Great value for a big, comfortable 4x4. We'd still have the diesel over this 3.5-litre V6 petrol derivative though

I must admit I didn’t pay much attention to our Kia Sorento CRDi road test (April 16, 2003). I merely skimmed over the text and noted the verdict (six stars), while thinking that the styling looked quite appealing.

But a week in the V6 model put this victim of brand snobbery straight; the big Kia revealed ability far outweighing expectations and price. This is a fine vehicle by any standard.

The Sorento is priced at RAV4/ Freelander level, but takes careful aim at the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Land Cruiser, Mitsubishi Shogun, Mercedes ML et al for size and road presence.

And that’s before you look at the spec: the XS is loaded, with leather trim, heated front seats, side airbags, climate control and CD player to go with its generous proportions. It’s no accident the Sorento is a big seller in the USA.

In this company, the Kia makes a lot of sense. A 4.0-litre Grand Cherokee costs £27,995, a base Land Cruiser V6 £29,195, and a Merc ML 350 £32,680. The Kia feels more solidly made, more eager and just as well mannered on the road as the Merc, for 10 grand less.

The engine is smooth and revs easily with a silky howl, giving the Sorento more than enough poke to beat brisk traffic, and it will hold an easy 90mph cruise on the motorway. It’s also a comfortable place to be: the front seats are large and easily adjusted, and there’s plenty of space front and rear.

The overwhelming impression is of a car that is exceptionally well put together, with dynamic qualities by no means disgraced by more coveted brands.

It drives well in town, with surprising precision given its weight and height. The steering is light and positive, and the auto ’box smooth and vice-free.

The conclusion is simple: if you’re looking for a vehicle in this class, don’t be biased against the Sorento just because it’s good value. It’s also a cracking SUV.

Bill Thomas

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