Subaru Outback VS Kia Sorento
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Excellent features and good value
- Comfortable and easy to drive
- Cool styling, but still practical
- No petrol four cylinder engine
- Airbags don’t fully cover third row
- Engines are thirsty
It never used to be like this. Families used to choose a station wagon or estate car because that body style was the smartest choice. Maybe not the most desirable choice, but wagons were, and always have been, pragmatic.
And then SUVs came on the scene. People thought they needed these stylised hatchbacks to sit higher in traffic and live out their “weekend warrior” image. Oh, those “active lifestyle” types. And in recent times, SUVs have become the go-to – accounting for half of all new vehicle sales in 2020.
But the Subaru Outback 2021 is here to stand up to those wannabe SUVs, with its own take on the up-high recipe. Admittedly it’s not like the Subaru Outback approach to the SUV formula is new – this is the sixth generation version of the venerable high-riding wagon, but this new model is apparently more SUV than ever. Subaru Australia even calls it a “true blue, mud in its blood all-wheel drive SUV”.
So does it have what it takes to stand out in the crowd? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Sorento is the mothership of Kia’s line-up. A big, seven-seater SUV which during the past decade has won over Aussie families for its spaciousness and practicality, its safety tech and the way it drives, while being great value for money.
Now the new-generation model has arrived looking leaner and meaner than the old Sorento. So, has it lost any of the charms which made it a winner, or has it only got better?
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
The sixth-generation, 2021 Subaru Outback has incrementally improved the large wagon-slash-SUV, with a number of important steps forward including better safety tech, a more powerful engine and smarter cabin. A turbo or hybrid powertrain would sweeten the deal even further.
I don’t know that you’d really need anything other than the base model Outback AWD, which seems like a truly great value offering. It’d be our pick of the range.
Kia has done it again. The new-gen Sorento will be an instant family hit with its super-cool styling, modern cabin tech, practicality and space, while being great value for money. For such a modern SUV, there should have been a high-output four-cylinder petrol offered, as Mazda does with its CX-9. A superb engine like that, is what an SUV this great deserves.
The sweet spot in the range is the Sport+. Sure it doesn't have the remote parking feature of the GT-Line but it comes with a proximity key, privacy glass and leather seats.
It’s an all-new car. It doesn’t necessarily look like it, and in fact – to my eye – it’s not as attractive as the fifth-generation model, which was an expert in being inoffensive, where this model has a few more design-lead changes that might divide opinions.
You won’t mistake it for anything other than an Outback, as it has that typical rugged high-riding wagon look that we’ve come to expect from it. But it’s almost like this is a facelift rather than an all-new car.
Like, literally – the features have all been cinched back at the front, and the wheel-arches have been tweaked so they stand more at attention… it literally looks like an age-denying citizen’s approach at looking younger. A bit too much Botox? Tell us what you think the comments below.
But there are still smart design highlights, like the roof rails with integrated roof racks that are stowable/deployable in the base and top models, while the mid-spec model has a fixed roof rack system.
The fact all models have LED lighting all-around is nice, while the 18-inch wheels… well, none of them are to my taste. To me, they just aren’t as youthful as some of the other elements of the car are trying to elucidate.
And the rear-end treatment? Well, that’s the only spot where you’re most likely to confuse it with another car… and that doppelganger would be a Forester.
On the inside there are some really nice design changes, though. Check out the interior pictures below.
The new-generation Sorento looks nothing like the last one… n-o-t-h-i-n-g like the last one. Well, apart from the rear, side window which has the same angle to it, which is an intentional nod to the previous model.
The outgoing version was premium and friendly looking, but its proportions seem bloated compared to the muscular, angular, new-generation Sorento.
It appears to have had an attitude change, too. Sure, this is a family SUV but there are muscle-car traits from the Camaro-style headlights flanking that cliff face of a grille, to the Mustang-esque tail-lights, with everything in between filled with sharp edges.
The cabin is even more striking with its cheese-grater textures in the dash and doors, the large centre console with chrome trim and rotary shifter.
The 10.25-inch media display, standard on the Sport grade and above, is the most interesting I’ve seen on any car I’ve tested.
The level of detail, thought and styling which has gone into it is obvious with its neon people, fonts and icons, incandescent light bulb effect for radio frequencies, and even the ‘streetlight’ mode for the navigation is intriguing. At the same time, it’s one of the easiest to use systems I’ve encountered.
The top-grade GT-Line steps up the premium look with its fully-digital instrument cluster and Nappa leather seats.
