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Kia Sorento review

Established as a viable rival to the likes of Ford and Vauxhall, Kia is now targeting the top end of the mainstream market

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What is it?
The third-generation Kia Sorento is the company’s flagship SUV.

Key features:
More premium, more efficient, more tech.

Our view:
Established as a viable rival to the likes of Ford and Vauxhall, Kia is now targeting the top end of the mainstream market.

When the original Kia Sorento was launched in 2002 it kicked off a new era for the Korean brand.

A very capable if traditional body-on-frame SUV, the Sorento assumed the role of flagship model for a growth strategy that saw Kia change beyond all recognition in the following years, from a ‘pile-em-high and sell loads’ budget brand to a mainstream volume player able to rival the major mainstream players.

The third-generation monocoque-shell Kia Sorento is very different to its grandparent but has a similar role, according to its makers beginning the second phase of Kia’s transformation. Following well over a decade of attractive new vehicles created under design head Peter Schreyer (now performing the role for both Kia and its sister brand Hyundai), the latest Sorento pioneers Kia’s new target, beating rivals in the crucial areas of engineering, technology, refinement and quality.

That’s not to say that design has been left behind. The new Sorento is pitched much more towards the on-road use that the vast majority of its buyers will put it to, rather than the ability to tackle off-road ‘black routes’, and so style assumes greater importance, along with space – Kia is very keen to snare executive buyers with this car.

The car certainly looks the part, immediately grabbing attention with its more swept-back stance and larger, more dominant grille. The new shell is 95mm longer than its predecessor and ever so slightly wider, by just 5mm, but also 15mm lower, which combined with the rising belt line (the effective line running along the base of the windows), gives it a more purposeful look.

Shell construction using more high-strength steel, increased from 28 per cent to 53 per cent, also boosts torsional rigidity, by 14 per cent, which should and does aid handling.

Perhaps the most vital measurement, the wheelbase, is extended by 80mm, to 2,780mm, which improves head and legroom in all three seat rows (the new Sorento retains its seven seats as standard) but also boosts bootspace by 90 litres, to 605 litres with the third-row seats folded. These disappear into the floor, while the second row also folds flat, extending cargo capacity to a cavernous 1,662 litres.

The doors are worthy of mention – they are slimmer and fit more snugly into their apertures, which Kia says not only allows them to open wider but also keeps dirt and moisture out of the sills. Evidence on the launch event suggests this works very well.

The Sorento is the first car to be produced under what Kia has dubbed its ‘Global Quality Strategy’ and much effort has been expended on creating a premium impression when in the car. Panel gaps are reduced, the surfaces are of good quality and well fitted into the cabin.

Sound insulation is markedly improved, the dash, for example gaining a 29 per cent thicker noise-absorbing panel. Kia says that on the move external noise is cut by six per cent and progress certainly feels hushed.

Just one engine option will be available to Sorento buyers, an updated variant of the familiar 2.2-litre diesel unit. And while this car may be road focused, it retains its all-wheel-drive, the intelligent system first seen in the smaller Sportage, and including a lock mode for those who want to indulge in some more serious off-tarmac progress.

The engine changes are significant, extending to reducing cylinder wall thickness by 1mm to say 5kg in weight. The unit offers 197bhp, three horsepower up on the previous version, and 325lbft of torque, an improvement of 14lbft and available from 1,750rpm.

Efficiency is of course improved – Euro-6 emissions compliant, the engine returns combined cycle fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures of 49.5mpg and 149g/km in the six-speed manual version – an alternative six-speed auto is also available. The launch vehicles driven by The Car Expert were fitted with the manual ‘box and it is both slick and precise.

With on-the-road performance a priority much effort has been expended on ride comfort and it shows. The car cruises in a straight line very comfortably indeed, and while cornering with enthusiasm does produce some body roll from what is a large shell, it’s all very controllable.

Steering is particularly impressive – Kia says that moving the power-steering motor module from halfway up the steering column onto the rack itself has made a major difference to the handling, sharpening response and feedback.

Up to three steering modes can be selected, changing the feel and response, though on choosing ‘Sport’ on our test car the steering became very stiff indeed – it is a mode we feel that would only be usefully employed in very specific high-speed conditions.

Potential buyers have the choice of four trim levels, dubbed KX-1 to KX-4, with prices ranging from £28,795-£40,995. Standard equipment highlights include alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, de-icing front wipers, electric folding heated mirrors, cruise control and reversing sensors.

Safety aids feature heavily in the specification – all versions of the car include a range of electronics such as hill-start assist, trailer assist, ESC and Vehicle Stability Control.

Go up the trim levels and more tech appears, some not seen before on European Kias, such as adaptive smart cruise control, around view monitoring and parking assistance including a rear cross traffic alert and smart park assist for both reverse and parallel manouevres.

Inside one can add such extras as satellite navigation through either a seven or eight-inch touchscreen, a reversing camera, panoramic sunroof, self-levelling suspension and driver and front passenger seats that can be power adjusted 10 and eight ways respectively.

Kia does not expect enormous sales numbers from the Sorento, though management are not afraid to suggest that the predicted 3,500 sales per annum may be conservative.

The task the car has is more subtle, to lay a path for the forthcoming Optima large saloon, by showing that the Korean brand can be as effective at producing large cars as it is now renowned for smaller models.

Established as a viable rival to the likes of Ford and Vauxhall, Kia is now targeting the top end of the mainstream market, the area populated by brands such as Volkswagen and Volvo. If the Kia Sorento is evidence of what is coming, then rival manufacturers should be concerned….

Kia Sorento – key specifications

Model tested: Kia Sorento 2.2 manual KX-2, KX-4
On sale: April 2015
Range price: £28,795-£40,995
Insurance group: TBA
Engines: Diesel 2.2.
Power (bhp): 197
Torque (lb/ft): 325
0-62mph (sec): 9.0 (auto 9.6)
Top speed (mph): 124 (124)
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 49.5* (46.3*)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 149* (177)
Key rivals: Volvo XC60, Nissan X-Trail, Volkswagen Touareg
Test Date: March 2015
*= with 17-inch wheels

The latest from The Car Expert

Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.