Rebranding is never an easy task, especially if you were initially known to produce budget-minded but still good vehicles. Kia, however, on a global scale, managed to reinvent its image as it transitions to a more upmarket (but still mainstream) brand. In the Philippine market, however, the transition is more challenging since it’s still carrying excess baggage from its value-oriented and affordable past. This is the 2023 Kia Sorento SX, which is one of the brand’s flagbearers of its more upmarket image. Have they succeeded? Let’s find out.
If design is an indicator of how successful a brand is, then they’ve absolutely hit a home run. This crossover SUV looks distinct—easily standing out in a corporate parking lot even in this conservative shade of white. Chiseled lines and sleek shapes are the order of the day, and the new Kia logo sits right at home with this SUV’s handsome looks. Some of its design flourishes such as the full LED lighting, and the satin silver blade-like trim piece at the rear windows give the Sorento plenty of character—one that manages to combine trendy cues with timeless style. It’s an SUV that will look great even after many years down the line.
Likewise, the interior is very stylish in its execution. As expected in an SUV costing more than P2.5 million, materials and fit-and-finish are exquisite, though a Mazda CX-8 with its genuine wood and Nappa Leather still has a slight advantage. Nevertheless, the black leather, faux matte wood, and satin silver elements do give an air of sophistication. I particularly like this SX variant’s cooled front seats, which are always useful, especially in the summer heat.
Features and Infotainment
Interior tech is also pretty solid. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that’s exclusive to the SX greets the driver, which is very configurable and also displays a useful camera feed when you use the turn signals. A smaller 8-inch infotainment system sits beside it, which is okay but we wish we got the bigger 12.3-inch unit found in overseas models. Still, the Hyundai Motor Group has a user-friendly and responsive operating system to begin with and it also comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wireless charging is, however, unique to this SX trim.
Space and Practicality
Because this is a unibody crossover SUV, there’s tons of space inside on the first two rows. The sliding adjustment for the second-row seats offers generous travel for either plenty of legroom or increased space for third-row occupants. Speaking of the third row, my head is practically wedged into the ceiling, but if you ask nicely to those seated in front of you, legroom is actually very good—far better than what pickup-based SUVs can offer.
And then as for cargo capacity, there’s 187 liters behind the third row, which means you can only choose between friends or cargo when going on a long drive. Folding those third-row seats increases the cargo area to 616 liters, which is on par for the class. With the second row taken out of the equation, the Sorento can now swallow up to an impressive 2,011 liters of cargo.
Under the hood of the 2023 Kia Sorento SX is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel engine branded by HMG as Smartsrteam D. It produces 202 hp and 441 Nm of torque. Beyond the marketing hullabaloo, the engine offers linear power delivery that’s easy to control and plenty of pulling power at such a broad RPM range. This is one of the best diesel engines in a car, period.
The 8-speed wet dual-clutch that’s mated to it is likewise excellent. There’s a tiny bit of roughness at city speeds but 99 percent of the time, it operates smoothly and imperceptibly. It keeps the engine in an excellent rhythm—downshifting readily to the correct gear when needed.
If there’s one area where the Sorento absolutely shines, that’s in its ability to eat up miles effortlessly. Road, wind, and engine noise are kept to a minimum—feeling more like a European car at high speeds. Its stability is also unmatched by any pickup-based SUV and is even better I think than the CX-8’s. It also certainly helps that it comes with most of the Kia DriveWise suite of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), including automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane centering, automatic high beams, blind spot warning and cameras, and rear cross traffic alert. It’s however missing radar-guided adaptive cruise control.
If there’s one area where it doesn’t perform as well as I expected, that would be its ride. At high speeds, it’s absorbent and controlled, but at city speeds, the ride can oftentimes be firm and unsettled. Surprisingly, this is where the Mazda and even its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe, are better at. The firm low-speed ride, however, doesn’t equate to sporty handling. There’s body lean and understeer when pushed, though not dramatic by any means. It’s still easy to control the vehicle thanks to its precise and accurate but numb steering.
Lastly, as for fuel economy, the 2023 Kia Sorento SX did 16 km/l on a week’s worth of use. Under similar circumstances, a Mazda CX-8 with its 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated gas engine can only achieve half that. I’d go as far as saying that its diesel engine is nearly enough of a selling point over the CX-8.
But as I’ve mentioned, I only said that its excellent powertrain is “nearly enough of a selling point” over its chief rival from Mazda. Priced at P2,638,000, the 2023 Kia Sorento SX isn’t cheap and is in fact nearly P200,000 more than the top-of-the-range CX-8 AWD Exclusive and its Santa Fe corporate cousin. Yes, it comes with a superior drivetrain in my opinion, and if I were in the market for an SUV in this segment, the Sorento is probably one of my favorites.
But ultimately, from a value perspective, the Sorento SX is a difficult sell. It’s the vehicle that’s helping Kia set new upmarket aspirations, but only time will tell if the Sorento will succeed in the eyes of aspirational buyers. If it were our money, we’d probably pick the base-level Kia Carnival EX. For the exact same price as the Sorento SX, you get the exact same excellent drivetrain (albeit with a smoother 8-speed automatic) along with a bit more space and rear-seat luxury features. It’s no wonder that this premium MPV has become Kia’s second-best-selling model in the Philippines and is the vehicle that’s truly helping the brand achieve its rebranding goals.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★★
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★☆
Safety and Driver Assistance: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.4 out of 5
*Pricing is correct and accurate as of this article’s time of writing.
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