Key to their success was the hiring from Audi of Peter Schreyer as their design chief who has restyled the whole Kia range especially with the distinctive new “Tiger Nose” corporate grille that has transformed the appearance of their cars including the new flagship Sorento SUV whose profile reminded me of a certain large Audi.
I clearly remember driving the first generation of the Sorento in 2002 which was an impressive vehicle but the new third generation Sorento with its seven seats and four wheel drive is a perfect example of just how Kia has moved more up market and why sales are soaring.
Kia say that the new Sorento marks the start of the company’s ambition of transforming from a purely value driven manufacturer to becoming a world class manufacturer of premium quality cars which will see Kia “match and surpass” not only customer expectations but also the world’s best car manufacturers for engineering, technology, refinement and quality.
The new Sorento is longer lower and wider than the previous model and as soon as I got into my test car the Sorento 2.2 CRDI KX-3 costing £35,845 on the road, it was quite clear that Kia is succeeding in its ambition of moving up market because there was a classy feel and look about the interior usually associated with cars from manufacturers such as Audi and BMW.
This was further emphasised by the elegant exterior styling especially up front which gave the Sorento bags of showroom appeal along with the endless list of standard equipment that included xenon headlights, leather seats that were heated up front plus the outer rear seats along with the steering wheel, ten speaker audio system, panoramic sunroof, 8” touchscreen sat nav, lane departure warning system, trailer ability assist, speed limit information and there is also that tempting seven year warranty.
The test car which was next to the top spec model was powered by a 2.2-litre diesel engine with a six speed manual gearbox and had a top speed of 124mph, zero to 60mph time of nine seconds, a combined fuel consumption of 26.3mpg and C02 emissions of 161g/km.
There was a nice solid feel about the new Sorento which had good steering and handling qualities that combined with the roomy and comfortable interior to make it a very enjoyable car from a driver and passenger aspect and the well designed instruments especially the speedometer with a digital function were so easy to see at all times.
I liked the way Kia has retained a nice balance of manual controls and those on the touchscreen rather than go overboard on the touchscreen functions as some manufacturers have done because I find them just as distracting as using a mobile phone while driving if not more so.
The two third row seats are suitable for children and average sized adults and with them in place there is still enough stowage space for several travel bags or shopping bags and with them folded stowage space is enormous.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Kia has transformed models like the Sorento from those early days when they started selling budget cars in the UK some 20 years ago and I would imagine that rival manufacturers with Sorento competitors in their range will be rather concerned about the developments at Kia.
It is too early to say what sort of impact the new breed of Kia cars will have on the premium sector but the company has clearly indicated they plan to take on the leading up market manufacturers and with Peter Schreyer on board it will be very interesting to see what develops with this ambitious strategy.
Model: New Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDI KX-3.
Engine: 2.2-litre four cylinder diesel.
Output: 197bhp @ 3800rpm.
Transmission: Six speed manual.
Top speed: 124mph.
Acceleration: 0 to 60mph 9 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 46.3mpg combined.
CO2 emissions: 161g/km.
Price: £35,845 on the road.