Surfing weekends with the Kia Sorento

First thing’s first, the Kia Sorento is huge. It’s a proper, feeling like you’re in America SUV. The car was introduced in 2002 as Kia’s first venture into the larger SUV market, and this is its third generation. I tested a Sorento KX-3 and took it both to Wales and to Cornwall to find some rural, utilitarian tasks to get its teeth into.

First Impressions
It’s big. Very big. But it looks like it’s built for almost anything, with an impressive stance and an ability to throw everything including the kitchen sink in the back. Following Kia’s sharp new design philosophy as seen in the Kia Optima and the Kia Sportage (review coming soon), you’ve got what appears to be the daddy of the range. The Sorento looks imposing and assured, and stands out from the range of plastic moulded crossovers.

Outstanding practicality looks to be high on Kia’s agenda with the Sorento. This, combined with an affordable initial price and a far greater emphasis on luxury makes the Sorento an appealing prospect. Throwing absolutely everything we could in the back for a trip to Wales, the car didn’t bat an eyelid. So far, so good.

Engine

There is only one engine to choose from in the Sorento, which simplifies things somewhat and makes the Sorento an easy buy. Four wheel drive comes as standard, and there’s two gearboxes to choose from. Having tested the manual, I would definitely say that it’s worth spending the extra on the auto but the cheaper box still works well and keeps the car within an affordable price range. The Sorento’s 2.2 diesel hauls quite a large amount of bulk around, and although the engine delivers a fairly competent 197bhp, shifting through the gears a fair amount is definitely the norm and it does strain a bit at higher revs, sounding and feeling a little coarse and gruff.

Practicality

The mentality of the Sorento is impressive, and in years to come it’s fairly evident that this kind of car should be a workhouse amongst those with the need to cart a heck of a lot of stuff around. I enjoyed the flexibility of the seven seat arrangement, with a number of the Sorento’s competitors such as the Mazda CX-5 or Honda CR-V only having five seats at the same price point. The practicality is impressive, and with added head and legroom in the back it’s comfortable and easy.

We managed to fit a couple of surfboards flat in the back without having to shuffle things around too much, and the ride height is perfect for loading heavier objects in without having to get over a lip. The boot will swallow almost anything, and nice touches in the back such as a second row USB charger and vents throughout add a little extra. There are loads of cubby holes, drinks holders and places to put things, as you’d expect in a car of this size, but they feel well thought out and are all in the right places.

Like the Kia Optima I reviewed a little while ago, the cabin in the Sorento is a quiet, refined and a hugely comfortable place to be. The improved interior quality in more recent incarnations of the Kia’s range add to the enjoyment here, however in the larger Sorento body roll though the corners is evident and can add to a slightly boaty feeling, especially in the back. I wouldn’t have thought it would be unusual to see a degree of motion sickness here. Despite that, if you’re not throwing it through the corners, the Sorento is a very good motorway cruiser indeed and tackles high speed with ease. The large mirrors create a bit of wind noise, but it’s not obtrusive.

Value for Money

Despite its size, weight and bulk, the Sorento is an impressively affordable car to run. Although the fuel tank is huge, I didn’t see a drop in fuel efficiency much below 40mpg and although it’s the flagship of the Kia’s range and therefore its most expensive model, the level of comfort and luxuriousness means that it’s a lot of car for the money and it manages to punch above its weight to an impressive degree. The Sorento range rises from the entry level KX-1 to the impressively specced KX-4 (I tested the KX-3, which will probably sit in the most viable sector for most buyers) so insurance levels vary to some degree.

Summary

There are a raft of all-round updates to the refinement and build quality of the Kia Sorento that make it a hugely impressive package. As with the Kia Optima, which is also similarly classy inside and out, Kia’s new approach to design and build proves itself as bold, striking and attractive. The interior is a huge improvement, and the exterior is far more appealing than the price deserves.

The Kia Sorento’s biggest selling point though is of course its practicality and ease of use. With one engine, and a simple range that is easy to understand, the Sorento will appeal to buyers who want nothing more than an off-roading SUV that will tow anything, swallow anything and allow itself to be battered and bruised by anything from children to animals.

I would like to think the Sorento is the kind of car I will see in years to come propping up farm gates, its diesel engine having been to the moon and back yet still pulling everything from caravans to horseboxes. It’s that kind of car, and I found that remarkable impressive for an SUV that feels a lot more classy, expensive and comfortable than I was expecting.

A utilitarian feel mixed with refinement, comfort and the odd touch that make the Sorento a very appealing package. Very much recommended.

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