First Drive: Kia Sorento delivers in style

All-wheel drive, smart interior and that dealbreaker for families – a seventh seat

Kia Sorento
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Year: 2015
Fuel: Diesel

Kia is sometimes the forgotten Korean, the junior sibling to Hyundai. Its growth has been steady if not stellar, particularly in light of the remarkable growth of its sister brand.

Yet in many ways the Kia range offers sharper, less conservative, styling. Models such as the Optima are arguably better looking than the i40, with which they share the vast majority of parts. The same can be said of the crossover Sportage when pitted against the iX35, while Hyundai has nothing to match the funky looks and character of the Kia Soul.

Perhaps they don't match the strength of the Hyundai range when it comes to advertising clout and therefore consumer recall, but Kia is a brand on the rise. The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office shows it was the seventh most popular brand on the Irish market, ahead of Opel, Renault and Peugeot.

The Sorento has come a long way in the last two decade or so. When it first arrived here it was the only Kia anyone really knew, a cheap workhorse SUV with rudimentary engineering. The boxy body sat upon a ladder platform that shared the same fundamental engineering as the average New York taxi from the 1980s.


This latest Sorento is a world apart and comes with a much-needed lure to family buyers: an optional seven-seat format.

The entry-price for the EX version is €38,995 and for your money you get a sturdy, modern-looking SUV with credible off-road potential thanks to all-wheel drive as standard. It’s not a rival to the Land Rover Defender but its “on demand” format means that up to 50 per cent of the power is transferred to the rear wheels when grip is compromised and there is also a lock mode.

It all adds up to a car that’s a lot more sophisticated and better dressed than past versions yet retaining some of those workhorse features that buyers actually valued.

The all-wheel drive system also pays off when you are marking your way along wet and greasy back roads, something people seem to forget when they think of four-wheel drive and associate it with muddy fields or boulder-covered mountains.


For your money you also get a good standard of equipment. The interior plastics are not exactly premium but they are on a par with most rivals, particularly the rather poor plastics Ford is now using inside.

And there are little features such as ventilation fan controls for the middle and rear-most passengers, touches you’d normally only find in the premium end of the market.

Kia reckons most of its Irish buyers will opt for the seven-seat Platinum version at €43,995, which adds leather seats (heated up front), a panoramic sunroof, electric-powered driver’s seat with six-way adjustment, rain-sensing wipers, rear privacy glass, reversing camera and HID (high intensity headlamps).

Power comes from an improved version of the 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel that is common in the Korean range. It’s matched to a six-speed manual gearbox and while an automatic option is available, the punitive impact of its higher emissions on it motor tax is likely to limit its Irish appeal.


The 2.2-litre is a strong performer, if not quite at the sporty end of the market. The ride is also quite soft and the car tends to wallow slightly in corners if you push it too hard.

Kia has faced an uphill task in reinventing its image. Where once it was the discount workhorse, it has successfully managed to add style, fuel-efficient engines and a tempting seven-year warranty programme to lure buyers to the brand.

It delivered on its styling through the hiring of acclaimed designer Peter Schreyer and in December it hired Albert Biermann, chief engineer for BMW's M performance cars, to develop performance cars and improve ride and handling on both its Kia and Hyundai brands.

Don’t be surprised if its cars’ current weakness – uncommunicative handling – quickly becomes a strength for the Koreans. Admittedly, the new Sorento is slightly more expensive than its Santa Fe equivalent, and given the strength of the Santa Fe model brand in Ireland – arguably as strong as Hyundai itself – it will struggle to make an impact here. It’s also up against another newcomer that’s likely to prove a hit amongst Irish buyers – the Land Rover Discovery Sport.

However, with its smart new look, its warranty offer and a good equipment package on offer – along with all-wheel-drive as standard – the Sorento is worth a look for family buyers in tha market for something a little more rugged than your typical people carrier.

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times