The Kia Sorento has ambition. What started life as an agricultural cheapie has been fettled and polished into something far more refined. This improved third generation model looks to have the finish and engineering to put the frighteners on the SUV-class high fliers.
As before, this Sorento comes only with (the same) 197bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine. What's changed is that this unit is now mated to a much more sophisticated eight-speed automatic transmission (replacing the previous rather clunky six-speeder). This auto gearbox offers four different drive modes - Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart. Drivers can select their preferred mode with the Sorento's electronic Drive Mode Select system. Each mode enables the user to customise the powertrain's responses to driver inputs, enhancing fuel economy or acceleration characteristics depending on preference.
Otherwise, things are much as previously and as before, a six-speed manual transmission remains available. The 2.2-litre diesel develops a peak torque of 441Nm and powers this Kia to 62mph in 9.0s en route to 124mph. Like most of its rivals, this Sorento isn't really intended for off road use, though rutted tracks are easily within its remit should you want to make use of the provided selectable 4WD system. Refinement is quite impressive, thanks to a torsionally stiff bodyshell, plenty of soundproofing, acoustic shields built into the engine bay, and a thick dashboard. There's nothing particularly sophisticated about the fully-independent suspension (it's mainly borrowed from the previous generation model and features MacPherson struts at the front and Kia's multi-link system at the rear), but Kia maintains that it's fit for purpose. At the rear, the subframe supporting the suspension has large bushings to better isolate it from the cabin and the large shock absorbers are mounted vertically behind the axle line, improving body control.
Updates to the Sorento's exterior design include revised front and rear bumpers, smarter LED headlamps, revised tail lights and a slicker dark metallic finish for the 'tiger-nose' front grille. Otherwise, it's as you were, which means that the Sorento's hallmark long bonnet and trademark chunky D-pillar have been retained, along with the low-ish roofline, high beltline and swept-back shape, all combining to give the car quite a more assertive, muscular stance.
Inside, the cabin features a re-designed steering wheel and driver instrument cluster, as well as a classier climate control LCD display and Kia's latest 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system incorporating a new Audio-Visual Navigation set-up. There's also an increased proportion of soft touch materials and leather for a more premium cabin ambience. The interior follows a 'modern and wide' theme, providing passengers with a stable, horizontal layout. As before, one of the most distinctive interior styling features is the Swiss watch-inspired centre-console, although to this eye it still looks more Casio than Rado. There's a stack of room inside there though, with five or seven seat models offered. The extra 80mm of wheelbase means greater legroom throughout. Cargo space is impressive and capacity with the third-row seats folded flat is rated at 605-litres. The Sorento also features a neat under-floor tonneau cover storage compartment.
It's hard not to be impressed at the way Kia has gone about developing this third-generation Sorento. It's better looking than before and plenty of engineering input has gone into refinement, both aural and haptic. It's just a more assured and confident design. What we're still not quite seeing is a pronounced Kia hallmark with this car. It still seems a fairly reactive move to the way the SUV market is developing.
For many buyers, this is no bad thing. The Sorento looks a good deal more expensive than it is and even in a notoriously badge-conscious sector it would, in many ways, appear to be just too much of a bargain to overlook. Try one before you choose something pricier in this segment.Click here to find out more about our Kia Sorento range
Skoda enters the mid-sized SUV segment with this Kodiaq, a model with class-leading passenger space, plenty of luxurious touches and the option of seven seats. It can tow up to 2.5-tonnes and has the largest boot in the class too. In other words, you'd have to take this contender seriously.
The mainstream Kodiaq engine range is built around three TDI diesel units and a further trio of TSI petrol powerplants. Most will want the 2.0-litre TDI unit, offered with either 115, 150 or 190PS, with the pokier version able to accelerate this large SUV to 62mph in 8.6s on the way to 130mph. The range of petrol engines consists of two 1.4 TSI units, plus a 2.0 TSI powerplant. The entry-level 1.4 TSI generates 125PS and 200Nm of torque, while the pokier 1.4 option manages 150PS and 250Nm of pulling power. The top-of-the-range 2.0 TSI petrol engine develops 180PS with a decent 320Nm of torque. It'll be a rare choice though.
Possibly of more interest than the engines on offer will be the freshly-developed 7-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox, an option to the standard 6-speed manual with some variants. An optional 'Driving Mode Select' system enables the driver to tweak throttle response, steering feel and auto gearshift timings, plus on 4x4 versions there's a 'Snow' setting that optimises things for off road use. Front wheel drive is mandatory on base petrol and diesel Kodiaqs and optional on the 1.4 TSI 150PS or 2.0 TDI 150PS derivatives. Most will want 4WD though and you have to have it on top petrol and diesel units that must also be coupled with the auto transmission.
The Kodiaq's styling conforms to the way you'd expect a big Skoda SUV to look, with a clear, precise and clean-cut shape marked out by a distinctive, highly recessed shoulder line. The wide, three-dimensional radiator grille is quite striking and the narrow, raked headlights look distinctive appearance. The Kodiaq is one of the biggest VW Group models to be spun off the conglomerate's MQB platform. It's around 4.7m in length and the long wheelbase and short overhangs point to a large interior.
