First published in the October 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.
The Kia Sorento Si is Sufficiently strong in enough areas to hoist bronze.
Can’t wait to see the final score? Jump to the verdict now.
LAST year Kia scored its first-ever Wheels comparo win with the then-new third-generation Kia Sorento.
In flagship $56K Platinum AWD diesel guise, the South Korean seven-seater SUV wooed us with its practicality, performance, efficiency, refinement, comfort, dynamic capability, value, and industry-leading warranty.
But what about the $41K front-drive V6 petrol Kia Sorento Si? It didn’t impress nearly as much at Car of the Year testing, so expectations weren’t high for its Megatest chances. As it turns out, though, much of what makes the Platinum so palatable transfers wholly to the Si, beginning with a clear emphasis on passenger wellbeing.
An easily accessible and inviting interior are great starts, closely followed by seats of almost sumptuous comfort in the reclinable and slideable first two rows, a fine driving position enhanced by satisfactory all-round vision, an excellent steering wheel, luminous dials, sensibly sited climate-control switchgear, a contemporary multimedia interface (though ours proved glitch-prone, refusing to pair up with compatible Bluetooth phones), loads of storage, and all the cupholders and charging outlets your crew could wish for. Not to mention little things like four fully retracting windows (via one-touch switches), fan-assisted air in the third row, and sunvisor extenders that strengthen the bond between car and occupants.
Although Sorento’s cargo capacity isn’t outstanding, there’s still a useable cavity behind row three. Plus, it’s mostly quiet inside to boot. More than a bit of grey matter has gone into the Kia SUV’s packaging.
For a heavy seven-seater, the Si front-driver doesn’t hang about. Sharing its 199kW/318Nm 3.3-litre V6 with the Hyundai Santa Fe, it offers smooth power delivery from the outset, though the expected forward shove doesn’t much materialise until the tacho’s needle is pointing north, when it really starts to pile on speed.
Aided by a slick-shifting six-speed auto, five seconds flat from 80-120km/h equals the gutsier Kluger and Santa Fe (despite both being quicker from a standing start), and Sorento manages to stay ahead of the swift Mazda CX-9 too. Furthermore, the Kia is the thriftiest of this test’s half-dozen atmo V6s.
Plainly Kia reserved some of its brains trust for dynamic capabilities as well, because the Si offers a balanced handling/ride compromise, and that’s something that the sharp-steering but overly firm Santa Fe, which shares much of the same underpinnings, simply cannot manage.
The front-drive Sorento’s chassis is tuned (in Australia) to corner with zeal, and the suspension’s damping does a fine job dealing with much of what the road throws at it. But hampered by low-adhesion, torque-steer-inducing Nexen tyres, there’s a lack of cohesion between the available performance, the turn-in promise of its steering, the ever-present lack of grip, and the desperation of Sorento’s ESC system to maintain control – most of which are solved when fitted with all-wheel drive and better tyres.
That dynamic inconsistency, and the fact that the very closely related Kia Carnival is simply better at seating people – smashing the Sorento for third-row access and comfort due to its non-reclinable backrest, flat cushions, and non-existent toe room – relegated Kia’s promising SUV to a bronze medal.
But that’s further proof of how fundamentally right the Sorento is. Though not quite Platinum, the base Si is still business-class enough in most of its seven seats.
A familiar Aussie tune
Though using essentially the same platform as the previous model from 2009, with a carryover strut front-end and multi-link rear, the UM-series Sorento is longer and wider, and benefits from what Kia reckons is “hundreds of man-hours and thousands of kilometres” in local tuning for Australian conditions. These are said to include unique springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, as well as modifications to cut noise, vibration and harshness levels including thicker soundproofing in the engine bay and bulkhead, reducing cabin noise by up to six percent.
Price as tested: $41,585 *includes metallic paint ($595)
Engine: 3342cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v
Power: 199kW @ 6400rpm
Torque: 318Nm @ 5300rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B): 4780/1890/1690/2780mm
Cargo capacity: 605 litres
Tyres: Nexen N Priz RH7 235/65R17 104H
Test fuel cons: 13.2L/100km
0-400m: 15.8sec @ 147.4km/h
3yr resale: 54%
Plus: Packaging; seat comfort; refinement; handling; value
Minus: Rubbish tyres; ESC lacks finesse; glitching touchscreen