What is it?
When it hit the market in 2002, Kia's flagship SUV was a large and rather crude body-on-frame crossover, popular for its good looks, low price and mammoth towing ability. But, ever restless, Kia aimed to sell much more than robust cars, so it soon developed the Sorento into a more sophisticated, monocoque 'urban' model.
With this third-generation Sorento, in UK showrooms next spring, it has begun chasing sophistication in earnest while continuing to provide the previous models' space and utility. The Sorento now has a bigger and more stylish body, improved interior quality and equipment, and the promise of better dynamics than ever.
All this sophistication comes at a cost, however. There will be a price hike of about five per cent across the range, meaning that the entry-level KX1 will cost around £29,000 and the KX4 we drove, fully loaded with gadgets such as park assist, radar cruise control and lane departure warning, will break the £40,000 barrier - once an unheard of hurdle for a Kia.
Mind you, it's not all sophistication. Sorentos will be sold in the UK with just one engine - a Euro 6 version of the faithful, slow-revving, four cylinder 2.2 CRDi that develops 197bhp at just 3800rpm, plus a whopping 325lb ft between 1750 and 2750rpm.
What's it like?
For one thing, it's bigger. Kia has taken the underpinnings of the outgoing model and modified them so the Sorento has an 80mm longer wheelbase and grows by 95mm (to 4780mm) in overall length. It's also a shade wider and a little lower, but there are considerable gains in headroom and rear legroom without any other compromises.
Kia is on an all-out hunt for refinement, so the suspension parts are familiar but the subframe mountings have been enhanced. The electric power steering servo motor has been shifted from the steering column to the rack, nearer the action, in order to improve precision, and soundproofing occupies well over double the area it once did.
The result is a very quiet and smooth-riding car, as far as one can judge on the unfamiliarly smooth roads of the Sitges region in Spain. The Sorento still has to pass the bigger test of UK-spec off-camber ruts and ripples, but at first sight it is supple and quiet. The steering is certainly an improvement. Handling bias is tilted towards mild understeer (in the wet you can reach the limits of the standard ESP), but there is good dry grip and the brakes seem powerful and easy to modulate.
The engine provides smooth and flexible performance, cruising quietly on tall gearing with its engine noise very well subdued. The 0-62mph acceleration - in the heaviest KX4 model with the optional six-speed automatic gearbox - is quite decent at 9.6sec.
Should I buy one?
The new Sorento has the practicality and easy demeanour to fit easily into many a UK family. Judged against even the best standards it is comfortable and quiet, and the unique seven-year warranty provides another inducement for buyers.
It still doesn't have the name-appeal and genuine off-road ability that comes at extra cost in a Jeep or Land Rover, but if it's a hard-working and spacious urban crossover you want, it'll be hard to look past this one, even at the new (and as yet unspecified) higher prices.
Kia Sorento KX4 auto