The Kia Sorento shares its platform and engine with the Hyundai Santa Fe. While this gives them very similar performance and space, the execution is much different.
If the Santa Fe’s fluid shape and soft contours make it a safe and inoffensive choice, the Sorento is brash and in your face. Peter Schreyer’s designs may not be the most original there are, but there’s no denying the Sorento is a handsome item with masculine, chiseled looks. This theme continues inside, with sharp edges and sporty looks. And compared to its fraternal twin, the Sorento has much more headroom, but third row legroom is distinctly tighter. At least you get air conditioning in all rows, as in the Santa Fe. They even use the same air vents, but that’s where the similarities end. The red interior mood lighting and instrument gauges make the Sorento cockpit feel much racier, especially at night.
Against expectations, the Sorento manages to maintain that impression when the roads get all bendy and twisty. The stock Kumho Solus tires are reasonably grippy and quiet at the same time. While the ride is on the soft side, body motion is very well controlled over heaves, and the Sorento goes through corners on an even keel, with very little body roll.
This is thanks to the magic of anti-roll bars. These link the left and right side of the suspension to steady the body without the use of teeth-rattlingly stiff springs. While the Sorento can’t match the buoyant absorbency of the Santa Fe, it’s better riding and better driving than any other seven-seater in the class.
The real headliner for the Sorento, however, is the turbocharged diesel power - all 190 horses of it. The engine is on the smooth end of the scale, revving cleanly and quickly past 4,000 rpm. Along with the high horsepower rating comes an incredible 436 Nm of torque, which gives the diesel a much different character from the gasser. While the gasoline Sorento is quick, the diesel is brutal. With the six speed automatic, it hits 100 km/h in just under 9.0 seconds, which is over two seconds quicker than the gasoline variant. But with all that torque going through the front tires, sudden stabs of the gas pedal have the steering wheel pulling sharply to the right.
Thankfully, the six-speed automatic transmission helps smoothen out the surge of power. It’s responsive in both manual and automatic mode, though gear kickdown during overtakes can sometimes be abrupt. The engine-transmission combo netted me fuel economy of around 11.9 km/l on the highway and 9.8 to 11.2 km/l in mixed conditions. Heavy traffic dropped that to around 7.5 km/l, which is comparable to the current crop of 170+ hp 2.5 liter diesels in the Sorento’s competitors and roughly 2 km/l better than comparable gasoline-powered crossovers in the same conditions.
The better alternative
In traffic, you’ll be praying hosannahs to the gods of diesel. Extra torque means less effort exerted to get up to speed. And while the Sorento has its share of blind-spots due to the styling, it’s very easy to drive. You won’t want to take it down narrow alleys, though, and it’s not as well suited for off-road shenanigans as the ladder-frame competition, especially not in front-wheel drive trim.
The Sorento is, however, loads more refined than its ladder-frame competitors. Despite some hard plastics, interior quality is good and the noise insulation is decent. In terms of value added features, it’s a mixed bag. While the touch-screen head-unit incorporates radio, MP3, back-up camera, and navigation functions, the dim screen is hard to read in daylight and the Navigation menu is fiddly. Sound quality is also a bit on the tinny side. While the Sorento features push-button start and a smart key fob, speed-sensitive door locks are not on the menu.
Then again, it’s nit-picky to complain about the small things when the vehicle itself is so good. Tagged at P1,790,000, the Sorento might not be able to compete on features per price with some of the more popular nameplates in this class, but it’s certainly a great-looking car both inside and out, and offers the sportiest experience amongst diesel seven seaters in this price range. And in this case, you don’t have to sacrifice frugality for fun.