ‘Eco’ when you’re trying to cruise economically, and Sport – no, it doesn’t up performance, merely allows the gearbox to reach higher rpm before shifting up to the next gear.
BIGGER DISCS, BETTER STOPS
Manual shift models, instead, get Kia’s Flex Steer system which has three levels of assistance from Sport (not a lot of assistance for ‘engaging’ driving), ‘normal’ (which says it all) and ‘Comfort’ which will be handy in traffic with the most assistance.
And it all rides on a suspension similar to the Mk.II model - Macpherson struts at the front and multi-link at the rear – but with larger bushes to help with subduing road noise, and larger shock-absorbers.
And if all that doesn’t help should you be approaching extremis, the know that the rear disc brakes have grown from 302 to 305mm in diameter; those at the front remain at 320mm.
We’ve been talking about entry and upper models, so here’s the skinny on that... the 2015 Sorento will be offered in four specification, ranging from LS and LX at the entry level to the mid-spec EX and top-spec SX.
The base model (R379 995) is the only one with the 2.4 petrol engine and the only model with the six-speed manual gearbox. It also has only five seats. Kia describes it as “positioned to offer vast practicality and functionality to growing families and those with active lifestyles without compromising on space, comfort or value for money".
Next up is the front-wheel drive Sorento 2.2 CRDi LX (R499 995) powered by the 2.2 turbodiesel engine and auto box. It has more features than the LS but still only five seats.
The 2.2 CRDi EX (R599 995) has the Dynamax AWD system and seven seats and the full spec is the range-topping Sorento 2.2 CRDi SX AWD (R634 995) that adds blind-spot detection, power tail-door and a glass sun roof.
Other engines are available from Korea but South Africa is kind of down the pecking order. Consider a one0lire turbo, 1.4 diesel, 1.6 GDi, 1.6 diesel, 2.0 turbo and the 1.6 turbo already fitted to the Coupe.
Kia Sorento 2.4 LS – R379 995
Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi LX - R499 995
Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi EX AWD - R599 995
Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi SX AWD - R634 995
All units will be delivered with Kia’s five-year or 150 000km warranty and three years of unlimited roadside assistance.The Sorento 2.4 LS comes as standard with a four-year / 90 000km service plan, while LX, EX and SX models include a five-year / 100 000km maintenance plan.
BEAST IN THE BUSH: Kia's 2015 Sorento wagon is slightly longer and wider than its predecessor - and slightly less tall - but still short of five metres. Five or seven seats, depending on model, and a choice of two engines - one petrol, the other a turbodiesel. Image: Kia