Between scrappage schemes to boost sales, and simply making cars that are pretty damn good, Kia has proven itself as a serious player in the car market over the past few years.
With excellent models like the Picanto, Ceed and the Rio we drove recently, the companys slightly older models risk getting left behind.
One of those is the Sorento SUV. On the market in its current guise since 2009, Kia has recently announced some changes to keep the model competitive - but we spent a week with the current model taking seven people and their luggage to France, a stern test of any car. How did it fare? Read on to find out
Much of our opinions on the Sorentos styling are academic, since the models imminent faceliftspruces things up quite nicely and it now looks more closely related to Kias more recent offerings.
Nevertheless, we had to stare at it for a week and its impossible not to form opinions. The first is that the Sorentos shape is entirely inoffensive. Its bold, chunky and errs on the side of corners rather than curves, but its all fairly cohesive. The Metal Bronze (aka metallic brown) paint really suits it too, even if the finish doesnt match that of more expensive cars.
Its not that interesting to behold, though. Theres a hint of some more upmarket SUVs in the styling, but not enough that it reminds us directly of any rival. Its weakest features are the rear lights (replaced for the facelift) which are big and bland, despite being laced with LEDs.
During a trip to Le Mans and back for the 24 Hour race, we became rather familiar with the Kias interior - but not in a bad way.
In fact, it coped remarkably well. All seven seats came into play, and neither third-row passenger (an adult and a child) complained of feeling too uncomfortable over the hundreds of miles. Wed still recommend you think twice about using the third row if youre taller than around 56, but its not completely un-usable.
Its also easy to erect and stow - simply pull on a strap on the rear of each seat. Pull it again to unlock, and let the seat drop. Once you do, the boot becomes huge. Entry into the seats involves a bit of clambering though, as the middle row doesnt fold completely out of the way.
Middle row passengers were also well catered-for, and taller individuals certainly have enough space. Their only real complaint was having to sit amongst their bags, since boot space is swallowed drastically when the third row is in use. We managed to fit camping gear for seven in the car, but only a small proportion was in the boot.
Driver and front passenger were much happier. We found the seats comfortable and supportive, and there was plenty of leg and headroom. Visibility is pretty good, and the large door mirrors made up for the lack of visibility in the rear-view mirror thanks to the car being full of people and things.
Quality of plastics isnt so good, though. For a near-30,000 car, we suspect many owners might expect more than hard, scratchy, elephant-bottom plastics. The gear-selector surround was a bit nasty too, though in Kias defence, some of these issues will be rectified when the new model arrives. Whether theyll have fixed the lack of cubby-holes and small door pockets is less clear.
With accurate steering and a comfortable ride quality, theres not a lot more you can ask from a large SUV. Even with seven on board it still stopped, rode, steered and handled with utter competence and safety, and at 80 mph on the French motorways it refused to be buffeted by wind, always feeling stable.
We also drove the car empty. The ride becomes a little harsher without extra weight absorbing a few inches of the springs travel, and road noise also becomes more apparent with little inside the cabin to damp it, but the Sorento can be thrown around with surprising alacrity. Theres plenty of understeer, but few will drive the car fast enough to encounter it.
As a final note, the cars all-wheel drive did allow us to exit our wet, muddy campsite with zero drama - unlike some of the other vehicles we passed.
Theres plenty to like about the Sorentos engine. Its a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel, putting out 194 horsepower and 311 lbs ft of torque between 1,800-2,500rpm. Our car was equipped with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
When youve not got seven people and camping gear on board itll reach 60mph in 9.6 seconds, and go on to 118mph. When you have got seven people and camping gear on board it accelerates much slower, but never feels over-burdened, and still has plenty to give even at motorway speeds.
It can get a little noisy under hard acceleration, but at a cruise its near silent. The automatic gearbox is very good too - smooth to change, and we liked that it avoided changing down too often at higher speeds, preferring to use the ample torque available in top gear.
Value for money
Make no mistake - our 28,795 Sorento 2.2 CRDi KX-2 Auto could never be considered cheap, and even less so when you add the 495 metallic paint option. Nearly thirty grand can get you an awful lot of car elsewhere, provided seven seats arent a priority.
However, Sorentos start at just under 21,000, which looks more tempting, and if you move down a trim level and drop the automatic gearbox from our example, youre looking at a sub-25,000 car, while still getting the excellent 2.2 CRDi engine and seven seats.
In fairness, our car was also very well-equipped. Automatic transmission, leather, Bluetooth (which was very easy to set up), iPod compatibility (likewise), cruise control, automatic lights - the list goes on.
It was also relatively economical. With five on board and doing around 70mph, the trip computer showed an average of around 40 mpg. That dropped to 35 mpg with the full complement of seven and the cruise control set at 80 in France, but thats still 5 mpg more than we managed from an empty Lexus RX 450h a few months back. Official extra-urban economy is 45.6 mpg for the auto, 30.4 urban and 38.2 combined.
Throw in Kias outstanding 7-year/100,000-mile, 12-year anti-perforation and 5-year/100,000-mile paint warranties, with a years roadside assistance, and the Sorento still looks like pretty good value.
A long weekend of mud, rain, people, things and hundreds of miles of driving is a tough test for any car, and the Sorento took everything in its stride. For that, weve no hesitation recommending it as an economical, family-friendly SUV.
In other areas, the car shone less brightly. The rearmost seats were a pain to clamber into, theres not enough stowage about the cabin, the plastics are a bit iffy, the styling is a little bland, and its a wee bit too expensive.
Kia is fixing some of these issues soon though, so if youre in the market and interested in a Sorento, our advice is to wait a few more months.
What the press think
While some bemoan the Sorentos lack of off-road prowess (of dubious relevance, considering what most will be used for), most share our opinion that the Sorento has a good engine, decent handling, and plenty of space.
For more information on the Sorento, why not check out our reviews page? The Sorento