On the road

Road test: Kia Sorento

After a lot of uncertainty and more than a year of separation, my eldest daughter and her partner were able to travel to Tasmania for a short holiday over the Australia Day weekend.

I was given the task to come up with a day out for everyone, so I suggested we head to the Gordon Dam and the spectacular landscapes of Tasmania’s south-west. I’d spent plenty of time there as a kid visiting relatives in Strathgordon more than forty years ago, so I knew it would be the perfect place to test out the new Kia Sorento.

Heading off in the morning, our first stop was the Sunday market at New Norfolk. The forecast was for a hot day in Hobart but you never know what you might strike in Tasmania’s remote south-west, so jumpers were included along with a picnic lunch.

In the Sorento Sport + model we’re greeted with leather appointed seats, with the front row heated, not that we needed it with the temperature hovering around 30 degrees. The driver gets a 10-way adjustable seat, however you need to go up a grade to get a two-position memory function, which I think should be essential on any vehicle fitted with electric seats. The dashboard is dominated by a 10.25” centre-mounted LCD touchscreen used to operate the infomedia system. Navigation and all the usual connectivity are available, however what I especially liked was the ability to connect two phones simultaneously, which saved a few arguments with my wife on whose playlist would get connected. The steering wheel had a logical layout of buttons and allowed voice control via your connected smart device along with operation of active cruise control. Electric park brake is standard and all other controls fell easily to hand. The dual-zone climate control with vents in all three rows was going to get a workout as the temperature continued to rise.

The Sorento wasn’t without its flaws. Ergonomically, I thought the reach to the left-hand side of the touchscreen was just too far and could create a distraction. Plus, the navigation system kept telling me of an impending speed camera even though I’d disabled that functionality in the navigation settings.

On the highway out of town the Sorento was quiet inside apart from my wife’s questionable playlist. Noise suppression of both engine and tyres was exceptional and the new eight-speed dual-clutch auto made gear changes almost undetectable. While on the highway I thought I’d test out some of the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) features. I activated Lane Following Assist (LFA). This controls acceleration, braking and steering using camera and radar sensors to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, while monitoring road markings to keep the Sorento in the centre of its lane. With the right conditions this system works well but does rely heavily on well-maintained road markings, which isn’t always the case here in Tasmania. One of the innovations with the Sorento is the addition of a front-centre airbag designed to stop front occupant heads coming together during a crash.

The remaining list of standard safety features would fill a page and its crash performance resulted in it being awarded a 2020 ANCAP five-star safety rating.

This new Sorento has been built with the modern family in mind, with eight USB connections, more drink and bottle holders that I could count and useful spaces for all those must-have conveniences. Seating space in the first and second row was limousine-like, the third row was, as expected, a little tighter and probably not somewhere an adult would like to sit for an extended journey. But clever design of the second row with fore and aft movement allows for much easier third-row access. This movement also provides reasonable third-row legroom without crowding the second row. Each row also has AC vents with the third row having its own fan speed control. We had the third row stowed for our trip, which showcased a cavernous cargo area. Of course, you lose a bit of space with the third row in use but it’s still a reasonable size and almost 15% more space than the previous model.

We squeezed into a car park just off High Street in New Norfolk with the aid of the reverse camera and parking sensors. It was the first time I had a sense for how big the Sorento was. The latest Sorento is on a whole new platform that’s a little (10mm) longer, wider and higher than its predecessor. The biggest change is in the wheelbase, which has increased by 35mm. Shorter overhangs and a longer bonnet profile and much sharper lines make a serious design statement. The front design, particularly with the Kia ‘Tiger Nose’ grill and new headlight configuration with daytime running light signature, is impressive. From the rear, vertical tail lights are almost unique and with ‘Sorento’ emblazoned in big letters across the tailgate, it has a little retro feel. I really think Kia has hit its design mojo better than most. I didn’t get one negative comment on the design during the time I had it on test.

The New Norfolk market had everything from ‘pickers’ tables to t-shirts, with local craft beers, ciders and whisky on offer. Probably a little early for sampling these, but I have stored a couple of the names in my memory for next time. I managed to get through the market with most of my wallet in-tact, although I had a close call on a beautiful Huon pine bowl. We could’ve spent more time, but we needed to push on. 

View of lake from Gordon Dam
Spectacular views from the Gordon Dam.

