THE ‘SPORT’ in Sport Utility Vehicle is mostly treated as a vaguely risible term, and quite rightly — SUVs are not proper sports cars, after all. But it does serve a purpose, separating these popular high-riding family cars from proper workhorses like pick-up trucks and vans.
You’ll notice most SUVs give the impression of sporting prowess, though. Aggressive styling, big alloy wheels and trick suspension engineered to keep their lofty bodies in check through corners increasingly help SUVs give the impression that, despite the commanding view of the road, they would be just as at home around Silverstone Circuit as a on a school run.
Bucking this trend, though, is the Kia Sorento — the Sportage’s mild-mannered big sister that appears refreshingly proud of its family transporting abilities and resolutely un-sporty demeanour.
Sure, the mid-life revamp this year brought a (slightly) athletic GT Line version to the Sorento range, but take a look at the other trim levels and you’ll notice they abound with practical equipment designed to make this Kia easy to live with rather than thrilling to drive.
These days Kia offers just as many posh-feeling materials in the Sorento as you’d find in premium rivals, such as the new VW Tiguan Allspace or Skoda Kodiaq, and every Sorento in KX-2 trim and above comes with an 8in touchscreen, which can mirror your smartphone’s layout, as standard.
Also as standard is the full seven-seat layout — unlike in the VW and Skoda. Tall adults won’t have any trouble getting comfy in the middle row (which slides and reclines) and there’s no irritating bulge in the rear floor to get in the way of your passengers’ feet like in most SUVs.
Even the two extra seats in the very back are big enough for adults to sit for short journeys. But — oddly — you can only access them from the left-hand side; kerb side, at least.
Adults won’t have any trouble getting comfy in the middle row, and even the two extra seats in the very back are big enough for short journeys
Pack your Sorento with seven people and there’ll be just enough space left over for a weekly shop in the boot, but the capacious Skoda Kodiaq is roomier still. Fold the rearmost seats down and there’s enough space for four large suitcases and if you flip all but the front seats down, a bike will slide in easily with both wheels attached.
If heading out into the wilderness sounds like your kind of weekend fun, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Sorento comes with four-wheel drive as standard.
Unfortunately, you can only get it with one engine — a 2.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel — but it has plenty of grunt to pull you and a few friends up steep, slippery slopes.
The new Sorento’s diesel motor is pretty adept at cruising along on motorways, too, but it isn’t the smoothest engine around when you accelerate hard, and isn’t particularly efficient in slow inner-city journeys.
If you do spend plenty of time in town, dodge the standard manual gearbox and go for the optional automatic instead. It complements the Sorento’s soft, supple suspension well and makes it pretty relaxing to drive. It’s certainly more comfortable on rough roads than the VW and Skoda.
Unfortunately, unlike in those rivals you have to pay extra for some high-tech safety features in the Kia, including automatic emergency braking. Fork out for Kia’s Drive Wise safety pack, however, and you’ll have yourself a very good seven-seat SUV that’s safe, practical, and comes with a reassuring (and industry-leading) seven-year warranty.
Just don’t expect it to feel sporty to drive.
Kia Sorento rivals
Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace
Price 29,515 – £40,615
Price £22,755 – £34,940
Hyundai Santa Fe
Price £33,425 – £43,295