In the world of car makers the concept of a “new” car is pretty flexible.
That one little word can mean anything from a light tickling with the design stick to a complete ground-up redesign.
The “new” Kia Sorento definitely falls into the former category. This is a car where even the most ardent of Korean car geeks might need a pointer or two to spot the changes.
Exterior tweaks are most obvious at the front where the front bumper has been re-profiled and there are new all-LED headlights. A dark metallic finish to the deep and broad tiger nose grille finishes off subtle changes which add a touch more assertiveness to the big car’s appearance. At the back the bumper and lights have received similar treatments.
Kia Sorento GT Line S
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
CO2 emissions: 159g/km
It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff but the Sorento was already a handsome big machine and the tweaks are as much of a facelift as it really needed. Two new colours and some redesigned alloys in 17, 18 and 19-inch guises expand the exterior options.
Inside, it’s a similar story. A new steering wheel, gear selector and heater controls aim to improve tactility, as does an increased proportion of soft-touch materials. Unless you’re jumping from a previous generation car the changes, which also feature an updated instrument display and media system, are subtle but they add to the quality feel of the interior.
Kia want to take on the likes of the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 with the Sorento and while its interior can’t quite compete with those paragons of design and materials the Sorento is a relaxing, pleasant place to spend time and everything feels built to last. Our GT Line S’s quilted leather seats –heated all round – panoramic roof and host of gadgetry added to the welcoming ambience.
It’s the kind of cabin where you’d happily spend lots of time, and not just if you’re in the front. We covered a few hundred kilometres in Kia’s native South Korea with four adults on board and there was masses of space for everyone to spread out and get comfortable. As standard, the Sorento comes with seven seats, offering more flexibility and practicality than many rivals.
The cabin comfort is aided by good refinement, interrupted only when the diesel engine is asked to work particularly hard, and a pliant ride. It won’t handle the corners like a Q5 but the Sorento’s softer springing means it’s smoother and more comfortable over most surfaces.
Mechanically, the only major change to the Sorento is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, developed in-house. Replacing the old six-speed auto, it reduces CO2 emissions and offers four drive modes – eco, comfort, sport and smart – which also affect steering weight.
While it’s fine at higher speeds and when cruising the gearbox can feel hesitant at urban speeds. It’s acceptable but not up to the seamless standards of Audi or Volvo transmissions.
In our test car that gearbox was linked to a 197bhp, 325lb/ft 2.2-litre diesel engine – the only powertrain being offered in the UK. Apart from some gruffness under heavy loads it’s a smooth and quiet engine with plenty of grunt for the sort of work asked of a large 4×4.
One of the Sorento’s strong suits has long been the level of standard equipment and the latest model continues to offer a wealth of high-end features across the board. The new model can be had with the latest version of Kia’s media/nav system, offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Kia Connected services and TomTom-backed navigation through an eight-inch screen.
It’s also available for the first time with Kia’s Drive Wise suite of driver aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, automatic emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, speed limit information, park assist, around-view camera system, high-beam assist and driver alert warning.
There’s also a new GT Line S trim at the top of the tree, which brings sportier exterior and interior details – ice cube foglights, wider sill steps, satin chrome highlights – along with the quilted leather and other top-end tech of our test car.
It may just be a nip here and a tuck there but the new Sorento does enough to remain a serious high-value contender in a tough marketplace.