It’s rare for a new arrival to spring a surprise on me. Usually, what we get is what I know, from the Suzuki Celerio through to the Ferrari 488. So I was expecting the Kia Sorento to be big and boring, well priced and well backed, with most of its ‘stuff’ carried over from the Hyundai Santa Fe that fills exactly the same slot in the blue team from South Korea.
But it’s not. It’s a surprise. And a very nice one.
So, instead of thinking about what’s happening, I’m asking why it’s happening. And I’m coming back to the Avis advertising slogan from the 1960s - ‘We try harder’.
So Kia is trying harder, in everything from the body design work by Peter Schreyer to the seven-year warranty that leads the car business in Australia.
Customers are now getting the benefits, as I discover during a week with the Sorento. For a start, instead of being developed from Hyundai’s SUV platform under the Santa Fe it is twinned with the Carnival, so the basic building blocks are more car-like.
The cabin is a cut above anything that’s come from Kia in the past and is getting close to an Audi
I’ve already driven the Santa Fe, but the Kia equivalent is considerably better looking - not just in the body shaping but the layout and finish of the cabin. Even the sweep of the windscreen surround, and how it frames the road ahead, is a massive change and provides a great view.
It’s also more plush and refined than the Santa Fe, as well as a range of rivals including the Nissan Pathfinder, with great suspension and a nicely isolated cabin. Nothing I encounter goes remotely close to threatening the suspension tuning developed in Australia by Graeme Gambold.
It’s a full seven-seater and the Platinum turbodiesel test car also comes with all-wheel drive, although the two-tonne towing capacity is nothing special. There is a front-drive petrol model, but a lot of seven-seater buyers are looking for an SUV with a diesel.
Performance is good, economy is good, and the car sits quietly and comfortably at any legal speed. It also stops well enough, something I cannot say about the Hyundai Tucson I’ve also been driving.
There is a system to lock the four-wheel drive with a 50:50 power split, not that many will be going off the bitumen and a lot of owners will only take the front-drive version with petrol power.
The safety equipment is top-notch, from six airbags to a rear-traffic alert and smart cruise control as well as lane-keeping assistance, but it’s little things like a full-sized alloy spare and standard satnav across the range that show the goodness of the Sorento.
The best thing about the car, among many good things, is the cabin. It’s a cut above anything that’s come from Kia in the past and is getting close to an Audi from Korea. That’s reflected in the design work, but also the choice of materials and the way they go together.