ITS predecessor was undoubtedly ugly even for a 4x4, but there is no doubt about it: the first, most obvious element of the new Kia Sorento is how attractive it is. It’s one of the first Kia cars to be have been styled German design boss Peter Schreyer – the man who penned the Audi TT – and it shows. Its good looks come, in part, from its new corporate face, what Kia calls the “Tiger Nose”. It also wins extra brownie points because it looks contemporary, sporty, svelte and pretty cool at a time when it’s no longer acceptable for 4x4s to be big, aggressive and boxy. Its stylish look is all part of a message that Kia is no longer the budget brand it once was.
The USP of this car is that it’s a real improvement over its predecessor. When Kia went to work on this second-generation Sorento it pretty much started again. Designed in California and built in the US, it’s clear that North America is a key market for the Sorento and it does feel a bit like it was designed for it. There’s no outsize cupholder for a bucket of Mountain Dew, but it has got one of those foot pedal handbrakes – which, unlike some I’ve driven, actually works well and isn’t stiff.
The Sorento is no longer just a 4x4, but a “lifestyle” sport utility vehicle; it’s code for the fact that the off-road ability is not absolutely essential in the urban SUV market anymore. Really this car is designed to be a socially acceptable SUV for the city. The Sorento is longer and lower – more car-like and less intimidating – than the vehicle it replaces. It also has less drag, a smaller engine, is more economical and is less polluting. Which all adds up to quite some improvement.
I’m trialling the KX-3 version, which is the top of the range model, with an automatic transmission, 4WD and a price tag that just tops £30,000 (although the entry level 2WD, five seat version can be had for a tad under £21K). Inside, the KX-3 version feels upmarket, with a cream and black dash and doors, cream leather seats and some aluminium accents in the doors and dash. But on closer inspection some of the plastics on the dash are hard rather than the fancy soft touch dashboard that they appear to be, tarnishing what might have otherwise been what’s known in the car industry as a “premium” environment.
On the other hand, there are some unexpected but welcome details including warm, red down lighting in the door panels and an illuminated Sorento name badge within the doorsills, which bring a playful touch to the car. The car also senses proximity of the key so you can unlock the door manually by pushing a button on the door handle without having to fish the key out of the depths of your pockets or handbag. Where the handbrake would normally be, between the front seats there’s a massive stowage bin, where you’ll find the slot for the starter key. After a week I still can’t work out the point of it. I find myself wondering why the key goes inside the centre console every time I start the car, while kind of liking it.
On the road, the Sorento is better and more comfortable on the motorway than driving around town. A speed bump in north London revealed some limitation with the suspension. I can’t say how that reflects on the Sorento’s off-road abilities, as I didn’t have time to plough it down any muddy countryside tracks, but such a clunk was a bit of a shocker. But then with its seven seats it’s really been created to be a more practical and flexible people mover than a means of transporting injured sheep or for towing massive caravans. The fact is it is cars like this that have rung the death knell for MPVs.
The boot is pleasingly large, particularly with the two rear seats folded flat into the floor. Stowing the middle row seats, for the occasional mission to Ikea, can expand this even further. Overall the Sorento can be quite a load carrier for a family of six, even seven, in comfort and without too much head scratching.
The Kia Sorento doesn’t hold any great surprises but is surprising none the less because it is such a great example of how far Kia has come. Aside from its great looks, there’s little that makes it stand out among its rivals, but it is a very capable family car none the less. Add to that Kia’s phenomenally reasonable 100,000 mile/ seven-year warranty and it’s definitely worth your consideration.
THE FACTS: KIA SORENTO
0-60MPH: 9.6 secs
TOP SPEED: 118 mph
CO2 G/KM: 194
MPG COMBINED: 38.2 mpg