The newly introduced Kia Sorento 2.2D LS FWD does not particularly inspire visions of overland travel, camping in the wild, and conquering some less-travelled African tracks. Instead it’s all very refined, efficient, modern and, well, city-slicker, soccer mom-ish. We thought it wise to add some off-road and overland to the deal.
Actor Chris Hemsworth’s Thor character is popular. He’s strong. Invincible. Good looking in a ruffian kind of way. All the boys practise their hammer swings on the playground. Older lads quote some of Thor’s famous movie lines. Like, “This drink, I like it! Another!” Grandfathers practise their Thor poses for hours in front of the mirror. Girls have a Thor picture as the background photo on their smartphones. All the adult ladies want to have Thor’s children. Ladies of a more mature nature in the retirement home fantasise about frolicking about with Thor in the bingo room. Thor is cool. Thor is, well, he’s the man. Of course, not just anyone can be Thor. Chris Hemsworth can. Any lady who knows who he is will tell you so.
In the world of SUVs, the Kia Sorento 2.2D LS is not Thor. The Kia is just too practical, refined, efficient and safe to be Thor. Instead, it reminds us of another Chris Hemsworth role: Kevin in the modern remake of the film Ghost Busters. In this movie, he plays the role of the handsome but nerdy receptionist, assisting the three ghost buster ladies in their ghost-fighting adventures. It’s a bit like Clark Kent and Superman: the bespectacled, handsome office nerd who also happens to be a superhero in his spare time, normally after dashing into a telephone booth. Since a telephone booth (if you can actually find one) can’t accommodate a Kia Sorento, we opted to take one very standard Sorento to some industry partners for a makeover. Some hammer. Some grit. Some overland.
The new LS model, which is essentially an entry-level turbodiesel in the Sorento range without some of the bells and whistles of the LX model, sells for just about R100 000 less than that LX. That’s quite a lot of cash. Underneath the skin it gets exactly the same engine and drivetrain as the FWD 2.2CRDi LX model. So the four-cylinder turbodiesel engine delivers 144kW of power and 440Nm of torque at 1 750r/min. Power is sent to the front wheels via a slick six-speed automatic gearbox (it’s only available with the auto shifter). If there is one thing the Sorento LS is not lacking, it is power. One can select between three driving modes: Normal, Eco and Sport. But even in Normal – the default setting – performance is very brisk. There is virtually no turbo lag to speak of and if you stand on the accelerator, this Kia chases the horizon surprisingly hard. To throw some numbers in the mix: the LS will sprint from 0–100km/h in just over nine seconds. It will also reach a top speed of just over 200km/h. Yet, despite its brisk nature, the 2.2-litre engine sips around nine litres/100km. So muscle it’s got, and it’s got plenty of it. No need to fix something that isn’t broken.
Ah, this is where things get interesting. The standard Kia Sorento LS does not exactly have the look of a ruffian 4×4. It’s too low and long. Some may even comment that the stock Sorento looks more like a station wagon than an SUV. It is based on the same platform as the Kia Grand Sedona MPV after all. Clearly this needed to be rectified with a suspension lift, to give it more of a 4×4 look. It would obviously gain ground clearance, too. 4×4 Muscle trucks in Pretoria East specialises in building custom trucks. From a special Toyota Hilux bakkie with suspension worth more than R100 000 and Lamborghini brakes, to a six-wheeled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 double cab V8. What we particularly like about 4×4 Muscle Trucks though, is the fact that they do a proper job. So when they modify a vehicle, it doesn’t just look pretty, it can do the job, too. That 6×6 Cruiser for instance, is built according to military standards.
For the Kia, Hansie Coetzee and his team developed new suspension spacers, for a 2.5-inch (65mm) lift. The front spacers are made from metal, and were designed on a computer-aided design programme. This was after Hansie made sure the Kia’s suspension could safely handle a lift, and that vital mechanical parts such as the drive shafts wouldn’t operate at an angle that could have an impact on the Kia’s reliability. The rear suspension spacers are milled from aluminium, and Hansie also relocated the shock absorber mounting point, to ensure 100% reliability and ability. As we said earlier, Hansie not only makes vehicles look the part, they walk the talk, too. Lifting the suspension has another advantage: bigger wheels can be fitted. This upgrade proved to be an unexpected first for Hansie. “We are used to upgrading our clients’ wheels to 35 or 40 inches. This is the first time I had to upsize to a set of 265/65 R17 all-terrains, which is the standard size for a Toyota Hilux 4×4,” Hansie explained with a chuckle.
Out went the Sorento’s standard 235/65 R17 tyres and mag rims, and on went a set of A-Line Swamp 17-inch rims from the company’s Outback 4×4 range, after much deliberation with the expert team at Tyremart Autowiel in Gezina, Pretoria. The 8J rims, with just the right offset for the Kia, were shod with Firestone Destination A/T tyres.
Getting some Thor on
Next we had to work on the Kia LS’s just-another-Kia-in-the-pack-look. We checked the Kia in at Liquid Armour in Roodepoort for some subtle styling updates. Using the two-tone Kia Soul colour scheme as example, the Liquid Armour team repainted the Sorento’s roof in a red hue. Ditto with the side mirrors, and the strip surrounding the front fog light housings. The outer edges of the grille, normally in shiny chrome, were also painted black, to fit in with the already black grille. We added some ‘overland’ to the deal, courtesy of Front Runner.
