Kia’s second bite at the Sorento cherry represents perhaps the boldest change of direction for a company that’s on something of a roll at the moment.
Whereas the cheap as chips first-generation car sold strongly on the back of its ability to tow just about anything, anywhere, Kia wants its protégé to be looked upon as less of a workhorse and more of a practical style statement.
To that end, it has ditched the old car’s heavy, separate chassis for a much lighter monocoque construction. Gone, too, is the old car’s low-ratio gearbox, replaced by electronic trickery to help the Sorento sneak down steep slopes.
Towing capacity is down, but performance and economy are up. There’s a 2WD version that’s even easier on the wallet but might leave you red-faced should your 4x4 lookalike slither to a halt on a snowy hillside.
Progress comes at a price, though – Sorentos now start at £23,000, and a range-topping model will give you no more than a tenner’s change from £34,500.
Brave indeed, so it’s just as well that the Sorento has a few aces up its sleeve. First of all, you can spec it as a seven-seater. Yes, the rearmost row is best left to the kids, but all but the tallest adults will squeeze in without too much fuss. Boot space is negligible with seven aboard, but the brace of back-row seats fold flat into the loadspace floor in an instant when not in use.
Plus-point two is the drivetrain. The 2.2CRDi diesel engine chucks out almost 200bhp and lashings of torque. Coupled to a six-speed automatic or manual gearbox, it makes on-road progress effortless.
Binning the old-school chassis also improves road manners no end. We took the Sorento on a 120-mile meander, mixing smooth, sweeping A-roads with pock-marked lanes in the Lammermuirs, and couldn’t find much to grumble about. We particularly liked its sharp steering (sharp for such a tall car, at least) and the way it made light of bumps.
Even the lower-spec Sorentos are well-equipped. Air conditioning and a full complement of electric windows are available across the range, and you don’t have to climb very far up the trim-level tree before you find goodies such as leather upholstery and cruise control appearing on the standard fitment list.
We haven’t even mentioned Kia’s seven-year warranty yet. Before it got its style groove on, this industry-leading guarantee was the carrot Kia used to woo swithering buyers. Now that the Sorento and its stablemates are styled to appeal to the heart as well as the head, the seven-year deal is just a nice wee bonus, tacked on, in this case, to a nice big car.