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Hyundai Santa Fe vs Kia Sorento

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    These two capable Korean SUVs excel with a quiet, comfortable ride, performance and quality. Photo Gallery

Mark Hinchliffe oversees a comparison between the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento in Queensland bush.

Take two Korean twins into the Australian bush and you could have trouble telling them apart. That's what happened when we took loaded up a Kia Sorento and a Hyundai Santa Fe to the gunwales with people and camping gear and headed into the bush to Queensland's majestic Carnarvon Gorge.

Our test vehicles were both top-spec diesel models, just the type of vehicle a grey nomad are considering for their lap of the continent.

After more than 2000km of highway, country road and limited dirt and offroad driving, we had a hard time telling them apart. They look, feel and even sound similar. Making a buying choice could be even more difficult. Far from being out of their depth in the Aussie bush, these Korean softroaders excel with a quiet, comfortable ride and performance levels that will challenge the average Aussie's view of what it takes to get around west of the Great Divide.

The Koreans are forging ahead with Hyundai not far behind Ford, even outselling them in February. Hyundai's sister company, Kia, is a long way back, but surging past Mercedes-Benz and BMW and not far behind Suzuki. Their keys to success are not cheap and cheerful vehicles, but reliable, quality products.

What are the differences?

The Santa Fe and Sorento are basically built off the same platform with the same underpinnings, shared engineering and engines. On several occasions during the test, I forgot which vehicle I was driving, so similar are the controls and appearance, especially inside.

Outside, there is more difference. Voting on the most stylish was divided among friends and family with some preferring the bulkier and more noble look of the Hyundai and others admiring the sleeker Kia with its extra touches of chrome bling.

The differences are basically an optical illusion as the silhouettes are almost identical. Kia has made their SUV appear sleeker and slimmer by having higher black plastic mouldings which reduce the amount of painted panels. By comparison the Hyundai looks a little saggy in the rear end. Interiors are also fairly similar and you could easily step from one to the other and operate all the controls and audio functions without having to look.

Equipment

Both have a load of creature features fitted: six airbags, rear parking sensors, cruise control, climate air and leather steering wheel. One of the best features of the two vehicles is the reversing camera screen in the rearview mirror, which is the first place you look when reversing.

And how about those electric front seats. They move forward, back, up and down, tilt and have adjustable lumbar support - more positions than the Kama Sutra.

The interior differences are few and far between, but could be crucial in making a buying decision. For example if you have rowdy kids, you might want to go for the Hyundai which has a clever convex mirror under the standard rearview mirror which allows parents to check on who started the latest fight.

If you have a lot of MP3 players, mobile phones, portable fridges etc, you also might like to buy the Hyundai as it has four 12V outlets compared with two in the Kia.

The Hyundai also has an airconditioning vent in the centre console which acts as a chill box. The console has a two-stage lid which helps keep some items separate. However, the Kia has a bigger bin with a small removable inner small bin inside.

Both have good build quality inside and while the plastics are a bit hard in places, the Hyundai has slightly better feel on the steering wheel. Its leather seats are also just a shade softer, but neither is particularly plush against your backside.

The Kia brings a little bling inside with nice touches of chrome and the word "Sorento" in the door kicker which lights up. It's a slightly more upmarket feel in the cabin. Instruments are near identical except that the Hyundai lights up in blue and the Kia in red. Both have three rows of seats and separate airconditioning controls for the passengers and even the supplied iPod cable will work in either vehicle. So a buying decision could come down to your favourite colour.

Driving

In driving dynamics there is even less of a divide. They both steer slightly lightly around the centre and have an initial tip in the body on turn-in, but don't wallow or lean too much more under heavy cornering.

Brake pedals have a plush feel, but deliver similar strong stopping performance even when packed and on loose surfaces. Tyre noise and grip is similar despite the Hyundai running Khumo 235/60R18 tyres and Kia on Nexen 235/60R18 rubber. The diesel engines are the same and have identical power and torque figures, pulling surprisingly well up some steep Central Highlands inclines.

Both have a slight turbo lag off idle, but then the power then comes on hot and strong, sometimes giving a bit of a tug on the steering wheel and sending the outside wheel for a short spin until the stability control cuts in if you are on loose or slippery surface. I had previously found the Hyundai engine noise a little intrusive, but once settled into the rhythm of the highway, it was not a problem and no louder than the Kia.

