Thinking that maybe it had been left in the wrong place, I went out with her and pointed at our test model. ‘What’s that then?’ I asked her.
‘That’s not a van – it’s an SUV,’ she replied. And there you have it in a nutshell – if you want to buy a van and claim back the VAT, but you don’t want anyone to know you are driving a commercial vehicle, the Sorento XE-C is the vehicle for you.
It looks like a 4x4, drives like a 4x4 and by golly it is a 4x4. The only thing missing is a row of seats in the back.
Kia has joined the growing band of manufacturers which have realised they don’t have to spend millions of pounds developing an LCV but instead can take out the rear set of seats from an existing car, fit a load floor and save themselves the time and effort.
And I have to admit that, after spending a week with the Sorento XE-C, it isn’t half bad. It weighs in at a diminutive £14,341 ex-VAT and comes with a 2.5-litre common rail diesel engine offering 138bhp at 3,800rpm and 252lb-ft of torque from 1,250rpm.
Our test model came with a five-speed manual gearbox but an automatic is also available, at £15,277.
The cargo area measures 1,610mm in length, 1,370mm in width and 930mm in height and payload is 544kg. Fuel consumption on the combined cycle is 36.7mpg.
Behind the wheel
THE Sorento may be a bargain-basement model but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. This vehicle can hold its head up with the rest of them – it’s macho, chunky and stylish, especially clad in the silver paint of our test model.
Meanwhile the bottom end of the van is completely swathed in plastic, which means annoying bumps and scrapes can be dealt with cheaply.
Entry to the cabin is via remote plip-locking and once inside, the seating area is pleasant and functional, with hard seats that feature plenty of side and back support.
Being a car at heart, there isn’t a great deal of space for the average van driver’s detritus, but the centre console has two can/cup holders and there is a nice big double-compartment lidded storage bin.
In-van entertainment is provided by a very good quality JVC radio/CD player, which will pump out a massive amount of noise if required. The bad news is that it features masses of tiny little buttons on the front and is quite awkward to use safely while on the move.
The rear loadspace is square and as there is no lip at the rear end, loads can be easily slid in and out.
Thanks to the addition of the two rear doors along with the rear tailgate, there should be no access problems. There are also four load-lashing eyes and a handy hidden compartment which is revealed by lifting up a flap in the floor.
Firing up the powerplant reveals a smooth unit with none of the old diesel death rattle and there is certainly no lack of pulling power, either loaded or empty.
The gearchange is extremely slick for a four-wheel drive vehicle, although the power steering is so light that there is very little feel for what’s going at the wheels.
Four-wheel drive high and low ratios are selected by a switch on the dashboard.
WE are extremely impressed with this vehicle. It obviously won’t suit all tastes, but for fleets which need a vehicle that isn’t afraid to get its feet dirty and won’t cost the earth the Sorento XE-C makes a convincing case for itself.
And it fights a good corner on costs, too. The rival Jeep Cherokee Pioneer is more than £3,000 more expensive.
Model tested: Kia Sorento XE-C
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,600
Payload (kg): 544
Max power (bhp/rpm): 138/3,800
Max torque (lb ft/rpm): 252/1,850
Price (£ ex-VAT): 14,341