All-new Kia Sorento on test: Premium by name

David Linklater
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Photos / Supplied


Base price
Fuel Consumption (l/100km)
Maximum torque Nm
Towing (Tonnes)
  • Forward-looking style
  • Stunning interior
  • Unique technology
  • Not at all sporty
  • Might be too blingy for some
  • $77k is still getting up there

It’s not that often that a properly all-new model comes along; usually this, that and often the other is carried over from previous generations.

But the new Kia Sorento is just that: new. It’s based on a fresh platform that’ll also soon be adopted by the Hyundai Santa Fe, with a clean-sheet 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine and wet-clutch 8-speed gearbox. For a mainstream seven-seat SUV, this is a pretty big deal.

However, when it comes to the flagship Sorento Premium, all of the focus is probably going to fall on the surprise-and-delight technology. So let’s talk about that first.

The Premium has a level of driver-assistance tech that puts many, ahem, premium brands to shame.

Aside from every conceivable conventional piece of safety equipment, the Premium has new-to-class goodies like Blind-spot View Monitor (BVM): when you activate the indicators, you get a high-res video feed from the side of the car in the main instrument panel to match the direction you’re moving in. Not a completely new idea (Honda has something similar with LaneWatch, albeit on the offside only), but the integration and quality of the image is next-level.

Or how about Remote Start Parking Assist (RSPA), which allows you to park or retrieve the Sorento from a tight parking space from outside the car, using the remote key fob (similar to a feature offered on some BMWs). Sounds a bit gimmicky, but it’s actually quite handy in parking buildings once you get confident with it – especially if you start the process as you’re walking towards the vehicle, so it’s ready for you to jump in when you get there.

This is the kind of stuff you’d expect in an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

In fact, somebody at Kia really likes Mercedes-Benz. The impressive silver and black cabin architecture is very Benz and even the frame for the twin digital displays (12.3in and 10.25in) is the same shape as Merc’s “widescreen” instrument/infotainment cluster, although Kia takes a step back from pure plagiarism by recessing the driver’s screen and putting a (largely redundant) cowl over the right-hand side.

This would be a bit cringeworthy were it not for the impressive quality and execution. There’s a genuine luxury feel to the Sorento Premium, from the Nappa leather to the solar glass to the power release for the second-row folding mechanism. We could go on, but it’d be an 800-word specification list and you can get that from Kia’s website. Suffice to say, there’s a level of attention to detail here that takes the Korean brand to new places.

That goes as much for the driving experience as the cabin environment. The combination of a torquey diesel engine with the wet-clutch DCT makes for a very smooth powertrain. In normal driving you’d be hard-pressed to pick that this is a dual-clutch gearbox: takeoff is well controlled (the strong diesel helps there) and once you’re rolling you get all the quick-shifting and fuel economy advantages of this automated-manual technology.

The flagship Sorento does what it says on the box: offers a premium driving experience. It doesn’t try to be overtly sporting, instead offering a cosseting ride even over the worst broken urban surfaces. For that reason there’s body roll to contend with in open-road driving, but it’s beautifully controlled and the car remains really composed.

Kia has also broadened the car’s off-tarmac talents with a new Terrain Management System that offers Snow, Mud and Sand modes at the twist of a rotary dial (this is in addition to the road-focused Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart choices). No, it’s not going to rival a Range Rover in the rough – but the option to venture a little further off the beaten track is still there when you want it.

There are plenty of options in the new Sorento range, from our flagship Premium right down to a $59,990 entry-level LX model. Although the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel/8-speed transmission combo remains the same in all versions.

It’s an impressive powertrain; but the Sorento Premium is so high-tech you can’t help but think it deserves a next-generation electrified powertrain of some kind.

And just like that, Kia NZ has announced that a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) version will arrive here in the first quarter of 2021. It combines a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine with a 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 66.9kW electric motor. Pure-electric range will be around 50km; the entire system makes 195kW/350Nm, so it should be a worthy stablemate for the current diesel.

To view all Kia Sorento models currently listed on DRIVEN, click here

ENGINE: 2.2-litre turbo diesel
POWER: 148kW/440Nm
GEARBOX: 8-speed automated dual clutch, AWD
ECONOMY: 6.1l/100km
PRICE: $76,990.


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