While both have capable off-road drive components with electronic locking diffs, slightly more serious off-roaders who like to tackle steep descents may consider the Kia which has a hill descent selector.

Over a week of bush driving, both diesel vehicles returned identical fuel econmomy figures of eight litres per 100km. That was the same figure I obtained from the Santa Fe over a week of purely urban duties. The extra load and off-road duties obviously offsetting the highway cruise.

So if you are making a choice between these two capable Korean SUVs it might come down to the flip of a coin or your favourite colour. Either way, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Hyundai Santa Fe vs Kia Sorento

PRICES: $48,490 (Santa Fe Highlander), $48,990 (Sorento Platinum)
ENGINES: 2.2-litre turbo diesel
POWER: 145kW
TORQUE: 436Nm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed auto
FUEL TANK: 70 litres
TOWING: 2000kg (braked)
KERB WEIGHT: 1988kg (Hyundai), 1959kg (Kia)
SAFETY: stability control, six airbags and 5-star crash rating

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 33 comments

  • Thanks for the comparison. The above comments also refer to the Niaana Murano.  Yes they do look - unique. They are also $20 to $25K dearer than the Kia or Hyundi to buy
    and much heavier on fuel.  I,m STILL “up in the air ” as to which to buy. Cheers Mike B

    mike bruggy of Home: Broken Hill. Holiday in Adelaide Posted on 20 March 2012 8:44pm
  • Only the Sorento has the self levelling suspension which makes a massive difference if you tow a caravan like I do.  The story also fails to talk about the 2 x sunroofs in the Platinum. It makes the cabin feel much much bigger. Sorento also has a separate amp for the stereo that the Hyundai does not have.

    Dennis of Menzies Creek Vic Posted on 17 December 2011 3:15pm
  • Happy Murano Owner is obviously blind, or at least when he bought it. Murano’s look downright awful.

    wol Posted on 23 November 2011 1:06pm
  • Hmmm…. Looked at these a year ago…  They were impressive but did not seem to have that WOW factor…. Ended up buying a Nissan Murano ST….Not a diesel… But much more pleasant to drive, very well equipped and much, much more cheaper…

    Happy Murano Owner of Roxby Downs SA Posted on 15 November 2011 9:04pm
  • Hi, does anyone tow a caravan with their Kia Sorrento. I have a 890kg van but do not have electric brakes yet and I am wondering if they are necessary?

    Nick of Sunshine Coast Posted on 10 September 2011 9:29pm
  • I have had my KIA Sorento Platinum for just over a year now (purchased 8/6/2010) and all I can say is: What a superb vehicle. It has not missed a beat since purchased and has returned excellent economy, ranging from 6.8L/100km through 7.8L/100km on cruising. I usually set the cruise control for spot on indicted 100km/h and the RPM is around 1800. This gives economy in the 7.5L av. When driving short hops it is in the low 8L/100km.
    The motor is punchy with plenty of power and torque, more than most would need. The standard of finish is exemplary and I would have to say beter than the Nissan and Toyotas I have owned previously. I could go on forever praising this car and if it continues to exceed my epectations I would have to say that the top Japanese 4wd and suv makes better watch out as this three letter Korean is on the move to the top. A very CAPABLE Korean! PS. I had to wait a month for my car but it was well worth it. I ordered the beige colour which is great for hiding the wimmera dust etc.
    Whosoever buys one of these cars will NOT be disappointed.

    Graeme B of Western Victoria of Wimmera, Victoria Posted on 15 July 2011 6:35pm
  • I can’t decide to buy Santa Fe or Sorento, please help me :(

    rose of turkey Posted on 26 June 2011 10:24pm
  • My partner & I have just purchased a Black Kia Sorento Si in Diesel. As we now have added a dog to the family, with 3 little kids, the Sedan we had was becoming a tight squeeze. We liked the well appointed Sli but couldnt justify the extra 3-4 grand.  We have added front and rear parking sensors though ($900). We have only owned the vehicle for a week, so we took it for a decent drive through the windy and hilly back roads of the Mornington Peninsula. We are very happy with how it handles and the seats are supportive and comfortable. The engine is smooth & eager to please. The one niggle we have so far is that our iphone cord was faulty and doesn’t work. The dealership have ordered us a new one and it should be here in a week. We are delighted with our purchase, The Sorento is so much better value than a Ford Territory or Toyota Kluger, of which we test drove both and we kept coming back to the Kia. The Holden Captiva (although cheaper) couldnt match the Sorento for internal Space. We traded in a 16 month old Ford Falcon G6 and we have not regretted moving into a Korean built car. I would happily recommend anyone who is looking at a Family vehicle thats flexible and well equipped.

