Sorento scores on match day
Kia's seven-seater 'Highline Cruiser' was a big hit with his son's football team and changed Campbell Spray's unfavourable perceptions of SUVs
IT GETS you no end of kudos to turn up at your son's Sunday football match with a vehicle that can take more than half the team home, even if they are all now university students and it is 15 years since I first saw them play together at primary school.
Now seated in the Kia Sorento -- a marque that wasn't even launched here for those first games -- they talk of women, Erasmus years abroad and nights out in the same way they once gossiped about a purple dinosaur.
On the pitch, everything has changed, too. I see these boys playing men with bald heads, beer bellies and a sporting aggression bred of years in cup soccer. But then I forget that the boys are men, too, and both teams are of an age that gives no quarter.
The perception of the Sorento changes, too. Okay, it was quite fun to pick it up the week before, fold two rows of seats down and throw my bike in the back but really I don't warm to seven-seater SUVs. On the whole, they are just too big, flashy and so Celtic Tiger that they induce loathing rather than respect. But out at the eerily quiet Dublin Airport sports grounds last Sunday, the Sorento received a brand new fan base. It does the business and transports people in safety, style and at a price equivalent to the lower reaches of executive saloons.
While Kia doesn't shun the SUV tag for the Sorento, it describes the vehicle as a 'Highline Cruiser' with up to seven seats. They also claim that the new Sorento's design has a more "distinctive character . . . communicating athleticism, precision and modernity". This design language will pave the way for the smaller Kia Sportage which will arrive in about six months' time and will be first cousin of the Hyundai iX 35.
Over the past seven years, the previous generation Sorento had global sales of almost 900,000 units. It was the vehicle with which Kia started to change the perception of it as a "maker of small cars".
The longer one-piece ('monocque') body shell created for the new Sorento means that it has created much more space throughout than was available in the old ladder-frame chassis. However, at the same time, the weight has been reduced by the equivalent of a reasonably hefty man (215kg) even though technical, safety and comfort features have been added.
The range starts at €38,995 for the 4x2 EX model and peaks at €45,495 for the automatic GSE version. The only 4x4 version is the highly specced GSE at €43,995. I was impressed by the economical but gutsy new 2.2 197bhp diesel engine which powers the Sorento. Our road tax bands conspire to nudge the Sorento's emissions of 171 g/km into the €630 level, which is a pity as the car would be significantly cheaper to buy and run at 1 g/km less. But this small island's rates wouldn't be at the forefront of the minds of Kia's designers and engineers.
Despite its size -- and no-one can pretend that the Sorento isn't a big beast -- the car drives smaller and tighter than you might think. I was amazed at the spaces into which it fit. It sits well and the engineering bias towards on rather than off-road motoring has paid off. There still might be a bit of a roll on corners but the grip generally is excellent. The Sorento is probably the most luxurious and best-built Kia yet. A British colleague says the "real and perceived quality is as good as a Toyota". That might be mixed blessing at the moment!
Of course, the market for SUVs has changed radically. But the Kia Sorento certainly is a very worthy contender if you need a seven-seater -- even if the final two seats are more suitable for children or shorter adults. If you only need five seats, there is some brilliant competition out there with much more character.
But for what it is and does, the Sorento changed my perceptions of the SUV. This is a refined machine which does exactly what it is meant to. It wouldn't normally be my vehicle of choice but just occasionally it is nice to pick up Brownie points, and half the football team.