The Truth About Cars » Kia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Kia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/kia/ Hyundai Sonata Fuel Economy Rating Found Lower Than Stated, Corrected http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hyundai-sonata-fuel-economy-rating-found-lower-than-stated-corrected/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hyundai-sonata-fuel-economy-rating-found-lower-than-stated-corrected/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:40:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=774929 2014 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai announced a correction in the upcoming 2015 Sonata’s fuel economy upon findings showing the economy figures to be lower than originally stated.

Reuters reports the sedan claimed a 6 percent-climb to 12.6 kilometers per liter, a figure based on tests at the automaker’s research center. However, government tests returned a 2 percent-climb of 12.1 kilometers per liter than the outgoing model.

Analysts, including Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade senior researcher Cho Chul, said the impact of the error and subsequent correction would be short-lived, having been announced prior to the new Sonata going on sale later this month in its home market:

This may have a short-term impact on its reputation. But for the longer term, it is better for Hyundai to take quick action before controversy erupts.

Both Hyundai and Kia are rebuilding their reputations regarding fuel economy after overstate figures in their respective lineups led to recalls and customer lawsuits, paying $395 million total in settlements in the United States in 2012 for over 1 million vehicles with erroneous mileage.

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Less Than Thirty Percent Of Kia Dealers To Sell 2015 K900 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/less-than-thirty-percent-of-kia-dealers-to-sell-2015-k900/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/less-than-thirty-percent-of-kia-dealers-to-sell-2015-k900/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:55:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=756329 kia-k900-la-auto-show-09

Kia’s first RWD V8 premium sedan for the United States is set to arrive next month, though less than 30 percent of all Kia dealerships will be ready to welcome the K900 when the first shipments arrive.

Edmunds reports the $60,000 sedan — aimed at the Lexus LS 400 and Mercedes S550 — will be sold by dealerships who signed up for the $30,000 training and display package designed around the K900, according to Kia spokesman Scott McKee:

The experience is designed to shift the culture, prepare authorized K900 dealers to welcome customers who may have never visited a Kia dealership and bring with them expectations set by other luxury brands. That cultural change will have a ripple effect through our network, elevating the experience for all Kia customers.

Kia executive vice president of sales and marketing Michael Sprague added that 220 of Kia’s 765 dealers in U.S. premium markets along the coasts and within the South and Chicago have signed up thus far, though he expects more will join the party once the first phase of the training and marketing push behind the K900 is successful.

As for what customers will see when the K900 arrives in those select showrooms, the premium sedan will have its own space, with dark wood inlays cut into the floor, displays highlighting various color and trim options, and a touchscreen device showing a video of the car’s interior.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Soul ! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=749409 red 2014 kia soul under snow cover

Winter can be stern and humorless. Into the frozen fray trundled a visitor from California. I told the 2014 Kia Soul that it was out of place. Then a whole bunch of snow fell. The Soul’s chipper personality replied “no worries, brah.” With only all-season tires, I was worried, though. Without winter tires, any-wheel drive may be inadequate, proper equipment really does matter. The California license plate peeked out as if to say “Let’s crush some dendrites.”

Turns out the Kia Soul is more than just a whimsical set of wheels. See, whimsy is a tricky thing. It’s a subset of humor, and humor requires a deft touch. The joke is funny when it bends. Go too far, though, and it breaks. Nobody laughs when the funny breaks.

The Kia Soul has been a practical personality box since 2009, and it’s all-new for 2014. You might have to look closely to spot the changes, and that’s good. The original Soul was charming and stretched the gags just enough. In contrast, the Scion xB, this segment’s pioneer, had already lost the plot by 2009.

The example of the xB’s second-generation Thorazine shuffle hung ominously over the 2014 Kia Soul. Would Kia mess up its cheeky little hedgehog-inspired dumpling?

