People must be recalling the ‘populate or perish’ warning of last century, judging by the boom is seven-seat vehicles. Gone are the minisbuses of old, though. Carmakers are now elevating such broods in high-riding SUVs, letting the driver at least pretend they’re on top of things.
If that’s your lot in life, the updated Kia Sorento rates as one of the picks of the pack. The latest iteration is technically a facelift but the changes are comprehensive rather than cosmetic and make the already good seven-seat SUV even better.
The Si model is the entry point for either the 3.5-litre V6 petrol or 2.2-litre turbodiesel. The petrol engine is reserved for front-wheel drive duties and costs $37,490, with the diesel lugging the extra 60kg that comes with the all-wheel drive system.
The six-speed manual diesel is $38,990, the auto adds $2000. Standard gear includes LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, electric folding side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and cruise-control. It’s better on-road that Holden’s Colorado 7 and cheaper than the Ford Territory.
Under the familiar sheet metal is a stronger body and improved noise suppression. Better insulation in the engine bay and transmission tunnel have notably reduced mechanical noise.
The electric power steering has a three-mode operation that varies the steering weight, but not the number of turns needed to move the front wheels. It works to a degree: the effort may vary but the feedback doesn’t.
The nose cops the expected makeover and now has vertical fog lights, the signature Schreyer grille and headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Down the back, the tailgate and tail-lights have been given a minor makeover and there are new alloy wheel designs across the three-model range.
The Si misses out on some of the sexier fruit inside but remains a hugely versatile bus -- fold both sets of rear seats down and there’s a barn-like 2700 litres of cargo space. The plastics are rock-hard, but, given the smudge marks and food spatter they’re likely to cop, it probably makes sense.
Improved handling, all-paw grip and bigger front brakes (320mm discs) are the first line of defence. A reinforced body and six airbags come into play when things get messy. ANCAP rates it a five-star car, with an overall score of 33.21/37.
Ride and handling on the Sorento are better than a bus this big should be. Drive it like you stole it and there’s some body roll, but owners of the pre-facelift version would appreciate the 18 per cent lift in torsional rigidity.
The biggest handicap is the lack of feedback from the steering. I’m not asking for sports car precision, just a degree of feel for what the 17-inch front wheels are doing. It is one of the few flaws in this package, even if it won’t bother the vast majority of Sorentos that will spend their life ambling around the urban jungle at legal speeds.
In those situations, the diesel engine is a responsive occupant, aided and abetted by a six-speed auto that’s quick to shift cogs to keep the torque on tap. Adults won’t have any cause for complaints in the second row seats, while the third row is a kids-only affair. A word of warning -- if you’ve had quintuplets, look elsewhere: the child seat anchorages are only on the second row seats.
The Sorento looks good and handles the bumps better than most in this class. It’s also $8000 cheaper than the comparable Ford Territory. The Ford’s better, but not by that much. That leaves its stablemate, the Hyundai Santa Fe, as its biggest rival. Or there’s Kia’s own Grand Carnival with the same engine … same space, less roll.
Kia Sorento Si AWD auto
Price: from $40,990
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Resale: 54 per cent (three years, Glass’s Guide)
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 6 airbags, ABC with TC, ESC, EBD, hill start
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 2.2-litre 145kW/421Nm (436Nm auto) four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: 6-speed auto, AWD
Dimensions: 4.69m (L); 1.89m (w); 1.7m (h)
Spare: full size
Thirst: 7.3L/100km, 192g/km CO2
Subaru Forester XT
Price: from $39,990
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, 169kW/320Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 10.5L/100km, CO2 248g/km
Hyundai Santa Fe diesel
Price: from $41,990
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 145kW/436Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, AWD
Thirst: 9.1L/100km, CO2 213g/km
Ford Territory diesel
Price: from $48,240
Engine: 2.7-litre 6-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/440Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, 4WD