Full-size SUVs with seven pews unsurprisingly don’t create bakery smell-inducing queues and get snapped up like homemade cakes in quite the way that mid-size models like the Sportage do, but Kia’s flagship SUV, the Sorento, has been quietly seducing a growing number of fans. We spent a week with a £42,325 facelifted 2018 model in range-topping GT-Line S trim to assess its merits in the pricing nomansland between the cheap Rexton (£38,495) and X-Trail (£40,500ish) below it to the Discovery, XC90 et al above.
Red brake callipers, quad ice cube-style fog lights, silver skid plates and running boards, chunky 19-inch rims and a bold grille flanked by rakish and dynamically bendy LED headlights certainly make this ‘GT-Line S’ spec’ tweaked incarnation of the third-generation Kia Sorento an extremely attractive car albeit in an unassuming way. What it lacks in arguably superfluous finishing touches and distinctive flair is compensated for by timeless elegance and subtly muscular presence wrapped up in a conventional SUV silhouette that thankfully places function over form without appearing utilitarian. Snobs may flinch on beholding a Sorento parked outside various establishments but its owner can stand proud.
As far as the car’s interior goes, it’d be simpler to just list what stuff a GT-Line S variant doesn’t come with, which is very little. The standard leather seats are artificial but it’s the same story in a Model X, and the Sorento’s seats are superbly comfortable, endlessly adjustable and include contrast piping and stitching plus embossed logos. The controls and buttons either side of the chunky perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel are positioned logically and have a high quality feel to them.
The piano black door inserts look smart and contemporary, the panoramic sunroof gives the cabin an expansive feel, the harman/kardon premium sound system is impressive, the instruments are digital just like in a Discovery or XC90, additional sun blinds are provided to complement the privacy glass-clad windows, and there’s even a 360-degree Around View Monitor that makes manoeuvring and parking this heftily-proportioned SUV a doddle. After sticking masking tape over the badges and sitting someone not particularly knowledgeable about cars inside the Sorento, they’d likely scoff at the suggestion that it’s one of the most competitively-priced 7-seat SUVs around. The only areas that may give the game away are the plasticy lower sections to the doors, along with the marooned climate control panel that still looks like it’s been borrowed from a nineties car.
Practicality is unsurprisingly strong in general terms and while the netted seat pockets and glovebox aren’t anything to write home about, the door bins which are tall rather than wide can accommodate large bottles, and the pleasingly oblong and gimmick-free central cubby between the front seats is positively massive. Unless sat behind someone of similar height to Peter Crouch, legroom for middle row occupants is more than generous, the ability to slide the seats bolstering flexibility further. The two extra seats are good enough for adults of average proportions on shorter journeys and even benefit from their own climate settings, storage and cupholders. With all seven in use, boot space is a puny 142 litres compared to the remarkable Kodiaq’s 270 litres, but narrowly beats 135 litres from the X-Trail. The Korean’s boot doesn’t boast as many hooks and other practical features as the Czech, either, but flip the rearmost seats down in seconds and the Sorento’s 605 litre cavern looks and feels humungous in everyday situations, while the 1,662 litres offered in 2-seater mode rivals many vans. Smart Park Assist takes care of parallel and reverse parking, while the smart powered tailgate opens simply by standing at the back of the vehicle, with no foot-wiggling necessary. Few drivers and passengers will find anything to grumble about on-board the well-appointed new Sorento.
Keeping things simple, only Kia’s tried and tested 2.2-litre CRDi diesel unit is available for the latest Sorento and shifts the large 7-seater SUV along nicely with 441Nm torque available from low down in the rev’ range at just 1,750rpm. Floor it and a muffled clatter can be heard but the engine performs quietly when tootling around town and cruising on faster roads. Obviously a car like this isn’t aimed at performance and the inclusion of paddle-shifts is a bit daft but the Sorento never feels like a tortoise, especially when slipped into Sport mode which results in the throttle, gear ratios and suspension sharpening. Considering the big beast’s qualities, aims and pricing, its enjoyable handling comes as a very pleasant surprise, even the most po-faced of people probably finding themselves unable to resist a fleeting grin over the Sorento’s ability to hustle along twisty B-roads and farm tracks without a care in the world, charging through mud-filled craters and over jagged lumps at pace without the car or one’s bum feeling compromised. Likewise, although nobody would expect the kind of steering feedback anticipated from sports-focussed SUVs, the Sorento’s setup is far from lifeless.
The Sorento is a doddle to drive thanks to a seamlessly-shifting new eight-speed automatic gearbox fitted as standard to GT-Line S variants, but initial acceleration from a standstill at junctions can be laggy, not helped by the stop/start system being too sensitive. Still, these niggles will fade once a bond is formed between car and driver.
Off-road driving is made possible by the Dynamax AWD system, which underpins every Sorento in the range, and while power during on-road driving is sent to the front wheels most of the time, it can be distributed 60:40 or even 50:50 front-to-back if the lock button is pressed. On loose ground, the noise of stones bouncing around the wheel arches and water sloshing around the tyres is disconcertingly transmitted into the cabin to slightly tarnish the overall experience, but wind noise at speed is surprisingly limited despite the car’s shape. Able to lug 2,000kg, the Kia Sorento sits between the 1,650kg Nissan X-Trail 4WD XTRONIC CVT and 2,300kg SKODA Kodiaq when it comes to towing capacity.
Compared to the Sorento’s brochure figure of 43.5mpg, notching up an average in the high-30s or low-40s should easily be possible, which is excellent for a car not dissimilar in size to the average village hall. Its price tag exceeding £40,000 and its emissions sitting at 170g/km CO2 translate to first year road tax (VED) of £830 followed by £450 for years two to six, which is worth bearing in mind if you're a cost-conscious private buyer/leasing customer or a business fleet manager. Having said that, all comparably-specified cars aside from the Rexton will attract the same rates and Ssangyong's offering is cheap for a reason, feeling and handling more like an agricultural vehicle than Kia's wholly car-like SUV. A warranty is included in all leasing packages anyway, but it's reassuring to know that the Kia's is market-leading at 7 years.
Anyone mulling over whether to lease one of the more celebrated 7-seat SUVs such as the Kodiak, Santa Fe, X-Trail and even posher models like a Discovery or an XC90 will be pleasantly surprised at how good the tweaked Kia Sorento is when specified as a GT-Line S model. Why not have a rummage around our personal contract hire (PCH) and business leasing deals and offers?