Why Sorento could be 'seven heaven' for larger families
It is surprising how many people ask me about seven-seater cars these days. The obvious assumption is that there are - or are going to be - a lot of larger families out there. But when I get chatting to people, a different picture emerges.
They don't have five or six children (yet, anyway) and they don't want the seven seats for every day as such. They want them for weekends or when it is their turn to take the children's friends to training, gymnastics or day trips.
Frankly, there are few cars, as opposed to van-based motors, with decent room for all seven. Usually, therefore, the third row of seating is reserved for the smaller family members.
What can be more difficult, however, is getting the children in and out without them warming up for their gymnastics classes by wriggling in and out of the car.
The other factor to which I always draw people's attention is that you need to be extra careful with these sizeable motors, especially with a full complement of young passengers.
I didn't have seven aboard this week's review car, the Kia Sorento seven-seater, but I was always conscious of its extensive dimensions. Technically, it is a SUV, but I prefer to regard it as a people carrier that happens to have four-wheel drive.
I attach a lot of importance to the 4x4 because it confers considerable traction and the more of that you can get, the safer you're going to be. In a way, that's what distinguishes this from the likes of the Ford Galaxy, for example.
And here's another thing about the Sorento: there is a five-seat version, but 90pc of potential buyers want seven. It is a sort of insurance policy - better to have the extra seats than not.
You do pay for the privilege. KIA is moving upmarket with this. There was a time when Sorentos were, rightly, regarded as cheap SUV alternatives. This now costs north of €43,000, so that tag no longer fits. Prime rivals include its cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe, and the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
There isn't that much to say about its design overall as far as I'm concerned, but I do like the way they've done the front, with the grille especially eye-catching. Every car needs one stand-out visual and that's the Sorento's.
Inside heralds greater improvement and reflects the marque's more urban, upmarket ambitions. It would have been easy for what is a large cabin to be overwhelmed by swathes of dark plastic. But with two-tone upholstery in my test car and some simple innovations across the fascia and dash (the 7ins touchscreen was clean and easy to work), it works well. Importantly, the seating was copious, broad, and mine had lumbar support (excellent driving position too).
You need big wing mirrors in these cars and I couldn't fault the Sorento on that front. It was on the go a lot - in-town traffic, motorway and country roads - and was never short of a few passengers (or their luggage).
We didn't require use of the two rear seats but tried them out anyway. They flip up or fold flat quite easily and the more agile among us had no problem getting in or out.
However, and this is the bane of all of these vehicles, with the third row up, there is really poor, poor space for luggage.
I expected to be criticising the 2.2-litre diesel engine, because it is a tweaked carry-over from the previous one. In fairness, it came through well and kept quiet, even in that harsh environment of first and second-gear traffic. It was excellent on the motorway - I think that's where it shines.
Great pulling power (torque) meant I hardly had to change gears.
The 6spd gearbox was, as I expected, simple and straightforward. And I was grateful for an ordinary handbrake; I'm still slightly uneasy with electronic versions.
They have also improved the suspension which, with the all-wheel-drive system, gave the car a more solid, less frumpy, feel.
The AWD system feeds most power to the front wheels but can switch 40pc to the rear ones if needed.
On the downside, there is no doubt the price has crept up. I know KIA will say it has packed in the equipment -and it has. And it is conscious of the Santa Fe's price and reputation.
So the question is: will you pay €43,000+ for a KIA?
I'd still say it is a lot of car for the money and has improved considerably on cabin and drive quality. No doubt, the rivals mentioned have their big points too. But this is undoubtedly a much stronger option than the old one.
The facts and figures: KIA Sorento
Powered by 2.2-litre (197bhp, 149g/100km) diesel engine. Road tax is €390 a year.
Standard equipment includes all-wheel-drive, an array of airbags and safety equipment both active and passive. Entry-level equipment also includes 17ins alloys, sat nav with reversing camera and rear privacy glass. And the brand's seven-year warranty applies.
The expected big-seller is the seven-seater Platinum trim which includes the likes of a panoramic sunroof, Xenon lights, leather and heated seats (front and second rows), heated steering wheel and electrically adjustable driver's seat.
Prices start from €38,995 for the EX five-seater version.
The seven-seater Platinum version taken on test costs from €43,995.
Remember: delivery and related charges are extra.
My side of the road
I took the bus into, and back from, town the other day. It accidentally afforded me an opportunity to study driving and drivers without worrying about being distracted at the wheel myself.
Goodness me, but we are drifting back to the bad old days, aren't we?
I have not seen so many people disregard the rules of the road for a long time. Is it because there are fewer Traffic Corps gardai out there, I wonder? Honestly, we are steadily slipping into old ways, especially as far as texting or phoning at the wheel is concerned.
People just do it now almost as a matter of course and I'm sorry to say, a lot of younger drivers appear to have no hesitation in using a mobile at the wheel.
All the way into town I kept coming across more and more examples.
What's to be done at all?