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Review: 2008 Kia Sorento 2.5L Turbo Diesel, A Soft Roader Capable of Off Roading

November 5th, 2008
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We’ve just spent a week driving Kia’s Sorento medium sized 4x4 powered by a new 2.5L Turbo Diesel engine.  But before we tell you about the soft leather seats in the luxury trimmed EX-L model, let’s see where this vehicle fits into the Australian automotive landscape.

As Australian buyers continue to move away from the traditional large sedan, more of us are attracted to the all round talents of a 4WD, or Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) as they are often referred as.  So much that in motoring terms, we may well look back at this decade as when SUV’s were at their height as the vehicle of choice for the Aussie family.

Kia entered the medium SUV segment (‘medium’ is a little deceiving as vehicles in this segment are actually quite large) in Australia with the Sorento at the start of 2005, three years after launching overseas.  However it was better late than never, as to date just over 8,000 Sorento’s have found a home here. This is a healthy number but lets not get carried away.  Toyota, the sales leader of 4wd’s in Australia in the same period has sold ten times more Prado’s, which competes in the same segment but at a significantly higher price.

To increase the Sorento’s competiveness, Kia introduced a facelift in mid 2007 and added a Turbo Diesel for the first time alongside the updated V6 petrol engine. The torquey 2.5L four cylinder Turbo Diesel generates 125kW and an impressive 392Nm of torque. At $44,490 it’s the top of the range from seven variants that kick off at $34,290.

The Sorento is a traditional four wheel drive in the sense it has a separate chassis unlike more modern Crossovers such as the Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory which are derived from a monoque, think passenger car platform. The separate chassis is becoming less popular in the automotive industry for the following key reasons. Whilst a plus is the Sorento should be able to handle the rough stuff, going places where soft-roaders fear to treat, the big trade off comes when travelling on the black stuff, where the additional weight of a ladder frame chassis and the handling trade off often can be a hindrance to daily suburban driving.

Kia Sorento

As more 4wd’s are spending their lives on suburban roads, rarely heading into the outback, let alone gravel roads, in late 2009 the Sorento will abandon its old school chassis and switch to a monoque chassis, the all new model sharing its platform with the softer Hyundai Santa Fe.

The current Sorento has solid and chunky exterior lines, which whilst it’s hardly exciting to look at, it is relatively well proportioned. Whilst it can only seat five inside, its relatively compact dimensions means that it doesn’t feel too big to drive around town. The separate chassis brings another plus for the traditional Aussie family, this SUV can really tow. The towing capacity of 2,800kg is more than enough for a trailer, caravan, boat, Jet Ski or even a horse float to hook on.

Upon opening the driver’s door you are greeted with a simple yet classy interior that is pleasing to the eye. The all black interior of the test car contributes to this feeling with the black leather seats, steering wheel and gear lever taking your eyes away from some of the hard feeling plastics on the dashboard.

The driving position is typical of an SUV, sitting high in the cabin, but not excessively so, its more a case of sitting on- than in the front seats which could offer more lateral support but at no time uncomfortable. The seating position offers a confident, commanding view outwards with only the C-pillar behind the passengers seat minimizing visibility. Competing, newer SUV’s however do have larger exterior side mirrors which provide improved rear wards visibility when towing and god forbid four wheel driving.

The instrument panel is simple yet stylish; the dials are easy to read however some of the switchgear whilst durable is cheap looking. Interior storage is in the form of a modestly sized glovebox, long yet thin door bins and a generously deep centre storage bin. 

The interior was free from any squeaks and creaks, with no major complaints regarding the fit and finish.

The second row provides sufficient shoulder and leg room for 3 adults thanks in part to a flat rear foot well and a bench seat that could do with more side bolstering.  Rear passenger entry is helped by door that open wide however as a result of a shorter wheelbase than more modern competitor’s entry is comprised by the rear wheel arches.

Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split arrangement increasing the rear cargo area from 900 litres seats up to a decent 2,000 odd litres with the rear seats folded. The cargo is made more useful with standard netted storage pockets in the rear and a number of useful tie-down hooks. The spare wheel and tyre is accessed from outside, under the rear of the Sorento.

