Kia moves up a gear with the Sorento

There can be little doubting about Kia’s ambitious nature right now. The Korean company — a sister brand to Hyundai, remember — has made massive strides since the days when it pedalled fairly grim family-oriented hatchbacks and saloons, as well as a couple of faux 4x4 jobbies.

Kia moves up a gear with the Sorento

Its ambitions now stretch to far greater things, underlined by cars such as the excellent Cee’d range and the compact SUV Sportage range whose popularity recently saw it crack the top 10 list of sellers in Ireland. But now, with this week’s test car, Kia is demonstrating something even more determined.

That tester is the Sorento and for a manufacturer which was previously regarded as ‘third world’ by many punters, it has to be said that in every facet of this car Kia has really stepped up to the plate and upped the ante to a point where it can be confirmed as a legitimate player in every aspect of design and engineering.

I don’t say such things lightly, not least because I remember previous two Sorentos as being full of honest endeavour but sloppy in almost every aspect, particularly driving dynamics. Here, though, the company has demonstrably moved up though the gears and while it might still be short of being able to be tagged ‘premium’, it has certainly got a lot closer to it.

Kia, under the guidance of former Audi design guru Paul Schreyer, has created a whole new cadence to its products. Gone is the old generic look and instead there is a feeling of quality when you cast your eye on their products. That is definitely so with the Sorento which was previously somewhat lumpen looking, but now looks classy and well finished.

We tried the ‘Platinum’ spec version which is obviously the top of the pile. The exterior look is one of a car which had a lot of thought put into it and styling cues such as the mesh grille and the arty light clusters — not to mention the inverted clamshell design vibe going on with the bonnet— not only stand it out from the pack but give it a personality previous versions lacked.

On top of that, they have created a car which looks huge, although the dimensions have only been fiddled about with. It is smaller in height than its’ immediate predecessor, but 95mm longer, 80mm bigger of wheelbase and slightly wider. The overall visual effect though is of a very big car indeed.

You get the same impression about the inside. It feels vast — and indeed it is. In fact, it is one of the few cars in its class that comes with seven seats as standard. But, while big, it is also beautifully appointed.

Indeed, from the moment you climb aboard this new Sorento you can feel and see that there is an undeniably tasteful air about it. The build quality is a major step up from anything previously seen and the manner in which the designers have carefully combined a variety of materials to create a pretty sumptuous thing is beyond anything Kia has thus far offered. Interior space too is impressive, as is the level of spec and the overall layout of the major controls and switchgear. Everything seems effortlessly intuitive, somehow, and when you get that sort of feel from a car so quickly, it generally bodes well.

It is worth noting that while access and egress from the third row of seats is a tad on the awkward side, once you’re in there, it is roomier than most opponents and the occupants have their own air conditioning vents and controls. All very well on the feelgood front then, but what about the most serious aspect of the Sorento — driving it? Previous iterations were stodgy at best, but this thing is a major leap forward. What with the greater use of high strength steels, body rigidity has been improved beyond recognition and that has had a huge effect on the manner in which it conducts itself on the road.

My initial impression was probably not good as all the major control functions — brakes, clutch etc — felt soft and flaccid. Get used to the overall feel, however, and you soon found that everything worked precisely and with a degree of feel you probably wouldn’t have credited it of being capable.

Reworked suspension dynamics have transformed the handling and the standard all-wheel drive provides a sense of security over unkind byways. The 4WD system is adapted from that used on the Sportage and while it might not make the Sorento a mountain-munching conquistador, it provides a level of off-road ability that might surprise you. Grip levels and ride comfort are surprisingly good and while the big Kia will lean into corners, there is no unnecessary lurching about and you never get the feeling it’s driving you, rather than the other way round.

The ‘R’ family 2.2 litre turbodiesel is something of a pleasing surprise too. In the Sorento it pushes out 200bhp and an earthy 441Nm at between 1,750 and 2,750rpm. This in turn translates into a busy 8.7 second 0 to 100kph time and a top speed of 203kph.

Along with the six speed gearbox, this engine might be a little on the earthy side in terms of sophistication, but it produces plenty of get-up-and-go when you want it and will still return something in the region of 6.5 l/100km (over 40mpg) and 155 g/km for an annual tax bill of under €400.

So, for those with the need for a generously sized load-lugger with a real premium feel about it, but not such a premium price, this thing is definitely worth having a look at, then going away and looking at some of the opposition and then coming back for a second appraisal. That second look should be enough to persuade most potential owners their money would not be badly spent. As a car this thing is very impressive As a statement of intent, it is probably more impressive again.

Colley's Verdict

The Car: Kia Sorento

The Cost: Starts at €38,995 —€43,995 as tested.

The Engine: Might look a bit small on paper, but does the business with aplomb.

The Specification: Top drawer in Platinum spec we tested.

Overall Verdict: Damn good.

Star Rating: ****

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