When Kia revealed its second-generation Sorento back in 2010 there were sharp intakes of breath once the company disclosed that this would be its first model to breach the £30,000 price point. So you can imagine how much spluttering and snorting there was when just five years later an all-new Sorento was announced, this time bursting through the £40,000 barrier.
Considering it’s just a few short years since Kia had a range of two-star cars, to be charging 40 large ones seems hardly credible. But Kia’s problem is no longer one of mediocre products; it’s one of the reality being so far ahead of the perception, that brand snobs won’t even take a peek.
The Sorento is a case in point. Generously equipped, even more generously proportioned, good (if unexciting) to drive and with an industry-leading warranty, if this wore Volvo or VW badges the 40 grand price tag would seem like the bargain of the century.
That seemingly hefty sticker price is attached to the range-topping Sorento KX-4, but the entry-level edition, the KX-1, costs less than £30,000, making it more affordable than many merely average cars in the class below.
Kia keeps things simple as all Sorentos come with a 2.2-litre diesel engine, four-wheel drive, seven seats and (generally) a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. Opt for the KX-1 and it’s manual only while the KX-4 comes solely as an auto.
Where most rivals have chosen to offer option packages and personalisation schemes on a bewildering scale, Kia has taken the opposite route, with metallic paint being the only Sorento extra-cost option. As a result you need to choose which trim level suits your needs and pocket best, then sign on the dotted line.
It’s an appealing strategy because even entry-level Sorentos aren’t spartan, so you can just pick the level of gadgets and gizmos that you want and pay accordingly. Even the KX-1 gets a DAB radio, air-con (including a separate system for the third row), alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, cruise control, privacy glass and more.
“The uncluttered dash and instrumentation are easy to live with and the touch-screen multi-media system can show rivals how it should be done”
Move up to KX-2 and also included are leather trim, front parking sensors, heated second-row seats and climate control. That’s pretty impressive considering there are still two levels to go. KX-3 brings xenon headlights, a panoramic roof, powered tailgate and 10-speaker Infinity hi-fi. The KX-4 adds adaptive cruise control, around-view monitor, adaptive front lighting, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot detection.
The thing is, it’s not as though Kia has loaded up the Sorento with kit to make up for deficiencies elsewhere. The interior materials, fit and finish are on a par with adversaries such as Toyota or Volkswagen. The driving experience is pretty decent too, with an excellent ride and very good body control. Refinement is bettered elsewhere and the handling is somewhat inert, but both manual and automatic gearboxes are slick; the latter increases fuel consumption but it suits the relaxed nature of the diesel engine.
Just one powerplant option may seem disappointing, but it’s one that’s well suited to this hefty SUV as it’s got plenty of zest. An extra pair of cylinders would produce a nicer noise under hard acceleration, but the four-cylinder lump offers a good balance of performance and economy. We averaged 36mpg during our 16,000-mile long-term test, but 40mpg wouldn’t be impossible to achieve, which isn’t bad for a full-sized seven-seat SUV with permanent four-wheel drive.
The Sorento also makes a good case for itself in terms of usability. Its size means parking in town can be tricky, but top-spec cars feature self-parking. As with most seven-seaters, the third row is best suited to kids, but a sliding middle row helps to achieve the best balance of leg room for everyone. Something that might just clinch it for some is that unlike many of its rivals, the Sorento comes with a full-sized alloy wheel for a spare, tucked under the boot floor.
There’s little in the way of design flair in the Sorento’s cabin; instead Kia has gone for clarity. As a result the uncluttered dash and instrumentation are easy to live with and the touch-screen multi-media system can show rivals how it should be done. The Bluetooth phone pairing, navigation and various music options all work without a hitch; it makes you wonder why so many rival systems are so frustrating to use.
In the eight months that we ran our Sorento it was clear that Kia had paid a lot of attention to detail when developing it. The result is a car that suffers from few of those little niggles that can dog even premium brands; the ergonomics are one of the many high spots of Sorento ownership.
Another is the seven-year warranty. Not that you’re likely to need it though; Kia builds some of the most dependable cars on the road, according to the JD Power surveys.
If you’re tempted to give the king-sized Kia a try, take a look at the online classifieds before buying. The Sorento isn’t proving to be a runaway success like its smaller sibling the Sportage, and as a result there are pre-registered cars around with delivery mileage only. Let your fingers do the work and you could score a range-topping Sorento for the same money as a mid-range model. Now that is what we call a king-size bargain.