Winner: Kia Sorento GT-Line
The Kia Sorento has returned to the winner’s list following a subtle but well thought out model update late in 2017, which has made a very good vehicle even better. Of course, there were the usual minor cosmetic changes necessary to distinguish the new model from its predecessor but the real differences lay beneath the surface.
The diesel versions get an all-new conventional-style eight-speed automatic. Having two extra gears provides a better spread of ratios, which helps the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel deliver strong performance and general drivability, both on and off the road. Even more noticeable, though, is the reduction in fuel consumption and the vehicle’s smoother and quieter operation all round.
Kia’s local engineering team has further worked to fine tune the suspension and make it better suited to Australian road conditions. The end result is a compliant, controlled ride that is among the best in the class. This sure-footedness also continues off-road where the Sorento shows plenty of agility.
The highest-selling version in the Sorento line-up is the top-spec GT-Line AWD diesel model. Over recent years, buyers have recognised the long-term value-for-money proposition of it, which now has extra features including a premium sound system, bigger touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a 360-degree camera view and LED headlights that turn with the steering to help see where you’re heading.
A comprehensive suite of advanced safety technologies supports Sorento’s excellent five-star ANCAP rating. Highly desirable autonomous emergency braking with a forward-collision warning system is now standard across the range, together with a host of other safety features including lane-keep assist, driver-attention alert, rear-view camera and hill-start assist. The GT-Line adds blind spot detection and cross traffic alert.
Relatively affordable running and repair costs, the reassurance of seven years’ capped price servicing and the peace of mind provided by Kia’s class-leading seven-year warranty should also be considered in the buying decision.
The Sorento is a practical and classy family wagon. Seven seats are standard and space and comfort are both considered among the best in class. Leg room in the third row, which is an area where many vehicles in this class fall short, is relatively good in the Sorento, but could still be tight for large adults to travel long distances.
The GT-Line’s interior is well appointed with leather trim and impressive build quality creating a genuine luxury look and feel. Ergonomically, the Sorento is one of the best in class, with clear instrumentation and well-laid-out controls that fall naturally to hand, which all play a significant role in the vehicle’s overall driving ease.
In such a large and hotly contested category, it’s the Sorento’s consistently high standards over all aspects of long-term ownership (value for money, design and function, and on-road ability) that makes it a worthy class winner in this year’s Australia’s Best Car awards.
Second place: Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander
The Hyundai Santa Fe and the category-winning Kia Sorento will be viewed by many as almost a mirror image of each other. They come from the same stock, but the model launches were staggered and, at the time of the Australia’s Best Cars judging, only the Kia had launched the new model, with the Hyundai appearing several months later.
Essentially, the Hyundai Santa Fe evaluated has the just superseded chassis and the six-speed auto compared to the Kia’s new eight-speed. This alone had an obvious effect on performance and fuel economy, before considering the Kia’s generally uprated chassis and underpinnings.
While design and function scoring puts the two cabins on an identical footing, this Santa Fe doesn’t match the build and finish of the newer Kia. However, when it comes to equipment, the Hyundai still manages to offer more standard features. Likewise, there’s superior smoothness and quietness on the road in the latest Kia, which Hyundai will undoubtably match with its upgraded version.
For this Santa Fe, though, there’s slightly better pricing aided by Hyundai’s clearly superior retained value. With the latest Sorento achieving a five-star ANCAP rating it’s believable that a new Santa Fe would catch up, and bring its existing five-star rating in line with the latest requirements.
It’s difficult, however, to overlook a deficit of 0.6L/100k fuel economy to the newer version and Hyundai still has not matched the lengthy warranty of the Kia. Clearly, most of the Hyundai’s shortcomings in this comparison will be addressed with the launch of the new Santa Fe and the incredibly close battle between the two will continue to leave buyers simply looking for the best deal.
Third place: Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design
The Volvo XC40 is a high-quality vehicle with outstanding individual presence, which only slips into third position in the Australia’s Best Cars comparison as the result of a couple of poor scores.
Within the 20 areas of evaluation, the Volvo has a low score for insurance cost and for its warranty and dealer access across the country. It also suffers slightly in this comparison for its fuel consumption on premium petrol, against a class dominated by diesels.
In all other aspects of design and function or on the road, the XC40 scores consistently among the best in class. In addition to a comprehensive list of features and a class-leading score for safety, the Volvo is a standout for build quality and offers an attractively presented cabin with first-class seating comfort. The equipment level is high and, at $60,342, the on-road pricing is better than the category leaders and the depreciation slope is less steep.
In keeping with its European counterparts, the XC40 is also gifted with an advanced chassis setup that delivers excellent ride and handling dynamics, along with strong balanced braking, providing a pleasing amount of driver engagement and feedback.
The all-wheel-drive in this vehicle is focused on road grip rather than off-road use, while overall performance from its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and responsive eight-speed automatic is very good. There’s an overwhelming feeling of vault-like structure in the Volvo’s cabin and a drive that’s delivered with impressive smoothness and quietness.