By Jonathan Crouch
This vastly improved third generation version of Kia's Sorento proved to be efficient, smart and more spacious for families seeking practical, seven-seat all-wheel drive transport. More interesting than an MPV and roomier than a CR-V or RAV4-style soft roader, you can see why it might appeal as a used buy in the SUV D segment.
Let's say you want a decently sized SUV for family duties. A compact RAV4-style soft roader is too small. A bigger full-sized Discovery or Land Cruiser-class model too large and expensive. No, potentially what you want is something like this, Kia's third generation Sorento.
This car, along with its Hyundai Santa Fe cousin, has long offered this kind of appealing compromise for family SUV buyers in search of spacious, affordable seven-seat versatility. Traditionally, its buying proposition has always been that for not much more than RAV4 or CR-V money, you could get three rows of seats, extra capability and better value for money. Job done.
Except that it wasn't. Even in its more polished second generation guise, the Sorento felt a touch utilitarian. And for longer journeys, the truth was that it could only really seat seven if the last two members of your party were of junior school age. In developing the MK3 version then, Kia's clear objectives were to make this car a little larger, as well as making it a little more up-market. If it could do that without dramatically affecting this model's biggest selling point, its value pricing proposition, then opportunities for sales growth looked certain.
That's exactly what this third generation Sorento design claimed to deliver. A model launched in the Spring of 2015 that was supposed to provide nearly everything you'd get from a large-segment European-badged SUV rival costing over 50% more. And a car that marked a further stage forward in Kia's intended transformation from value brand to premium quality car maker. Hence the fresh technology, the extra efficiency and the greater depth of engineering, refinement and quality. The MK3 model sold in its original form until early 2018, when it was then replaced by an updated model featuring updated safety technology, a revised trim structure and a new 8-speed auto gearbox. It's the original pre-facelift version of this third generation design though, that we look at here.
What You Get
When a car maker describes the design of its vehicle as 'Dignity wrapped up in a solid package', you've a pretty good idea what to expect from the model in question. Kia may aspire to be seen as a premium brand but when it came to creating the third generation version of this Sorento SUV, it didn't want to produce the kind of sporty, lower-slung, more dynamic-looking large SUV that posh European makers like to offer. There's a reason for that of course and it lies in the fact that over half of this model's sales volume comes from American and Asian markets that like their big 4x4s to be bluff, practical and boxy. So that's what was delivered with this MK3 Sorento model.
Or to a point it has anyway. Aware that European folk prefer something a little more arresting, Kia's design studios in Korea, Frankfurt and California collaborated to try and deliver the necessarily squarical shape with more of a sleeker, swept-back profile. The object here was not only extra showroom presence but a need to disguise what was probably this MK3 model's biggest change - its greater size. This, we were promised in 2015, was something that nearly all its direct competitors struggle to be: a proper seven-seater - as opposed to merely being a five-seat SUV with a couple of fold-out seats for kids in the boot.
Shall we take a seat at the wheel? That's what designers from European premium brands will be doing, keen to see just how much Kia is now capable of in this, its flagship model.
Behind the wheel, the previously quite utilitarian cabin of the previous second generation model was replaced by something much smarter, with a wraparound dash that extends into the doors and offers slick, soft-touch surfaces, lovely satin brightwork, glossy piano black trim and controls with clear, classy graphics. Go for a plusher model and you're even promised one of those trendy TFT virtual displays to replace the conventional instrument dials.
Take a seat in the second row and there's also a greater feeling of space, partly because of an extra 15mm of legroom but mainly because the designers managed to all-but-eliminate the previous model's chunky transmission tunnel, meaning that three passengers can easily be seated. Access to this third row would be better if the middle seat tumbled forward rather than merely sliding back and forth. Once you're in though, there is, as the 80mm wheelbase increase promises, just about room for the couple of full-sized adults who were significantly more cramped in the previous generation version of this car.
Of course, with the rearmost seats in place, there's isn't much room for luggage - but then of course that's true of any seven-seater that isn't directly based on a van. Lift the tailgate and you'll find that with all three rows in place, you get 142-litres of cargo space, a capacity that rises to 605-litres if you tug on the provided boot levers to fold the third row chairs, that last figure a 17.5% increase on before.
What to Look For
Most MK3 Sorento owners we came across in our survey were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there were a few issues. The worst one we came across was a rogue example that had an engine that stopped on the move for no apparent reason and sometimes suddenly reduced its power when overtaking. Another owner had a steering rack failure. And another had to get his car's LG Central Control unit replaced. Early on in this design's model life, there was a factory recall for faulty door handles; make sure that the original owner of the car you're looking at had this update seen to; we came across one owner still struggling with an offside door handle.
Otherwise, the only issues were minor ones - things like the sat nav mapping not being updated for example; check out your local newly-added roads on your test drive. It's extremely unlikely that he Sorento you're looking at will have been seriously used off road (particularly if it has a higher-spec trim level), but just in case, check the underside of the car for dents and scrapes. It's more likely that you'll find scratches on the alloy wheels caused through ham-fisted parking. Check out the rear two seating rows for scratches caused by unruly children. And of course, insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2015 Sorento KX-3 ex VAT) An air filter will be priced at around £8, an oil filter will sit in the £7 to £13 bracket and a radiator will be priced at around £166. For a pair of front brake discs, you're looking at paying in the £105 to £145 bracket, with a pair of rear discs costing up to around £130. A pair of front brake pads are around £25, while a pair of rear pads sit in the £28 to £29 bracket for a set. A pressured fuel pump is pricey at about £1,135. A water pump is about £122.
