If you were to come up with a template for sluggish performance, the Sorento would appear perfect: a seven-seat SUV with a small diesel engine and an automatic gearbox built by Kia. And you’ve no idea how wrong you’d be.
The entry-level engine in the Sorento range is the company’s 148bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which comes with a six-speed manual as standard and can only be had in base trim, with five seats and front-wheel drive. The high-tech 2.2-litre motor that provides the power in the range-topping car is the only other motor on offer, and can also be had in front-wheel drive at the cheaper end of the lineup.
It’s an impressive motor that packs 194bhp – more than the 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine that powers the Toyota Land Cruiser. But quite astonishingly, this engine also offers more torque than the Toyota: a solid 311lb ft wall way down at 1800rpm.
Not only does the hi-tech 2.2-litre diesel engine have strong power and torque, it interacts smartly and cohesively with the new six-speed gearbox, with the whole package aided by a car weighing a relatively modest 1960kg, or, to put it another way, nearly half a tonne lighter than the less powerful Land Cruiser.
In fact, the 2.2 CRDi Sorento goes remarkably well, sprinting from rest to 60mph in a brisk 9.0sec dead and offering the ability to hold on to individual gears in manual mode. Given that the 2.0 CRDi model is just £1000 cheaper than the equivalent 2.2, we’d recommend opting for the bigger motor if you can; the 2.0-litre car's performance, economy and refinement are adequate but nothing to write home about.
As is the case with many small-capacity, high-output diesels, the 2.2 is noisier under hard acceleration than you’d like, but it flicks up readily through all six gears to a top ratio tall enough to ensure quiet cruising. The gearbox is not quite as smooth in its automatic mode as, say, the ZF unit found in the Land Rover Discovery 4, or as swift to change as a dual-clutch unit if operated manually, but by the standards of this class rather than the one above, it’s as good as it gets.
The Sorento stops well for a large and upright SUV, too, offering solid retardation, a progressive pedal and fade-free operation in all normal use.