Kia’s facelifted Sorento seven-seat SUV has landed in Australia, and we’ve tested it in its most popular format – the top-spec diesel with AWD
It’s often smartest to buy cars once they have had their mid-life facelift. With most teething problems and imperfections ironed out of the platform, facelifted cars are normally finding their stride – and so it goes with the 2024 Kia Sorento.
There’s a caveat to that philosophy: facelifted cars are, to our eyes, often uglier than their predecessors. So it also goes for the 2024 Sorento, with the rugged-Americana look of the original ‘MQ4’ generation gussied up with a few fussy new details.
In Australia, the Sorento does big business for Kia, accounting for 8366 sales in 2023. Because of its popularity, Kia sells this model with four powertrains (two pure internal-combustion and two hybrids) and across four grades (S, Sport, Sport+ and GT-Line).
As a result, there is a vast spread of price points in Sorento land, from the relatively basic – but competent – S petrol V6 base model at about $50,680 before on-roads through to the flagship GT-Line plug-in hybrid that sits around $68,590 on-road.
The most popular variant of the lot is the one we’ve concentrated on testing first: the diesel Sorento GT-Line. The poshest trim starts at $65,590 before on-roads with a front-wheel drive petrol V6, but the $68,590-optional 2.2-litre diesel four-cylinder adds AWD and slashes fuel economy.
Many manufacturers regard diesel as old hat but, like rival Mazda, Kia has committed to it for at least another few years in Australia – not hard to believe when a whopping 80 percent of Sorento volume locally is diesel.
That is partially down to ongoing tight supply of the two hybrid models which might otherwise account for a much more significant share of Sorento sales in Australia. The reason is a bottleneck caused by just one Kia factory globally building the Sorento hybrid.
So, for now at least, the diesel Sorento is where it’s at for Aussie buyers. After sampling both the petrol V6 and the diesel-four in facelifted form, we continue to see the 2.2-litre oiler as a reasonably worthwhile $3000 upgrade, especially if you do big miles.
For families, the Sorento diesel’s circa-1000km real-world range continues to make it a flexible car and a lot of SUV for the cash. By comparison, Kia’s all-electric EV9 GT-Line AWD costs $52K more and travelled just 409km in the Chasing Cars highway range test.
Price parity between combustion cars might have arrived in the sedan space, but it seems some way off when it comes to family-sized, three-row SUVs.
You’ll spot a facelifted Sorento by its restyled front and rear. EV9-esque headlights and a tiger nose grille have been transplanted to the Sorento while at the back, the tail lights have been rather fussily joined. Alloy wheel designs are new and, to our tastes, are a little overwrought.
Styling is subjective, but we’re pleased to see that Kia has largely maintained the Sorento’s smartly laid-out dashboard design. Ergonomics go slightly backward due to a new touch-driven climate and media control panel but this is still a largely usable cabin.
The GT-Line’s new curved twin 12.3-inch displays looks brilliant and is easy to work with, and the central touchscreen now includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A 12-speaker Bose premium stereo has been tuned decently well.
Seat comfort really improves with the GT-Line when compared with the $7360-cheaper Sport+. Both grades have leather pews but the top-spec car has plusher nappa hide, and there’s more adjustment: the driver gains four-way lumbar and the passenger seat is powered with two-way lumbar.
By comparison, the hardier leather of the Sport+ offers the driver decent levels of adjustment but that car’s comparatively shapeless passenger seat has no lumbar variation to speak of – that’ll grate on a long road trip.
Interior quality is a reasonably strong point. Plastic quality is honest and family-friendly but while it’s durable, there is a yielding and soft nature to most surfaces – including the tops of the rear doors, which also incorporate manual sunshades. In an opulent touch, the black headliner is velvety.
It’s best to think of the Sorento as a big five-seater with a big boot…with a deployable third-row, perhaps to cart around other people’s children when you need to.
In this context the size is near-perfect: the Kia’s still easy enough to park (helped by a clear 360-degree camera) but it takes family-sized loads with ease.
We just wish Kia Australia had been successful in its protestations to gain access to a Korea-only tan interior colour which would both brighten the GT-Line’s very dark black interior, and make this worthy cabin look more expensive and welcoming.
Outside, a couple of interesting new colours have been added in the form of a (rather muted) cityscape green and a handsome, upmarket-looking volcanic sand brown. We’d option the latter; premium paints, including the aforementioned set, cost an acceptable $695.
The 2024 Sorento has gone through a deeper facelift process than most – and the engineering program has included a do-over for both the suspension and, to a more moderate degree, the power steering.
Hardware for this SUV now includes a recent iteration of ZF Sachs frequency-selective dampers out of Germany. These have been extensively tuned on Kia’s genuinely tough testing roads in Australia – the same ones used by Chasing Cars for shakedowns.
