The Kia Sorento has long been a caravanner's favourite, but a lot of that fondness stems from the first generation car, introduced to the UK in 2002.
That original car was a relatively crude vehicle, but it was big enough to tow any UK tourer and cheap enough to tempt buyers from looking at used versions of the Land Rover Discovery or Mitsubishi Shogun to cast an eye over a new Sorento. They quickly became a common sight on site, helped by an endorsement from the Caravan Club's tow car competition.
The second generation car ditched the ruggedness of the first, opting instead for a more refined, plusher appeal and far better economy, but it didn't appeal to caravanners in the same way as the first car. Kia is hoping the all-new model can go some way to attracting back the well-heeled caravanning crowd.
The third generation Kia Sorento is designed to address the previous car’s shortcomings while building on the things it already did well. There are lots of changes, but the headlines are refreshed styling, chassis and steering improvements to sharpen how this large SUV drives, and the cabin has had a significant push upmarket. It now has seven seats as standard.
In terms of what has stayed the same, the Sorento has always offered plenty of interior space, and the previous generation’s 2.2-litre diesel engine and gearboxes are carried across. The new car still gets Kia’s class-leading, seven-year warranty.
There is a single engine choice – the 2.2CRDi with a choice of automatic or manual gearboxes.
I saw the new Kia Sorento in the glamorous surroundings of South Korea’s Jeju Island. I got to drive about in the new car to see what it's like and what tow car potential it has. That said, driving a left-hand drive car on good roads in nice environments is, at best, only an indication of what the car will be like in the UK. However, that indication is that the new car will be a force to be reckoned with.
Sorento aficionados will struggle to spot big differences outside the big Korean, but that is no disaster as the previous car was a relatively handsome old thing in its own way. It has been refined, with heavily revised front and rear ends too.
Inside the cabin, however, Kia has massively improved the quality of the interior in its flagship off-roader and it has worked. The previous car felt well-made, but this is a genuinely nice place to be. Our test car is roughly equivalent to what a top-spec KX4 car will be like, which means electric seats, a full-length glass sunroof and all manner of other toys.
The dashboard is now a stylish affair, hewn from squishy plastics which look and feel properly posh. The eight-inch infotainment screen is comfortable and logical to navigate, but happily the heating controls are kept separate from the infotainment and are simple and self-explanatory.
The middle row of seats benefits from a completely flat floor, which helps make the middle seat comfy and six-footers have enough headroom. Only in the rearmost seats will taller passengers need to duck, and be reasonably limber to clamber over the middle row of seats. They get their own ventilation controls so it doesn’t get too stuffy, though.
On the road (albeit Korean ones), the new Kia Sorento rides significantly better than the car it replaces. It steers and handles better, too. Performance from the 2.2-litre diesel engine is eager enough and the six-speed automatic gearbox fitted to the test car went about its business without problem. Stop-start is standard on all models, while lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, external cameras, adaptive cruise control, speed limit detection and a host of other safety and security options are available.
On twistier roads, the Sorento’s bulk is kept well in check too. Head into a corner a little too quick, and it will lean and soon become uncomfortable for passengers, but driven more normally, it impresses. Good body control is an essential for a car that will tow tidily, so that bodes well for next year’s Tow Car Awards. The manual weighs in at 1821kg, rising to 1849kg for the auto. Towing limits remain unchanged at 2500kg for manual cars and 2000kg for automatic versions, and the tow ball limit is 100kg.
It’s clear the new Kia Sorento isn’t perfect. Prices are not confirmed, aside from saying they will be ‘higher’ which is never good news. There is still not a tremendous amount of feedback from the front wheels and the ride is upset by the worst surfaces, but the all-round improvements make it an appealing prospect and a potentially serious rival for the Land Rover Discovery Sport when it arrives next year.