SPORTS utility vehicles are hot family property.
Large sedans, wagons and people-movers are on the outer, the high-riding faux off-roaders are all the rage.
Given the heat being generated in this genre, it was interesting that Kia chose the cool surrounds of Tasmania to launch its updated large seven-seat SUV this week.
Bigger, stronger and safer, Kia has also thrown in more standard features as part of a mid-life facelift.
Despite being called a refresh Kia has made some extensive changes, but has carried over tweaked transmissions along with the V6 petrol and 2.2 turbo-diesel powerplants.
Prices now start from $37,490 (up $500 on the previous entry-level model) for the two-wheel drive petrol and peak at $50,390 for the top-spec oil-burner.
Kia has aimed to follow the footsteps of its popular compact Sportage SUV by injecting more sporting driving characteristics and styling into the Sorento.
Available in three trim levels, Si, SLi and Platinum (diesel only), Kia says the Sorento is testament to its arrival as a key player in an ultra competitive market.
Interior space has improved, with the greatest progress coming in the middle and third rows.
Kia has created a classy ambiance in all variants. The plastics used on the upper doors and dash, along with a chrome-look strip, are pleasing to the eye.
Among the new inclusions is an improved centre stack that houses the air-conditioning and stereo controls.
The fonts and styling within the central display are modern and easy to read, which extends to the primary gauges for the driver - although the floating digital needle speedometer can take some analysis.
Adults can be comfortably accommodated in the middle row with good head and leg room, but like other offerings in the genre the third row is probably best left to the kids.
On the road
While sharing a platform with the recently-released Santa Fe, the Korean cousins are remarkably different.
Kia undertook extensive ride and handling changes for the Australian Sorento which included sampling some of the best selling competitors. Among those under the microscope were the Holden Captiva, Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory and BMW X5.
With the Territory deemed victorious in ride stakes and the Beemer trumping all in performance, Kia tuned its Sorento to try and achieve middle ground between the duo.
During our test over highway, winding country and gravel roads the large SUV did a serviceable job.
There was limited body roll and it ironed out some poor quality roads well. The Sorento bites into corners well but the tradeoff is it can be unsettled with large bumps and lumps.
Gravel threw up some challenges and the Sorento felt skittish on occasions and not quite as accomplished as some of its rivals.
We only sampled the turbo-diesel with automatic transmissions at the launch event, which will probably claim the lion's share of sales, but Kia also has high expectations for the two-wheel V6 petrol which has ample grunt under the bonnet.
The diesel is robust in its acceleration and answers the call when summonsed to overtake.
Steering has a good feel, and like the Santa Fe you can choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport settings via a button on the steering wheel. It changes the load on the steering depending on conditions, with Comfort best for around town while Sport is the pick for winding roads and the highway.
Kia has made ground in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) although there was some wind intrusion above 100kmh.
What do you get?
Base models come with 17-inch alloys, six airbags, stability control and a range of associated technologies, dual zone climate control air-con, steering wheel-mounted cruise control/audio/phone controls, CD stereo with USB/iPod cable input, LED daylight running lamps, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, along with front and rear parking sensors.
The SLi adds bigger 18-inch alloys, leather seats, rear view camera, 4.3 inch touch-screen audio unit, power adjustable driver's seat - while sat-nav and premium audio is a $1500 option.
Step up again into the Platinum and you gain slick 19-inch alloys, keyless entry with push button start, sat nav and panoramic sunroof among other trinkets.
Tough competition comes from cousin Hyundai Santa Fe (from $36,990), as well as the Ford Territory (from $39,990), Toyota Kluger (from $39,990) Holden Captiva 7 (from $27,990), Jeep Grand Cherokee (from $45,000) and the Mazda CX-9 (from $44,425).
Without doubt the best option is the diesel, with official average consumption figures of 6.6 litres/100km for the manual or 7.3 for the auto. The petrol V6 is about 10, which is at the thirsty end of the realm nowadays.
Capped servicing plans are available to keep ongoing costs low, while there is also Kia's five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
There is room for seven, including five adults, while access to the child seat anchorage points is simple.
With the rear two seats deployed there is only a slither of boot space available but when they are folded there is an excellent area. The middle row of seats also fold 60/40 to make for a large flat space.
Storage options up front are good with a deep centre console, bottle holders in the middle and also in the doors.
Exterior styling changes have resulted in a minor facelift, courtesy of a new front grille and headlamps along with LED daytime running lamps and a new tailgate. It's still attractive from all angles, and the design is one that will have a wide appeal.
This market segment is growing quickly.
Kia struck gold with the smaller Sportage, and has worked hard to follow suit with the Sorento as the Korean brand moves to strengthen its SUV position.
For families, it's ticking plenty of boxes. Seven seats, good space, impressive feature levels and the flexibility of stepping off the bitumen - as long as the terrain isn't too tough.
The writer was Kia's guest in Tasmania.
Model: Kia Sorento.
Details: Five-door seven-seat large sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.5-litre petrol V6 generating maximum power of 204kW @ 6300rpm and peak torque of 335Nm @ 5000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, two-wheel drive.
Consumption: 9.8 litres/100km (combined average).
C02: 235g/km (combined).
Bottom line: Si $37,490, SLi $40,490, SLi nav $41,990,.
Engine: 2.2-litre inline four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 145kW @3800rpm and peak torque of 421Nm @ 1800-2500 (436Nm for auto).
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive.
Consumption: 6.6 litres/100km (manual combined average); 7.3L/100km (auto).
CO2: 174g/km; 192g/km.
Bottom line: Si $38,990 (manual, auto adds $2000), SLi $43,990, SLi sat nav $45,490, Platinum $50,390.
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