IN years gone by, seven-seater cars were box-like people carriers that lacked any real style or character but those days are history now and the Kia Sorento is perfect proof of that.
The latest fourth-generation model is a classy head-turner with dynamic styling, impressive performance ability and all the on-board technology imaginable. And with plug-in hybrid technology, it is economical to run too.
We tried the range-topping Sorento 4 model powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a battery and electric motor.
Priced at £48,310, this HEV with 226bhp and 350Nm of torque, can reach 62mph from a standing start in a very respectable 9.0 seconds, tops out at 119mph and can deliver a combined 38.2mpg with carbon emissions of 168g/km.
The Sorento is very easy on the eye and features a muscular design with a panoramic sunroof, rear spoiler, privacy glass, roof rails, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlight control, LED front and rear lights, plus striking 19-inch alloy wheels.
It stretches 4.8 metres in length and boasts a spacious cabin with five seats for day-to-day use and a further two that are folded flat to the boot floor when not required. These can quickly be raised when needed and are ideal for youngsters to sit comfortably, although you will have to clamber over the tilted seats in row two to gain access.
The cabin is bright and modern in its design with all the mod cons we demand these days, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, a wireless mobile phone charger, sat nav, Bluetooth with music streaming, 360-degree around view monitor, reversing camera and all-round parking sensors.
There is a 10.25-inch touchscreen offering easy access to the infotainment systems, adjustable driver information display, a customisable head-up display and a separate control panel for all the air conditioning functions.
The front seats are fully power-adjustable so getting a comfortable driving position is a simple process. These seats, along with the outer ones in row two can be heated, as can the steering wheel to help fend off the winter blues. And window blinds help keep out any glare for second row occupants.
With its leather upholstery and high-end styling, there is little doubt Kia has shaken off its ‘budget' reputation for one that oozes class, reliability and premium quality fixtures and fittings.
Our Sorento featured a six-speed automatic gearbox with steering wheel paddles for added driver fun. There are also drive modes to change the driving characteristics of the car - these are called Eco, Sport, Smart, Snow, Mud and Sand. With those last three drive mode settings, it will come as little surprise to learn that our Sorento featured all-wheel-drive too.
This proved really practical after attending a Christmas fair where cars were parked on grass fields that had become really boggy. While many vehicles became stuck in the mud and needed pulling free, the Sorento made very light work of skipping across the terrain.
Although many drivers will not venture far from the Tarmac, it is reassuring to know the AWD system will keep you moving in more challenging driving conditions.
And the Sorento eats up the motorway miles with ease too, cruising effortlessly at 70mph. It is deceptively sharp through the twisting B roads with good levels of grip and minimal signs of body sway. The hybrid powertrain is nice and punchy with plenty of power on tap to overtake slower-moving vehicles. And it also proved to be nimble in busier city centre settings, although you will need an extra-large parking space.
The boot is accessed via a powered tailgate and can swallow 608 litres of kit - a limit that increases to 1,996 litres with the seats in rows two and three folded flat. The Kia designers have made good use of available space within the Sorento so there are plenty of storage compartments, including a lockable glovebox, door bins with room to put bottles, cup holders in rows one, two and three, covered trays, a central cubby with tray, plus nets in the back of the front seats.