    Peter King of Melbourne VIC Posted on 02 May 2011 2:00pm
  • Just bought the Platinum for $46,300 drive away!! This is a great car with plenty of style and features. I have never purchased a diesel before but was attracted by the fuel economy. Does anyone know what delivery delays can be expected?

    paddy of Brisbane Posted on 23 February 2011 10:07pm
  • We bought our highlander in March 2010, and have clocked up 26000 already. Very, very, happy with it. Only whinge is you cannot turn down the blue console lights, very annoying on a long night drive, we have to drape a towel over it .otherwise a terrific vehicle, luv it.

    ray of copacabana nsw Posted on 20 December 2010 5:52pm
  • Samuel, I bought the dealer’s demo (titanium color) which had only 650kms including a tow package for $47,500. I know it was a demo but was as good as brand new so start in the high 40’s for a new one, you can always come up in price. They’re a great car, you won’t be disappointed, good luck!

    Brett of Pascoe Vale Posted on 14 October 2010 1:51pm
  • Hey Samuel, I just bought a Platinum Diesel with rails, tow and basic extras. Cost me 50$k drive away. So not a bad deal saved close to 5 grand. I had researched and test drove for weeks and had not even considered the Kia until I drove it (which was a last minute decision driving past a dealer).  Love it.

    Colin of Toowoomba, Q Posted on 26 September 2010 4:41pm
  • Anyone brought a KIA-SORENTO PLATINUM? if so what was the drive away price???

    I am seriously considering Kia Sorento-platinum but 52K on road is too much for korean car…

    Please let me know
    Cheers
    Samuel

    Samuel of melbourne Posted on 02 September 2010 3:29pm
  • Is the Sorento the only one with a self levelling suspension which I think is quite an advantage especially if you tow a lot… Did not seem to be mentioned in the story.

    David Morrison of Hamilton Posted on 10 June 2010 9:25pm
  • Picked up my White Santa Fe Highlander two weeks ago.
    Very Nice!
    One thing, the plastic bumpers do not match the colour of the metal panels, seeming a bit darker/creamier.
    Strangely, the reverse sensor dots DO match the body colour!
    I find this very annoying and something that should not be part of a $50K buying experience.

    Peter Borghouts of West Footscray Posted on 30 April 2010 10:46am
  • I believe the position is now reversed, there are Santa Fe’s here but if you try to buy a Kia Sorento Platinum you may find a long wait. Sounds like Hyundai and Kia have become victims of their own success, hopefully only a temporary situation.

    John of rolizoni@bigpond.net.au Posted on 26 April 2010 3:02pm
  • Just collected our SanteFe Highlander (december order), a great car - seats are a little harder than one would expect, but for sub $50k its a great vehicle. For those who are disappointed with the delivery timeframes, try order a Audi Q5 - you’ll be waiting till december ‘10. I also have a ix35 on order, and for a 5 seater - wowsers a great car. If you are considering petrol or diesel, I test drive the petrol and bought the diesel. Enough said.

    Paul of Melbourne Posted on 26 April 2010 11:41am
  • We ordered a Hyundai Santa Fe slx manual in January and will finally take delivery next week i to believe that the Koreans are leading the way however their customer relations are very very bad as we were told that our car would be here in February after thinking the dealership was the problem rung Hyundais customer service ph no. and was told that they had no new cars coming into the country till late April as Australian customers weren’t a priority.
    Even though this is our seventh Hyundai it will be our last. If it isn’t on the showroom floor don’t buy it

    rick of wck Posted on 25 April 2010 11:04pm
  • Hyundai have let themselves down big time, by not being able to supply the Santa Fe.See any of the chat rooms, and they all make mention of ‘months of waiting’ for santa.
    If its almost the same vehicle, get a ‘KIA’, you’ll get it quicker!!

