The Kia Sorento family 4x4 has ambition. What started life as an agricultural cheapie has been fettled and polished into something far more refined. This third generation model looks to have the finish and engineering to put the frighteners on those to be considered the best family 4x4, SUV-class high fliers.
The UK range hinges around a 197bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine that develops a peak torque of 441Nm. Sixty is 9.0s away from rest en route to 124mph. A great deal of work has gone into improving refinement, with a torsionally stiffer bodyshell, additional soundproofing, acoustic shields built into the engine bay, and a thicker dashboard. Depending on speed, ambient noise within the cabin is claimed to be between three and six per cent quieter than the previous family 4x4.
An electric assistance motor is attached to the steering rack rather than the steering column as in the old Sorento, helping to improve steering accuracy and offer more detailed feedback. The fully-independent suspension retains the format of the outgoing model (MacPherson struts at the front and Kia's multi-link system at the rear), but features a range of modifications. At the rear, the subframe supporting the suspension has larger bushings to better isolate it from the cabin and the larger shock absorbers are now mounted vertically behind the axle line, improving body control.
The 'p-word' crops up in almost everything you read about the Sorento: premium. It marks a measure of Kia's ambition in this family 4x4. No longer does the brand feel it's achieved something being accepted into the mainstream. It wants to keep on trucking and leave the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and such like behind. There's little doubt that the Sorento's exterior design looks agreeably upmarket. The styling work was led by Kia's Namyang design studio in Korea, with significant input from the brand's Frankfurt, Germany and Irvine, California studios. The face of the new Sorento incorporates long, wrap-around headlamps and more prominent fog-lamps, as well as a larger, more upright 'tiger-nose' grille, with a distinctive three-dimensional diamond pattern. In profile, it retains the Sorento's hallmark long bonnet and trademark chunky D-pillar, but a lower roofline, higher beltline and swept-back shape give the car a more assertive, muscular stance.
The cabin follows a 'modern and wide' theme, providing the interior with a stable, horizontal layout and appearance. A higher proportion of soft-touch materials and leather aims to create a luxury feel. 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 also increases, and capacity with the third row seats folded flat is up 17.5 percent, from 515 to 605-litres. The Sorento also features a neat under-floor tonneau cover storage compartment, a neat touch for this family 4x4.
It's hard not to be impressed at the way Kia has gone about developing the third-generation Sorento to find its place in the family 4x4 segment. While some may grumble that we don't really need cars to get progressively bigger with each passing generation, few would have any complaints about the way the Sorento has matured. It's better looking than before and a good deal more design 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 keep pace with the best family 4x4s in this ever-developing segment.
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 appear to be just too much of a bargain to overlook.Click here to find out more about our Kia Sorento range
Ford has completed its family 4x4 SUV line-up with a larger model, the Edge, a car that takes the brand back into the luxury part of this segment. Canadian-built, it's largely designed for the other side of the Atlantic, but the brand reckons it's also been tuned for the needs of European buyers too.
The family 4x4 is offered here with a choice of 180PS 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine with six-speed manual transmission, or a 210PS bi-turbo 2.0litre TDCi diesel with a six-speed PowerShift automatic gearbox. The Edge offers fresh Ford technologies, including Adaptive Steering, which automatically optimises the steering response according to vehicle speed, making it easy to manoeuvre at low speeds, while remaining precise and intuitive at higher speeds.
The Edge features Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive (AWD) technology as standard, delivering a seamless transition between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive performance to provide a more secure footing on the road especially in slippery conditions. Measuring how the 4x4's wheels are gripping the road surface every 16 milliseconds - 20 times quicker than it takes to blink - the system can send up to 100 per cent of engine torque to the front or rear wheels. Strong refinement is achieved with acoustic windscreen glass and all Edge models are also equipped with Ford's Active Noise Control technology that detects unwanted engine noise in the cabin and cancels it out with opposing sound waves fed through the integrated sound system.
The Edge model's exterior is sharply sculpted and athletic with strong 'shoulders' and a muscular, quite compact bonnet. To improve efficiency, unique air curtains are positioned on the lower part of the fascia to guide air from the front of the vehicle, out through the front wheel wells and down the vehicle side.
