THE fourth generation of the Sorento shows how Kia has progressed from a budget brand to a manufacturer of quality motors.
Initially content to just look like some of its more illustrious rivals at the top end of the 4x4 market when launched in 2002, the Korean car maker's latest Sorento offers real substance with the style as the seven-seater hybrid SUV boasts a new cutting-edge design, upgraded high tech gadgetry and increased roominess that make it an enticing package for families who want a quality motor at a reasonable, if not a budget, price.
It also features Kia's first foray into electric power for its SUV line-up with a 1.6-litre petrol engine helped out by a 270-volt electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. This 226bhp partnership propels the Sorento to 60mph from a standing start in 8.7 seconds on its way to a claimed top speed of 119mph.
Fuel consumption during my time with the car was just north of 40mph, with the six-speed automatic gearbox ensuring a smooth transfer of power.
The four-wheel drive system offers plenty of grip while the Sorento is agile for a big SUV with parking aids that ensure squeezing into that city centre spot is a cinch.
The all-wheel drive is complemented by a new Terrain mode that offers settings via a rotary dial on the centre console allowing the Sorento to cope with mud, snow and sand - though not I would think all at the same time.
But it is perhaps the sighting of the battery that is the cleverest thing about the hybrid set up. Rather than taking up space in the boot, as is usually the case, the hybrid's battery pack is located under the cabin floor, beneath the front passenger. This coupled with the fact that the Sorento is the first to be based on Kia's new midsize SUV platform - sporting a larger body with a longer wheelbase to maximise cargo and luggage space - and we're talking about a motor that offers practicality and comfort in spades.
There are many nice touches including buttons in the side wall of the boot that fold down the second row seat backs when pressed.
The rear seats, which can be folded flat, boast cubby holes and drinks holders as well as the ability to control the air con. Two adults can be catered for here as headroom is good - although leg room is a tad tight - with a grab handle provided to help you climb aboard.
The middle row can cater for three adults with good leg room due to the lack of a transmission tunnel intruding on proceedings, but you do lose the use of the drop down armrest and handy cup holders so it may pay to pretend this is a six-seater instead.
The cabin mirrors the sculpted design of the exterior with top quality materials providing a modern, sophisticated look while the Nappa leather seats give comfort and support.
A large powered sunroof gives the interior an airy feel, while the lighting can be altered to suit your mood.
There are lots of goodies in the ‘4' top of the range model I drove with a neat 12.3-inch digital instrument display for the driver and a 10.25-inch touchscreen - home to the 12-speaker BOSE surround sound system and satellite navigation - the stars of the show. You can hook up your smartphone to the car and a handy wireless charger is also provided.
There is lots of hi-tech safety equipment including the natty Blind Spot View Monitor which shows you a video feed of your blind spot when indicating to change lane.