The materials feel high quality, while the fit and finish is superb.
The Sorento’s dimensions have changed slightly with the SUV now measuring 4810mm long (+10mm), 1900mm wide and 1700mm tall.
There are seven colours to pick from but only clear white doesn’t demand the $695 cost of the rest which include 'Silky Silver', 'Steel Grey', 'Mineral Blue', 'Aurora Black', 'Gravity Blue' or the 'Snow White Pearl' of the Sorento in my video above.
Subaru has taken some pretty big steps when it comes to changing the interior of the Outback, with the most prominent change being front and centre of the cabin – that huge new 11.6-inch touchscreen media system.
It’s a really interesting looking piece of technology, and like the existing media screen in the Outback, is crisp, colourful and offers quick response times. It’s something that takes a little bit of getting used to – the fan controls are digital, for instance, but there are buttons either side of the screen for temperature control – but once you’ve spent some time with it, you’d be surprised just how intuitive it all is.
The Apple CarPlay worked a treat, connecting up without hassle. And while it isn’t wireless CarPlay, we haven’t yet tested a car with that tech that’s worked as it should… so, yay for cables!
There are two USB ports below the screen, and two additional charging ports in the back seat centre section as well. That’s good, but there’s no wireless charging pad at all, which isn’t great.
And while the big screen has done away with the multiple screen layout and the huge number of buttons in the old car, the new one still has a number of buttons on the steering wheel, which are easy to learn too. I had some trouble acclimating to the blinker stalk, with the one-touch indicator trigger seemingly being a bit too hard to activate at times. It’s a quiet “ticker”, too, so there were a few times when I was driving with my indicator on for ages without realising it.
Storage is mostly really well considered in the Outback, with bottle holders and storage sleeves in all four doors, plus a pair of cup holders between the front seats (they are a little large if you prefer a small takeaway coffee), and in the back there’s a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, too.
The front also has a small storage section below the media screen (not quite large enough for a large-format smartphone), plus there’s a covered centre console bin, and the dashboard design may have been inspired by the RAV4, as there’s a neat little rubberised shelf in front of the passenger where you could put a phone or wallet.
In terms of space for occupants, taller people will be fine in the front or the rear. I’m 182cm or 6’0” tall, and I managed to find a comfortable driving position, and was able to sit behind it with ample knee room, toe room and head space, too. The width is great, too, with plenty of room across the cabin. Three of me could easily fit side by side, but if you have children you’ll be happy to know there are two ISOFIX and three top-tether points for baby seats.
The back seat occupants should be kept happy as there are directional vents in all grades, while the top two specs score rear outboard seat heating, too. Nice.
There are some other nice inclusions for rear seat occupants, including recline adjust for the backrests of the seats, and the seatbelts are set in such a way that they should never get in the way when you lower the back seats down (60:40 split fold, actuated by triggers in the boot area).
Speaking of the boot space, there’s plenty. The new Outback offers 522 litres (VDA) or cargo capacity, with is 10L more than before. Plus, as mentioned, the seats fold flat to allow 1267L of luggage capacity.
Equivalent mid-size SUVs priced close to the Outback can’t match it for practicality, and the cabin’s look and feel is greatly improved over the previous model. It’s a very nice place to spend time.
The new Sorento has more space inside, a bigger boot and more charging outlets for devices.
Climbing into the third row is also easier now thanks to a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 35mm to 2815mm and a second row which slides further forward.
Even somebody my height (191cm/6'3") and with my impressive lack of co-ordination can get in. Watch the video to see how elegant I look doing it.
Legroom is excellent throughout and I can sit behind my driving position in the second row, and behind that in the third row without my knees touching any of the seatbacks.
You now have more boot space, too. With the third row in place there’s 187 litres (up by 45 litres), and with third row flat there’s 616 liters (up by 11 litres).
Cabin storage is also excellent. There are eight cupholders, plus, four bottle holders in the doors up front and back. You can have 12 drinks on the go and it only fits seven people.
Then there are the charging points. The GT Line and the Sport+ have USB ports in the third and second row, and all grades have three USBs up front and two 12V outlets.
The GT-Line also includes wireless charging. There are directional air vents in all three rows. Nobody is going thirsty, or airless, or chargeless.
A special shout out needs to go to the Remote Smart Parking Assist feature of the GT-Line, too. The system makes the Sorento even more practical.
Price and features
The Subaru Outback range remains a value-focused option for customers out there who want a lot of car for their money.
It still starts under forty grand in sixth-generation guise, though prices have gone up somewhat compared to the old model, which Subaru says is justified by additional equipment and safety technology.