In all, five suspension tunes were finalised: one each for the petrol V6 models, diesel AWD models, the front-wheel drive hybrid, the AWD hybrid, and the AWD plug-in hybrid.
But it was the hybrid models (which land in two months’ time) that received the best and most focussed attention because facelift cars were actually in the country for the engineering team to use. We’re told the non-plug-in hybrids are the real peaches: we’ll see.
By comparison, the tuning work for the petrol FWD and diesel AWD models has been successful but not quite to the same highs as the hybrids.
In some ways, it’s harder to get to a good ride quality compromise for the combustion engines because they are paired to three alloy wheel sizes, which affect matters.
Still, the diesel tune was completed using a GT-Line profile so there is no excuse for the variant we’re testing not to be close to ideal.
At high (ish) speeds – beyond 70km/h – it is, indeed, close to ideal. On highways the Sorento GT-Line diesel is settled, and on curving and bumpy country roads it is amazingly well-settled and seriously driveable, even in a very big hurry. As enthusiasts we found it very enjoyable.
Matters aren’t as rosy at urban speeds. The front suspension is a touch stiff for our liking – though the experts tell us the ZF Sachs damper design will loosen off a bit beyond about 10,000km. There’s limited compliance available from the tyres because of the big 20-inch alloy wheels.
Cue another reason why the GT-Line hybrid model is (apparently) such a peach: it uses 1-inch smaller alloy wheels, meaning it gets that much more cushioning through the higher-profile tyres… we’ll see.
Even with the diesel GT-Line’s urban ride being a little harder than we’d desire, and perhaps not quite as ideal as a Skoda Kodiaq on adaptive dampers, the Sorento is still leagues ahead in terms of both ride quality and body control than the Mazda CX-60 or CX-90.
Kia’s chassis specialists have also paid some attention to the rack-mounted electric power steering system, targetting better off-centre feel. The steering is still synthetic, but the rack is direct and predictable. Plus, tyre grip levels on the Continental PremiumContact rubber is high.
Braking performance seems relatively decent but pedal feedback is wishy-washy – and we don’t like that the powertrain offers very limited engine braking while going downhill unless you take over with the paddle shifters.
That’s part of the tuning of the Sorento diesel’s transmission: an eight-speed wet dual-clutch automatic that was also developed for use in cousin brand Hyundai’s N high performance cars. It is designed to be durable.
For the most part, this is a reasonable dual-clutch auto to use in practice. On the move, it is almost imperceptible and it responds snappily to paddle-shifts.
But when taking off from rest (especially in reverse gear) clutch take-up is not crisp, with the engine audibly over-revving. We’d like this to be dialled out.
The engine itself is reasonably modest at 2.2-litres in capacity, 148kW of power and 440Nm of torque – though performance is reasonable. We have previously ran a base model Sorento diesel AWD through our 0-100km/h test and it returned a time of 7.47 seconds.
Still, the diesel is only a moderate performer in reality. Country-road overtaking needs just a little planning – it’s safe enough, but we wouldn’t mind a touch more shove. There’s enough power with two aboard but load the Sorento up and it’s adequate – nothing more than that.
What is mighty impressive is the Sorento diesel’s frugality in the real world: a mixed commute saw us achieve 7.0L/100km. Even when seriously pushed we only just cracked 10.0L/100km. Equipped with its 67-litre fuel tank, realistic fuel ranges will sit close to 1000km.
That’s a shot better than the cheaper 3.5-litre petrol V6, which lacks AWD; it sounds good and is probably a bit faster but it will consume at least 30 percent more fuel than the diesel in the real world and probably more.
Being a Kia, the Sorento is covered by a fantastic seven-year, unlimited km warranty though it’s no longer the best in class – that honor goes to Mitsubishi with its (more conditional) 10-year, 200,000km warranty. Though the Japanese brand lacks a true Sorento competitor.
The servicing intervals for the Sorento diesel are every 12 months or 15,000km and will cost buyers $2632.33 over a five-year period.
We’ll wait to form our judgment about the hybrid models until they arrive in Australia in March 2024. Our discussions with the experts indicate that the 1.6-litre turbo petrol hybrid model (with either front-wheel drive or AWD) could be the sweet spot.
But even if the hybrids are the sweet spot, does that matter if you can’t get one? Very tight supply and long wait times will reduce enthusiasm, especially when the more affordable and still highly-capable diesel achieves so easily while being easier to get hold of.
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Key specs (as tested)
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Kia Sorento 2023: facelift rendering shows what could be in store for next iteration of three-row SUV
Kia Sorento Hybrid 2022: Australian release for Kluger-rivalling self-charging hybrid before Christmas
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