Last year, we tested a Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi to its fullest on a trip to see the famous 24 Heures du Mans endurance race in northern France.
So well did it handle the journey that when choosing a vehicle to do this year's trip to the same race, the Sorento was once again top of the list.
Conveniently, Kia has refreshed the Sorento in the interim, and our test car was both lower in specification and equipped with a manual transmission, rather than the 2012 car's automatic - providing us with a few different reference points from which to judge the car. How did it fare on Le Mans Part Deux? Read on...
At a glance, you'd be hard pressed to believe Kia changed much between last year's car and the current Sorento. It's broadly the same shape as before - chunky lines, but a shape that you might describe as a little generic, even in isolation.
The front end is now more similar to that of Kia's other models and the rear light units are slimmer than before. Beyond that, it's difficult to really go into detail on the Sorento's shape. It's a vehicle of substance, rather than style.
Well, apart from the clamshell-style bonnet, which has an Evoque-like quality to it from some angles. Indeed, the raised edges and flattened centre aren't dissimilar to that you'd find on a Range Rover.
It's a pity that more of the British marque's visual distinction hasn't found its way onto the Kia - after all, the Korean brand is pretty handy when it comes to designing cars these days - the Rio, Sportage and Optima are among the best-styled cars in their respective classes.
A quick snoop around the Sorento's innards is also too short a time to discern changes from the previous model, but rest assured they're there. With cloth trim to the leather seats of last year's car it did feel a little less upmarket than before, but conversely Kia seems to have improved the quality of the plastics.
Build quality was never an issue with the last Sorento and isn't with this model, the whole interior feeling well-built and squeak-free. Visibility is also good and naturally, the high-set stance endows you with a commanding view out of the windscreen, perfectly suited to the endless empty motorways of northern France.
Comfort over those sort of distances couldn't be faulted, and all passengers felt fresh after hundreds of miles on the road.
This also included our back-row passenger, who benefitted from the extra few inches of kneeroom Kia seems to have liberated. It's still largely a kids-only zone, but those kids do enjoy a little more space than before.
Boot space with the rear seats stowed is still vast, and there are plenty of handy cubby-holes dotted throughout the cabin. The most convenient of these is the one in front of the gearlever, with 12v power supplies, a USB and AUX input for audio devices - the stereo playing music from connected gadgets with no setting-up required.
Most of our mileage with the Sorento took place on clear motorways, an arena in which the car is perfectly competent - refined, smooth-riding and stable at speed. These qualities translate well into town and country driving too, where the decent visibility and light steering make it an easy, if not entertaining car to drive.
We did indulge in a spot of light off-roading too (as you can probably see from the photos...), at one of Le Mans's many waterlogged campsites. With full-time four-wheel drive, a central differential lock and the ability to switch the traction control off, it never looked like getting stuck on the grass and mud - unlike some of the other unfortunate vehicles at the campsite.
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine, badged CRDi, is essentially identical to the lump powering last year's car. The major difference here is the transmission - a six-speed manual, rather than the six-speed automatic. A week with the car was enough to decide we prefer it with the auto, and damn the extra cost.
Firstly, despite a largely similar journey at largely similar speeds and with fewer passengers than last year, our combined fuel economy was only a few mpg higher than last year - returning about 38 mpg. Not much of a penalty for choosing auto, then. And naturally, the auto is easier to drive.
It's also smoother and a touch quieter - the former because the manual's shift is a little notchy and agricultural, particularly from first to second gear; the latter because the auto shifts nice and early to surge you along, where the manual seems to need a few more revs to get going.
The engine itself gives us little to complain about - it pulls strongly and that economy figure isn't bad at all for a loaded-up SUV at mostly 80 mph cruising.
Value for money
Our test car, a KX-1 with the manual transmission, sits right at the bottom of the Sorento range. Priced at 24,695, it doesn't seem like such a bad deal - you get the same engine as top-spec Sorentos and the same seven-seat layout, so you're not losing out on the fundamentals.
It's not like equipment levels are poor either - aircon, an MP3-compatible stereo, electric windows and mirrors, reversing sensors, Bluetooth and cruise control are all standard fitment. Then there's Kia's excellent seven-year warranty to calm your spirits, too. It's a combination that few can match for the price. As alluded to before though, we'd be tempted to spend a little more - 26,195 - to get an automatic-equipped Sorento.
So it's an extra point for the Sorento compared to last year's review. Not bad at all considering we weren't overly keen on the manual gearbox - but Kia has improved the car in a few important areas, warranting an improved score.
There's more space in the back row without sacrificing space for other passengers, and the interior feels of higher quality than it did before. It's cracking value too - particularly if you can resist the temptation to move up the range adding nice-but-unnecessary trinkets like leather and satnav.
Check our our full buying guide to the Kia Sorento with reviews, user reviews, photos, videos and stats.