What is it?
This is the all-new Kia Sorento, launched less than three years after the outgoing model went on sale. Despite using the same doors, roof, bonnet and windscreen, Kia says that this is otherwise an all-new car.
The steel monocoque platform has been virtually completely re-engineered with a new floor and underfloor crash structure, a new front crash structure, a new upper structure and now also gets a full-size subframe at the front, which helps with both safety and refinement. Overall, the body is 18 per cent stiffer than before.
The rear, multi-link suspension has been upgraded (with longer trailing arms and a bigger sub-frame), partly to increase space in the rear. The steering has been switched to an electrically-assisted system, the track widened and the overall height has been dropped by 10mm.
Much effort has gone into improving refinement, with upgraded insulation on the bulkhead and around the centre tunnel. In this new car, there’s 30mm more legroom for the second row of seats and and just 9mm extra for the third row: all UK-bound Sorentos will come as 7-seaters. Boot space is an impressive 660-litres with the third row of seats folded.
There will only be one engine on offer, Kia’s own 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, 194bhp turbo diesel unit, hooked up to either a six-speed manual or six-speed torque converter auto. With the manual box, the official combined economy figure is 49.9mpg, not bad for a 2510kg machine. Opt for the six-speed auto and the figure drops to 42.2mpg. All-wheel drive will also be standard on UK cars.
There will be three trim levels (KX-1, 2 and 3 and a KX-2 with Sat-Nav). Standard equipment includes dual zone climate control, bluetooth, cruise and reversing sensors.
The car also gets six airbags, an active bonnet, downhill brake control and hill start assist. KX-2 gets leather, self-levelling suspension, heated and electric seats, reversing camera. The top-line KX-3 gets a panoramic roof, Xenon lights, stop-start and keyless entry.
What is it like?
In one word: honest. It looks accomplished from the outside and practical on the inside. Compared to its rather ritzier Hyundai Santa Fe sister car, the Sorento has a more down to earth interior. The new dash design loses the pizazz of the previous Sorento, but the cabin is very wide and spacious and has masses of storage space.
The boot is huge (in five seat mode) and the carrying potential is impressive with all the rear seats folded. The Sorento is also a decent seven seater (though the rear seats are probably for pre-teens) in a body that’s a reasonable 4.7m long.
Even in ideal conditions (an ambient 24 deg C), the diesel engine was a little thrumy from cold, but once warmed through, the drivetrain proved impressively smooth. The six-speed auto provides very well-integrated shifts, smooth enough to be hard to detect. It is also impressive seamless in manual mode (easy to work via the very well-shaped lever).
Although it is refined and slick, the drivetrain needed a significant prod to extract a reasonable turn of speed. It felt slower than the quoted 9.5sec 0-60mph time, despite the punchy 311lb ft of torque. On the motorway, once wound up, the Sorento was quiet, impressively stable and straight-running. There’s no doubt that Kia’s attempt to position the Sorento as a safe and secure all-weather machine have succeeded. With a full load of passengers, it would instil of sense of confidence, though brakes needed a real prod for swift stopping.
The downside to this is that on back roads the Sorento just doesn’t want to be hurried. It resists roll on tight bends and it is easy to place on the road, but it doesn’t much like being hustled along. Any driver who does try to make swift progress will probably decide it is too much effort and just sit back and enjoy the view. The ride on very, very, poor surfaces was a bit fractious and on steep and changing cambers it could follow horizontal undulations a bit too keenly but, overall, the Sorento rode calmly.
Overall, it seems well made and tightly built, is comfortable and easy has a fine - if sleepy - drivetrain and a versatile interior. As a more rugged, stylish and versatile alternative to an MPV, its is an appealing prospect. The fact it can towed a braked weight of 2500kg (or 2000kg for the auto version) shows the Sorento’s breadth of capabilities.
Should I buy one?
It you are quick, and order one now for December delivery, the entry-level manual version can be had for £24,495, two thousand pounds cheaper than the list price. The sat-nav equipped KX-2 auto that we tried costs a strongish £31,495, with Sorento prices, on average, £1500 higher than on the old model. Viewed as a sort of budget Discovery, the Sorento is appealing, though it is muddy track car, rather than a proper off-roader.
However, in reality it is priced at a slight premium against the Seat Alhambra MPV, which shows were most of the expected 2500 UK sales will come from: families who want a car that promises a little more adventure. It is not a thrill a minute to drive, but it might well broaden your horizons.
Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi auto KX-2 Sat-Nav
Price £31,495; 0-62mph 9.5sec; Top speed 118mph; Economy 42.2mpg; CO2 175g/km; Kerbweight 1891kg; Engine 4-cyls, 2199cc, turbo, diesel; Power 194bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 311lb ft at 1800-2500rpm; Gearbox; 6-sp auto