Leaving New Norfolk and staying on the western side of the Derwent River, we cruised through Bushy Park to Westaway. The farming diversity is evident – berries, hop fields, grape vines, and livestock, something for everyone and lots of opportunities to stop and try some of the local fare. Maydena was bustling with mountain bikes as Tasmania’s reputation for world-class trails in this area booms. Continuing on, we passed the old ‘Hydro gate’, where you once needed appropriate permission to travel through to Strathgordon.

Checking the drive information, we’d come around 80kms, with the computer readout showing 6.1L/100kms. I found this astonishing given the size of the car and the type of roads we’d driven. On paper the engine may look pretty close to the one it replaced, but its all new and designated ‘Smartstream’ by Kia comes with a number of engineering enhancements. Its still a 2.2L turbo diesel and has almost identical power and torque outputs to the previous engine, with one of the biggest updates being the change to an alloy engine block allowing it to shed more than 19kgs. There were multiple drive modes available that change shift patterns and throttle response; however, I just didn’t feel the need to change from the normal mode. It did everything I asked of it effortlessly.

As we left Maydena we saw remnants of the bushfires that raged through the area in early 2019.  Many trees still blackened and lifeless, not surviving the intense heat of the blaze, but many more that had recovered and flourished. The first 20kms of Gordon River Road have you climbing to the highest point. The Sorento used its 440Nm of torque to pull up the steeper gradients, fuel consumption crept a little higher but still well under 7.0L/100kms. Winding through ancient temperate rainforest, then opening out into button grass fields with spectacular peaks appearing right in front of you, is something you’re unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. A little further on you start to get a sense of how much of the area was flooded, with Lake Gordon on the right and Lake Pedder on the left. We cruised to our picnic lunch location at Ted’s Beach, located just before the Strathgordon township. There were plenty of caravans about, with a number of boats ready to launch off the ramp to try their luck at catching a trout or two.

With the picnic lunch done it was off to Strathgordon. As a young child I’d spent plenty of time visiting relatives when the Gordon Dam was being built, however other than a couple of fleeting visits I hadn’t been back to Strathgordon for more than 40 years. I was more than a little interested to retrace the former location of the house I stayed in when we visited. I think I located the now vacant street, but it’s been so long it’s hard to be sure.

Blue Kia Sorento
Taking in the scenery.
View of the Gordon Dam
Gordon Dam.

Just past Strathgordon we stopped at the lookout where you get a feel for the expanse of Lake Pedder. Literature says the original features of Lake Pedder are still largely in-tact under the man-made lake and that if it were drained it would re-establish itself over time. Our ultimate destination was just up the road, so we loaded in one more time. The Gordon Dam didn’t disappoint, it’s a huge engineering feat. And higher than I ever remember. As I’ve aged, I’ve developed somewhat of a fear of heights and even standing at the top of the stairs that lead down to the dam had my heart rate up a bit. A few deep breaths and down I go. When I get onto the dam wall I stay well away from the high side, scoot across to take a few snaps and get back up the stairs to relative safety. Mission accomplished and it’s time to head back home.

We all settle in and head back to civilisation. Gordon River Road is in reasonable shape but does have a few patch sections that challenged our ride comfort. The Sorento soaked them up without fuss. On the way home I assess the dynamic abilities and work undertaken by the Australian suspension engineering team.  The Sorento was happy to be leaned on in the corners and despite its weight the body was well controlled with the steering maybe just a touch light and lacking a bit of feedback. 160kms later and a few nods from some of the passengers we arrived home safely, full of plaudits for the space and comfort of the Sorento.

I started reviewing vehicles almost 15 years ago, and I think it’s fair to say at that point I’d have struggled to recommend a Kia to anyone. They were, on the whole, pretty ordinary vehicles.  These days I’d be happy to shell out my own hard-earned to put one in my driveway, with the latest Sorento on top of that list. Some will still brand snob Kia, but it’s their loss as dollar for dollar it’s hard to beat in any company.

The specs

Model: Sorento Sport +
Engine: 2.2L turbo diesel 148kW/440Nm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic (wet clutch) AWD
ANCAP: 5-star 2020 year rating
Fuel consumption: Combined cycle ADR81/02 - 6.1l/100kms (6.6l/100kms as tested)
Warranty: 7-years/unlimited km
Price (drive away): $59,412 (including premium paint)

 

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