Kia Sorento

Say hello to Kia's latest big, friendly giant

Price: from £26,495
Engine capacity: 2.2-litre diesel
Power output (PS @ rpm): 194 @ 3,800
Max torque (Nm @ rpm):
422 @ 1,800-2,500
Top speed (mph): 118
0-60 mph (seconds): 9.5
Fuel economy (mpg): 47.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 155

The tourist board of Sorrento, the resort in south-west Italy describes the town modestly as "an extraordinary landscape where sea and mountain, deep valleys and citrus groves plateaux alternately". Lonely Planet is a little less generous: "on paper a place to avoid – a package-holiday centre with few must-see sights, no beach to speak of and a glut of brassy English-style pubs".

Now, forgive the forced analogy, but for many car-buyers there's something similar going on with the Kia Sorento which, the Korean company tells me is named after the town (I'm not sure what the missing 'R' represents). If you're after extraordinary landscapes of plateauing citrus groves, you might want to bump up to an BMW X5, but if your budget is more suited to the utility of a package holiday, then the Sorento's as good a bet as any.

Kia has now been in the UK market long enough for us to know what to expect. Reliable cars with few frills, but just enough style and purpose to justify their purchase.

Practically, the Sorento offers a completely adequate driving experience. That's not to damn it with faint praise, though. It may be a utilitarian choice but it will get you from A to B pleasantly as you to fill it up with shopping, children, pets and flat-pack furniture safely. Not to mention reliably with the added reassurance of Kia's mammoth seven-year guarantee.

Add to that great mileage for an SUV (usually 40mpg+) and CO2 emissions low enough to take a chunk off your tax bill and you can see why the Korean manufacturer has exploded in the last decade. Not to mention why the company took a couple of exceedingly expensive Super Bowl XLVII ad slots in February to show off its appeal to Americans (the Sorento has also been designed in California and built in Kia's new $1bn factory in West Point, Georgia).

The engine, a grumbly powerful 194 horse-power diesel, is loud on the drive but calms down on the motorway, it's a cruiser rather than a kicker, but with four kids and a dog in the back that ought not put a potential buyer off.

Your first impression of the Sorento is that, from the outside, it looks b-i-g. Uncomfortably big. But once inside, the trim – at least in the slightly higher-spec KX-2 – is comfortable enough to prevent the cabin feeling echoey.

Despite only having four people in the car on my circular trip to the North and back, I though it would be wasteful not to pull down the two seats in the back and mercilessly make an adult sit in them. It's actually not a big squeeze, the Sorento's Sir Mix-A-Lot-approved big butt (a microbrewery-sized 660-litres) gives plenty of legroom for an adult male and more than enough for kids.

Slightly annoyingly, though, the load-cover bar that divides the car in five-seat mode has to be removed to make it a seven-seater. No problem if you can leave it at home, but if you unexpectedly pick up a sixth passenger, the bar has to be awkwardly shoved across their person. Again, not a dealbreaker. The Sorento is big, it's powerful, it's economical, and it's pretty cheap. It's not going to attract jealous glances in the NCP but, hey, who cares?

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