Full-size Kia 4×4 clings to now traditional expectations
The latest version of the Kia Sorento has a clear remit to satisfy, states Iain Robertson, and there is no mistaking its value to Kia, let alone other brand customers desiring durable off-road potential, with people-carrying in mind.
Despite the sugar, being robed in rich milk chocolate, with its layer of heart-warming caramel and energy-packed chocolatey ‘fudge’, my favourite count line has always been the sweet that helps you to work, rest and play. When it became available in enlarged form (it always felt bigger at school), I was in snack heaven. Although somewhat newer than the evolved Mars Bar, I believe that the latest Kia Sorento offers a broadly similar appeal and it has managed that exercise since its introduction in 2003.
If ever a single car had tackled a transformational challenge with equal confidence, in all of my years of testing and rating motor vehicles, none has done it as competently as the Kia Sorento. Now in its third generation and based on the Sedona MPV platform, it remains ‘on the money’ and, despite a price tag that whacks it into £40k-plus territory, buyers are opting for the top-spec and scarcely batting an eyelid.
Yet, I just want to dwell on the earliest Sorento for a few moments. In the early-2000s, Kia was regarded as a ‘coming car company’. Here, in the west, we could already perceive the constantly changing, regularly updated image of the South Korean brand. To a critic, like me, Kia was manna from heaven. It appeared to be a player of such game-changing agility that scarcely a few months went past, without something else being introduced to its growing line-up that was sure to catch the eye and make the consumer feel as though it was a carmaker prepared to listen and deliver to expectations.
That first Sorento was a revelation. Oh, sure, it was chunky and, being of separate body-on-ladder-chassis construction, it was also a bit lumbering and traditional. Yet, its Merc M-Class looks and outstanding Jeep-like off-road performance captured the zeitgeist. Although classified as a mid-size 4×4/SUV, it was large, spacious, comfortable and realistically price-tagged. It was little wonder that Kia dealer used car lots suddenly started to feature three years old M-Classes, Rangies and Shoguns. The Sorento was aimed at the heart of the 4×4 scene and it was on target, make no mistake.
Twelve years on and the latest Kia Sorento remains an in-demand SUV. Fashions may change ever so slightly but the consumer knows which side of his toast is buttered and this is a big buggy that never ceases to impress. While the coupe-like rear window-line adds a soupcon of ‘fastback’ styling nuance, the front-end of the car is now more Volvo XC90, upright, bold and assured. Its crosshatched front grille is more oblong and the ‘tiger nose’ styling that is greater pronounced in lesser Kias amounts to more of a chrome detail that is no less than proud and indicative of Kia’s market confidence.
Powered by a 2.2-litre, four cylinder turbo-diesel, the engine delivers a strident 197bhp, while mustering a substantial 311lbs ft of torque between 1800-2500rpm, which is a great working range for a purposeful 4×4. It starts with a slightly agricultural grumble but idles sweetly, pulls strongly and remains refined and very quiet following a speedy warm-up. In fact, it is sturdy enough to tolerate a braked trailer weight of up to 2.5-tonnes, which makes it ideal for both the farming community and for towing a sizeable caravan, even though the vast majority of Sorentos will take up driveway occupation in leafy suburbia, filling office car park slots and doing the school run, something it will manage perfectly, with its extra row of rear seats that are ideal for the 5-a-side football team.
Its on-road performance, in the modern idiom, can be zesty, even though it feels eminently comfortable performing an easy cruising role. Despatching the 0-60mph benchmark run in just 9.0 seconds, with a posted top speed of 124mph, it is not exactly a slouch. The usual, laboratory-obtained and generously stated Official Combined fuel return of 46.3mpg will probably test the patience of the most frugal of drivers but I still managed a decent 41.4mpg on my 50-miles economy test route. However, a more realistic average of 34.5mpg after a week’s worth of driving is still respectable for a sizeable 4×4. Its 161g/km of CO2 exhaust emissions commands a £180 annual fee for VED, which is not tragic and is average for the class.
The cabin is accommodating for the five main seats, while access to the rearmost row is certainly the preserve of younger and more agile people, although they will be comfortable, as there is plenty of space and the seats are well-padded. The middle row splits 40:20:40, partly from a need to provide access on either side of the car for the rearmost pair of seats and, although it is easy enough to carry out the load bay enlarging exercise, it is more fiddly to operate as a result.
There was a time in Kia’s past, when the company managed (like most North American carmakers) to produce leather trimmed interiors that both looked and smelled like industrial plastics. There are no such issues with the latest Sorento in mid-range KX2 trim, as the perforated hide is up with the very best quality on offer. Prices start at £28,795 for a KX1 variant, rising to £41,575 for the all-singing-and-dancing KX4 top dog. The test car is just £31,995 on the road.
Truth is, you get one heck of a lot of car for the money, from Kia, which goes a long way towards underscoring its excellent sales success. The multi-position, electrically adjustable driver’s seat provides armchair comfort and a commanding view. The front seats are heated, as is the steering wheel rim, a non-exigency that continues to bamboozle me…if you have cold hands, wear gloves! Of course, the steering wheel provides thumbnail switches for various functions, while the rest of the controls are in their usual places within the hide-topped dashboard, which also carries the touch-screen for sat-nav that doubles as the rear-view display and provides homes for the DAB stereo system and trip computer.
In fact, the overall specification is most comprehensive, the interior being packed with safety addenda, airbags and safety belts, while the middle row also has upper tethers and anchor fixings for child safety seats. While the boot is spacious, once the rearmost seats have been folded into the floor, it is worth noting that a full-size, alloy spare wheel is located below the floor that matches the shiny 18-inch 10-spokers outside. Typical of the breed, roof rails enable the installation of the optional rack, or top-box, for additional luggage space.
As the Sorento is now of unitary construction and does not possess a separate chassis, its handling envelope benefits significantly. While it is a large and uncomplicated SUV, it only employs all-wheel-drive, when it needs to, which means that, apart from a small ‘differential lock’ switch on the right-hand side bank of minor pushbuttons, it behaves like a well-balanced, front-driven estate car in all normal driving conditions. Its hydraulically powered steering provides moderate centring and is faithful to driver input. Although weighty, its responses are positive and, while devoid of feel, the driver is usually aware of the angle of steer, especially on-road but notably off-road too.
The ride quality is surprisingly firm but it is also compliant, which enhances its relaxed cruising potential. Yet, the Sorento never feels like a wieldy hatchback and you are conscious of hefting a two tonne family car around back lanes, not least because of its almost two metres of width and 4.8m of body length. It is not that the car is demanding of the driver but more that Kia does not wish to create a false impression, a factor that a few other brands ought to contemplate in their dynamic envelopes, which might lead them into awkward situations.
Conclusion: The latest Kia Sorento is an eminently likeable car. It is a handsome machine, which manages to avoid the styling fripperies of several of its rivals that are keen clearly (and perhaps by need) to stand out from their opposition. It drives satisfyingly, is spacious and comfortable. Not overly-expensive to live with, the Sorento exudes a subtle air of confidence that is most attractive. It can tackle the boondocks as readily as tow a large trailer and serve purpose in almost any situation it encounters, factors that make it suitable for both business use and for large families.