Normally when a manufacturer facelifts a model, the process usually entails just a few minor cosmetic adjustments but at Kia Motors they like to do things a little differently. The Kia Sorento facelift not only sports a host of aesthetical tweaks but also includes a totally altered platform, which it shares with the third-generation Hyundai Santa Fe. Since designer Peter Schreyer’s appointment in 2006, the popularity of Kia as a brand has increased dramatically, especially amongst the younger generation, but is the freshened-up Sorento a hit in the right direction? It sure is.
Building on the positives of the second-generation model, the new Sorento uses the company’s updated DNA to maximum affect.As a result, it benefits from re-contoured front and rear bumpers with vertical-axis foglamps, a new grille, headlamps with LED positioning lights and a new tailgate with re-shaped tail-light clusters. There are also optional 10-spoke machine-finished 19-inch alloys on offer. The remodelling continues inside where an array of soft-touch surfaces dominates the facia layout. The most noticeable alteration however, is the redesigned centre stack complete with an eight-inch display and a new ‘supervision’ LCD digital cluster that doubles up as both a speedometer and on-board computer. Interiors with fabric upholstery can be had in one of two standard colours, black and beige, but there are two optional colour packs featuring brown or black/white leather seat covers to further personalise the cabin. Although touted as a seven-seater, the Sorento can comfortably seat five adults – the third row is largely uninhabitable unless you’re a gnome. Access to the cabin is improved by the lower ride height (-10mm) that, in combination with the recessed floor, has increased legroom in the second and third rows of seats by 30mm and 9mm respectively.
But the facelifted Sorento is a lot more than just a visual makeover – it employs a sturdier re-engineered body shell, a revised suspension set-up and a more advanced powertrain with improved emissions and fuel efficiency. The stiffer body and freshly-pressed vibration-damping sub-frame mountings have helped to minimise NVH levels. However, the low profile 19-inch tyres fitted to my test unit did amplify certain road inconsistencies during the driving evaluation. Nonetheless, for such a big vehicle the Sorento drives and handles surprisingly well thanks to the partnership of a MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension set-up and high-performance damper arrangement. Naturally, the Sorento does suffer from a smidge of body roll during sudden directional changes and the rear can get a little skittish on rougher surfaces, but nothing too disconcerting. My test car was fitted with the optional electric steering, which despite lacking in any genuine feel was pretty sharp and responsive. Of course the FlexSteer system is on standby should you want more feel from the steering, but it’s all still rather gimmicky I’m afraid. Engine-wise, the Sorento makes use of a gutsy 3.5-litre V6 lump that’s good for 206kW and 336Nm of torque. It not blisteringly quick but it does reward with an immensely rousing soundtrack especially when the rev needle flicks past 5000rpm. The six-speed automatic transmission isn’t the most refined unit around – even in Sport mode, shift time and throttle response are notably delayed. Can it go off-road? Well, it does come with an on-demand four-wheel drive system that delivers 100 per cent of engine torque to the front wheels during normal driving situations but can send as much as 50 per cent to the rear wheels when slip is detected on the fronts. In tricky terrain, the electronic diff can be locked in a 50:50 torque split for up to 40kph to further aid traction.
Overall, the Sorento is a very capable vehicle. Sure, I didn’t get to put its off-road abilities to the test but it managed to dismiss the tricky Korean road network with ease. The utility is first class, cabin layout is practical and intuitive, and the bold styling accurately encapsulates the company’s new design philosophy. For those wanting a value-for-money proposition that’s also pleasing on the eye, the Sorento, like every other Kia, is definitely worth a look and should do well if current sales are anything to go by – locally, Kia is struggling to meet demand such is the popularity of the brand.The new Sorento will make its local début early 2013. It will be offered with a five-year/100000km maintenance plan and with a choice of 3.5-litre V6 and 2.2-litre turbodiesel. Pricing is still yet to be confirmed but expect it to be on par with the out-going model – around R420 000.