 

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If styling permanence works for the Porsche 911, why can’t it work for the Kia Soul? In fact, it works quite well. It’s hard to be unhappy with so much style for so little money. The base Soul will run you $14,900. I was driving the Exclaim trim, and it turns out the price of my totally-loaded Soul was $27,000. At that price, there’s lots of alternatives, but nothing is quite like the Kia Soul.

Like MINI or the Volkswagen Beetle or even the Jeep Wrangler, the 2014 Soul hews tight to the look established by its predecessor. Park them next to each other, though, and the 2014 Soul instantly makes the original look old. The styling of the new Soul is further refined and smoothed out. Kia makes it sound like there’s a bunch of the Track’ster concept in the new car, but it’s mostly just details like the lower fascia, grille and floating body-color panel in the tailgate. The 2014 Soul looks mostly like the 2009 Soul, though it sits on its wider, longer wheelbase with more visual authority. The stoplights are the easiest tell, if you’re a car-spotter.

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We are in a new age of “Lower! Longer! Wider!” but the dimensional growth is welcome in the 2014 Soul. The back gate is wider, which leads to a larger cargo area. There’s more legroom for both front and rear seats, more front headroom, a lower hip point and reduced step-in height, adding up to a Soul that’s friendlier and more useful. The 2014 Soul turned out to be surprisingly excellent in the snow, even on the all-season tires the standard 18” alloys it wears, so it’s not useless outside of Cali.

Think of the Soul as the 2000s version of the Honda Civic Wagovan or Nissan Stanza Wagon. It’s usefully boxy, economical, easy to get in and out of and easy to drive. For something on a small 101.2” wheelbase, the 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat is impressively large. Fold that second row down and there’s 61.3 cubic feet of room.

Being loaded up with features that used to be luxury car stuff probably didn’t hurt my impression, either. I sat on ventilated leather. Everyone had seat heaters, front and rear. Automatic HID projector headlights burrowed through the swirl of the storm, and I was directed by the navigation system. Above my head, a giant panoramic moonroof gave me an underside view of the glacier on the roof, the Infinity audio system was plenty entertaining, though the pulsing Hamster-Nightclub interior lights were doused quickly. The top-spec infotainment system was easy to use, and the rest of the ergonomics in the Soul are good because they don’t try to be cutesy. The dash speakers that look like coasters are a little weird, though.

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Even without the list of equipment that’s longer than a Dickens story, the Soul would be a pleaser. The base engine for the Soul is a 1.6 liter DOHC direct-injected four cylinder with a healthy-for-its-size 130 hp and a slightly disappointing 118 lb-ft of torque. It’s probably nice enough, like listening to the neighbor kid’s well-practiced rendition of Sing, Sing, Sing, but the Plus and Exclaim get a 2.0 liter that’s Benny Goodman backed by Gene Krupa, instead. (Hey, you carped about my Led Zeppelin reference…) That’s an exaggeration, but the 2.0 liter has 164 hp, 151 lb-ft, and a high 11.5:1 compression ratio. It’s a snappy little number, for sure.

What kinda harshes the buzz is the fact that the only way to get a six-speed manual is to go with the small engine. The six-speed automatic that’s paired with the 2.0 liter is a pretty decent consolation prize, though. It’s well matched to the engine and shifts well, though it exhibits some of the pulsating wonkiness under hard acceleration that’s an apparent trademark behavior of this Hyundai design.

The Soul is perhaps the most vivid example of Kia’s learning curve. Kias used to look great on paper, with lots of features and equipment for less money than the competition, but you could always count on them being short on integration. In less than a decade, that’s been completely reversed. The 2014 Soul drives like a car designed, assembled, and tuned by people who actually spoke to each other.

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The last piece of the puzzle was suspension tuning, and Kia has figured out how to make the seemingly-dowdy combo of MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion-beam rear axle ride with compliance and yet handle with some spirit, too. Other style-boxes can’t pull that off. The xB is hopelessly uninteresting to drive, and the Nissan Cube is as soft as nursing home pudding. It’s like Kia looked at what they had, realized that the first-generation VW GTI managed to do pretty damn well with the same basic parts, and got inspired.