The interior has been designed with pretty high-quality materials throughout, including soft-touch trims on the dashboard and centre console, high-gloss piano black surrounds on the switch bezels and a satin silver metal finish for the door handles, air vent bezels, glovebox trim and steering wheel detailing - little touches that puts it in consideration for being the best family 4x4. The Edge is also offered with heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats from mid-range 'Titanium' trim.
One thing's for certain: this is the most competitive large family 4x4 SUV that the Blue Oval brand has yet brought us. It's sharply styled, well equipped and as capable off road as it needs to be.
Of course, there are some drawbacks with the Edge. It doesn't offer seven seats to take on some of its key rivals and the six-speed automatic transmission can take a little longer to swap gears than we'd ideally like. But you know what? We can happily live with these foibles. Ford at last has a contender for the top 10 family 4x4 segment.Click here to find out more about our Ford Edge range
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Land Rover reckons that this Discovery Sport is the most versatile premium compact, family 4x4 SUV currently on sale. And to say that it is the best family 4x4 is a credible claim. This is, after all, the only prestigiously-badged car in this segment that can seat seven. It's also smart, practical, safe - and rugged enough to go a lot further than its rivals off the beaten track. Media connectivity can even now alert you if you've left an important personal item behind. Plus a state-of-the-art range of 'Ingenium' 2.0 TD4 diesel engines offer class-leading power and efficiency. It all means that there's nothing else quite like this car.
On to engines, which are Land Rover's advanced 2.0-litre four cylinder Ingenium TD4 units, shared with the Range Rover Evoque and designed to deliver improved efficiency, along with class-leading torque and power. The most affordable TD4 unit in the range comes with 150PS and 350Nm of torque, but it's only offered with this car in five-seat form. Here, 62mph from rest occupies 11s on the way to 112mph.
Most though, will want the 180PS variant which comes only with the seven-seat layout and delivers a much lustier 430Nm of torque. Here, there's a maximum speed of 117mph, while 62mph from rest takes 9.4s, though you can reduce this figure by a second if you take up the option of the slick nine-speed ZF auto gearbox many owners will want. More importantly, this variant has enough pulling power to permit a towing capability of up to 2,500kgs when the optional Tow Pack is fitted. Both the TD4 powerplants come mated exclusively to 4WD. This, by the way, is a proper permanent set-up rather than the less effective 'on-demand' AWD system that this car's less capable competitors use - and which Land Rover itself offers on this family 4x4 model in other markets.
Even if you'd never seen a picture of the Discovery Sport, you could probably generate a reasonably accurate mental sketch of it were you to imagine crossing a Range Rover with a five-door Evoque. It's a really handsome piece of design work. The wheels are pushed nicely to each corner and there's that distinctive canted forward C-pillar profile that became such a Freelander signature.
Land Rover describes the seating arrangement in this family 4x4 as '5+2' rather than a full seven-seater: that's because the rearmost seats are designed largely for kids and occasional use. The middle row of seats can be reclined, slid back and forth by 160mm, and also splits 60:40. They're also 5cm higher than the fronts which affords a good view out. Boot space measures a useable 195-litres with all seats up, but the Discovery Sport is likely to spend most of its life in five-seat mode, in which case you get a massive 830-litres. Fold both second and third rows and you can carry up to 1,698-litres, what you want in the best family 4x4.
Once again, Land Rover has looked at a market that many thought was packed to bursting point and spotted a significant gap, into which it's parked the Discovery Sport. What other car in the family 4x4 segment can seat seven, set off in the Serengeti and slot right in as easily in Sloane Square as it will in the tightest multi-storey carpark space? No other premium compact SUV can do all this.
Which is why this model is going to continue to cause all kinds of headaches for similarly-priced up-market top 10 family 4x4 contenders such as Audi, BMW, Volvo and Lexus. Discovery Sport buyers can get all the style and class of such cars with the additional versatility of seven seats, a feature that'll also attract the attention of people who'd previously have had to settle for something Korean like a Hyundai Santa Fe or a Kia Sorento.
You get extra off road prowess with a Discovery Sport too, though it's not quite a match for its German rivals if you want to throw your car around on-tarmac. Fortunately, most family 4x4 buyers don't, prioritising instead the kind of supple highway ride and fast fluid responses this car is actually very good at delivering. It all means that for once, the advertising tagline for this model works for the product it's supposed to promote. 'Above and beyond' was the objective in developing this car. In considering the end result, you'd have to say that mission's been accomplished.Click here to find out more about our Land Rover Discovery Sport range