Think of Kia and the traditional view is likely that of a budget brand. However, the South Korean car manufacturer has been flying under the radar in recent years, quietly building itself up to offer premium appeal for less cash than rivals in this segment.
That’s most true of the Sorento, which is Kia’s flagship SUV. It’s big, handsome, and hopes to provide an alternative for those who want something like a Volvo XC90 and can’t – or don’t want to – pay its asking price. It’s not cheap, but it’s trying to bridge the gap between the mainstream and premium markets.
The Kia Sorento sits on a new vehicle platform that allows for electrification, with a standard hybrid available now and a plug-in hybrid coming at a later date. It has a longer wheelbase and is slightly taller and wider than its predecessor, but has the same length overall.
Other improvements include more legroom in the second and third seating rows, seven seats and four-wheel-drive are fitted as standard, while improved technology is also on offer. On the outside, the new Sorento has a chunky, modern look that gives it real road presence.
How does it look?
Kia has done a fantastic job with the Sorento, moving it from its frumpy predecessors to a genuinely handsome SUV with true premium appeal. Remove the badge and, from the front, this could easily be passed off as coming from one of the big German premium brands, with its blocky design and chrome details.
However, it’s the rear where the Sorento’s character lies, thanks to its vertical taillights and sharp angles. It has real presence on the road, not trying to hide its size and instead embracing it successfully.
What’s the spec like?
Kia’s pricing structure is simple, with trim levels called ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ (there’s no ‘1’). Prices start at £38,845 for the 2, bringing 17-inch alloy wheels, rain sensing front wipers, LED headlights, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, an eight-inch infotainment screen and a heated, leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Upgrade to the 3 and prices start at £41,245 for the diesel – the only trim level it’s available on – or £42,745 for the hybrid. Here, the alloy wheels increase to 19 inches, and you get black leather upholstery, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, and a ten-inch infotainment system with sat nav.
What’s it like inside?
It’s not just the outside where Kia is onto a winner. There are quality materials used throughout and a smart, modern design that feels like it crams a lot in without being too fussy. Although you feel somewhat dwarfed by the cabin, everything feels close to hand and easy to use.
Thanks to its seven seats and massive interior, family buyers will love the space on offer. There’s no need to cram people in because the rear-most seats don’t feel like afterthoughts shoved in the boot, they’re genuine seats. If you’re regularly carrying plenty of passengers there can be few better propositions at this price point.
What’s under the bonnet?
At launch, you get a choice of a 200hp 2.2-litre diesel engine or a 226hp hybrid model that uses a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol and electric motor combo. We tested both, and found the diesel to be surprisingly quiet and refined, making it ideal for those who regularly take longer journeys.
But it’s the hybrid that will likely appeal to most buyers in this new age of electrification. However, with this being a ‘self-charging hybrid’ the fuel economy isn’t fantastic, ranging between 38.2 and 40.9mpg depending on specification. Meanwhile, its CO2 emissions of 158 to 169g/km aren’t a great deal better than the diesel’s 176.
If true economy and eco credentials are key to your purchase, it might be best to wait for the plug-in hybrid.
What’s it like to drive?
When you head out onto the road the Sorento feels large, so if you’re upsizing to a seven-seat SUV and find the dimensions intimidating it’s worth bearing in mind. Certainly some rivals hide their size better.
That being said, once you’re on the road it’s a comfortable and relaxing drive, with a ride that’s only slightly on the stiff side despite not introducing much roll when turning. Kia has found a good compromise between comfort and handling, then.
For those who spend a lot of time in town, the hybrid’s smooth and quiet powertrain will be appealing, but the petrol engine does rather roar under harder acceleration, so motorway on-ramps could become a chore.
Finally, 4 starts at £46,945 and gets a panoramic sunroof, Nappa leather upholstery, a Bose 12-speaker audio system, wireless mobile phone charging, and a 360-degree camera system.
There’s no getting away from the fact that, at this price, the Sorento is pitching itself as a rival for more traditionally premium models like the Land Rover Discovery Sport. However, what’s most impressive is that it’s not outgunned in this company.
It’s big and practical, while also feeling like it’s made of top quality stuff inside. The equipment levels are decent, too.
Perhaps the only caveat to place on its recommendation is that the best engine isn’t available yet. The self-charging hybrid is decent but it’s not massively economical, and while the diesel will be great for longer drives, it’ll be wasted on short school runs. Once the plug-in hybrid arrives, it’s likely to be the one to have.
Honda CR-V | Hyundai Santa Fe | Land Rover Discovery Sport | Mitsubishi Outlander | Nissan X-Trail | Peugeot 5008 | Renault Koleos | SEAT Tarraco | Skoda Kodiaq | SsangYong Rexton | Subaru Forester | Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace
Model tested: Kia Sorento Hybrid 2
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol/electric hybrid
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Power: 226 hp
Torque: 350 Nm
Top speed: 119 mph
0-60mph: 8.7 seconds