I’d still have preferred to try the Soul in the snow on winter tires, but on its 18” alloys and surprisingly wide 235/45 Kumho Nexens it cut through like a champ. I’m also a little surprised that there’s not an all-wheel drive version of the Soul, because I think it would sell like moonshine in a dry county. I’d have an alternative to the Subaru Forester to recommend to people, and  that’s something I dearly desire. On the other hand, there’s a new Soul EV, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

The Soul is aptly named. It’s a boxy little car with a bunch of personality. In this time of bland-but-pretty, rare is the car that both stands out for its styling and delivers some fun for everyone at a price normal people can swing. Get down with your bad self, Kia.

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]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul/feed/ 107 Hyundai Ready To Add Capacity After Two-Year Break http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hyundai-ready-to-add-capacity-after-two-year-break/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hyundai-ready-to-add-capacity-after-two-year-break/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739417 Hyundai production line Alabama plant

After a two-year break in expansion mandated by Hyundai Motor Company Chairman Chung Mong-koo in order to avoid quality issues experienced by Toyota during their aggressive growing spurt in the 2000s, Hyundai and Kia are both looking through feasibilities studies to determine where to invest in expanding their manufacturing footprint.

Though the mandate is still in place, the expansion freeze is putting the pressure on both brands’ existing factories to produce more vehicles as it is. In 2013, Hyundai and Kia utilized 105 percent capacity of their factories around the globe, with those in the Southeastern United States running flat-out between 125 percent and 135 percent on two shifts per day.

Sources closes to the expansion plans noted the current ban, though highly beneficial to the parent automaker’s bottom line, is ultimately unsustainable for future success; Hyundai aims to sell nearly 8 million units globally in 2014, and expansion into Mexico and China — and possibly the U.S., though through a cautious approach due to tougher competition in a tight market — would help move the goal post past 8 million

The renewed interest in expansion comes as costs in labor and languid growth prospects in the automaker’s home market are prompting competitors — such as General Motors — to cut back on manufacturing and export, something Hyundai refuses to contemplate. Thus, the search for “investment opportunities” outside of a local market set to peak at 1.6 million sales annually through 2020 beginning in 2016, including three sites in China, whose local market could see 33 million to 38 million sales annually by 2020.

If approved, the fourth Chinese factory would be Hyundai’s first major manufacturing capacity investment since opening their third plant in 2012 alongside one in Brazil, both announced prior to the expansion ban in 2010 and 2008, respectively.

That said, Chung could veto any new expansion investment should such plans be presented.

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Hyundai Canada Settles Class Action Fuel Economy Suit http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hyundai-canada-settles-class-action-fuel-economy-suit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hyundai-canada-settles-class-action-fuel-economy-suit/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 17:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726978 2011 Hyundai Elantra Build Sheet

Hyundai Auto Canada reached a settlement with consumers in a class action lawsuit over exaggerated fuel economy numbers among their Hyundai and Kia lineup of vehicles, paying a total of $46.65 million CAD ($41.85 million USD) in the deal, according to just-auto.

Under the terms of the settlement — affecting current and former owners and lessees of 130,000 Hyundai and Kia models made between MY2011 and MY2013 — consumers can either take a one-time payment based on type of vehicle affected, or remain in an existing reimbursement program Hyundai started in late 2012 after the automaker restated fuel economy ratings. The program covers additional fuel costs associated with the adjustment, along with a 15 percent premium in acknowledgement of the inconvenience over the issue so long as the vehicle is in the possession of the owner or lessee.

Those who take the lump sum will receive the payment minus previous reimbursements from the program. Other options available include a dealership credit of 150 percent of the lump sum, and a 200 percent credit of the cash amount towards the purchase of a new Hyundai or Kia.