All models have the same powertrain, so it’s purely gear and goodies that separates the three variants: the entry-level Outback AWD ($39,990), mid-range AWD Sport ($44,490) and top-spec AWD Touring ($47,490). Those prices are MSRP/list pricing, before on-road costs.
Now, here’s a rundown of the range.
The base model AWD comes with 18-inch alloy wheels and a full size alloy spare, roof rails with stowable roof rack cross bars, LED headlights, LED foglights, push-button start, keyless entry, electric park brake, rain-sensing wipers, heated and power-folding side mirrors, fabric seat trim, leather steering wheel, paddle-shifters, electric adjustment for the front seats, rear seats with manual recline, and a 60:40 split-fold rear seat with boot release levers.
The AWD entry-level car – and both the variants above – have a new 11.6-inch touchscreen media screen in portrait layout, which incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech. There are six speakers standard, as well as four USB ports (2x front, 2x rear).
The next model up the range is the AWD Sport, which – like the Forester Sport model – gets a number of aesthetic changes to help split it from its stablemates.
They include model-specific dark 18-inch wheels, black exterior trim changes, fixed roof rails, a power tailgate, water repellent interior trim with green stitching, heated front and outboard rear seats, sports pedals, light-sensing headlights (auto on/off) and it gets sat nav as part of the media screen, too. This grade scores a front view and side view monitor for parking/low speed driving, too.
The top-end AWD Touring has a few luxury-focused extras over the other grades, including an electric sunroof, Nappa leather interior trim, a heated steering wheel, auto dipping passenger side door mirror, memory settings for driver’s seat, satin finish door mirrors, silver highlight roof rails (with stowable crossbars), and gloss-finish wheels.
The interior also upgrades the stereo in this grade to a nine-speaker harman/kardon setup with subwoofer and single CD player. All grades have DAB+ digital radio too.
All grades have an array of safety technology, including a driver monitoring system that will warn you to keep your eyes on the road and monitor for signs of drowsiness, and in the top-spec model includes face recognition that can adjust the seat and side mirrors for you.
All models come with a reversing camera, Subaru’s EyeSight forward facing camera system that incorporates AEB, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and more. There are full details on the safety systems and their operability in the section below.
Things missing from any grade of Outback? It would have been nice to have a wireless phone charger, and there are no traditional parking sensors, either.
Overall though, there’s a lot to like across multiple grades, here.
If you’re interested in colours (or colors if you prefer), then you might be intrigued to know there are nine colours available. Two can’t be had on the AWD Sport grade - Storm Grey Metallic and Crimson Red Pearl – but it can be had in any of the remaining colours, as can the other trim levels: Crystal White Pearl, Magnetite Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, Dark Blue Pearl, and the new Autumn Green Metallic and Brilliant Bronze Metallic.
The best news? None of the colour choices will cost you any extra money!
The new-generation Kia Sorento costs about $3K more than the previous model, but in return you’re given better features and the latest tech.
There are four grades in the Sorento range: the S, Sport, Sport + and top-of-the-range GT-Line. All grades can be had with a diesel or petrol engine. The catch is, only the diesel version is equipped with all-wheel drive, while the petrol variant is front-wheel drive only.
For the petrol line-up list prices start at $45,850 for the S, then steps up to $48,480 for the Sport, $52,850 for the Sport+, and $60,070 for the GT-Line. Want that in diesel? Just add $3000 to each price.
Kia does drive-away pricing almost permanently, which will save you money on rego and other on-road costs. At the time this was published you could buy a GT-Line diesel for $63,070 drive-away.
What do you get for the money?
The Sport grade adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a big 10.25-inch display, sat nav, dual-zone climate, and a power adjustable driver’s seat, but it still has cloth seats.
Things are getting pretty spesh with the Sport+ grade. There’s all of the Sport’s features plus 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats (heated up front), proximity key with push-button start, power tailgate, privacy glass, LED tail-lights and remote engine start.
And at the top of the tree is the GT-Line which adds 20-inch alloy wheels, quilted Nappa leather seats, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, mood lighting, 12-speaker Bose sound system, head-up display, a wireless phone charger, heated seats in the front and second row, and a panoramic sunroof.
By far the most impressive feature of the GT-Line is it's ability to park itself without anyone being in the car. Yup, you read that right. It's called 'Remote Smart Parking Assist' and it's for tight parking spaces.
It's astounding, and to see it work watch the video above where I demonstrate how easy to use and practical the feature is.
