Kia Sorento is packed with surprises

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Kia’s third-generation Sorento SUV is here. Gone are the last vestiges of its forebears’ purposeful proportions, replaced by a sleeker look, a swankier interior and, if you opt for a range-topper, a price tag of more than £40,000.

Don’t worry, though — Kia hasn’t abandoned its value-for-money roots altogether. Prices start at a whisker under £29,000 and, if you’re in the market for a new Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V or Land Rover Discovery Sport, the Sorento deserves your attention, especially when you factor in its seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

From certain angles, this longer, lower and slightly wider Sorento looks more like a jacked-up estate car than a traditional off-roader. It’s almost 10cm longer than the one it replaces, which means the rearmost row of seats can be sat in by the moderately tall. Despite a 1.5cm reduction in height, Kia promises improved headroom in all three rows. I’ve no idea how that works, but I had no complaints.

The exterior of the Sorento is a pleasing concoction of simple shapes and lines. It’s unfussy in a good way. Eye-catchers include a sparkly honeycomb effect for Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille (no, I still don’t get the reference) and alloy wheels in sizes ranging from 17 to 19 inches depending on trim level.

The design evolution continues inside, where everything looks and feels a lot more upmarket than before. The dashboard’s soft-touch plastics are fringed by a mix of alloy-effect, matt black and gloss black plastic panels that gel well together. My co-driver and I, both fresh from driving the Land Rover Discovery Sport, thought the Kia’s interior certainly measured up to its more illustrious rival in terms of quality.

As with the Sorento’s rivals, there’s not a lot of boot space with all seven seats in place – just 142 litres, or enough for a couple of bags of groceries – but at least the rearmost seats fold flat into the floor to free up 605 litres when you don’t have a full complement of passengers aboard. Tug a handle in the boot to fold the second row flat and you’ll find yourself staring into a 1,662-litre abyss.

There’s only one engine choice – a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel tuned for 197bhp and a generous 325lb/ft of torque. Transmission options are a six-speed manual gearbox available on all but the poshest Sorento, or a six-speed auto available on all but the entry-level model. We drove the manual car and can’t think why we’d want to upgrade to the auto, especially when you consider it’s a £1,300 option and bumps the Sorento into a higher VED bracket. That said, a friend has just bought an auto Sorento and he loves it, so you pays your money and takes your choice.

Worth noting is that, if you’re planning to hitch your Sorento to a caravan or horse trailer, then the manual car can tow a maximum 2,500kg to the auto’s 2,000kg.

For a big car, the Sorento is pleasingly nimble. With heaps of torque on offer, the Kia feels even quicker than its 9.0-second 0-62 time suggests. No complaints about the ride quality either (our test car was shod with 18-inch wheels and medium-profile tyres). The steering is little on the light side for my liking, but the Sorento grips well in corners. Most of the time, it’s a front-wheel drive car, but up to 40 per cent of engine torque can automatically be sent to the rear wheels if the front starts to slide wide. There’s a 50-50 lock for off-roading.

What impresses even more than the Sorento’s fleet-footedness is its noise suppression. Kia says it has invested heavily in keeping the Sorento quiet (the dashboard soundproofing panel is – gasp! – 29 per cent thicker) and at 70mph on the motorway, the Sorento is whisper quiet, with only a trace of wind noise from the wing mirrors letting the side down.

The Sorento comes in four trim levels and even the entry-level KX-1 is generously equipped, with 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, front wiper de-icers, air conditioning, electric windows all round, cruise control and reversing sensors. The KX-2 is expected to be the best seller and gains dual-zone air conditioning, leather upholstery, a seven-inch colour screen, reversing camera and optional self-levelling suspension.

Our KX-3 test car benefited from a panoramic sunroof, adaptive front lighting, a eight-inch touchscreen, eight-way power-adjustable front seat, thumping sound system upgrade and lane departure warning.

If money’s no object, the KX-4 adds, among other things, adaptive cruise control, 19-inch alloy wheels, ventilated front seats, park assist, blind spot detection and sensors that will make a song and dance if cars or pedestrians stray into your path while you’re reversing.

Fast Facts

Price: £28,795-£40,995

Engine: 2.2-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 197bhp, 325lb ft

Transmission: 6spd auto or 6spd manual, 4WD

Performance: Max speed 124mph; 0-62mph 9.0-9.6sec

Economy: 42.2-49.5mpg

Emissions: 149-177g/km