    Karin of Geelong Posted on 24 April 2010 5:07pm
  • Have read numerous reviews. All positive. Data on fuel consumption with use of air con and towing a caravan would be interesting and useful.

    michael prete of Perth Posted on 23 April 2010 9:55pm
  • You mentioned that these two vehicles are suitable for the “Grey Nomads” but, do they really need the seven seats? This is something that is happening to most makes. I am looking at this type of vehicle for towing but I do not see the sense in paying for the extra seats which, also cut down the storage space needed for travelling. Are they available as a 5 seater?

    Andrew of Melbourne Posted on 23 April 2010 9:42am
  • Sorento hands down…

    David of brisbane Posted on 21 April 2010 3:26am
  • From someone who works in the motor industry also be aware of your resale value.  The Hyundai will have a better resale value in the near future at least.

    Gavin of Horsham Posted on 20 April 2010 2:33pm
  • ... and I have looked at the Freelander and Challenger. The Freelander seems good but expensive and old hat externally and worries me on reliability, the Challenger just looks old full stop (but very capable off road I believe). Credit due to Hyundai/Kia in my view for catching the other manufacturers napping.

    John Buller of Melbourne Posted on 19 April 2010 9:26pm
  • OK, one BIG difference I found was the sound system. I’ve seen two Sorento Platinums now and listened to the audio, was very disappointed with the sound quality compared to the Santa Fe HIghlander. This is despite playing with all of the audio settings. The main problem area seemed to be rear door speakers and subwoofer. Maybe the Sorento audio settings can be tweaked somehow that I’m not aware of. We all have different things we look for and audio quality is one of mine. I also agree with the reviewer and found the Highlander seats slightly more comfortable. In terms of interior I actually prefer the lower spec Sorento with the dark dash inserts rather than brushed metal everywhere. But, in its defence lots of brushed metal seems to be trendy now among upspec models in general. My wife and I have driven both now and, it might be our imagination, but we both agreed the Sorento drove a little better. The whole driving experience seemed a little tighter somehow with the accelerator response a little smoother and the steering seemed to have a little more feel to it. I’ve changed my mind twice about which I prefer but the Santa Fe still has the edge overall.

    John Buller of Melbourne Posted on 19 April 2010 9:18pm
  • “The Kia had me on style” is akin to saying Susan Boyle makes you think impure thoughts.

    Holden Caulfield Posted on 17 April 2010 7:03pm
  • I would go the KIA only for styling reasons. Both great cars and whilst they suit any age group I can see the grey army flocking to these as van towers due to their ability as towers.

    Neal of Cairns Posted on 17 April 2010 5:31pm
  • The hyundai is an old design. The Kia Sorrento is all new and designed by ex-Audi engineer. The interior is very Audish and far superior to the Hyundai. There are subtle feature differences between the two but the Kia has to itself that wonderful double moonroof and more comfortable seats. In 10 years time Kia/Hyundai will be the Toyota of the market. Toyota’s quality is falling and their pricing is crazy. I drove a $95000 Prado and the Sorrento has more power/torque and is quiter. Expect good resale on these modern diesel Kia/Hyundai models. My pick is the Sorrento over the Sante Fe. Insurance was also cheaper

    David Hall Posted on 17 April 2010 10:14am
  • For the same price you could buy a Challenger 4WD not a pretend.

    CarlMc of Taree Hinterland Posted on 16 April 2010 8:00pm
  • The KIA has self levelling suspension on all diesel models from the base SI, mid spec SLI and top Platinum. The only Sorento that misses out is the Petrol, Front Wheel drive version which I guess is not going to be a major tow vehicle.

    Ken of Parramatta Posted on 16 April 2010 5:37pm
  • The first time I looked at both cars the Kia had me on style. The second time I looked more closely at interior quality and the little things (like passenger electric seat and other gadgetry), and the Hyundai seemed to come out in front. I also wonder about resale but by the time I turn the car over I doubt the market will see any difference between Kia and Hyundai, a real credit to Kia’s current performance. The Kia has self levelling suspension and I intend to tow a 1,800kg boat occasionally. So, heads or tails?

    John Buller of Melbourne Posted on 16 April 2010 11:08am
  • John, I don’t think they do. However they can both tow pretty well without it. Both great cars, but i would go for the KIA purely on style, I just like the look better.

    Shak of Liverpool NSW Posted on 15 April 2010 8:42pm
  • Do they both have self levelling suspension for towing?

    John Buller of Melbourne Posted on 15 April 2010 2:34pm
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