Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Sorento goes global

WITH 900,000 UNITS SOLD, Kia didn’t need a celebrity-sport star flying through desert dunes to introduce the Sorento’s new from-the-ground-up replacement. Since 2002, the Sorento established itself with its unique character composed of big torque engines, all terrain toughness of a ladder frame chassis, innovative styling, and refined interiors.

RELIABILITY and the fun factor added: The new Kia Sorento
RELIABILITY and the fun factor added: The new Kia Sorento

This time, Peter Schreyer, Kia’s chief design officer, didn’t miss a chance to align the Sorento with Kia’s new design DNA as seen in the Soul, C’eed and Forte models. To wit; seamless grille and headlamp bezel interface, rising upper belt-line and trapezoid C-pillar. The new, longer bodyshell was a result of repositioned A-pillars and dashboard (moved forward) and extended tailgate (moved rearwards). The stretched cabin is much more spacious than the exiting model, with a 15% increase in luggage space. There’s space for seven passengers, though not as spacious as the one size bigger Kia Mohave/Borrego.

The new uni-body Sorento is longer and lower, losing some 215 kgs in the process. The drag coefficient is now 0.38, down from it’s predecessor’s 0.43. With a body structure composed of 70.4% high-tensile steel, the new Sorento achieves good NVH qualities. This new found stiffness gives the Sorento a EuroNCAP crash rating of five stars. It also makes the interior a better music chamber. Fully independent suspension all around enhance the car like driving feel. Dispensing with the ladder frame chassis allowed engineers to lower the suspension by 10 mm, moving the center of gravity lower by 54 mm.

In keeping with Kia’s new look, the video screen and major switches are outlined in red laser lights. The latest Kia trademarks �” the thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel and the “three-cylinder” instrument cluster with radiating “rays” of red from the center pivot of the gauge needles �” carries Kia’s new design language a step further. Well thought of cruise control buttons are mounted on the steering wheel. The Sorento comes with a rather accurate fuel meter. A welcome trend among Korean cars is the quicker steering ratio which avoids the "boring" feel of steering that is unresponsive around the center.

Kia embraces all the world’s car makers’ best practices. The outline of the greenhouse is similar to the Mitsubishi Outlander seven-seater as sold in the EU market. The Sorento has BMW-like keyless entry and start/stop button. It has a buttressed part-floating console and B-pillar air-con vents like a Volvo. Instruments set into nacelles are either inspired by the latest Mercedes Benz or cars from the ’70s. The clamshell hood used to be unique to SAAB and the BMW 1800Ti of the ’60s. Behind the wheel, one overlooks the hood’s raised fender guides, last seen on ’70s cars. Those raised edges also function as aerodynamic splitters, similar to those aftermarket stick-on appendages that was the go-faster optical tuning kits for the square-cut cars of the ’80s. Part of this globalization meant goodbye to the previous Sorento’s North American characteristics; the floaty ride and finger light steering.

It may look global in detail but it’s still a product of Korea. Translation: for the super smooth highways of Korea where ravines are bridged and mountains are tunnelled. Kia added a bit more weighting to the steering so as not to mislead a spirited driver in expecting Mazda Mx-5 responses as one rarely encounters curves on Korean city streets and country highways. Likewise, the ride of the fully independent suspension is better at high speed superhighways than the rough concrete of Third World countries. The Sorento follows Kia’s corporate move to more supple seats and classy looking black piano-lacquer that is as high quality as the rest of the interior.

The New Sorento is initially available with the 175PS four-cylinder 2.4-liter Theta II petrol engine mated to a six-speed automatic with +/- gated shifter for manual overrides. Being Euro V compliant, it is no point and squirt runabout but it does 10.98 kms/liter on the highway and takes 11.74 seconds to do the 0-100 km/h sprint. Its 185 km/h top speed is achieved at a lazy 3,900 rpm in 6th gear. A high-tech 197PS turbo diesel 2.2-liter CRDi, a 165PS 2.7-liter V-6 powered by LPG, and 277PS 3.8-liter 24-valve V-6 will follow.

Though a bit more homogenized than the uniquely styled previous model, the Sorento is still a handsome SUV which would probably be more fun as a diesel. Seven years hence, the Sorento has added reliability and fun factor to its impressive CV. Not bad for a brand hitherto known only for making small cheap cars.

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