Kia Sorento first drive

* More sophisticated * More in tune with UK's roads * On sale next year from £21,000...

Kia Sorento first drive

Next year the Kia Sorento will become the latest SUV to trade ruggedness for sophistication. In effect, it's hanging up the Barbour jacket and donning a business suit.

Out goes the current body-on-frame construction and in comes a car-like monocoque and new suspension aimed at providing better on-road manners. It is based on the platform and optional four-wheel-drive system of parent company Hyundai's Santa Fe, but the Kia gets first use of the group's new 2.2-litre diesel engine and six-speed auto gearbox.

Other firsts for the Sorento include an optional seven-seat interior and a host of luxury features, as well as a smart new family look, best viewed from the front and sides. Four-wheel-drive versions have hill start assist and a downhill speed limiter.

Performance and economy

The new diesel develops more power and torque (195bhp and 322lb ft) than today's 2.5-litre unit, and apart from some rumble when accelerating hard, it's quiet and smooth. It works particularly well with the auto gearbox, though the long gearing in sixth forces it to kick down for overtaking on the motorway.

Fuel economy and emissions are much improved, helped by sleeker aerodynamics and a sizeable weight loss though the towing capacity falls as a result. For most people, that will be a small price to pay for the smoother ride and tidier handling. Kia engineers have worked hard to European-ise the drive and seem to have largely succeeded, though they still have to eradicate some steering kickback.

Inside job

Some of the interior plastics need to be upgraded (they're working on it), but the layout is smart and the seats are excellent. It's also more spacious than its predecessor the seven-seater is even roomy enough for a couple of adults in the back at a pinch, but getting there is only possible from the kerb side. As a five-seater, though, the boot is vast.

It's quite an appealing car, and our three-star rating simply reflects that we have no idea at this stage what it will cost and how it will be specced. If they get it right and can improve the steering and some interior finish, that could easily become four.

Our verdict

Shows lots of potential

Kia Sorento 2.2 Turbodiesel Engine Size: 2.2-litre diesel
Price: From (est) £21,000
Power: 195bhp
0-62mph: 9.4sec
Top speed: 119mph
Economy: 43.5mpg
CO2 g/km/tax: 171/28%
Insurance group: tbc Airbags: 6 Doors: 5 Seats: 5/7 Colours: 11
Likely discount: Let's see what the world economy's like when it gets here, but there'll be something
Or try a ... Hyundai Santa Fe, Volvo XC60