Here's a car that's spacious enough to provide seating for seven but not too large to crowd out other cars in the garage. The Kia Sorento is a J-segment or medium SUV manufactured by Kia Motors since 2002 to the present.
It is available in a petrol powertrain that drives the front wheels and in diesel that drives all four wheels.
Consistently top-ranked in automobile journalist circles, it recently won recognition as the "Best 3-Row SUV for the Money" in 2019. The award came from the US News & World Report, which also ranked it #6 Midsize SUV with a scorecard of 8.1 over 10.
So what's with the Sorento? What stellar qualities did it have to make the cut?
This medium SUV, also classed as midsize SUV or midsize crossover SUV, has made great strides over the three generations that it has been in production. Let's see how it has transformed in 17 years.
1st Generation: 2002–2009
Kia built the first Sorento as a five-seat body-on-frame compact SUV and launched it in 2002. This took place at a time when Kia had to stop producing the first-generation Sportage due to quality setbacks and eventual market decline.
The Sorento filled the market void left by the Sportage but differentiated itself as an improved Kia option. It came standard with dual front and side-curtain airbags, ABS, pre-tensioner seatbelts for the front seats, cruise control, engine immobiliser, 4-wheel disc brakes, remote central locking, power mirror and windows, power steering, fog lights, air conditioning, 8-speaker radio/CD, roof rack, and 16-inch alloys. Not too Spartan, at all, when it came to standard trim.
Powertrains & Trims
A 3.5-litre engine (see specs below) drove power to either the rear wheels or all four wheels through two choices of gearboxes as described below:
· 3.5L G6AU Sigma V6 petrol engine attached to either a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual gearbox (generating 145 kW peak power at 5,500 RPM and 295 N⋅m peak torque at 4,800 rpm)
A year after the initial production, a 5-speed auto version replaced the 4-speed auto transmission option.
Most markets received two trims for the Sorento. For Australian buyers, only the base trim was available until 2004 when Kia offered a trim grade called Australian Open for one year. It came with the same engine mated to a 4-speed auto gearbox and the following upgrades: dual-zone air conditioning, leather upholstery, power sunroof, 10-speaker premium sound system, and wood-grain interior accents.
In 2006, Kia introduced a higher-spec grade, called Global Circuit, which came with this all-new engine:
- 3.8L G6DA Lambda V6 petrol engine attached to a 5-speed automatic gearbox (generating 196 kW peak power at 6,000 RPM and 353 N⋅m peak torque at 4,500 rpm)
The new package replaced the CD with a digital video disc player and added a nudge bar. The Sorento also received some mechanical updates, including electronic brake-force distribution and a limited-slip differential.
The engine overhaul continued the following year with the introduction of two more engines with the following specs:
- 3.3L G6DB Lambda V6 petrol engine (180 kW, 309 N⋅m)
- 2.5L diesel engine (125 kW, 392 N⋅m)
Both powertrains were available in standard 5-speed automatic gearboxes and several higher trims. The enhancements include the EX trim's 17-inch alloys and traction control system, the LX trim's limited-slip differential, and the EX-L trim's power sunroof and rear spoiler, among the highlighted features.
2009 saw the last of the first-generation Sorento before it was upsized to a three-row medium SUV.
The IIHS tested the 2003 Sorento model for safety and given a poor overall rating of 1/5, mainly due to inadequate protection offered in terms of side-impact and head restraints and seats.
IIHS rated it again in 2007, and its overall rating has dramatically improved to 4/5. However, it still performed poorly in protecting against side impact.
2nd Generation: 2010-2014
Though the Sorento was significantly altered for its second generation, it remained a no-nonsense SUV with impressive off-roading and towing abilities. As it shed off its old look, it donned Kia's distinctive Tiger Nose grille. The new styling unmistakably had Peter Schreyer's signature written all over it. The Sorento became the first to offer Kia's brand-new UVO infotainment and in-vehicle communication system.
Powertrain & Trims
The new Sorento has departed from its body-on-frame structure. It was now constructed based on a unibody frame and designed using new technologies and a different platform. Also, Kia has reengineered it as front-wheel and four-wheel drives, instead of the previous rear-wheel and four-wheel options. Two new 4-cylinder engines were offered—petrol and diesel—for the first edition of the second-generation Sorento. Later, a V6 engine replaced one of the I4 powerhouses. Below are their specs:
- 2.4L Theta II I4 petrol engine, 6-speed automatic (128 kW, 226 N⋅m) – available in FWD and 4WD entry-level Si trim only; discontinued in 2011
- 2.2L R-Line CRDi I4 diesel engine, 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual (145 kW, 436 N⋅m) – available as 4WD only, and in Si, SLi (auto only), and Platinum trims
- 3.5L Lambda II V6 petrol engine, 6-speed automatic (204 kW, 336 N⋅m) – available in FWD and Si trim only; replaced the 2.2L engine in 2011
Several trim grades were offered in the following years (2012-2014) but with no significant change in the mechanicals and engines. While the 6-speed manual transmission was discontinued in other markets, it remained to be available in Australia. The Sorento received some cosmetic alterations in 2014, including new taillights and an upgraded control panel.
The Sorento has improved immensely from its previous IIHS rating of 1/5 to 5/5 stars and earned the Top Safety Pick badge from the same institution. Both the ANCAP and the Euro NCAP also rated it five stars for safety.
It didn't only get praised for its protective features. New Zealand Autocar Magazine, for instance, awarded it the SUV of the Year for its world-class engine and great looks.
3rd Generation: 2015–present
The third generation of the Sorento was announced in 2014 and made its debut at the 2014 Paris Motor Show. It shares a common platform with the Carnival. As in the second generation, it is laid out as a front-engine, front-wheel or all-wheel drive SUV. It has a longer wheelbase, can be configured as either a five- or seven-seater, and now sits slightly lower to the ground for improved handling.
Powertrain & Trims
Below are the available engines in Australia (all trim and engine combinations come standard with a 6-speed automatic gearbox):
- 3.3L Lambda II V6 petrol engine (199 kW, 318 N⋅m) – available for all trim levels but only as a 4WD
- 2.2L R CRDi I4 diesel engine (147 kW, 441 N⋅m) – available for entry- and mid-level trims and only as FWD
By 2018, all variants come standard with 8-speed automatic transmission. The most recent (2019) lineup has been expanded and now offers six trim levels, all available in four-wheel and front-wheel drives.
The latest offering of the third-generation Sorento embodies Kia's design-led principle by offering valuable content for the money. It is undoubtedly stylish from the Tiger Nose grill to the HMSL-integrated rear spoiler.
Since the roofline slopes down towards the rear, the headroom diminishes as you access the third row, but the first two rows have plenty of space. The last two seats, which come with two cup holders, dedicated air-conditioning vents, and fan controls, would be comfortable for small children. The top-of-the-line package comes with heated front and second-row seats, as well as a heated steering wheel. Leather gear shift knob, leather steering wheel, and leather-accented upholstery all make for a well-appointed interior.
The ANCAP has rated the 2017 Kia Sorento 5 stars, with a near-perfect score of 36.62 out of 37. It got perfect scores in two tests – the pole and side-impact crash safety tests.
By Jeannette Salanga (JMSL)