Producing a full-sized seven-seater SUV that drives and feels like a nimble but assured smaller vehicle is a tall order, but Kia has pulled it off with the latest Sorento.
Like many of its competitors, Kia has beefed-up the styling of its largest SUV and it now has a bolder, cleaner appearance.
While it is undoubtedly a large vehicle, there is no sense behind the wheel that you are driving something cumbersome.
Instead, it feels assured and safe on the road, thanks to all-wheel-drive and other technological advances.
There is adequate power from the 2.2-litre diesel engine, and the six-speed automatic gearbox helps ensure it pulls away from the traffic lights smoothly.
All this for just under $50,000 plus on-road costs for the baseline Kia Sorento, although the higher-spec EX model as tested costs almost $62,000 plus orc. The most surprising aspect of the Sorento is the smoothness of the turbocharged diesel engine, which generates 147Kw at 8000 rpm.
Although Sorento has an engine stop/start system, the re-starts are smooth and quick.
There is no hint of the intrusive engine hesitation and judder evident on other diesel engines.
Although six speed is not overly generous in this day and age, the gearbox is a good match for the engine with the ratios spread evenly across the power band, delivering a smooth ride under heavy acceleration.
This is the third-generation Sorento model and provides further solid evidence of the advances the Korean manufacturer has made in recent years. Each of the five doors feels reassuringly solid and well-balanced — they open smoothly and shut with an assured clunk.
The driver and passenger arrivals are announced by a brief tune, similar to the few bars of music played when you switch on a computer. The graphics on the dashboard light up, and the Kia sits ready to roll.
If ever evidence was needed that modern vehicles are now giant rolling computers, the Sorento provides it. It is loaded with electronic aids, such as a Vehicle Stability Management system and Advanced Traction Cornering Control (ATCC), which transfers torque to the wheels it senses have the most grip. The steering is firm and responsive, and surprisingly agile for an SUV.
There is the choice of driving in normal, Eco or Sport modes, any of which can be selected easily with a button on the centre console. While space-saving electronic parking brakes continue to infiltrate the cabins of many high-end models these days, on the Sorento it can be applied simply by touching another button.
Also providing comfort when the Sorento is parked on a steep slope, is Hill-start Assist Control, which prevents the vehicle from rolling by gently applying the brakes for up to two seconds while the driver moves their foot from the brake to the accelerator.
Also helping provide added driver assurance is a wide-angle reversing camera, giving a comprehensive view of the area behind the Sorento when parking.
There are also sensors, which provide an audible alarm if any part of the vehicle is in danger of getting too close to another object.
All of these features help make it easy to park the Sorento in a tight spot.
Inside the cabin, there are three rows of leather seats, with the front two easily adjusted for comfort by simply flicking a switch.
The driver’s seat can be adjusted 10 ways, and the front passenger seat eight.
Even the headrests can be easily adjusted with the press of a button.
The first and second row of seats can be heated in cold weather, while on warmer days the driver and front passenger can enjoy cool airflow through the seat cushions and seat backs.
The third row of (two) seats can be accessed relatively easily with the second-row left-hand passenger seat automatically folding and sliding to let passengers in and out.
Even so, it is unlikely adults would find the third row comfortable to travel any distance in, but they would be fine for children.
One of the real benefits of an SUV is the ease of getting in and out, in spite of their relative height off the ground.
The large doors on the Sorento make it particularly easy.
The dashboard is straightforward without being flashy, with a 7-inch tough screen in the middle console.
The audio system provides good sound quality, although the touch-screen radio is not as intuitive as some other vehicles on the market.
The Sorento has been granted a five-star European NCAP safety rating, and overall it feels like a safe vehicle to carry family members in comfort and style.
Loading the rear is straightforward with the rear door opening at the top of the rear bumper bar, and of course the door is electrically-driven, and there is even a button to push which closes the tailgate.
When the second and third rows of seats are folded flat there is a full 1662 litres of car space available to fill.
The Sorento deserves to be considered when looking for a full-sized SUV, and given the technical and safety wizardry aboard, will be among the top picks for many.