Kia Sorento proves a lucky break

This Kia was a surprise but it proved a pleasant one, says Andy Russell.

I had been expecting Kia's new family-sized Optima saloon but a huge crack across its windscreen and no replacement glass available at that time meant it was off the road.

Instead I found myself driving the Korean brand's big sport utility vehicle – the Sorento. It's a little while since I'd driven a Sorento and I'd forgotten just how capable it is.

In this sector, looks are important and the Sorento is modern and stylish, big enough to have a real presence without being imposing.

Sensibly on Kia's part, turbo diesel power is the order of the day with a 147bhp 2.0-litre only in a five-seat, two-wheel drive '1' entry model, while KX-1, KX-2 and KX-3 models have a 194bhp 2.2-litre engine mated to six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes and all-wheel drive.

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It's an impressive engine, smooth and relaxed in normal use, pulling effortlessly from low revs with strong mid-range punch for safe, simple overtaking. Wind it up or kick the automatic down and it becomes vocal but you don't need to drive it hard to make good progress. The automatic box shifts smoothly and quickly taking the strain out of urban driving without blunting performance on the open road.

The Sorento is also good to drive for a big SUV. For a car that's capable of not over-demanding off-roading, it's pretty civilised on road with the supple suspension smoothing out poor surfaces even with the big wheels and tyres and without a lot of road rumble either. Roadholding is confident and stable in everyday driving but body roll builds with speed through fast corners, though not alarmingly so, and there's always plenty of grip and traction from all-wheel drive.

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The latest Sorento also has multi-purpose vehicle versatility with three rows of seats so it can comfortably accommodate seven people. OK, the back seats are most suitable for children – you need to be reasonably agile to get into them and the lack of footwell means it's a bit of a knees-up sitting there – but small adults could manage short journeys.

With all the seats in use there's enough boot space for a few bags of shopping or a couple of holdalls but fold the two rearmost seats into the boot floor and you've got an impressive 531-litre loadbay although the floor is high as it has to be with the extra seats folding into it. Middle-row seat backs fold 60/40 and lock flat to nearly treble load space.

Drivers will love the commanding high-level driving position, clear, logical layout of the dashboard, generous cabin storage space, and the peace of mind of an industry-leading seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty and comprehensive equipment levels.

Looking back, the Optima's cracked screen turned out to be something of a lucky break.

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