Kia Sorento EX: Huge can be little
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The core of the NZ Herald lair is typical contemporary open-plan office space.
Fourteen different kinds of chair are strewn through lunch areas and meeting rooms, copious amounts of corporate speak echo between glass walls, and a coveted toasted sandwich maker sits in the kitchen waiting to be stolen by another department.
The Driven hub attracts all manner of car chat. From people seeking advice on their next purchase, to “have you seen Lewis Hamilton’s latest tweet?” to things of an deeper nature.
Just the other day, an innocent discussion on seven-seaters took a surprising turn when a colleague proclaimed her hatred for her old Honda Odyssey. Not because it was bad, but because of the symbolism. To her, owning a “minivan” was a signal of defeat — a signal that life’s little pleasures and big surprises were all in her rear-view mirror.
She then relayed that, in short time, it was replaced with an SUV.
In this vein, the explosion of SUV sales, including vehicles such as the new 2018 Kia Sorento, begin to make sense.
I say new, but really this is a midlife refresh. Mild generally triumphs wild, but there are slight differences if you know where to look.
The front and rear bumpers have been altered, with shrunken front fog lights underlining a less fussy appearance.
The tiger-nose grille drops the bling in favour of a subtle smoked chrome. It’s handsome but a little forgettable all at once, like Jude Law.
Inside, there’s a new infotainment system and secondary control panel. The primary screen in our EX tester is still a relatively small 7 inches, but now it packs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
This somewhat makes up for the lack of satnav — although that comes standard in the Limited and Premium models via their larger 8-inch screen.
A classy new steering wheel rounds off a mature cabin. Piano black accents feature sparingly, rarely anywhere that can attract grubby fingerprints.
But ultimately the front row is only part of the seven-seater equation. The back row is equally as important.
Flipping them up is easy thanks to a simple system accessible from the boot. No fancy electric motors; just a strap that you yank to get the seats from woe to go in seconds.
Ease of access and ultimate space in the third row is middling, but still practical enough that an adult who’s pulled the short straw could fit in there and exist without disturbing the cosmos.
The big sticking point is safety.
Although Sorentos are offered with all the features you’d expect — lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, Automatic Emergency Braking, and forward collision warning included — much of that is exclusive to the top trims only. Our mid-spec EX tester skips all of the above, with blind-spot monitoring among the few ticked options.
A base LX Sorento sets you back $55,990, while a top-spec Premium model is $73,990. Our EX is $59,990.
All come equipped with all-wheel drive, the same quiet and capable 147kW and 441Nm 2.2-litre CRDi turbo diesel engine (a 3.3-litre V6 is also available, but only via indent order) and the new eight-speed automatic transmission.
When you dig in to the spec sheet, those absent safety features seem the biggest reason to opt for higher-spec models — not luxury, nor drivetrain.
And, given these are vehicles purchased by safety-conscious buyers, there’s something slimey about that. Especially when a Mazda CX-9 or Toyota Highlander will come with adaptive cruise, electronic brake distribution, and more at their similarly priced base level.
On a brighter note, let’s talk about the driving experience.
Despite dimensionally resembling a whopping behemoth, behind the wheel all is calm. Thanks to a combination of soft steering, well-weighted pedals, an ace driving position, and that quick-thinking new transmission, driving the new Sorento feels as stressless as driving a small hatchback.
Agonisingly slow idle stop-go is the only pain. It helps achieve a claimed 6.5-litres per 100km, but you’ll find yourself switching it off at the beginning of every journey.
In the end, enabling the ability to switch off is what the Sorento does best.
It is, as it always has been, an easygoing, simple, practical, fuss-free player in the seven-seater space.
And no, don’t call it a minivan.
2018 Kira Sorento EX AWD
Pros: Looks good, solid build quality, pert road manners
Cons: Most safety tech reserved for top models, idle stop-go slow to react