On the Road
By its own admission, Kia has never overly prioritised rewarding driving dynamics when it comes to this, its flagship Sorento model. Typical customers, the brand has always pointed out, generally enter the family SUV segment looking for a robust, comfortable and refined driving experience rather than a memorable one. Times are changing though and by the time of this MK3 model's launch in 2015, the company had decided that it wanted to prove itself the equal of European competitors - which meant upping its game when it comes to ride and handling.
There was only so much that Kia's development engineers could do in this regard though - at least in this case anyway. A 'root-and-branch' change in Sorento philosophy would have been necessary to make this third generation model a dynamic match for large SUVs like BMW's X5 or even Land Rover's Discovery Sport - and that's not what's been provided in the evolutionary approach delivered here. The South Korean company always has to consider its more conservative US and Asian markets and in any case, the brand is well aware that many potential buyers still want to tow and enjoy at least occasional light off road adventures. In other words, they still need this car to be quite tough. And that means quite heavy.
To be specific, it's just under 1.9-tonnes in weight, bulk you'll certainly feel if, rather ill-advisedly, you attempt to start throwing this thing around. To be fair, extra torsional rigidity has helped reduce bodyroll around the bends and there's certainly nothing wrong with grip and cornering traction by the standards of this kind of car. Opt for a car fitted with the six-speed automatic transmission rather than the six-speed manual gearbox fitted at the bottom of the range and you even get a 'Drive Mode Select' system that can sharpen up the steering and the gearshift timings for a sportier feel. Approach a drive in a Sorento with this kind of mind set though and you're really rather missing the point. Anyway, selecting the automatic model means that your towing capacity will fall from 2,500kgs to 2,000kgs - a significant factor for some owners.
Better instead to relax and waft happily along on the wave of torque delivered by the 197bhp 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine, slightly uprated for this MK3 model and the only unit on offer to MK3 model Sorento buyers in this country. Pulling power is certainly in plentiful supply, the 441Nm on offer here easing you from rest to 62mph in around 9s on the way to an academic maximum of 124mph. Also impressive is the much improved refinement of this third generation model, something Kia thinks is indicative of premium quality. Hence that extra body rigidity, the sleeker shape and vast swathes of aerodynamic shielding beneath the car, these measures together cutting noise levels by around 6%. That still isn't quite enough for full Executive segment silence - the large tyres and door mirrors see to that - but it delivers a big improvement.
And off road ability? Well, the approach and departure angles of this MK3 Sorento are a little down on those of the previous model and ground clearance remains modest at 185mm. This is because the old second generation Sorento's 'Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system' was replaced for this MK3 design by a much better Dynamax set-up that actually is quite intelligent. This Kia still doesn't run in 4x4 form all the time (that wouldn't be very efficient). It is though, courtesy of the Dynamax system, readier to cope when conditions turn nasty. So where previously, this car's 4WD system clicked in only when you were already losing grip, the Dynamax set-up is intuitive enough to anticipate when all-wheel drive will be needed and provide the extra traction ahead of time. Which will probably be all you'll need to keep mobile in the next snowy snap or to take on the nearest forest trail.
Those brave or foolhardy enough to want to do a bit more than that will be reassured by the provision of a manually selectable 'lock' mode that splits torque 50:50 front-to-rear to ease you through particularly slippery situations at speeds of up to 25mph. This Kia's relatively close proximity to the ground means that these shouldn't be too extreme but hill-start assist control and a 16.9-degree approach angle should get you up reasonably steep slopes, while there's a 21.0-degree departure angle to help when you get to the bottom at the other side.
It's hard to imagine any buyer of this Kia driving to these extremes: users wanting serious off piste ability would be more likely to buy a Mitsubishi Shogun or stretch up to a Toyota Land Cruiser or something with a Land Rover badge. Still, a Sorento owner wouldn't need to venture into the Serengeti to derive some benefit from the Dynamax 4x4 set-up. We do, after all, live in a country where on average, it rains on over 140 days each year and on wet tarmac, this car certainly offers a reassuring feeling of traction when the weather turns bad. That's aided by a clever ATCC 'Advanced Traction Cornering Control' system that through the turns, intelligently apportions engine torque to the wheels that can best use it.
In the SUV 'D'-segment, it's certainly true that there are trendier, more dynamic choices you could make than this MK3 Sorento model. There are few better all-round options though. After all, your other segment choices generally either restrict you to five seats or if they don't, then provide significantly less power and space. To match what this Kia can offer, you've either to spend far more on a European rival - or consider this car's Hyundai Santa Fe design stablemate.
Buyers considering this third generation Sorento have good reason not to do either of these things. This Kia's extra polish and cleverness take it clear of that in-house rival and make choosing this car a more credible option for buyers who simply don't need the dynamic advantages on offer from much pricier Land Rover models or the German brands in this segment. Plus, as ever with this model, while those familiar with the Amalfi coast might still feel the Sorento to be lacking an R, a glance at the spec sheet doesn't immediately suggest it to be lacking much else. In short then, for all kinds of reasons, this is very much a car you'd like - rather than merely one that would be very handy to have. If that kind of proposition's new to you when considering the Kia brand, pleasant surprises await here.