2015 Kia Sorento, Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory review

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Weight, thirst and cost don’t dent the popularity of large SUVs. A new Korean arrival takes on two veterans of the segment.

Fuel crisis, what fuel crisis?

A few years ago people were predicting the end of the gas guzzler, as car buyers deserted homegrown large cars in favour of smaller, more efficient models.

They were only half right. People have abandoned large cars — but a sizeable chunk of them have graduated into bigger, thirstier vehicles.

The seven-seat SUV is still one of the most popular types on the road. The large SUV segment is still the second-biggest in the new car market and everyone wants a piece of the action.

The most recent arrival is the new Kia Sorento. We’ve pitted it against two pioneers of the seven-seat scene, the Toyota Kluger and the Ford Territory. As this part of the market is price sensitive (big family equals tight budget), we’re looking at the two-wheel-drive petrol versions, which are the cheapest.

Ford Territory

The Territory was a rare smash hit for Ford Australia when it launched in 2004. A clever cabin, punchy six-cylinder engine and impressive car-like dynamics made the SUV an instant success.

But it enters this battle in its twilight years. Climbing into the cabin, you get the impression of an ageing warrior. They’ve done as much as they can to update the interior design — the centre multimedia screen looks modern and is easy to navigate but overall the bare bones are as they were in 2004.

The engine is the same too, tweaked over the years to return more respectable fuel consumption — the same as Kluger at 10.2L/100km and only marginally more than the Sorento’s 9.9L.

Combined with a smooth-shifting six-speed, the 4.0-litre six outpunches its rivals in this contest, thanks to a healthy torque advantage. On the freeway it feels effortless overtaking and it is quieter than the Sorento under acceleration.

Having lost none of its roadholding nous, the Territory sits flat through corners and maintains composure over rough surfaces. The steering has a more natural feel and is more precise than its rivals, inspiring confidence at speed.

The suspension can get a bit noisy and feel lumpy over corrugations.

There are a couple of notable omissions, though. The curtain airbags don’t extend to the third row and the second-row seats don’t slide fore and aft, which means you can’t mix and match legroom for rear passengers. The third-row seats, a $2500 option on the $37,490 TX, are also the least comfortable, while there are no seat belt reminders for rear passengers, which allows littlies to slip out of their belts undetected.

It also misses some creature comforts, such as aircon controls for the third row, auto up windows and release levers in the cargo area for folding the second-row flat.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price from: $39,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Servicing: 12 months/15,000km. $990 over 3 years
Safety: 5 airbags, 5 stars
Engine: 4.0-litre 6-cyl, 195kW/391Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 10.2L/100km
Dimensions: 4888mm (L), 1898mm (W), 1718mm (H)
Weight: 1986kg
Spare: Full-size
Towing: 2300kg

Kia Sorento

Kia nicked Audi’s chief designer a few years ago and the cabin of the Sorento has plenty of Audi-esque touches. There are thumbwheel controls on the steering wheel and there’s a classy digital readout between the tacho and speedo.

Elsewhere, the main surfaces are soft to the touch, including the faux-leather armrests with white stitching. The styling feels up-market, with brushed alloy handles and modern-looking woodgrain highlights.

It’s generously equipped, trumping the Kluger with standard satnav, electric parking brake, auto-up windows all-round, dual-zone climate control aircon — and controls in the third row. It nails the practical side of things with extendible sun visors, two USB ports, three 12V outlets and afull-size alloy spare under the rear floor.

For showroom presentation, it wins hands down but the cabin is the narrowest of the trio, there is less legroom for second-row passengers and the third-row seats aren’t as accommodating as the Kluger’s.

On the road, the Sorento is a mixed bag. At cruising speeds, it is impressively quiet but the engine is the most raucous of the three under hard acceleration. That said, it sounds quite sporty. The transmission shifts seamlessly, though, and there’s enough initial urge to spin the front wheels on takeoff if you’re not careful.

The Sorento isn’t as well sorted as the Territory on the open road, the steering lacking the precision of the Ford and the nose pushing wide without too much provocation. It does better in soaking up the bumps, with a firm but comfortable ride that isn’t unduly upset by broken road surfaces.

The final ace up the sleeve for this Korean contender is an industry-leading seven-year warranty, seven years of capped price servicing and, provided you return to the dealer you bought the car from, seven years’ roadside assistance.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price from: $40,990
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Servicing: 12 months/15,000km. $1285 over 3 years
Safety: 7 airbags, 5 stars
Engine: 3.3-litre V6, 199kW/318Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 9.9L/100km
Dimensions: 4780mm (L), 1890mm (W), 1690mm (H)
Weight: 1921kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
Towing: 2000kg

Toyota Kluger

The moment you slide into the Kluger’s front seat, it feels big: big steering wheel, enormous centre console and jumbo-sized cupholders. It’s as if they ticked the “super-size-me” box at the dealership.

There are some handy touches, including a tray in the dash that allows you to store your mobile phone and hook it up to the USB port underneath. The centre screen is big and easy to navigate, although it lacks the standard satnav of the Sorento and Territory.

But there are signs of cost-cutting, with our model getting plain black plastic handles and brown plastic inserts, no match for the woodgrain and alloy highlights on the Sorento. The interior design lacks cohesion, too, with too many competing elements.

What the Kluger lacks in style, it makes up for in comfort and space. The driver’s seat is good for long freeway cruises and the rear passengers can recline their seats, enjoy the most generous legroom and use the separate controls for the aircon, ensuring everyone on board is happy.

It also matches the Sorento’s safety credentials with full curtain airbags.

The Toyota is impressively quiet and its 201kW V6 is strong, silky smooth and well matched to the six-speed transmission. Unhappily the rest of the mechanical package isn’t up to the impressive engine.

The Kluger’s steering wheel tugs under acceleration and the steering feels vague and lifeless. The suspension is also too softly sprung — the ride is impressive over city expansion joints and potholes but it wallows over freeway bumps and leans through corners.

This isn’t a hot-hatch comparison but it’s still important for a family car to inspire confidence on a country road. The Kluger feels unwieldy at higher (but still legal) speeds.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price from: $40,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Servicing: 6 months/10,000km. $1080 over 3 years
Safety: 7 airbags, 5 stars
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 201kW/337Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 10.2L/100km
Dimensions: 4865mm (L), 1925mm (W), 1730mm (H)
Weight: 1950kg
Spare: Full-size
Towing: 2000kg

VERDICT

It may be grandpa’s axe but the Territory still feels the sharpest of this trio on the road. It makes you wonder what Ford could have done with it given the development budgets of its rivals. It’s a better drive than both, has a lower starting price but has been left behind in some key areas, including safety and interior packaging.

There’s no doubting the Kluger’s family-sized appeal, its refinement and its reputation for reliability and resale value — but it’s been overtaken on all fronts by the Sorento, which has the right blend of style, practicality and value for money. And that seven-year warranty.

(carsguide.com.au)

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