IAIN ROBERTSON 

Not every car buyer desires an all-too-easily confused SUV, or crossover, states Iain Robertson, as there exists a valuable niche in the new car market for those persons wishing for the towing capacity and space of an up-to-7-seats, 4×4 estate car.

Acquiring for purpose is an important criterion, when contemplating a new car. The entire new vehicle scene has been utterly discombobulated by a plethora of ‘SUVs’, of which the market believes we cannot obtain enough, in terms of choice, of both brands and different model dimensions. However, decent workhorses are quite difficult to ascertain, because so many of their forebears have been turned into market-acceptable crossovers, for which payload, towing capabilities and cabin space have become secondary aspects to fashion statements.

In addition, the MPV market has been decimated by the raft of SUVs, which means that factoring in the additional seating capacity that some families, or businesses, need has become a remit satisfied by exceedingly pricey 4x4s, or converted vans-with-windows. Kia is a company unafraid of shocking either the market, or its customers. When it first introduced the world to its Sorento model, in 2003, it succeeded on both counts.

For a start, it was priced keenly, largely because Kia was in that transition period between being a ‘budget-priced’ and ‘world-volume’ player. Yet, contrary to expectations, the Merc M-Class look-alike attracted a huge percentage of premium brand customers. They traded-in their Mercs, Beemers and Audis, in favour of the new Sorento. It was abundantly clear that a sense of reality had been projected by Kia that appealed to potential buyers possessing a specific set of demands for their 4x4s.

While that earlier vehicle was a typical body-on-chassis type, the latest iteration (the third generation), which uses high-tensile steel that is significantly lighter and stronger than before, is of unitary construction, like most regular motorcars. There are major benefits to this form of manufacturing, which are felt predominantly through the hands and seats-of-the-pants of most drivers. The dynamic enhancements are tremendous, in superior on-road manners, and a result of significant weight reductions and altering the general balance of the car.

Yet, as its overall dimensions highlight, a length of 4.8m, a width of almost 1.9m and a height of almost 1.7m make the Sorento a large car by any description and it is supported by a kerbweight of 1,932kgs in 6-speed manual trim (1,953kgs for the new 8-speed automatic). However, within that enlarged space exists flexible seating in a 2-3-2 formation (front-to-rear) that still leaves a small boot area for oddments. If you need extra space but not for passengers, the rear-most pair of seats slot cassette-like into the floor. The resultant space (605-litres) is substantial and can be enlarged further by folding and flipping the middle row of seats, which are split 40:20:40.

Buyers of large 4x4s usually intend to take them off-road, as part of their purpose requirements, which makes the following technical statistics fairly vital. The Sorento’s minimum ground clearance is a decent 185mm. Its approach and departure angles are 16.9 and 21 degrees fore and aft, while the ramp angle is a moderate 18 degrees. The car’s turning circle is a tight 11.08m, requiring just 2.8 turns from lock-to-lock. However, the 4×4 system is both selectable and reactive. Normally, it drives just the front wheels but, if wheel slip is detected, it will apportion torque to the rear axle, without a need for driver intervention, to a 60:40 front to rear split. Dial-in the appropriate driving mode, which includes a 50:50 differential lock for serious mud-plugging, and the Sorento’s off-road progress is a match for any 4×4.

However, towing capacity is also important and, with a maximum towball weight of 100kgs, the manual transmission Sorento can tow a 2.5-tonne braked trailer (2.0-tonne, with automatic transmission). The car’s maximum roof weight (using the standard roof bars) is a useful 100kgs, which is good enough for football kit, golf bags and extra luggage space, should all the seats be occupied.

Powered by a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine that develops a healthy 197bhp and a strong 325lbs ft of torque, which makes easy meat of towing a six-berth caravan, its on-road performance is excellent (when not towing). It can despatch the 0-60mph benchmark sprint in a brisk 8.7s, with a top speed nudging 127mph, which is far from sluggish. In stock trim, its Official Combined fuel return is given as 49.6mpg, although you can easily lose 2-3mpg by specifying larger diameter alloy wheels, a factor that can also affect the CO2 emissions levels, with 149g/km CO2 on 17-inch alloys (170g/km auto), while 18s and 19s will raise that to 159g/km, which increases first year road tax from £200 to £500, although subsequent years will be the standard £140 fee. Fashion can carry negative and expensive connotations.

Driving the Sorento is an imperious exercise. It rides higher than its lesser brethren and, although very easy to drive, it provides an impression of a large estate car. Fortunately, its steering, which is adjustable between Normal, or Sport settings, is not ponderous and provides a faithful reproduction of what is happening at the front and rear of the car on dry tarmac. There are no issues with its wet road progress, thanks in part to the clever 4×4 system that maximises traction, while minimising slippage.

The ride quality is generously compliant, the Sorento progressing with luxurious deportment regardless of surface quality, although body roll is well-controlled. It is worth highlighting that the seats in front and in the middle row are exceptionally comfortable, although the rearmost perches are not just awkward to access but lend themselves more ideally to children, or adults of slighter stature. The independent multi-link suspension front and rear works most efficiently, while self-levelling is standard on every model, except for the base one (KX-1). Its disc brakes are ventilated all-round and ABS antilock as well as emergency braking assist are standard features.

Kia has worked very hard to ensure that its Sorento not only meets the most exacting demands of its customers but that it also moves the game on a few vital steps. Five trim levels, from KX-1 to GT-Line S, constitute the range offering and all are well-equipped, although the raft of electronic features and driver assist programs does improve the higher up the range you gravitate. Retail prices range from an entry level of £28,995 that represents excellent value-for-money, to the range-topping £41,995 of the GT version.

Conclusion:    Protected by Kia’s all-encompassing seven years (100,000-miles) warranty, which is transferrable to the next owner of the car, the Sorento is feasible for either private, or business use and is priced accordingly. It is a handsome and capable family 4×4, with seats-for-seven, an intelligent transmission and strong towing credentials that give it a practical place in the large car market segment.