Though Hyundai’s Canadian wing has its ducks in a row, their operations in the United States are still in the class action process after the Environmental Protection Agency announced fuel economy overstatements made by the automaker, as well as subsequent adjustments to the fact.

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Honda, Nissan, Toyota Set Production Record Against Weakening Yen http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/honda-nissan-toyota-set-production-record-against-weakening-yen/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/honda-nissan-toyota-set-production-record-against-weakening-yen/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 16:32:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=706538 Toyota Baja California Assembly Line

As the yen weakened against the dollar for a second consecutive year, Honda, Nissan and Toyota all set production records in their North American plants in 2013, according to Automotive News.

Outputs for the trio last year include 1.86 million units for Toyota, 1.78 million for Honda, and 1.47 million for Nissan, though gains on the production line didn’t match sales in the United States. However, exports took up the slack in U.S. showrooms, with more units sent to growing markets such as South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Latin America.

As far as individual models are concerned, Honda built 466,695 Accords at their Marysville, Ohio plant in 2013, around 20,000 more than the number of Camrys Toyota workers at the automaker’s Georgetown, Ky. plant.

The Japanese Three expanded their presence in North America as insulation against a falling yen, which fell 17.6 percent against the dollar in 2013 after falling 11 percent in 2012, as well as protection from overseas production disruptions that could affect North American output. In fact, Honda will soon open a plant in Celaya, Mexico to build the Fit, with the long-awaited 2015 NSX to be assembled in an experimental plant in Marysville.

Regarding Hyundai and Kia, the two South Korean automakers set a few records of their own in North America, including 399,495 Sonatas and Elantras leaving Hyundai’s Montgomery, Ala. plant, and 105,647 Santa Fes rolling out of the Kia line in West Point, Ga.

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Hyundai, Kia See Weakest Annual Sales Growth in a Decade http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hyundai-kia-see-weakest-annual-sales-growth-in-a-decade/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hyundai-kia-see-weakest-annual-sales-growth-in-a-decade/#comments Thu, 02 Jan 2014 16:59:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=691178 kia-k900-la-auto-show-14

2014 may only be a day old, but it’s already shaping up to be a rough year for Hyundai and Kia as they prepare to increase global sales by just 4 percent this year, the lowest and bleakest forecast for the Korean duo since 2003.

Though the foreseen growth will be fueled by revamped models and increased production in China, and is in line with overall projected global sales in 2014, a stronger won and weaker yen — the latter brought about by Japan’s desire to support its export industry and to find a way out of the 20-year trek through the economic wilderness — have eroded the price advantage Hyundai and Kia held over their Japanese competitors.

While the duo experienced market growth in Brazil and China last year, they lost market share in both their home market and in the United States, the former through a free trade pact between the European Union and South Korea. Sales in 2013 totaled 7.56 million units worldwide, with a total projection of 7.86 million going forward in 2014.

Shares of the parent automaker haven’t fared well in the outgoing year, advancing only 8 percent against GM’s 41 percent and Toyota’s 60 percent surges on the trading floor.

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Hamster Heart, Electric Soul http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/hamster-heart-electric-soul-kia-soul-ev-in-north-america-soon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/hamster-heart-electric-soul-kia-soul-ev-in-north-america-soon/#comments Tue, 12 Nov 2013 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=648482 Kia Soul EV

If you’re into EVs but find theTesla Model S too expensive, and the Leaf too jelly bean, then Kia would like to offer you something with a bit of soul. An electric Soul, that is.

The Soul EV will be the first EV sold outside of South Korea, with experience gained from the development and limited introduction of the Ray EV to government and rental fleets in their native market. Though no specific date has been set for the Soul EV’s North American rollout, Kia says to expect the electric hamstermobile to arrive in showrooms sometime in the second half of 2014, possibly bearing a 2015 model year designation.