Engine & trans
The engine in all Subaru Outback 2021 models is a “90 per cent new” 2.5-litre four-cylinder “boxer” horizontally opposed petrol engine.
The motor produces 138kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 245Nm of torque (from 3400-4600rpm). Those are modest increases – 7 per cent more power and 4.2 per cent more torque – compared with the old Outback.
It is only available with a “refined” Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, but all grades come with paddle-shifters as standard, so you can take matters in to your own hands – Subaru says there’s an “eight-speed manual mode”.
Towing capacity for the Outback range is 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 2000kg for a braked trailer, with a 200kg down weight for the tow bar. You can option a towbar as a genuine accessory.
Now, the elephant – or elephants – in the Outback are that it doesn’t launch with a hybrid powertrain, which means it’s falling behind the class leaders (yes, we’re talking about the likes of the Toyota RAV4, but even the Forester has a hybrid powertrain option!).
And the old diesel engine has been axed, plus there’s no six-cylinder petrol variant as there was in the previous model.
As with the previous Sorento there’s a choice of a 3.5-litre petrol V6 or a turbo-diesel four-cylinder.
Essentially, they are the same engines from the previous model and the outputs are almost unchanged with the diesel making 148kW/440Nm, while the petrol produces 206kW/336Nm.
The transmission in the diesel variant is properly new. It’s an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The eight-speed that comes in the petrol is an old-school traditional automatic transmission.
The braked towing capacity for the petrol is 1898kg while the diesel can pull 1908kg.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure – that’s the claimed fuel economy the brand reckons you should achieve across a mix of driving – is stated at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
That’s pretty good, and it’s aided by the engine’s start-stop technology that even has a readout that tells you how many millilitres of fuel you’re saving when it’s active. I like that.
In our real world testing we saw a return – at the pump – of 8.8L/100km across highway, urban, back road and traffic jam testing. That’s not bad, but in similar driving in a Toyota RAV4 hybrid I’ve seen economy of about 5.5L/100km.
We assume Subaru Australia will add a hybrid version of the Outback at some point (like it has with the XV Hybrid and Forester Hybrid), but at this point in time, the petrol engine is your only choice.
Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres, and it can take 91RON regular unleaded.
Fuel consumption is down slightly in both diesel and petrol engines. Kia says the petrol engine should use 9.7L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads.
As for the diesel, Kia says it should use 6.1/100km. I drove the GT-Line diesel for a week, living with it like you will – school drop offs, shopping centres, city streets, motorways, you name it.
I put 195.1km on the clock and used 18.6 litres – that’s come out to be a very real-world 9.5L/100km.
If you’ve driven a previous-generation Subaru Outback, you’re not going to feel like this is unfamiliar territory.
That’s because this version, well, it sticks to the formula. Even if you’ve driven the new Forester, it might feel pretty familiar.
Much of that comes down to the engine and transmission. The 2.5L four-cylinder boxer is a strong engine, but not a punchy one. It offers good response and smooth power delivery for the most part, and it will push you back in your seat if you plant your foot, but not in the same way a petrol-electric hybrid or a turbocharged four-cylinder might.
And while there is still some Subaru “boxer” rumble from under the bonnet, it’s largely a pretty hushed place to be when you’re driving it in normal circumstances. If you accelerate hard you’ll hear the engine more, and that’s down to the behaviour of the CVT automatic.
Some people will hate it because it’s a CVT, but Subaru does a pretty good job with these transmissions, and in the Outback it’s as inoffensive as they come. And yes, there is a manual mode with paddle shifters if you want to take matters into your own hands, but for the most part, you shouldn’t really need to.
The steering is direct and offers good weighting and response, pivoting pretty well in corners while also allowing you to turn the car easily when you’re parking. There’s not much feel to the steering, but that’s not what this car is about, and thankfully the trademark Subaru visibility from the driver’s seat means it is easier to park than some other SUVs out there.
The ride is mostly good, with a supple character that is more about comfort than anything else. It’s a little more softly sprung and a touch underdamped than some people might like, meaning it can be a little wobbly or jittery depending on the road, but I think it’s the right balance for the intent of the car – a family wagon / SUV that has some potential off-road chops.
It is all-wheel drive after all, and there is Subaru’s X-Mode system – with snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes – that should be helpful if you find yourself off the beaten path. I did some light gravel track driving in the Outback, and found its 213mm ground clearance to be plentiful, while the suspension was pretty well sorted.
