First drive: 2015 Kia Sorento
Sorrento (with two Rs) is a hugely popular resort near Naples on Italy's Amalfi coast. Sorento (with one R) probably doesn't exude quite the same levels of exclusivity but nonetheless it's still a big draw to lovers of reliable, reasonably priced SUVs. Kia has revamped its large 4x4 and is in the process of launching it across Europe, with UK sales due to start in April.
What is it?
In a nutshell, the third generation of the clever and capable SUV that has performed consistently well for Kia since its introduction in 2002. This new car is quite dramatically different, however, with an all-new body shell that improves ride, handling and crash safety, and a step change in interior quality and design. Kia claims the car now has a premium look and feel and although marketing speak should always be taken with a pinch of salt, on this occasion we'd be inclined to agree.
What's under the bonnet?
In the UK, the sole engine option is a 2.2-litre CRDi diesel, generating 197bhp (up from 194bhp in the outgoing model) and available with six-speed automatic or manual transmissions. Emissions start from 149g of CO2 – a 2.6 per cent improvement despite the weight increase that has resulted from the third-generation Sorento being a larger car. Examples sold in Britain will all have seven seats and four-wheel drive, although Kia is altering this for other markets, with five-seat, petrol and two-wheel-drive versions available elsewhere.
What's the spec like?
We were genuinely impressed with the level of kit on offer. Much of it will be available right across the range, although the Kia boffins are still in the process of working out exactly what the UK trim levels of KX1, KX2, KX3 and KX4 will include. Among its safety features, the Sorento boasts smart cruise control; Kia's lane departure warning system; blind spot detection and a very clever feature called rear cross traffic alert. (It'll come into its own when you're reversing out of a parking space into a line of traffic and someone is heading straight for your rear bumper...) On top of that we had a panoramic sunroof; adaptive front lights; heated seats and an eight-inch sat nav system. Nice.
Yes, in the shape of cars such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Santa Fe. Where the Sorento has scored historically, however, is that it is very reasonably priced yet with its capable towing ability and four wheel drive, is more than a match for its competitors and popular with caravanners or in fact anyone with anything to tow. Seven seats provide plenty of flexibility and the new car has been designed with a longer wheelbase so there's plenty of space for everyone.
AOL Cars verdict
We were impressed. The new Sorento really does show how far Kia have come, from being a budget brand just a few years ago to one which is attracting first-time buyers from marques such as Audi and BMW who find themselves being offered high quality vehicles but for far less money. Seven seats, a great interior, a quiet, refined ride... and did we mention we thought visibility was very good? Kia should have another hit on its hands.
Model: Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi
Price: To be confirmed
Engine: 2.2-litre, four cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 197bhp / 441Nm
Max speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 9.6 seconds
MPG: 42 (combined)
Emissions: From 149g/km CO2