For 2018, the Kia Sorento – the company’s flagship SUV – has been given a modest update and a sportier edge.

Kicking off the changes is a new GT-Line trim level that adds ‘ice cube’ LED fog-lights, stainless steel side steps, twin exhausts, 19-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers, plus a GT-Line S model that goes on to add a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, power tailgate, ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control and a raft of other goodies.

There’s also a new Harmon/Kardon premium sound system, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard across the range.

Under the bonnet, there’s the familiar 2.2-litre turbodiesel with 197hp and 441Nm of torque, but it’s now available with a new eight-speed automatic transmission that leads to improved economy of 43.5 mpg and reduced emissions of 170 g/km compared to the previous six-speed unit.

Also new is a choice of four drive modes and a pair of gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel of GT-Line models.

On the road, the new box changes quickly and smoothly through each of its ratios. In fact, on upshifts it’s not unlike a dual-clutch unit, so readily does it blend one gear into the next.

While drive modes can often feel like something of a contrivance, in the Sorento each offers a usefully distinct character – Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart, the latter learning your driving style and adapting as necessary – with each delivering an appropriate adjustment to steering effort and throttle response.

Slightly less successful, however, is the integration with the stop/start system. We found it was a touch too keen to disengage drive and shut off the engine, often before the Sorento had even come to a stop, and when restarting on a slight incline it was all too easy to roll backwards before drive had been re-engaged.

That aside, the new gearbox only enhances the feeling of calm serenity within the Sorento cabin – helped by the compliant ride and light yet accurate steering – and although passengers were left in no doubt that the journey was oil-fired, the admirable lack of both wind- and road-noise impressed all.

As did the sheer amount of space and comfort on offer. The seats of our GT-Line S car boasted adjustment in every direction you can think of – plus a few you probably hadn’t – while passengers in the second row are spoiled with a flat floor and reclining seats.

Even those in the third row get their own cup holders and ventilation controls, and when the passengers vs. cargo trade-off demands lowering the rear-most seats, that’s easy to do with a simple pull strap.

As we’ve come to expect, Kia have thought hard about the details, so you’ll find clips to keep unused seat-belts out of the way, an underfloor compartment with a dedicated space for the cargo cover, and levers in the boot wall to make folding the second-row seats just as easy.

Fold everything flat and you’ll have 1,662 litres of cat-swinging space at your disposal, complete with a virtually flat load floor.

Up front, drivers enjoy clear, no-nonsense instruments, and we’re glad to see intelligent use of physical switchgear for things like temperature controls, rather than following the trend for relegating it all to a touch-screen. Everything feels beautifully weighted, too.

In normal driving, Kia’s Dynamax all-wheel-drive system sends engine torque to the front wheels only, but can redistribute up to 40% to the rear to enhance cornering or aid traction, while a lock button by the gear-lever creates a 50:50 split for use in slippery conditions up to 25mph.

Ground clearance of 185mm might mean you won’t be tackling the Rubicon any time soon, but we found the system perfectly capable of traversing a muddy field without digging itself into a hole, so a snow-covered A-road shouldn’t present much of a problem.

And to help avoid an accident the Sorento is available with the full gamut of safety gubbins, such as rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, speed limit display, and more – all of which behaved perfectly during our testing.

Kia’s inexorable move up-market does mean the new Sorento comes with a modest up-lift in price, with the range now starting at £28,995, while our range-topping GT-Line S weighs in at £41,995.

Making that easier to swallow is Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile transferable warranty, and although we couldn’t quite match the official economy figure of 43.5 mpg, after a week’s testing we’d achieved a respectable average of 39.7 mpg.

What appealed to us most about the Sorento, though, was the feeling of assurance it afforded its occupants. As you climb aboard, you can almost hear it saying “don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

For a seven-seat family SUV, that’s what makes it just about perfect.

Tester’s Notes

  • New 8-speed auto very smooth, although a touch slow to engage gear after engine re-start, often doesn’t hold the car during restarts on moderate slopes
  • Admirable absence of wind noise, engine a touch noisy at times
  • Well weighted switch-gear, nice to have dedicated controls for temperature, heated seats, etc.
  • Easy to fold/unfold rear seats
  • Rear-most passengers get cup holders, a/c controls, etc
  • Thoughtful touches such as clips for seatbelts
  • Virtually flat load floor with all seats folded, place to store cargo cover, levers to fold middle seats forward
  • 39.7mpg on test
Entry-level Price£28,995Price as tested£41,995
Engine2199cc 4-cyl turbodieselTransmission8-speed auto
Power197bhp @ 3,800rpmTorque441Nm @ 1,750-2,750rpm
0-609.1 secsTop speed127 mph
Economy43.5 mpgCO2170 g/km
Dimensions4800 x 1890 x 1690 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight1953 kg