If you’re lucky enough to be introduced to the Soul EV next year, expect drive away in a vehicle made for the city without looking like an electric wizard. Under the hood will be an electric motor pushing 109 horses out through the front door while providing 210 square-pounds of Whole Foods Market-pulling torque. Zero to 60 takes about 12 seconds, and you’ll be able to go back to the future with the Soul EV’s top speed of 90 mph.

The Soul EV will utilize what Kia calls the Virtual Engine Sound System, or VESS. At 12 mph or less, or while backing out with those organic goodies, the VESS will emit an audio alert of some sort to warn those hipsters to move out of your way in an ironic manner.

As for range and charging, the Soul EV is definitely meant for commuting to and from the hip neighborhood you call a home, with a target range of 120 miles per charge. While putting in your time at that awesome startup that will revolutionize the way you play with running vicious candy farmers, the Soul’s 27 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack will take five hours to charge on a standard 240v outlet, or 25 minutes on fast-charging through a 100 kW outlet.

Finally, the Soul EV is not only eco-conscious on the road, but is totally granola on the inside as well: the materials used are composed of biomass, from the foam in the seats to the dashboard holding the instrument cluster and 8-inch display.

The price of admission to feel like an electric hamster? Unknown as of this time, though word on the street is that it might be sold for around $35,000 on our shores. Like the Fiat 500e, this is strictly a compliance car meant to appease regulators. Hyundai’s corporate direction for ZEVs will be based around fuel cells, not electric vehicles.

In the meantime, enjoy this brief spy shot gallery with some bonus meta-commentary on the idea of “exclusivity.”

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Canada Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Rondo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/canada-capsule-review-2014-kia-rondo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/canada-capsule-review-2014-kia-rondo/#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 17:31:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=623193 ???????????????????????????????

TTAC readers seem to care not a whit for the flashy stuff. The Jaguar F-Type, possibly the most anticipated press car this year among journalists, lifestyle bloggers and other dubiously affiliated members of the media, garnered less than 50 reader comments. Meanwhile, reviews of the Chrysler minivans regularly generate hundreds. In a quest to be of greater service to our readers (and because I know that another Generation Why can scarcely be tolerated), I decided to sample something that is hopefully of genuine interest to you all: a minivan that is not available in the United States. Like the Chevrolet Orlando, the Kia Rondo is available in a number of countries that did not support the Iraq War, among them, Canada. Like the Chevrolet Orlando, it is supposedly “right-sized” for Canada, thanks to a smaller engine, a smaller physical footprint and an available manual transmission (which will be popular in Northen Quebec and nowhere else). And like the Chevrolet Orlando, it’s hard to rationalize buying one of these when you can have a Dodge Caravan for similar money. Like the Orlando and the Mazda5, the Rondo’s roots lay in a global compact car platform – in this case, the same one that underpins the Hyundai Elantra and the Kia Forte. The relationship between the products is akin to how the Volkswagen Touran is the slightly larger, MPV twin of the Volkswagen Golf. The strut suspension up front, the torsion beam out back and even the 2.0L Theta 4-cylinder and 6-speed automatic are carried over from the Hyundai/Kia corporate parts bin, and the cars don’t feel terribly different to drive.

Around town, the higher driving position and premium-feeling interior make the Rondo a decent place to spend time. Visibility is excellent, thanks to the wraparound glass throughout the greenhouse, and the CUV-esque way that you sit up high in the car. Kia’s UVO infotainment system is one of the easier ones to operate, with clear, intuitive menus and an easy to operate touchscreen. All of the controls are well laid out, though there are some odd quirks – the top model EX Luxury that we tested only has a cooled driver’s seat, but the passenger seat doesn’t get that same consideration. At a glance, the materials and design of the interior looks “premium”, but look a little deeper and the facade disappears. The lids of the many storage bids feel a bit flimsy on closer inspection, while the headliner has the “egg carton” feel of a typical economy car when pressed. Even so, I would give it the edge over the rather drab Orlando and the now-dated Mazda5 as far as interiors go. Like most of these European-style MPVs, seating in the second row is generous but the third-row is useless for anyone past puberty. With the seats up, there’s a measly 8.6 cubic feet of space, which then expands to 32.2 cubic feet once folded. With both rows down, you’re up to 65.5 cubic feet.

