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ONE CAR, TWO OPINIONS: Kia Sorento family road test review

Kia Sorento: It’s greater outdoors
Kia Sorento: It’s greater outdoors

HOW do you like your seven-seat SUV? A two-wheel drive soft-roader for stylish school drop-off, or a 4WD ute-based giant that lacks polish and ride comfort but can climb mountains on weekends?

A happy middle ground exists with the likes of Kia's Sorento. Spacious, well-equipped, safe and comfortable, this Kia can also handle a fairly rough off-road expedition thanks to its all-wheel drive. Its bias is certainly towards sealed-road daily duties, however - how does it rate in our family test?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

JULES: I recognise this as the sort of giant that takes an age for owners to park during school drop-off chaos.

IAIN: They are a big family favourite and if you're a manic breeder you've got to have those seven seats. But yes, they'll take a while to park as they're so huge.

Sorento: Tough and, for its genre, attractive
Sorento: Tough and, for its genre, attractive

JULES: It blends attractiveness and toughness; it's not gorgeous but it's not an ugly brute like some large SUVs. It'd be too big for us though, with only two kids.

IAIN: Too big now while they're young but I bet when they're a few years older and have friends and sports kit that need to come along you'll want a seven-seater.

JULES: Maybe. What else is out there for the same money? I see this variant is nearly $50,000.

IAIN: Sorentos can be had for $43K in petrol 2WD guise but our one is the diesel AWD in mid-range Sport trim. Rivals with seven seats for similar money include the Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Kluger, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Skoda Kodiaq.

JULES: I like that Skoda and the CX-9. This Kia had better be good to challenge that pair.

THE LIVING SPACE

IAIN: It's vast in here. And in this grade we get leather appointed seats, which are massive and sink-in comfy.

JULES: I like the big touchscreen with Apple CarPlay in the centre, the soft-touch dashboard top and all the switches feel nice. It's just a bit, well, dull.

Sorento cockpit: Controls easy to use plus ample storage around cabin
Sorento cockpit: Controls easy to use plus ample storage around cabin

IAIN: It's simple but imagine you had four kids and therefore your life was officially over. What you want then is ease of use and endless storage bins for bottles and kiddie gear. The Sorento excels here. Safety wise, it needs airbags for the third row.

JULES: There's no smart key, hands-free tailgate or electric seats … stuff that should be our reward for pushing out four bubs.

IAIN: The next grade up is the SLi with said tailgate, smart key, power seats and even Harman/Kardon audio.

JULES: Sold. Go on, how much more does it cost?

IAIN: Comically, just another $2000. No brainer to step up to the SLi. There is a GT-Line flagship, too, with added active safety gear, bigger rims and ventilated seats, but it's nearly $60K.

JULES: The Sorento SLi's the sweet spot then. I'd buy that.

THE COMMUTE

IAIN: Good engine this one. It's a big heavy car but the four-cylinder diesel has bags of torque to haul it along.

JULES: Really comfy, too. It's a big thing to negotiate through town and to park but on the road it's quiet and really quite easy to drive. The front parking sensors are a godsend by the way.

THE SHOPPING

IAIN: It's a good job those two rear seats fold quickly as there's barely any space for luggage behind them.

JULES: It's a huge boot with only five seats up; the two kids' bikes fitted in with acres to spare. It's such a big tailgate that I'd want that hands-free function.

SUNDAY RUN

IAIN: A road trip in one of these is definitely off-road rather than back road. The Sorento's well balanced but still a heavy unit. If you buy the AWD version you should really get it dirty once in a while.

Sorento: Go and get it dirty
Sorento: Go and get it dirty

JULES: I'm genuinely impressed by its off-road skills. Our national park route was a mix of mud, small rocks and sandy tracks, all made slippery thanks to recent rain. It climbed some good hills, too, without any wheelspin.

IAIN: The limiting factor for tougher stuff would be its ground clearance and road tyres.
I wouldn't brave much more than we attempted but its smart AWD lock mode at up to 40km/h showed it should get out of some slippery situations. We returned 7.9L/100km on test.

THE FAMILY

JULES: Ever tried strapping a child into a car seat with your door open, bum poking out and traffic flying past? It's scary and I hate it. I like how I could step into the Sorento, close the door and safely do the kids' belts up.

Space capsule: Third row seats are full-size and get aircon vents
Space capsule: Third row seats are full-size and get aircon vents

IAIN: It's a proper, full-fat seven-seater too. Those two rear seats are full-size and I had excellent head and legroom with the second row of seats slid forward on their runners. Aircon vents for all seat rows is a boon, too.

JULES: Once I worked them out the seats folded easily and weren't as heavy as I expected. You can't get into those back seats elegantly though.

THE VERDICT

IAIN: I'm deeply impressed with the Sorento. It's a versatile, comfortable and practical thing, and with a seven-year warranty it makes a lot of sense to a big family seeking a safe bet.

JULES: I agree, a safe choice if a little dull in Sport grade …. there's nothing sporty about it at all. I reckon if you get the SLi grade with more of life's little luxuries this would serve as a family hauler for a good seven years.

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