With the standard equipment level of base-model large SUVs reaching new heights, the Kia Sorento S V6 might well be one of best Australia’s best-value vehicles
The Kia Sorento celebrates its 20th birthday in 2022, and that’s welcoming news if you consider just how terrific the most recent version is … rather than the first two generations, both of which looked okay but lacked refinement and weren’t much chop to drive.
Then came the third-generation (UM) Sorento in 2014 which changed all that with a more European aesthetic, arguably the best interior in its class, and an Australian suspension tune that transformed its dynamic ability. Until the second-gen Mazda CX-9 arrived in 2016, the Sorento was the large SUV benchmark for families on real-world wages.
Plenty has changed since the Kia Sorento turned good seven years ago, but the best news in Sorento-town happened in 2020 when the new-generation MQ4-series arrived.
Riding on a heavily re-engineered platform shared with Hyundai’s latest Santa Fe and Palisade SUVs, as well as Kia’s own Carnival people mover, the fourth-generation Sorento takes what the 2014-20 third-gen model already did pretty well and elevates that to a higher level of class, cohesion and competence.
So far, all the attention has been on the premium Sorento grades – including the new 2022 Sorento GT-Line plug-in hybrid – whereas what we have here is an absolute base-model Sorento S V6 front-wheel drive in standard Clear White paint for a very appealing price of $49,290 driveaway.
Fundamentally, a large front-drive V6 SUV with only 176mm of ground clearance doesn’t bode well for attempting to go off road or being particularly interesting to drive, but the Sorento S V6 decisively brushes aside one of those assumptions.
An off-roader it is not, but in terms of ride, handling and steering, the new-gen Sorento S V6 is so damn impressive it’s borderline great. Fluent, poised and very easy to guide smoothly through a corner, it takes what the previous generation achieved for the Sorento nameplate in terms of dynamic ability and elevates that to a class-benchmark level.
While the Sorento S isn’t as cushy at low speeds as a Toyota Kluger GX, its ride is better controlled and feels noticeably superior the faster you go – especially on challenging surfaces. Combine this effortless compliance with delightful handling balance and focused, well-weighted steering and it doesn’t take long behind the wheel of the Sorento S to really fall for its dynamic character.
The notion of a buxom 200kW/332Nm 3.5-litre V6 powering the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic would’ve previously been the weak link here, but Kia’s decision to junk the former base Sorento’s garbage tyres in favour of high-quality Continental EcoContact 6 rubber has transformed the traction of this gutsy SUV.
Packing a good dose of ‘retro chub’ in their high-profile sizing (235/65R17), the other benefits to having these tyres on the Sorento S is that it rides better than any other Sorento model, it’s quiet, and it’s near-impossible to kerb its 17-inch alloy wheels – the bulgy tyres acting like a buffer between concrete and cringe.
Given the Sorento S is all about base-model realness, the fact that its safety features include a centre-front airbag, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane-keep assist with lane-change assist, lane-following assist, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, driver attention alert, safe-exit warning, auto high-beam, front and rear fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, and a reversing camera speaks volumes of this SUV’s value.
About the only weak link are its brakes – 325mm ventilated discs at each corner – which feel soggy underfoot and potentially not quite up to the considerable performance on offer here (0-100km/h in around 7.5 seconds), or testing its two-tonne towing capacity on mountain descents.
It’s often the case that the cheapest model in a line-up is usually the least cheerful when it comes to interior presentation. But not the Sorento S.
With a slight ’80s retro flavour and several interesting details (like quirky ‘twin’ air vents, dash and door stitching, brilliant bottle storage in the lower and upper doors, and very chic Bridget Riley-inspired cloth seat patterns), all built to modern quality standards, the Sorento S argues a superb case for going base.
The door armrests are nicely padded, both front seats get full (manual) height adjustment (unlike Kluger GX), and the cabin’s metallic trim inserts and oversized door handles are really classy. There’s also a lovely leather steering wheel, auto wipers, auto-folding mirrors, and surprisingly decent sound from the six-speaker stereo with 8.0-inch touchscreen and wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
As for room and seating quality, the front buckets are pleasant but a little lacking in cushion length, the second row (on runners to adjust fore-aft, with 12-position backrest recline) is great for outer passengers but not for the poor bugger in the middle, while the third row is actually doable for sub-6ft adults, though it’s fairly intimate.
The seat slide to access the third row is both clever and intuitive – via solenoid-activated buttons on the second-row seat side or the backrest top, which unlatch seat movement and then re-latch once the seat has been held in position for a moment.
While that means the second row doesn’t return to exactly the same position every time, you instead get to effortlessly choose whatever position you want, which makes more sense.
Luggage wise, the Sorento S offers a solid 616 litres of boot space below the cargo cover with the third row folded (and full-size alloy spare below the floor), though this shrinks to 187 litres with the third row erected (versus 241 litres for a Kluger).
At least the Sorento S offers push-button backrest drop for its rear row, as well as top-tether child seat anchorage points, meaning that the potent breeders among us can legally accommodate five baby seats!
The official ADR81/02 government combined fuel consumption figure for the eight-speed auto Sorento S V6 is 9.7L/100km, though we averaged 12.3L/100km in varied driving conditions using regular 91-octane unleaded, which is par for the course for a petrol V6 SUV.
Recommended servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km, with the Sorento’s five-year/75,000km service amount totalling $2388. This compares to a five-year/50,000km total of $1910 for a Mazda CX-9 Sport and an industry-leading five-year/75,000km servicing cost of just $1250 for a Toyota Kluger GX V6.
If you keep servicing your Sorento at a Kia dealer, the standard 12 months’ roadside assistance can be automatically extended for up to eight years.
Kia’s warranty continues to set the benchmark – seven years/unlimited kilometres.
With plenty of Aussie buyers overlooking the base Sorento for its more salubrious siblings (such as the flagship GT-Line), the humble S is something of an unsung hero in Kia’s extensive vehicle stable.
We’d go as far as saying that the MQ4-series Sorento is arguably the best car offered by Kia Australia – yes, better than the Stinger – and that the entry-level Sorento S V6 represents stunning value at $49,290 driveaway given that it’s so chock-full of worthwhile, unexpected equipment.
But there’s also the fact that with strong performance and refinement, excellent dynamics, handsome styling and great build quality, it’s a whole lot more than just a great deal. It’s a fun, practical, reliable, rewarding large SUV with the best warranty in the business.
For a four-person family with space to move, it’s superb.
Sixteen years after the first Kluger Hybrid debuted in Japan, Toyota Australia has finally introduced its large petrol-electric SUV here in all-new fourth-generation form, and it appears to be catching on.
Technology upgrades keep the Mazda CX-9 at the pointy end of the large SUV segment – and the addition of a sporty new GT SP grade will please many.
Variant tested S 7 SEAT
Key specs (as tested)
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