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Kia Sorento 4WD level 2
6/10

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Kia Sorento 4WD level 2

Driven October 2009

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Hardly anyone makes cheap, rugged, separate-chassis 4x4s any more. The Kia Sorento was among that dying breed, and folk who pull heavy trailers up slippery slopes were grateful for its three-tonne towing rating and its low-ratio transfer box. But Kia has decided not to bother with these people any longer, now that their numbers aren't swollen by those who bought truck-like 4x4s for fashion reasons.

Crossovers are the fashion now, so the all-new Sorento is one of those instead. Yet another one. I've lost count of the number of £20,000 crossovers tumbling onto the lists in the last couple of years.

But at least the Sorento has one thing unusual to say for itself. It has the option of two folding third-row seats, which is common in mid-size MPVs, but not crossovers. Lots of parents do occasionally want to carry three kids and grandparents, but wouldn't be seen dead driving an MPV, however often I tell them they'd be better off in an S-Max. A similar proposition has served the Mitsubishi Outlander well.

The extreme makeover of the Sorento also extends to its engine, a brand-new 2.2 diesel that makes a stout 197bhp, keeps pretty quiet and has class-leading economy. Its case is helped by the fact that chucking away the separate chassis and dual-range transmission has helped Kia chip off an impressive 215kg compared with the old Sorento.

You can get the Sorento with FWD, but Kia expects most sales will be the 4WD. The handing of both is perfectly sanitary, but when you're accelerating out of tight bends, especially if they're greasy, the 4WD can get the torque onto the road with less fuss. At the speeds most people drive, this is all fairly car-like. But if you want to push harder through bends, buy a car.

The ride is taut but quite well controlled with just two on board, which probably means it won't go all to sea with seven. The civilised manners of the new engine aren't let down by the rest of the Sorento, which wafts along the motorway in respectable peace and quiet. So you can enjoy hearing everyone argue.

The interesting story here isn't actually the car. It's the manufacturer. Kia's rate of change is phenomenal. By rapidly improving its core cars (Cee'd over Cerato), inventing interesting new sorts (Soul) and night-and-day re-engineering others when the market shifts (Sorento), Kia's sales are rising like a firework. So much so that in the first half of this year Hyundai-Kia Group sold more cars than Ford Moto Co.

Paul Horrell

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