Unlike most new models, the new Kia Sorento doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done before. It doesn't boast class-leading fuel efficiency, all of its key rivals have five star safety, and it's certainly not the first looker in the class. It's even more expensive and thirstier than before, but in a segment where no rival does everything exceptionally well, the breadth of the third-generation model's improvements could push it straight to the top of the seven-seat class.
The previous model had fallen half a generation behind its Hyundai Santa Fe mechanical twin, along with being overshadowed by newer versions of the Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory, and Nissan Pathfinder.
On paper at least, the new Sorento looks to push the Korean brand further from its cheap and not even cheerful origins than any model to date, and Kia is banking on the new seven-seater to continue the brand's march up the Australian sales charts.
Reflecting buyer demand for more car-like handling and interior space over off road ruggedness, the new Sorento is longer and lower than before, adding 80mm to the wheelbase, 95mm in overall length, and losing 45mm in height.
It may carry hints of the old model in its window line, but it actually rides on all-new underpinnings, with the new N-Platform also forming the basis of the third-generation Carnival people mover that arrived earlier this year.
The Sorento also shares its handsome looks with the big van, with the latest Peter Schreyer-era style translating well to the oh so now SUV proportions.
The interior has scored a similar lift, with even the basic Si trim level carrying an upmarket feel. The trim strip running between the front doors and the base of the windscreen has clearly been influenced by the Audi A6 and A7 (which also likely carry some Schreyer influence), but it contributes to a quality feel and variety of materials that easily eclipses all mainstream rivals.
All versions get three 12V power points and two USB outlets, bottle holders in each door, cupholders all round, and the move to an electronic handbrake has created more useful space in the centre console.
The new Sorento's extra length has improved room for both sets of rear seats, with the second row also benefiting from a people mover-like flat floor.
The middle seats should easily swallow three adults or three child seats, but only the outward positions feature ISOFIX child seat mounts. There are three top-tether anchorage points, however.
The second row now folds 40/20/40 and access to the third row has improved marginally, with the easily-erected 50/50-folding back row still limited to average height adults at best.
Those who need to carry seven passengers and luggage will appreciate the extra 62 litres of space (now 320 in total) behind the third row, which is just enough for two pieces of carry-on luggage and two laptop bags.
There's also an extra 30 litres with the third row folded (now 1077), and 14 litres more (now 2066) with both rows folded flat.
The previous model's sub-floor stowage at the rear has also expanded, and those keen on travelling long distances will be glad to see a full-size spare still beneath all variants.
The new Sorento's list pricing has shifted between $2000-$4500 upwards across the range, and the familiar Si, SLi and Platinum trim levels now span $40,990-$55,990.
These gains are countered by boosted levels of standard equipment across the range, and even the base Si gets satnav, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors.
RELATED: Full 2015 Kia Sorento pricing and specifications here.
Other key features include leather trim and an electric tailgate for the SLi and Platinum, and the diesel-only Platinum also adds dual-tone trim and an electric panoramic sunroof.
The previous Platinum made up about 50 per cent of all Sorentos sold, and Kia Australia expects the top spec's popularity to continue with the new model.
Engines / Transmission
The new Sorento continues with a choice of petrol or diesel engines, with the petrol option downsizing from 3.5 litres to 3.3 and dropping 5kW/17Nm to a 199kW/318Nm port-injected version of the V6 that debuted in the Carnival earlier this year.
The turbodiesel is a retuned version of the previous 2.2-litre four cylinder unit, which adds 2kW/5Nm for a new total of 147kW/441Nm.
Petrol models are still 2WD-only, while the diesel engine brings a torque vectoring all-wheel drive system with a centre diff lock. Despite the significant price premium, Kia expects around 80 percent of buyers to opt for diesel models.
All Sorento variants now come with a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission, dropping the previous diesel manual due to a lack of popularity.
Fuel consumption is actually up slightly due to retuning to suit new emissions regulations, with petrol models recording 9.9L/100km (up 0.1) on the combined cycle, and the diesels a still efficient 7.8L/100km (up 0.5).
The petrol engine will happily accept Regular 91RON unleaded, but the more frugal diesel should be capable of a range of around 910km on the highway from the 71-litre tank.
Those looking to use a Sorento for towing should note the maximum braked rating of 2000kg, which matches the previous automatic models but is 500kg short of the previous manual. A 100kg towball download limit is still the rule, and despite this limitation, a slow take up has seen previous model's 150kg upgrade kit dropped.
Given the clear on-road preference of seven-seat SUV buyers, there's little justification for why many still handle like their suspension is designed only for the rigours of rocks and ruts.
For the past decade, the Ford Territory has been the only mainstream standout performer when it comes to on-road dynamics, with the rest falling into the 'good enough for the speeds they're likely to travel at' basket.
However, better handling means better safety no matter what the speed, and the new Sorento has certainly lifted its game significantly.
Like all current models, the Sorento has been treated to an Australia-specific chassis setup, which brings unique spring, shock and swaybar settings to suit local conditions and tastes.
Petrol and diesel versions receive bespoke settings to suit their different weight characteristics, and the result is a composure at speed and through bends that challenges even the Territory.
We sampled both drivetrains over a variety of bitumen and dirt terrains, and were continually impressed. The ride isn't as boulevard smooth as some alternatives, but the better body control is more pleasing to the driver, safer, and less likely to cause car sickness.
The Sorento is also the first Kia to move to a rack-mounted electric power steering system, which theoretically allows more feel than a shaft-mounted setup. The result is a clear step ahead of the recent Carnival, giving the driver a clearer picture of where the front wheels are heading, but there's still too many turns lock-to-lock to challenge the directness of the Territory.
Both engines combine with reduced cabin noise to make for a very pleasant highway cruise, and the Sorento would be a pretty comfortable place to spend a long family road trip.
The more powerful V6 is still the outright performer, but the lazy urge of the diesel on the open road will suit most buyers. The diesel is still surprisingly spritely around town, and its $4500 premium is easier to swallow with the added surety of all-wheel drive thrown into the bargain.
All new Sorentos carry a five star ANCAP safety rating, where the previous model only scored the maximum rating on diesel versions.
Standard across the board is dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags to protect all three rows of seats. The top-spec Platinum adds lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, which functions at speeds as low as 10km/h.
The Platinum's extra features cannot be optioned on Si and SLi variants, however AEB and forward collision alert are missing from the Sorento spec list at any price.