If one model could show how far Kia has come in a decade it would be the Sorento.
The South Korean firm’s flagship seven-seat SUV costs just under £47,000 for the top spec hybrid version I spent a week with.
A few years ago that would have been an unthinkable amount to spend on a Kia. For just £4,000 more you could have an entry level Land Rover Discovery.
All I can say is I would spend my money on the Kia. It’s far better equipped, just as roomy, not far off as comfortable, cheaper to run and likely to be much more reliable.
This fourth generation model was launched last year. It’s slightly bigger, is packed with new technology, and comes with a hybrid petrol powerplant as well as a diesel option. The current hybrid offering charges while the car drives, but a plug-in hybrid is due for release and will offer a much greater battery-only range. Four wheel drive comes as standard, as does an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The new Sorento is a very handsome car indeed, with sleek headlights and sharp side creases softening its shape and making it look smaller than the very large car it actually is.
Just how large is seen when you climb inside. There’s loads of room front and back, and a pair of pop-up seats folded flat in the boot that are fine for children – and still leave a little bit of luggage space when they’re in use.
Although a diesel model is still offered, it’s fast becoming yesterday’s fuel of choice and Kia expects the majority of Sorento sales to be hybrid models.
The 1.6 litre petrol engine and the electric motor put out a combined 226bhp, which is enough to get the big Kia up to 62mph in 8.7 seconds. Official fuel economy is 38.2mpg and in practice I found that’s about what you’ll get.
It will operate on fully electric mode for short distances at low speeds but essentially the hybrid system works to boost the petrol engine and keep emissions low, which also makes it an attractive proposition for company car owners.
I’m doing some renovation work and the Sorento proved a fantastic workhorse, easily swallowing sheets of plasterboard, bathroom materials and the like.
On the A92 through Angus it sat beautifully at 70mph. Ride quality is excellent, especially with the self levelling rear suspension higher ‘3’ and ‘4’ spec models get, while road and wind noise are kept nicely muted – though not as much so as in a premium SUV like Volvo’s XC60.
Handling is another area where you notice a difference with an upmarket brand. A BMW X3 tackles corners much more neatly than the slightly stodgy Sorento.
That won’t matter to many buyers though, who are likely to be swayed by the Kia’s better space, equipment, technology, reliability record and Kia’s superb seven-year warranty.
All in all, the Kia’s a fantastic family hauler. You could load up a family of four, luggage and dog and drive across the country in it. USB ports front and back mean everyone can have electronics plugged in to charge, and the high rear seating position along with the (optional) panoramic sunroof mean even back seat passengers enjoy a good view.
There’s leather seats all round and in high spec models both front and rears are heated, with the front seats being electrically controlled. Operated as a five seater there’s a gargantuan boot, with well over 800 litres of load space.
All Sorentos come with four-wheel drive, and while it’s never going to be a match for a Land Rover Defender when it comes to serious off roading, it can handle a lot more than I expected. There are various terrain modes to optimise the car for snow, mud or ruts.
My time with the Sorento coincided with the beast from the east and I found myself able to test the big Kia in some serious snow. It handled it nicely, never once bogging down or getting stuck – even when I thought I was pushing my luck a little.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week with the Sorento and handed the keys back with some reluctance. For the same price as an Audi Q5 or BMW X3 you can have a bigger and better equipped Sorento. As long as you’re not a badge snob – and there’s no reason to be – you’ll most likely be pleased that you did.