Kia divides opinion with duplicitous new Sorento
Accepting that styling can be very deceptive, as well as being subjective, Iain Robertson feels that the latest large SUV from Kia, set to be introduced at the Geneva Motor Show, could well be the next Granada for a new generation.
Much of the respect, fascination and praise that has been directed at South Korean carmaker, Kia, for the past decade and longer relies on its globally appealing design stance, which originates in Frankfurt, with the car manufacturer’s international but German-led and based styling team. It has gifted Kia a defined signature centred on its radiator grille but continued through fluent lateral and tail-end graphics that are both confident and complete. Naturally, comparisons are inevitable across the different vehicle categories but Kia has nurtured most competently a brand neutrality that avoids blandness, yet tickles the receptors of an observer’s brain, developing a familiarity that is both fresh and warm…and that is just for the exteriors of most of its models.
Vehicle reviewers will chatter unguardedly about the Audi-like interior detailing, which is signified by taut structures, tight panel gaps and the application of tactile surface treatments that are both physically and mentally, let alone visually satisfying. In a world of clinically cold CAD-CAM design facilities, by which inserted computer parameters result in regurgitated similarities that only refettling by human interference can personalise, Kia has emerged as an independent soul (no pun intended) that is open to comparison but also more than capable of percolating above it.
My reference about ‘Granada’ in the opening gambit to this tale relates to the last large Ford model that the ‘Blue Oval’ produced predominantly for the UK and Europe. Its doe-eyed headlamps, which did look better, when the reflector surfaces were darkened, struggled with impact and were not helped by a larger-than-Sierra overall outline that terminated in a ‘fat-ass’ boot (the estate was by far the better looking model) and under-tyring that was only relieved marginally in the final ‘S’ versions. It could hardly be called one of Ford’s better moments and the market decided, even after a gently effective reskin that led to its ignominious demise.
Yet, driving the ‘Grandad’, as it became known both warmly and derisively, was a genuine treat. For such a large, rear-wheel driven car to conduct itself in a most honourable and comfortable manner, regardless of route, or tarmac surface, whether powered by a grumbly 2.5-litre turbodiesel, 2.0-litre petrol, or a slightly bristly 2.9-litre petrol V6, was eminently satisfying but not helped one little bit by the relentless march of the German midfielders (A6, 5-Series and E-Class), which led to its axing in 1998. You may still spot them rarely, as privately plated (to disguise their vintage) hearses and stretches.
The problem that I perceive for Kia is that the outgoing Sorento was long overdue a replacement. I fear that polarisation of opinions that did not afflict the old model will either hike-up the new model’s skirts, or switch potential customers to the large SUVs of other carmakers. Of course, market acceptability is the route Kia has manipulated most successfully for its brand overall and, while not venturing into the realms of downright ugliness, as per Ssangyong, or even Mitsubishi, for the first time in a long time Kia appears to be flexing an Oriental sword. Sorento has a style to which many Americans will react strongly and positively, in the main. In fact, this is probably the biggest reason for its appearance, as the North American market will move far more examples than any other.
Whereas other Kias manage to deflect comparisons with competitors, the new Sorento’s nose looks more Skoda Kodiaq, the hallmark ‘tiger nose’ grille shape having been elongated and squared-off to such an extent that it has lost the ‘cosiness’ of even the previous generation example. While the car’s flanks are chivvied along with a familiar profile, aided by the little ProCeed ‘kink’ behind the rear passenger doors, the rear-end is almost defiantly Japanese-American. Yet, linger around those flanks, as the door lengths will provide a clue to easier access and a promise of better space utilisation. Incidentally, Kia admits that its North American design studio played a more decisive role in formulating the Sorento’s design ‘edge’, in conjunction with both the Korean and European centres.
Investing in a brand-new platform is a major financial and logistical undertaking for any carmaker these days and that of the Sorento stretches the front and rear axle lines significantly further apart, which supports my contention about more interior space. However, it was a necessary dimensional move, as Kia intends to invest electrification in its new SUV, more details about which will emerge post-Geneva, when further information about the UK specification, pricing and availability will also be announced.
As a glance at Sorento’s freshly reordered interior suggests, comfort and luxury have taken some important upward steps. A more dominant but equally more accessible touchscreen takes centre stage and you can rest assured that no stone will have been left unturned en-route to provide the ultimate levels of connectivity and functionality. At last, Sorento has uplifted tactility in its largest SUV, with a blend of high-end surfaces, materials and textiles that are sure to be reflected in a significantly higher retail price structure. While I hesitate slightly to recall the Granada comparison, the driving and passenger environment is a place where forgiveness can be accorded.
Look, Kia is a clever organisation. I shall not whip away its enterprising ethos. My views are based purely on initial preconceptions, which may prove to be misconceptions. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the new Sorento is unlikely to ever be nominated as ‘red carpet cool’. Whether hybridised, or fully electrified, you can reckon on new prices dipping into the £50-£60,000 arena, although a front-wheel drive petrol/diesel entry-level is sure to feature in the line-up, which should include 4×4 variants.
Conclusion: Hardly the biggest selling model in Kia’s UK range, Sorento has fulfilled a range-topping role in its SUV line-up. I hope that the company will better manage the new Sorento than it has its Stinger offering, which should have been a real star turn…but is not.