The company supplied a Slimline II roof rack with foot rails, as well as accessories that included a jerry can holder and two jerry cans, a 45-litre water tank with a hose, a spare wheel holder (with an extra Firestone Destination A/T tyre, of course) and a plastic ammunition-style storage box. The rack was fitted by the 4×4 Muscle Trucks lads. Lastly, to round off the upgrade, 4×4 Muscle Trucks fitted some Planetron LED lights. This includes two LED 20-inch light bars for the roof rack, and two spotlights for the Kia’s nudge bar. These lights are super bright and feature TIR optic technology. TIR, or total internal reflection, essentially revolves around the LED light being reflected in the most efficient (and brightest) way possible.
Did we manage to transform our virtual Chris Hemsworth from his cool but nerdy role in Ghost Busters to the mighty and super-cool Thor in the Marvel movies? Let’s answer that quality by, well, quality. Thor is an attention grabber. When he walks into the room, people kind of notice a man with naked chest, long hair and a hammer in his hand. Before the upgrades, other motorists noticed the Kia, yes, but it was more an acknowledgement of its existence on the road than really, really seeing it. Our Kia Sorento gets noticed. Like in, it really gets noticed. Stop at a traffic light and other motorists – especially those in 4×4s – stare blankly at the Kia, almost as if it is an alien thing. It’s like they are saying: “Is that a… Kia? But it can’t be. Kia Sorentos don’t look like that.”
Then the traffic light turns green, and the Kia blasts off the line, that 147kW and 440Nm affording it blistering pace. Oh yes, it’s got power, too. More glares and stares follow. Is it all overland show and not so much overland go? Well, it is only a front-wheel-drive derivative, so best you steer clear of tough 4×4 obstacles. If you really want to drive through dongas, the all-wheel-drive option will obviously fare better. However, the extra ground clearance and higher, stronger sidewalls on the Firestone Destinations give it much better rough gravel road ability. Thanks to the monocoque design, sitting on Mac-Pherson struts in front and a coupled torsion beam axle at the back, the Sorento rides badly corrugated dirt roads amazingly well. The cabin remains well insulated, the ride always composed, and with a prod of the right foot, the Sorento blasts out of the blocks like Usain Bolt.
Maybe the most surprising comments on this Kia came from Hansie from 4×4 Muscle Trucks. Remember, Hansie is a man who builds 6×6 trucks to a military strength standard, so he knows about good and bad designs. When Hansie and his team were fitting the Front Runner roof rack, he could hardly believe how strong (especially the front section) the roof is. Which is obviously great news if you are ever in a Sorento during a roll over. But his praise didn’t end there. “Working on the suspension, it was very clear that this Kia is well put together. It really was surprising to see how strong and solid the design is. In some areas, this Kia is definitely stronger than a modern Hilux double cab. I thought most modern vehicles are designed and built to last only five years; this Kia will last much longer than that,” said Hansie. Now, with the overland upgrade, it also falls more in the hey-look-at-that-cool-Kia category than before. We reckon we can tick that Thor box. With a dash of ‘hammer’ added for good measure.
Sorento 2.2CRDi LS – a lot of Kia
Let’s not beat around the bush: Kia has had a tough time of late, what with our rand losing ground and the economy slowing down. Thing is, Kia imports all its vehicles from factories around the world. Import taxes are due. This in turn raises the asking price. In a market where price is king, Kia has had a bit of a raw deal. With the not-so-affordable Sorento sales slowing down, Kia introduced this model: the 2.2CRDi LS. Selling for R100 000 less than the more luxurious 2.2CRDi LX model, it makes do without the leather pews, dual zone climate control, fog lights, the TFT LCD display, HID headlights, electric seats, seat warmers, mood lamp, some airbags, powered tailgate and the panoramic sunroof.
Frankly though, the LS model is none the worse for it. It has exactly the same drivetrain as the LX model yet is lighter, so performance is better. It still has two airbags, ABS brakes, an extremely user-friendly infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB connections et al, and it has bags of space. Selling for R489 995, the Kia comes with a five-year/100 000km service plan and a five-year, unlimited kilometres warranty. Compared to the range-topping 2.2CRDi AWD SXL, which costs R733 995, the LS represents a classy, big-on-family-value SUV option. It is, without any doubt, our favourite Sorento to date.
4x Firestone Destination A/T (265/65 R17): R9 248
4x A-Line 4×4 Outback Swamp rims (8J): R7 650
4×4 Muscle Trucks 2,5-inch suspension lift: R4 900
Front Runner Slimline II roof-rack with foot rails: R8 750
Front Runner 45-litre water tank with hose: R1 745
Front Runner double jerry can holder: R755
2x Front Runner jerry cans: R758
Front Runner spare wheel clamp: R525
Front Runner corner brackets for ammo box: R525
Front Runner plastic ammo cargo box: R345
2x Planetron 120W 510mm light bar: R9 998
2x Planetron 6-inch 50W LED spotlights: R6 600
Custom Liquid Armour paint finishes: R3 000
Kia Sorento nudge bar (custom finish): R4 900
TOTAL: R59 699
* Pricing excludes fitment and labour
4×4 Muscle Trucks tjmptaeast.co.za; Tel: 012 809 0090
A-line rims alinewheels.co.za; Tel: 011 634 7777
Firestone Destination A/Ts bridgestone.co.za; supaquick.com
Tyre Mart Autowiel Gezina (tyre fitment and balance) autowiel.co.za;
Tel: 012 335 0147
Front Runner frontrunneroutfitters.com; Tel: 011 466 0155
Liquid Armour paint and application liquidarmour.co.za; Tel. 011 763 6253
Planetron LED lights planetron.co.za; Tel: 012 348 3595
Nudge bar kia.co.za
Text: Danie Botha
Photographs: GG van Rooyen and Deon van der Walt