Kia Sorento car review: A great big bus built for fun

Although marketed as an SUV, the Sorento is really a thinly disguised ‘people carrier’ of the type that used to be tremendously popular

Friday 15 June 2018 14:02

Bus. The Kia Sorento is a great big bus. It seats seven, across three rows of seats (2-3-2 formation), in some comfort (more comfort than most buses, to be fair).

It looks a bit like an older type of bus, with that rounded window line at the back. It’s a jolly sort of environment for a gang or a large family on an outing. Built for fun, this charabanc.

The only thing missing is some red buttons scattered around the cabin for request stops, bearing the slogan “Press once telling the driver to stop at the next safe place”.

The kids at the back are sitting quite a long way away, after all. It would, I suppose, suit the Rees-Moggs, though at two adults plus six kiddies the Sorento is actually too cramped for them to be transported safely from West Country manor house to Westminster townhouse, let alone to new Dublin corporate base, post-Brexit. You can’t have your cake and eat it, I guess.

Although marketed as an SUV, with vaguely SUV styling and permanent all-wheel drive, the Sorento is really a thinly disguised “people carrier” of the type that used to be tremendously popular. Remember the Renault Espace – capacious, clever, desirable, but now disappeared from the UK scene?

Remember, for that matter, the Kia Sedona, a more value-oriented version of the same concept, a multi-purpose vehicle that sold well but which, like the Espace, is no longer on sale in the UK.

There are a few survivors from the people carrier boom. If you want to carry six passengers (plus driver) you can buy a purpose-built boxy people carrier from Vauxhall (Zafira), Ford (S-Max and Galaxy), Volkswagen (Sharan) and Seat (Alhambra), but they’re all probably on the way out, victims of changing tastes and fashion.

Like so many creatures in the natural world, they are being driven to extinction by loss of habitat (ie willing buyers) and fierce predation (by premium brands and SUVs). The car market is nothing if not Darwinian. On the whole the passing of the people carrier or MPV (“multi-purpose vehicle”, as the car companies called them) is to be deplored.

They were lighter and, thus, more environmentally friendly than their successors, less expensively engineered and complex to look after, and thus with lower running costs and longer prospective lives, and were usually a bit smaller than the behemoth SUVs that clog up city streets, country lanes and car parks.

The spec

Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi GT-Line S

Price: £42,940 (range starts at £29,310)
Engine capacity: 2.2 litre diesel 4cyl, 8-sp auto, AWD
Power output (bhp): 197
Top speed (mph): 127
0-60mph (seconds): 9.1
Fuel economy (mpg): 43.5
CO2 emissions (g/km):  170

As it happens, the Kia Sorento is actually built on the same base as the Sedona, which explains the relatively low stance, which is no bad thing, as, other things being equal we all know the dynamic benefits of a low centre of gravity, don’t we?

Good. Not that the Sorento is a great handler. It only comes as a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel, which means that it does well to be as pleasant a drive as it is.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox works OK, though I see there is a manual option, which some will favour. For what it is, the Sorento works well – relatively refined, comfortable, nice light steering, ideal for the sorts of work the vehicle will be put to; drivers will also appreciate, on the better specced versions, satnav, driver aids such as adaptable cruise control and assisted steering, and the parking cameras. Without them parking your bus requires extrasensory perception.

The only substantial fault I can find with the Sorento is the interior. It is of good quality, but it lacks panache. It is odd, that, because so many of Kia’s recent designs have been almost painfully funkadelic: the sexy Stinger GT saloon; the on-trend Stonic (a Citroen Cactus lookalike); and the Soul, which has been out a few years now but still manages to look fresh and different.

The Sorento feels much more like a throwback to the days when Kia was an exclusively Korean concern, with conservative tastes, rather than the transnational concern it is now, with partner Hyundai, boasting design centres, factories and sales all over the globe.

It wouldn’t take much to make the Sorento a more obviously classy choice, and, more pertinently, justify the £40,000-plus price of the plusher variants.

Your Sorento will also play a little theme tune when you turn off the ignition. It sounds like a few bars from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. After a few years of ownership – and the Kia carries a 7-year warranty you’d want to get the most out of – that might get a bit irritating. I don’t think you can turn it off.

The Kia’s Euro 6 standard diesel – the latest – and a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating also help to future-proof it to an extent; if you kept it for a decade its replacement would probably be pure electric.

Usually I’d advise a buyer to look at the cheapest entry-level version on any range of cars for the best value, but the Sorento driver and tribe really need all the toys they can get to distract them from a long journey in the company of people (ie blood relatives) they may not wish to spend such an extended time in an enclosed space with.

Just being on a bus full of screaming school kids, in other words, but more difficult to just get off and walk.

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