Offering more motor for less money has worked well for Kia in Singapore. The Cerato Forte continues to conquer the HDB heartlands, while the Koup is attracting more buying interest than expected. Even the basic little Picanto has its share of fans. Now it’s the turn of the big new Sorento to offer Kia’s popular formula of more motor for less money.
It’s less engine, though, with the Korean newcomer running a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder instead of its predecessor’s “taxing” 3.5-litre V6. But the inevitable advances in engineering, which include a modern and efficient 6-speed automatic in place of the previous 4-speeder, translate into similar performance figures and far superior fuel economy.
Helping the Sorento along is a significant 200kg reduction in kerb weight, largely achieved by ditching four-wheel-drive and switching from a heavy ladder-frame chassis to a lighter, tighter monocoque structure.
Lords of the tropical jungle might miss the old Sorento’s genuine off-roading hardware and greater ground clearance, but louts of the concrete jungle won’t notice at all, because they will be busy in the new Sorento charging through urban traffic and subduing suburbanites.
The car’s handsome aggression is just Seoul smooth, like the drivetrain and suspension. The handling, however, is rather rough, with loads of body roll in corners and brakes which need to work extra hard to slow or stop the high and mighty machine.
This gentle giant prefers a sane pace, like on a school run, for which it is better equipped than before, thanks to a newly added third row of seats. Outright room back there is just nice for children and less nice for adults, but everyone will appreciate the additional air-con blowers and twin sunroofs of the SX model tested here.
The extra $10k over the EX version also buys brown leather upholstery (instead of plain black), a louder hi-fi, more airbags, proper parking sensors and a motorised driver’s seat complete with variable lumbar support. The illuminated scuff plates are less useful than the auto xenon headlamps and roof racks, while the 18-inch wheels (versus the 17s of the EX) sacrifice some comfort for chic.
The rest of the Sorento interior is both stylish and comfortable. Niceties include keyless access, pushbutton engine-start, dual-zone digital air-con, ambient “mood” lighting and chrome-plated pedals. There is space aplenty (ideally for four or five occupants), storage of stuff is well organised (from glovebox to boot), and all armrests and headrests are, uh, restful. The overall quality of the car’s controls and construction is satisfactory – just don’t expect Lexus standards, at least not yet.
Judging by the rate that things are going at Kia, as shown by this 2010 sports-utility flagship, one day a Sorento might find itself in the same story as a Lexus RX or something. That’s (Korean) food for thought.