My how the Kia Sorento SUV has evolved. The first generation, introduced at the turn of the millennium, looked sleek - if bland - but was a rugged workhorse underneath. Now the fourth iteration has gone on sale in Ireland, and it's nothing short of a luxury family car. The plug-in hybrid version, due in 2021, is expected to be particularly popular, but until then, our first taste of the new Sorento is in the 2.2-litre diesel model.
In the metal
The chiselled and handsome lines of the new Kia Sorento give the impression that it's a larger car than before, but, even though it sits on an all-new platform, it is the same length as its predecessor. Kia has slightly widened and raised the car, but the biggest dimensional change is in the wheelbase, to the benefit of space in the front two rows. Regardless, we like the looks of the new Sorento, especially its vaguely American, vaguely Ford Mustang-like rear lights.
Arguably, the interior is more successful again. We're familiar with Kia's quietly impressive build quality, but that has been ramped up in the new Sorento, with a sense of genuine luxury, to which its designers have added a few interesting flourishes. The digital instruments, which change appearance depending on driving mode, are enclosed in an attractively designed piano black panel that also wraps around the widescreen infotainment. Impressively, within the digital dials, a video view of your blind spot is displayed crystal clear when you indicate to turn. The steering wheel is a little large for our liking, but it's wrapped in high-quality leather and the switchgear is both easy and pleasant to use. Notable highlights include the heated seat buttons and the textured plastic trim dotted around.
On top of all that, there's a huge amount of space, for storage and for passengers. Between the front seats is a big under-arm box to complement the ample storage space ahead of that, while the door pockets are also notably capacious. The second row of seats accommodate three adults thanks to the width of the car and an almost-flat floor. There are neat USB ports positioned on the sides of the front seats, too, along with electric controls for the passenger seat that the driver can access.
Speaking of access, to get into the third row, you simply press a button atop the second-row backrest and it quickly releases and slides forward. Thanks to wide-opening rear doors and a large door aperture, it's not as difficult to get into that third row as in some cars, but the two seats are mounted right on the floor, which makes them uncomfortable for adults to sit in for any length of time. They swiftly fold flat when not in use, though, and there are extra climate control switches at the very back as well.
If you're looking for a large family SUV that will be used predominantly on the school run and for other urban driving, you really should wait for the plug-in hybrid version of the Sorento to arrive. The diesel model is fine in town, especially over larger bumps, but potholes and rough surfaces make themselves known through the suspension, while the diesel engine is audible, despite the double-glazing. And the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox could be smoother in stop-start driving.
The great news is that it all comes together rather more impressively on the open road. At a cruise, it's exceptionally comfortable and stable. The engine is all but inaudible, while wind roar and road noise are quelled to more-than-acceptable levels. After a couple of hours on the motorway we saw indicated average fuel consumption of 6.3 litres/100km, which is not bad for this size of vehicle, and may be partly down to the decision by Kia to only offer the Sorento diesel with front-wheel drive (the extra friction and weight of an all-wheel-drive system uses more fuel) for the Irish market.
We didn't have the opportunity to test out the Sorento's traction on wet roads, but in the dry it was remarkably composed and capable when the road turned twisty. And its brakes coped admirably, too, which bodes well for its ability to tow up to 2,500kg.
What you get for your money
At the time of writing, the Kia Sorento is available in Ireland solely with the diesel engine, an automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive and seven seats. The plug-in hybrid version arrives in early 2021. Pricing for the diesel model starts at €49,800, for the 'K3'. That's generously equipped, including such niceties as leather upholstery, power adjusted driver's seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system (satnav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and USB ports all included), active cruise control, reversing camera, parking sensors, automatic wipers and lights, a veritable arsenal of active and passive safety systems and much more.
The K4 edition, costing €54,500, adds a panoramic glass roof, heating for the rear seats, ambient lighting, two-tone upholstery, power adjustment for the front passenger seat, upgraded Bose sound system, electric tailgate, a 360-degree monitor for parking and more.
So no, the new Sorento isn't cheap-to-buy, but you do get a lot for your money.
More choice in the Kia Sorento range would be good, even beyond the forthcoming plug-in hybrid model, and some will be put off by the lack of all-wheel drive. However, for the family buyer with a bit of cash to spend, unconcerned by the lack of a premium badge, wanting the presence and space of a large SUV that's loaded to the gunwales with equipment and technology, the new Kia Sorento ticks all the boxes.