Though Kia has sharpened steering feel and used a stiffer chassis to reduce bodyroll in this improved model, the brand has stopped short of compromising this car’s tough practicality in pursuit of the sharper dynamic responses that some pricier rivals offer. Still, this Sorento’s at least now a more usable day-to-day choice, as well as one that’ll pull its (considerable) weight when conditions turn nasty. At lot of the credit for this goes to an improved quicker-reacting Dynamax 4WD system that offers extra tarmac peace of mind as well as a touch more capability in the rough. Power still comes from a 2. 2-litre CRDi diesel engine but it’s now slightly pokier which, amongst other things, enhances this model’s towcar credentials.
Aware that European folk prefer something a little more arresting, Kia’s design studios in Korea, Frankfurt and California have collaborated to try and deliver the necessarily squarical shape with more of a sleeker, swept-back profile. The object here was not only extra showroom presence but a need to disguise what is probably this MK3 model’s biggest change – its greater size. This, we’re promised, is now something that nearly all its direct competitors struggle to be: a proper seven-seater – as opposed to merely being a five-seat SUV with a couple of fold-out seats for kids in the boot.
Shall we take a seat at the wheel? That’s what designers from European premium brands will be doing, keen to see just how much Kia is now capable of in this, its flagship model.
What was previously quite utilitarian is now quite smart, with a wraparound dash that extends into the doors and offers slick, soft-touch surfaces, lovely satin brightwork, glossy piano black trim and controls with clear, classy graphics. Go for a plusher model and you’re even promised one of those trendy TFT virtual displays to replace the conventional instrument dials.
Take a seat in the second row and there’s also a greater feeling of space, partly because of an extra 15mm of legroom but mainly because the designers have managed to all-but-eliminate the previous model’s chunky transmission tunnel, meaning that three passengers can more easily be seated.
Access to this third row would be better if this middle seat tumbled forward rather than merely sliding back and forth. Once you’re in though, there is, as the 80mm wheelbase increase promises, just about room now for the couple of full-sized adults who would have been significantly more cramped in the previous generation version of this car.
Of course, with these rearmost seats in place, there’s isn’t much room for luggage - but then of course that’s true of any seven-seater that isn’t directly based on a van. Lift that Smart Tailgate and you’ll find that with all three rows in place, you get 142-litres of cargo space, a capacity that rises to 605-litres if you tug on these boot levers to fold the third row chairs, that last figure a 17. 5% increase on before.
Time for some running cost specifics. A manual Sorento model manages 49. 5mpg on the combined cycle and 149g/km of CO2. Opt for an automatic variant and, thanks to an ‘Active ECO’ feature that adjusts the operation of the engine and transmission to promote maximum fuel economy, those figures don’t take too much of a hit, falling to 43. 4mpg and 177g/km.
This third generation Sorento tells us a lot about the way Kia now wants to develop as a brand. We can see from this car how the company can now match its European rivals in terms of quality and technology. And we can see from this model’s pricing that the brand is still able to do this for the kind of money able to make its competitors look expensive.
In short then, for all kinds of reasons, this is now a car you’d like – rather than merely one that would be very handy to have. Which is why, for this South Korean brand, a new era starts right here.