From £30,7407

New version of Kia’s big SUV is a car of real ambition and new powertrain options

Any which way you judge such things – by outward appearance, by SUV-typical capability, by technical sophistication or by sheer metal-for-the-money value – the fourth generation of the Kia Sorento has now become a very serious, ambitious and distinctive player in the UK’s family SUV market.

The Sorento has long been rated – by this magazine and plenty of in-the-know owners – as a big, practical, capable, bargain-priced tow car and family holdall. But now it’s really spreading its wings. In this iteration, the car’s platform has been renewed; its engine range has been expanded; the gamut of active safety and driver assistance technology has been extended just as widely; and, perhaps most notable of all, its exterior and interior design has been quite radically reimagined in the hope of catching the eye of even more potential customers who may never have considered owning a Kia before.

Kia’s ‘tiger nose’ grille seems to be getting bigger, just like everyone else’s, but it hasn’t yet reached comedy proportions and its size suits the front of the Sorento well enough

And so, for the first time since the car’s 2002 introduction, diesel power has been joined in the line-up by two petrol-electric powertrain options. One of them – the ‘self-charging’ hybrid – powers the UK’s entry-level model, and that’s the car we’ve elected to test. As we’ll expand on shortly, it combines mechanical four-wheel drive and seven seats with what might just be considered full-sized SUV proportions and a sub- £40,000 price. So while some things about this car clearly have changed, its mission to represent practicality and value like almost nothing else in the family 4x4 market hasn’t.

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If you’ve got more to spend, there are considerably more technology- and equipment-laden versions of the car you might consider; and that the plug-in hybrid looks set to combine a 30-mile electric range with an uncompromised seven-seat cabin could and should pique the attention of fleet drivers with bigger families.

But that’s for another day. For now, let’s find out whether the cheaper petrol hybrid can serve this car as well as a diesel engine typically has.

The Sorento line-up at a glance

Powertrain options for the fourth-generation Sorento are refreshingly simple, even if the hardware itself is much more complex than has been offered on the model before. All versions have two driven axles and two of the three models are hybrids, including the entry-level Sorento 1.6 T-GDi tested here.

In due course, a range-topping plug-in hybrid will go on sale and be comfortably the most powerful – and potentially frugal – model in the line-up. Notably, it will retain the third row of seats, despite the need to carry a sizeable battery.

Kia Sorento design & stying

The Sorento is the first Kia to use the Hyundai-Kia Group’s new N3 model platform, which has enabled it to grow slightly and its proportions to change a little.

Crucially, it has also allowed Kia to accommodate the necessary components of both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the car while keeping both a mechanical four-wheel drive system and, in all derivatives, a seven-seat cabin layout. That’s no mean feat – and one that plenty of better-established European premium car brands can’t yet equal with their rivals for this car.

The chassis is still made almost exclusively of high-strength steel, although aluminium now crops up in it in a handful of places. Kia also says it’s slightly lighter and stiffer than that of the third-generation Sorento, which, considering the car’s dimensions, is commendable too.

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Now measuring 4810mm in length, 1695mm in height and 1900mm in width without mirrors, the Sorento continues to sit between mid-sized and full-sized SUVs for outright size. On length, then, it’s between a Land Rover Discovery Sport and a Land Rover Discovery, although a slightly closer match for the latter, as its visual presence and bulk now more explicitly than ever suggests.

Whether you opt for Kia’s new lighter, aluminium-blocked, 199bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine or its 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol hybrid option, the engine is mounted transversely under the bonnet and drives all four wheels through a hydraulic coupling.

In the case of the hybrid, the engine is ‘sandwiched’ alongside a 59bhp electric motor that contributes to system output peaks of 226bhp and 258lb ft. In the plug-in hybrid, which is expected to join the UK showroom range soon, the same 1.6-litre petrol engine is mated to a 90bhp electric motor, making 261bhp for the car in total. Whereas the diesel uses a new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, both hybrids stick with a six-speed torque-converter automatic.

Suspension for the Sorento is all independent, and hydraulic self-levelling for more stable towing features on all but the entry-level grade. Ground clearance is a fairly modest 185mm. Although that’s slightly more than the third-generation car has, it’s not as much as some rivals offer; and while Kia has added X-Line versions in other markets with better off-road ability on paper, there’s been no stated plan to include those in the UK range.

Towing capacity has risen to 2500kg for the diesel Sorento, but it’s 1650kg for the hybrid, which is still likely enough to pull a good-sized caravan but not the biggest trailers. As for aesthetics, this car certainly catches the eye and, on balance, most testers liked what they saw. Kia’s aim was to create a more ‘technical’ look for the car, intended to better express a sense of precision of build quality and all-round technological sophistication. It’s an effect well practised by the German premium brands but – much as this wouldn’t be the first time Kia has copied their homework – it’s quietly effective.

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Price £38,845 Power 226bhp Torque 258lb ft 0-60mph 8.5sec 30-70mph in fourth 10.4sec Fuel economy 35.0mpg CO2 emissions 158g/km 70-0mph 45.8m

Kia Sorento First drives