The 2.5L Turbo Diesel engine uses direct injection technology enhancing fuel efficiency and produces 125 kW and a more impressive 392 Nm of torque. Mated to an auto transmission with five gears that can be changed like a tiptronic, the Sorento is at its best when driven at a relaxed pace.

Maximum-effort sprinting freaks look elsewhere as this is a high riding 4X4 that hits the scales at over 2,100kg. At standstill the 125 kW Turbo Diesel Sorento is no lively, peppy muscular crossover with fizzing enthusiasm. Rather, let the engine do what it does best. Driven sensibly you can benefit from the claimed economy figures of 9.4 litres per 100km and enjoy the engine in its preferred rev range from just below 2,000rpm to around 4,500rpm. 

Kia Sorento

Yes, you’ll never mistake the unsporty diesel rattle coming from under the bonnet, but it is a good fit with the five well spaced gears of the automatic transmission. 

Buyers who still don’t get the whole diesel thing can choose the 3.3L Petrol V6 model with a significantly higher power of 180 kW yet less torque at 309 Nm. 

On paper the Turbo Diesel uses 1.5 litres less fuel per 100 km, however for most drivers this difference would grow; however work out how much driving you’ll be doing each year as Kia charges an extra $3,000 for the diesel over the petrol engine.

When the roads are straight and the surface is smooth the Kia Sorento rides reasonably well, filtering out the majority of road noise underneath its sensibly sized 17” alloy wheels and high profile tyres.

However, on typical Australian B-roads with frequent corrugations and wear n tear the suspension begins to feel underdone. Any spirited driving will bring with it heavy body roll and a fidgety ride along with what feels like flexing from the body on its chassis platform. Whilst more money spent on the suspension would improve the current handling the true cause lies elsewhere. The Sorento may be only 5cm longer than a current Toyota Corolla ‘small sedan’ but in EX-L trim with the Turbo Diesel engine it is a whopping 850 odd kilograms heavier. Add in a heavy duty chassis and a raised body to tackle the wild and you can see the difficulties facing Kia’s engineers. But truth be told, the Sorento is by no means disgraced against its direct competitors - which are listed at the bottom of the review.

Venture off-road, or if your Sorento will mainly live off-road, the comprised ride and handling on the tarmac is more easily forgotten. The double wishbone with coil springs front suspension is by no means fazed on the rough stuff whilst the 208mm of ground clearance combined with the low-range gearing (a true 4x4 feature) and traction control all work well together.

The steering is too artificially light to inspire confidence on the road, yet is less of a problem at slower speeds off road.

Over the LX and EX grades the top of the range EX-L features leather seats, dual zone climate control air-conditioning and a sunroof.  On the safety front the EX-L comes with side curtain airbags alongside the standard driver and front passenger airbags on LX and EX grades.  We’d recommend buyers at least go for the mid range EX grade as the entry level LX misses out on Traction Control and ESP. The Kia Sorento also comes with a stamp of approval from a 4 star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Against its competitors the Sorento EX-L is well equipped and offers great value for money. The official combined fuel economy of 9.4L for the 2.5L Turbo Diesel is a fraction higher than most its direct competitors which is a result of the hefty weight of the Sorento. With a large 80 litre fuel tank, owners should see 500 kms of driving before re-visiting a fuel bowser.

The Kia Sorento comes with a generous 5 year unlimited kilometre factory warranty.

If you’re looking for a mid size SUV that can easily handle the beaten track, or are planning an outback adventure, the Kia Sorento is a worthy pick. Combined with it’s generous towing capacity and the luxury features that come standard in EX-L trim you’ve got yourself an SUV that sits between the traditional old-school 4x4 and the more modern Crossover.

If you aren’t fussed by the slightly sloppy suspension or the fact that it’s not the newest SUV on the market and don’t won’t to spend over $50,000 than the Kia Sorento EX-L is well worth a look.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Dodge Nitro (2.8L Turbo Diesel)
Holden Captiva (2.0L Turbo Diesel)
Hyundai Santa Fe (2.2L Turbo Diesel)
Jeep Cherokee (2.8L Turbo Diesel)
Ssangyong Rexton (2.7L Turbo Diesel)

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