One third of the vehicles sold in Australia are SUVs, so for manufacturers, having the right SUVs in their ranges is a giant deal.

Yes, it’s safe to say Kia has quite a lot riding on this new Sorento.

Kia launched its new large SUV in June this year and for the first time, it had one up on its key Korean competitor, the Hyundai Santa Fe.

You see, the new Sorento is based on the same platform as the current Carnival people mover, not the older Santa Fe. This means the Sorento’s underpinnings are a later design than those of the current Santa Fe.

So for now, these two Korean SUVs are no longer twins under the skin.

Spec and pricing

Pricing starts from $40,990 for the two wheel drive petrol Si, ranging up to $55,990 for the range-topping four wheel drive diesel Platinum. That makes the Platinum variant $4,500 more expensive than it was previously, but you’re also getting a lot more car.

Drivetrain options for the Sorento remain similar to those of before, with a 3.3-litre, 199kW/318Nm petrol V6 available in the front wheel drive models. Four wheel drive versions come with the 2.2-litre diesel, which has 147kW and 441Nm.

What’s new

The most significant changes made to the Sorento, which was launched in June 2015, have been improvements to the vehicle’s overall refinement.

Generally speaking, Korean vehicles (particularly diesels) have been a step behind the Europeans in this area, however, the improvements in the Sorento’s refinement are palpable.

Soundproofing has been added to the transmission tunnel and inside the dashboard, and the vehicle has also received bigger engine mounts which better isolate the engine’s vibrations.

Safety

The new Sorento also gets improved safety kit, including a rear view camera as standard across the range. All model grades also get six airbags (including front to rear curtains), ESC, hill start assist and brake assist. There are also seat belt reminders for all seats.

On the range-topping Sorento Platinum (which is also the biggest-selling Sorento variant), additional safety systems include lane departure warning, active cruise control, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. Auto braking isn’t available though.

Nonetheless, the Sorento does have a 5-star ANCAP safety rating.

That brand new body shell also contains 52.7 per cent ultra-high tensile steel, up on the previous generation’s 24.4 per cent.

Kia reckons that not only improves the strength of the vehicle’s passenger cell, the extra rigidity also makes it handle a bit better. For its size and weight, it does handle well but it’s no sports car.

On the road

In the previous generation Sorento, the powerful V6 in the petrol models turned the vehicle into a torque-steering liability, leaping about the road as it tried to decide which front tyre to send the power through and not really sending it though either.

Now, Kia has added its new Advanced Traction Cornering Control (ATCC), which has transformed the petrol Sorento and made it a far more calm and collected beast when accelerating.

ATCC acts like the electronic limited slip differentials we have already seen in some Volkswagen products such as the Golf GTI and Scirocco R, which provide more torque to the outer rear wheel and brake the inner rear wheel under cornering.

In the petrol Sorento, the system does make a significant difference but it doesn’t completely eliminate the tugging at the wheel while accelerating.

The diesel does have some accelerator lag and step-off response from standstill is delayed until you get the pedal down some way. This isn’t turbo lag, rather the way accelerator has been calibrated. It’s a bit irritating, especially in heavy traffic.

Interior

The interior is well appointed, with seven seats as standard. Leg room in the rearmost seats is excellent and there are even ventilation controls for those rearmost occupants – neither of which can be said of all its competitors.

Interior finishes are markedly better than in the previous model.

Verdict

It’s longer and wider than the last Sorento, and with its improved overall refinement, it’s now a serious competitor against the more expensive Toyota Kluger, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder. And unlike these, the Sorento can be had with a more efficient diesel.

The Sorento has now hit the big league, and the old stalwarts had better watch out.

2015 Kia Sorento Specifications

Price: From $45,750 driveaway
Engine: 3.3-litre petrol or 2.2-litre turbo diesel
Power: 199kW (petrol); 147kW (diesel)
Torque: 318Nm (petrol); 441Nm (diesel)
Claimed fuel economy: 9.9L/100km (petrol); 7.8L/100km (diesel)
ANCAP Rating: 5 stars
CO2 Emissions: 230g/km (petrol); 205g/km
Kerb weight: 1,921kg (petrol); 2,036kg (diesel)
Payload 950kg
Maximum towing capacity (petrol & diesel): 750kg/2,000kg (unbraked/braked)