We’ve test driven the diesel version of the Sorento in the GT-Line grade, as the diesel is likely to be the more popular choice. And once we get our hands on the petrol version, we’ll let you know what that’s like to pilot, too.
You definitely won’t forget what's powering the diesel. It’s fairly noisy on the outside, but the cabin is well insulated so not much clatter finds its way in.
That’s just the start of what feels like a plush and premium driving experience.
The ride is excellent, comfortable and composed even on the crumbling city roads around where I live. The same roads I’ve driven Benz and BMW SUVs on and some of those don’t feel as good as the Sorento.
I’m serious. The Sorento’s body control is outstanding. It doesn’t wobble, doesn’t feel too bouncy, and provides a superb connection between the driver and the road. I can’t say the same for some much more expensive SUVs.
It’s down to the hard work Kia puts into getting its suspension right for Australia. Months before the Sorento came out in January 2020 Kia’s local engineers were driving it all over Australia, and through a process of trial and error found the right suspension that felt as good as they could get it. And they have nailed it.
So, along with the Sorento being comfortable on Aussie roads, it handles better than you’d expect something this large to.
I pushed it hard into corners I take all my test cars though, without the major lean or roll you’d experience in some large SUVS.
Steering is also a highlight. It’s accurate, smooth, and gave me a good feeling of connection with the road.
The diesel engine, while a bit noisy, is instantly responsive with no turbo lag and provides good acceleration. Only the diesel Sorento is all-wheel drive, so this is the pick if you’re planning to head on to dirt roads regularly.
There is no ANCAP crash test safety rating as yet for the 2021 Outback range, but it has a lot of the technology and safety goodies that customers shopping for a family SUV or wagon would expect.
As standard there is Subaru’s EyeSight stereo camera system that reads the road ahead, and it incorporates forward/front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) for vehicles that works between 10km/h and 160km/h. There's also pedestrian AEB (1km/h to 30km/h) and cyclist detection and AEB (60km/h or less), and it has lane keeping technology with emergency lane keep assist that can swerve the car to avoid impacts with cars, people or cyclists (approximately 80km/h or less). Lane departure prevention works from 60km/h to 145km/h.
All grades also get blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a driver monitor camera that watches the driver and warns them if they’re not paying attention to the road or starting to get drowsy (the top-spec model’s version of this also includes seat and mirror adjustment memory based on your face!), plus there is speed sign recognition, too.
All grades have a reversing camera, while the top two specs have front view and side view cameras, but none have a 360-degree surround view camera. All models also have rear AEB, a system Subaru calls reverse auto braking (RAB) that can halt the car if it detects there’s something behind it when you’re backing up. It also doubles as reversing sensors for all grades, but none have front parking sensors.
And there are other elements to the safety matrix, including Lead Vehicle Start Alert (the cameras tell you when the car in front has driven off) and lane centring (to keep you in the middle of your lane), both of which operate between 0km/h and 145km/h, and there is adaptive high beam lights on all grades, too.
The airbag count for the Outback is eight, with dual front, front side, driver’s knee, passenger centre-front, and full-length curtain coverage.
Then the GT-Line also has blind spot view monitor, which shows the view behind you on whichever side you’re indicating towards.
All Sorento also have seven airbags including one which pops up between the driver and front passenger.
Curtain airbags extend to the third row, but don’t completely cover the windows of those very back seats. This may make you reconsider whether you want to have children back there.
If you do, there are ISOFIX points and top tether mounts for the third-row seats, plus two more ISOFIX points and three top tethers mounts across the second row.
It’s good to see the Sorento has kept its full-sized spare wheel, which is under the car.
Subaru doesn’t go beyond expectations in the mainstream class, with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty now par for the course.
The brand also has shorter maintenance intervals than some, with services scheduled every 12 months or 12,500km (most are 15,000km intervals).
The costs of maintenance aren’t that low, either. After an initial free checkup at one-month, the services cost: $345 (12 months/12,500km); $595 (24 months/25,000km); $351 (36 months/37,500km); $801 (48 months/50,000km); and $358 (60 months/62,500km). That averages out at about $490 per service, which is high.
If you’re worried about budgeting for that cost every year, you can bundle a service plan into your financing – a smart move, if you ask me. There are two options available: a three-year/37,500km plan and a five-year/62,500km plan. Neither saves you money over pay-as-you-go, but these plans also include three years roadside assist and the option of a free loan car when it comes time to service your own Outback. And if you decide to sell, you can pass that service plan on to the next owner.
Just make sure you don’t smash the windscreen – the camera system integrated into the glass means a new windshield is a $3000 part!