This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the stories.
Published in Weekend Witness Motoring on Saturday April 24, 2010
Much as we scorn Americans, they do promote a fundamental wisdom: if you are going to be involved in a collision, a big, heavy EuroNCAP5 SUV is a safer place to be than in a teeny EuroNCAP5 supermini. Add the high command post driving position and extra space for humans and their cargo, and you understand the ongoing popularity of SUVs and minivans. It also helps if it is comfortable and handles decently. This brings us to the new Kia Sorento, released to SA buyers late last year.
The old Sorento was built on a ladder-frame chassis, had a five-speed gearbox with low range, an unexciting choice of engines and drove like a truck. Kia rightly figured that its SUV owners weren’t going serious bundu-bashing anytime soon and would prefer a bigger, lighter, more fuel-efficient and modern vehicle that drove more like a car.
The new versions have smaller, more fuel-efficient and cleaner engines that perform better, new six-speed gearboxes without low range, are of unibody construction with more people space and are about 215 kg lighter. So you can still venture off onto the odd goat track when the whim takes you, new models have Downhill Brake Control (DBC), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and on-demand four-wheel drive. DBC is what it says while HAC prevents the vehicle rolling backwards during stop and start driving up hills. If you really get caught in the slippery stuff, a manually selected lock mode splits torque 50:50 between the front and rear axles to help you out again.
The local range consists of seven models, six of which are diesels: five-seaters with two- or four-wheel drive, in manual or automatic, seven-seat 4x4s in manual or automatic and a seven-seat 3,5 litre petrol 4x4 that comes in automatic form only. This and the seven-seat automatic transmission diesel that we drove recently, share top honours in the model range at R399 995 each. The only option available is an almost full-length glass sunroof, at R10 000.
Additional kit fitted as standard on seven-seaters includes 18” alloy wheels in place of the 17” versions on five-seaters, xenon headlamps, a reversing camera with screen on the rear view mirror, keyless start and self-levelling suspension.
Standard on all models is leather upholstery, front and rear fog lamps, roof rails, full sized spare, high mounted stop light, hydraulic power steering, powered driver’s seat, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and cruise control, remote tailgate release, under-floor storage in the boot, keyless entry, autolocking, height and reach-adjustable steering wheel, dual zone climate control with repeater vents in the back and a six-speaker CD and radio unit with iPod, auxiliary and USB connectivity. The cable is supplied free.
Safety and security equipment includes six airbags, active head restraints in front, automatic headlights, electrochromic rear view mirror, ABS, rear park assist, ESC, DBC and HAC.
While it’s great to have the option of an additional pair of seats, they obviously cut down on cargo space, reducing luggage room to 258 litres with them in place, versus 1 047 litres when tumbled away. They also serve only the smaller and fitter among us, with reduced head- and knee room and the need to scramble inelegantly past the tumbled left hand second row seat to get in and out. I would guess that a height limit of about 1,75 metres and an age restriction of under-40 would be about right.
Second row head and knee room, and access in and out is good. Performance, with zero to 100 km/h coming up in under 10 seconds and a top speed of 185 km/h, is about what one expects of a family bus these days. Gearing is nicely spaced and 2 000 rpm at 120 in top makes for decent fuel economy.
The ‘flat’ torque converter automatic with redesigned hydraulic pressure control unit allows the transmission’s solenoid valves to be individually calibrated at the assembly plant, ensuring fast and smooth gearshifts. This makes it feel almost as though you are driving one of the new twin clutch jobs – practically unnoticeable gearshifts with no noisy flare or slippage.
Some overseas owners find the ride too firm for their pampered behinds and even I thought it a bit harsh when I drove one on the KZN launch drive, but a quick blast over my dirt road test route showed that the vehicle tracked well with no skittishness and was more comfortable than I remembered. Perhaps something has been reprogrammed in the meantime.
As a family vehicle, the Kia Sorento is comfortable, well equipped and very capable and if R 410 000 for a fully loaded version sounds a bit out of reach, you can get a two-wheel drive five-seat model with most of the toys for just on R 340 000.
Price: R 399 995
Engine: 2 199 cc DOHC 16-valve in-line four cylinder CRDi
Power: 147 kW at 3 800 rpm
Torque: 422 Nm (manual) or 436 Nm (automatic) at 1 800 to 2 500 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 9,6 seconds
Maximum speed: 185 km/h
Fuel: about 9 l/100 km in real world testing
Tank: 70 litres
Ground clearance: 184 mm
Approach/Departure/Ramp over angles: 25,1/23,1/17,1 degrees
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
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