| BUYERS GUIDE
KIA SORENTO - 2011 MODEL
Kia’s diesel technology made the torquey Sorento AWD a powerful tow vehicle.
Kia’s Sorento brand started life as a body-on-frame, conventional 4WD wagon with low-range gearing and live rear axle and then morphed into an AWD or 2WD machine with monocoque construction and all-independent suspension.
In the process the Sorento became less of a bush machine and more of an urban tourer. Seven-seat capacity – kids only in the back – made it a useful people mover, with the dynamic safety of on-demand, lockable all-wheel-drive in AWD models.
There were three models in the 2011 Sorento AWD range and all were diesels, confining the 2.4-litre petrol engine to 2WD models only. The diesel came with a bonus in the form of self-levelling suspension that was eminently desirable when hauling a trailer.
Kia’s diesel four was a long-stroke, highly-turbocharged engine, with common-rail, high-pressure injection and outputs that belied its modest displacement of only 2.2 litres. Maximum power was a claimed 145kW at 3800rpm, with peak torque of 422Nm (manual transmission model) or 436Nm (automatic transmission models) in a broad band between 1800rpm and 2500rpm.
The auto-box model’s torque peak was nearly double that of the petrol engine’s, so towing performance between identical-looking 2WD petrol and 4WD diesel Sorentos was markedly different.
All AWD Sorentos were highly equipped and came with: ABS/EBD brakes with emergency brake assist; electronic stability control (ESC) with traction control; downhill and hill-start assist control; self-levelling rear suspension; front and rear fog lamps; three child-seat restraint anchors; front and side SRS airbags, curtain airbags and front seat belt pretensioners; impact-sensing door unlocking; immobiliser; delayed headlights-off function; seven split-fold seats; height and lumbar adjustable driver’s seat; powered windows; remote central locking; heated, powered rear vision mirrors; tinted glass; cruise control with steering wheel switches; six-function trip computer; two 12V outlets; vanity mirror sun visors; cargo hooks and luggage screen; MP3 CD player with AM/FM tuner; Bluetooth phone and audio with steering wheel controls; speed-dependent volume control; and dual-zone climate control aircon.
The AWD lineup started with the $39,990 Si model that had a six-speed manual transmission and a unique twin-output-shaft gearset that altered the final drive ratio in 1st to 4th gears from 4.75:1 to a fuel-saving 4.07:1 in 5th and 6th. The downside was that reverse also shared the higher-speed final drive ratio, but there was ample engine torque and the multiplier effect of the torque converter ratio to make up for this minor issue.
Towing capacity was 2500kg, with a maximum ball weight of 150kg. Tyres were 235/65R17s on aluminium wheels and the spare was full-size.
The $46,190 SLi model came as a six-speed automatic with towing capacity reduced to 2000kg. Tyres were 235/60R18, with a full-size spare.
The SLi picked up additional equipment: roof rails; reverse parking sensors and a reversing camera with mirror display; auto-on headlights; powered driver’s seat adjustment; rear spoiler; LED rear lamps; leather upholstery and trim and leather-wrapped wheel and gear knob; front windows auto-up and down function; sports foot pedals; electro-chromic rear view mirror; and third-row seating ventilation controls.
The $49,190 Platinum equipment level was SLi plus: a powered sunroof; privacy rear glass; six-CD changer; and an external amplifier and sub-woofer. There were also exclusive exterior colours and optional ivory, beige or brown leather seats and trim.
On road and towing
Our test vehicle was an SLi version with more than 12,000km on the clock, so its diesel was well run-in.
The original Sorento was widely criticised for its soft suspension, but we thought that Kia went overboard in correcting that fault: the new machine was overly stiff and rode smoothly on only the best Aussie road surfaces that we know are few and far between. The Sorento felt like a European sports sedan and that’s a tad too ‘jiggly’ for most people.
The firm ride was out first impression of the vehicle and persisted through the test. A plus was flat handling through the twisties and this, in conjunction with ample grunt and brilliant response from the turbo-diesel donk, endeared it to sporting types who might otherwise not go for a seven-seat vehicle.
While we’re having a moan the headlights were about as effective as the six-volt units fitted to 1950s Beetles and were totally inadequate for town driving, let alone country roads.
Seat comfort in all but the third row was judged fine for adults and getting in and out was straightforward. Because of its compact dimensions the Sorento didn’t work as a long-haul seven-seater, because the lowered third-row seats became the cargo area floor, leaving no space for luggage. With five on board there was ample cargo space.
Self-levelling suspension ensured that ride height didn’t change when we coupled an Adria test caravan to the Sorento, but, because it used hydraulic not pneumatic raising of the rear suspension uprights, did nothing to soften the firm ride.
We found the reversing camera was ideally placed for coupling ease, with the towball and coupling clearly visible in the screen section of the rear vision mirror.
Our tow-test course included freeway, secondary roads town traffic and a mountain climb and descent through 800 vertical metres. We strove for maximum legal speeds at all times. Performance was excellent and fuel consumption averaged 13.4L/100km when towing, compared with 9L/100km when driving solo and unladen. Transmission shift quality was very good and uphill and downhill travel was smooth and jerk-free. Engine braking was strong enough to spare the service brakes most of the time.
The 2011 Kia Sorento AWD was a well-finished, stylish wagon with seven-seat flexibility and excellent turbo-diesel performance. A slick auto box and self-levelling suspension made towing a dream and economy was very good. We’d like to have seen the suspension softened a tad for Australia’s less than brilliant road surfaces and the headlights were seriously deficient.
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