That's certainly what you get once you take a seat inside. This is a much bigger SUV than the brand's Yeti, which ample room for heads, legs and knees. The boot's huge too, large enough in fact to accommodate the optional fold-out third seating row that rival Volkswagen Tiguan and SEAT Ateca SUVs can't offer. If you stick with the five-seat variant, there's a 720-litre cargo area, extendable to 2,065-litres once you fold the rear bench. If the optional folding passenger seat is chosen, this SUV can transport items up to 2.80m long. An electrically operated tailgate is available, and a Kodiaq fitted with the TDI/DSG/4x4 drivetrain can tow a trailer weighing up to 2.5-tonnes. It's all very practical.
Skoda has taken its time in bringing us a larger family-sized SUV but what's been delivered with this Kodiaq looks to be a very complete package. We think the 7-seat option is going to be popular and that most customers will choose to specify this car in a version that gives them 4WD. You'd certainly have to be quite addicted to badge snobbery to choose a pricier Volkswagen Tiguan over this Czech contender, the Tiguan after all using exactly the same engineering, offering less interior space and able to seat only five.
Otherwise, all the things that have made Skoda's smaller Yeti SUV/Crossover model so appealing also apply here. You get 'Simply Clever' design features, decent levels of efficiency and a car built to stand the test of time. We think the Kodiaq is going to be a familiar sight on our roads.Click here to find out more about our Skoda Kodiaq range
DS 7 Crossback
As the DS brand points out, beyond the motor industry, three of the world's top five luxury brands are French. Why shouldn't Gallic style be equally desirable when it comes to cars? Perhaps it will be with this one, the first of the company's very own designs, the DS 7 Crossback premium mid-sized SUV.
And on the road? Well at last with this DS 7 Crossback model, we've got a car from this brand that rides as a DS model should. The company has a history of supple springing that goes all the way back to the original Fifties DS saloon with its ground breaking hydropneumatic suspension. This car hasn't anything quite as complex as that, but its 'DS Active Scan' camera-driven active damping set-up does set fresh class standards, able to anticipate bumps and undulations before you even get to them, allowing the Crossback to waft over things like potholes and speed humps with silken ease.
The DS 7 is at its best when you're wafting along and enjoying this Gallic model's more relaxed approach to life. Something you'll be better equipped for if, like most DS 7 buyers, you opt for the 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 diesel powerplant we tried. Like all the conventional engines fitted to this car, it drives only through the front wheels. As for the other engines on offer, well at entry-level, there are two 130hp options, a PureTech petrol unit and a 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesel. Further up the range sit auto-orientated 'PureTech 180' and 'PureTech 225' derivatives, both of which use versions of the same 1.6 THP petrol turbo powerplant. Across the line-up, you can get an optional 'Grip Control' system that optimises front wheel grip for light off road use.
The overall styling concept here isn't too dramatic, but the detailing is certainly very nicely done, particularly at the front end, the look of which was inspired by the avant garde 'DS Divine' concept car of 2014. We particularly like the exotically intricate 'DS Active Vision' LED headlamps, which emit a purple light when the car is unlocked, before pivoting by 180-degrees - in a nod to the original Fifties DS model's clever swivelling front lights.
The brand saves its boldest flourishes though, for the interior, which is intended to be an extrovert celebration of everything that's cutting edge in French fashion. Alcantara, open-pore wood inlays and leather feature in copious quantities appropriate to the Parisian-themed trim package you've chosen. Even the techno-fest that must rather incongruously fit in around all of this frippery can't escape the Louis Vuitton treatment. So, the super-sized 12-inch infotainment touchscreen that struggles to fit in at the top of the centre stack gets a strange barrel-style crystal-like centre volume dial. And, like the 12-inch instrument binnacle TFT monitor, can be configured via a 'DS Sensorial Drive' feature to display its information in shades of either Cashmere or Titanium. Rear seat space is good; even for a six-footer sitting behind quite a lanky front seat occupant, the legroom on offer should be quite sufficient. And there's a decently-sized 555-litre boot.
Charismatic, elegant and satisfyingly rare, the DS 7 Crossback does indeed bring something different to the upper-class part of the mid-sized SUV segment. It's an interesting confection this, relatively conservative in its overall exterior shaping but extreme and individualistic in its Gallic cabin demeanour. Will there be enough premium segment customers wanting that kind of combination? It'll be interesting to see.
Ultimately, we like it most because it feels special - or at least it will for the right kind of buyer. That customer will love the painstaking attention that's been paid to almost every detail of this design. In some respects, the execution isn't perfect - but then, as we've remarked before when reviewing this boutique French maker's products and considering its competitors, there's something rather soul-less and clinical about perfection. The DS brand is about a 'Different Spirit' - a different way to go. Other marques have promised that: with this car though, this one delivers it.Click here to find out more about our DS 7 Crossback range