Kia Sorento is offered in a number of different versions, with petrol and diesel engines, manual and automatic transmissions and a choice of two-wheel drive or 4WD. Our vehicle of choice for this week's road test was the V6 petrol with an auto box and 2WD. In other words it's the sort of vehicle that will appeal to buyers looking for a large station wagon rather than an off-road explorer.

Design

Sorento is built on the same platform as its Hyundai Santa Fe cousin although each takes a different styling route. With seven seats as standard Sorento is more family focussed than the five-door Santa Fe and this is reflected in a more conservative styling. 

While it lacks the Hyundai's flare, Sorento is neat and compact in the Ford Territory manner, with a smallish front grille that flows into curved headlights topped by LED daytime running lights. Both the grille and split air intake have an attractive honeycomb pattern. 

Explore the 2014 Kia Sorento Range

The roofline takes a gradual rearward dip that slightly infringes on third row seat headroom although unlikely to concern the children whose domain the seats will be. The rear has a bit more character than the previous model with extra angles as well as large two-piece LED taillights.

Engines / Transmissions

Two engines are offered, a 3.5-litre V6 petrol and a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel. As is the norm the petrol unit has more power than the diesel (204 kW vs 145 kW) while the diesel has extra torque (436 Nm from 1800 rpm compared to the V6's 335 Nm at 5000 revs). 

Both engines are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission with a six-speed manual available only with the diesel.

Interior

The powered driver's seat is easy to set up and there's excellent headroom in front and centre seats.

Seven seats are standard in all Kia Sorento models. The third row is difficult to access and only suited for children. This isn't unusual in this class so isn't really a criticism. There is just 258 litres of storage space with all seven seats in place and there are no rear seats drink holders.

The design is neat and functional for the driver, with a European style of dashboard with well-positioned, large controls that fall readily to hand. 

Unlike some vehicles where you need to grope around the inside of the centre console to locate the USB and Auxiliary sockets the Sorento has them in clear view at the rear of the one of the dashboard storage areas. Bluetooth pairing (phone and audio streaming) is refreshingly simple and intuitive.

The reversing camera is now displayed in the centre console LCD screen rather than in the rear-vision mirror. A 4.3-inch screen is standard, 7-inch with the satellite navigation is a $1500 option. 

Driving

Sorento has quite a heavy feel to it and generally gives a soft, pleasant ride. Seats are comfortable and supportive with a high driving position.

Steering is adjustable with Kia's FlexSteer system providing the choice of three different steering weights (Normal, Sport and Comfort) but without changing the gear ratios.

The V6 petrol engine is smooth and refined with sharp throttle response that makes for quick take-off and for a relatively bulky vehicle it's quite easy to handle around town. On the motorway the big Kia was in its element and cruised effortlessly. The cabin is well insulated from road and other exterior noise. 

Rise and handling has been a common criticism of Kia vehicles in the past but to its credit the company has responded allocating significant resources, including leading Australian suspension engineer Graham Gambold, into local testing and tuning their underpinnings for local conditions. 

We took the Sorento along our favourite rural drive route to test these improvements and the ride and handling is noticeably better than before. While it doesn't have any sporting credentials it certainly feels firmer and less spongy and so provides a much more enjoyable, and safer, drive. Even at reasonable speeds there's plenty of stability and grip through corners.

Fuel consumption is officially rated at 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined city/highway cycle. We did a number of city trips during our week behind the wheel of the Sorento with up to six occupants so the resultant 10.9 L/100 was quite acceptable for a relatively heavy V6-powered vehicle.