Can a SUV ever be a truly exciting drive? Now in its third generation, the Kia Sorento has had more than just a facelift to bring it up to date, and while its new body and wheelbase is never going to feel like a Ferrari on the road, for carting around the whole family it's an appealing prospect.
Sat in among the likes of the Nissan X-Trail and Volvo XC90, the Sorento is Kia's top-of-the-line car, and like a cat among the pigeons it's ready to pounce on its near rivals in 2015. There's bundles of tech and appealing trim on board - if you're willing the pay the extra for it.
Does the Kia Sorento get the balance of functional and fun right, or is it just yet another 7-seater tank to be seen on the British roads come its mid-March launch?
The Sorento's face has supposedly been fashioned on a wolf's appearance (albeit minus the fur coat); we don't quite see the lupine snarl, but it's a less bulbous than the X-Trail's rounded front, and there's more natural motion to the headlamp lines than something like the tech-faced, more rigid CR-V.
Kia's choice of front grille - if it can be called exactly that - is an unusual series of triangles, which look and feel somewhat plasticky. We're not so keen on it, but the chrome details in the windows, handles and side seals make for a more premium finish.
To the rear, the sizeable rump features LED lamps, a sharkfin spoiler up top, and a broader shouldered look than the gentler front. The wolf's gone out the window from this angle, it's a little more hippo - but the form has definite function, as boot space definitely doesn't lack.
House from home
Compared to the Nissan and Honda the Sorento is the slightly larger of model: at 4.68-metres there's a lot of car to squeeze the family into. We drove two 5-seat configurations on the roads in Europe, but the right-hand-drive UK model will come 7-seat as standard, knowing its target market.
If 7-seats is going to be too much then the two rear-most seats will fold down - we weren't able to test this in our 5-seat configuration test unit - to expand the 142-litre boot space into a more significant 605-litre capacity. The boot spans a 1.37m width, meaning you can fit stacks in without sacrificing on comfort for anyone. The Sorento certainly serves its SUV purpose.
Inside there's ample space to feel immediately comfortable, whether driving or being carted about as a passenger - there's enough room both front and back. With a metre of headroom up front and exactly a metre of legroom in the second row - the far back row is a bit of a squeeze, as to be expected - it's all very light and breezy.
The optional leather seats (yep, more cash to scribe on the purchase sheet) were particularly cushy, with more electronic adjustment controls available than offered by first class airline seat. It puts our office chair to shame - we so need 8-way power-adjustable positioning with lumbar support in our lives.
However comfortable, the car's long nose does place the A-pillar in that typically irksome position relative to driver, which isn't ideal for ambling around curvy mountainous roads. A bit of head-bobbing and you'll see through the large windscreen no problem though.
On the tech front we were daubed with stacks of quality in our top-trim KX4 automatic model. Finished in light grey and black the interior looks good, complete with flourishes such as a wrap-around dashboard with stitching. If that interior colour scheme is too boring then how about beige or brown? No, still too boring? Well, it's that or simple plain black - the Sorento doesn't cater for the colour splashes of company's the more youthful Soul Mixx.
But the tech on board adds a lick of colour to proceedings, including glowing Sorento logos in the footwells when the doors are open (good for not tripping up in the dark), digital dials and 7- or 8-inch touchscreen centrepiece.
The digital speedometer was particularly fun; the luminescent orange digital hand smoothly moving along that as we scooted down the motorway, looking very elegant indeed. There's also sign-detection which was particularly useful in foreign lands to recognise the speed limits and have them display directly within peripheral vision. All non-standard stuff, of course, but a show-your-mates feature should you fork out the extra cash.
As standard there's a 7-inch screen to the centre console, complete with satnav. After going all the way around a roundabout the satnav decided we were on the final leg of our tour route, but a few touches and taps to find the saved route and we were back on route again.
Using the touchscreen everything felt responsive, but there are plenty of traditional buttons and dials for control too. Perhaps too traditional: the air conditioning controls, which offer independent driver and passenger side controls, look a bit retro.
Elsewhere there's advanced smart cruise control (a first for Kia in the UK), plus options for lane-departure alert, reverse camera, 360-degree cameras, self-parking, and all such mod cons. None of which were in the standard manual drive model that we also took to the road, which made a huge difference to interior comfort and appearance - we missed those cushy seats in particular.
In the driving seat
Cushy seats and electric dials are all well and good, but what's the Sorento like to drive? Well, the 2.2-litre CRDi engine (149g/km being the all important emissions) is the only one that will make it to the UK, and with that pulling the steel chassis - which is 30-40kgs heavier than the second-gen Sorento due to increased size, so over the 2.5 tonne mark - lacks a huge amount of grunt.
Saying that, it's smooth as butter down the motorways, with little cabin noise or rattling to speak of, making for a very comfortable cruise along. And there's enough pep to overtake those cautious European drivers too.
Around winding bends, though, you'll need to take it slower, as expected. Kia made a fuss about the rack mounted motor driven power steering (R-MDPS; the positioning supposedly making for a "turning at the hips, not the shoulders" more deft motion), but we found it a little heavy, with a limited turning circle.
No surprises though, this is a SUV after all, it's not going to dance around like a ballerina at this scale. All told, we were very content with the way the 2015 Sorento glided along the roads, the comfort of the ride and the all-wheel drive (AWD) system being there to kick into 4x4 mode when the on-board computer feels its necessary (manual differential lock is possible for a traditional 50/50 4x4 split).
The one to beat?
The 2015 SUV race is on and the Kia Sorento is ripe for the picking. No official price or final UK spec is available just yet, but we anticipate the entry-level asking point to be around £26,000, rising into the mid-£30k levels.
That positions the Sorento higher up the ladder than its recent Nissan competitor, but below the premium Volvo XC90 and pricier BMW X5 and Range Rover competitors. It seems the Korean company is showing confidence in its product. And that's before we've even mentioned the lure of the 7-year warranty or that Pierce Brosnan advert...