The Rondo’s road manners also leave something to be desired, resembling the base Elantra rather than the more sporting Elantra GT. All of the chassis and powertrain flaws present in this vehicle family are only magnified in the Rondo, though it does a good job of masking them. In a daily commute, the Rondo is basically transparent, moving along in relative silence, isolating you from most road imperfections. Handling is as you’d expect – not great. Excess bodyroll makes the Rondo feel like a Bayliner through corners, while the three-model steering system, as seen on the Elantra GT and other Hyundai/Kia products, does little to help improve driver engagement. I left it in Sport the entire time, and while it firmed up the steering a fair bit, feedback was non-existent.

Power from the 2.0L engine, with its 164 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque is adequate. On the freeway, there’s enough power to pass other cars without making it a white knuckle experience. Around town, it’s let down by poor throttle calibration and a sluggish 6-speed automatic transmission – similar to the Dodge Dart, the Rondo suffered from a perceptible lag when trying to weave and bob through urban traffic. Press the accelerator and there would be a very noticeable “One onethousand, two onethousand” gap between when your foot moved and when the car would start moving forward. When you’re trying to close a gap that might get you out of a blocked lane in congested, rush hour traffic, this kind of delay can be the difference between making it and having someone else get there first. Fuel economy in mostly city driving was 23 mpg, three mpg off of its city rating, and a rather respectable showing given that downtown Toronto’s driving conditions are far from those mandated in fuel economy tests.

The Rondo’s biggest issue isn’t its competitive set, but the Dodge Grand Caravan. In an urban metro area like Toronto, the Rondo has a lot going for it. It’s quite fuel-efficient, easy to drive in traffic (though the lag in power is a real problem) and is “right-sized”, in that it’s short enough to park easily while also narrow enough to weave its way through busy streets and tight parking garages. It has lots of premium features, from heated rear seats to a panoramic sunroof to a backup camera, that make it a very nice place to be when you’re doing errands around town. But you’ll pay for all of that too. In Canada, where vehicles are a fair bit more expensive than the United States, our tester rang up at $32,195.

But I’m not sure that’s quite good enough. Dodge has an iron grip on the Canadian minivan market for a reason. The Caravan is cheap, powerful and has enough room for multiple hockey bags, and you don’t necessarily have to fold the third row of seats to accommodate them. When it’s time for that, the Stow ‘N Go system makes it as easy as possible for a harried parent to do so. Fitting just one hockey bag in the Rondo would immediately require the folding of the third row, and then some creative maneuvering to make it fit. Oh, and there’s also the whole “sliding doors vs hinged doors” debate. For many people, the Rondo will be on the losing side of that one.

Talk of hockey bags and thriftiness may seem like a tired joke to our American audience, but Canadian readers will be able to affirm that these are the realities of life up in the Frozen North, and our auto market reflects that. Last year, Dodge sold 51,552 Grand Carvans in Canada, making it the fourth best selling vehicle in the country. Our love for small vehicles and fuel efficiency would suggest that a vehicle like the Rondo would do well here, but in 2012, just 6316 Rondos were sold, with the Mazda5 and Chevrolet Orlando not doing much better either. Canadian consumers seem to be playing against type in this particular segment, and given their unique needs and the absolute rock bottom prices one can get a Caravan for, it’s easy to understand why.

Kia provided insurance, a tank of gas and the press vehicle for one week. Thanks to AutoGuide.com for the photography.

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Kia K900 To Debut at LA Auto Show http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/kia-k900-to-debut-at-la-auto-show/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/kia-k900-to-debut-at-la-auto-show/#comments Tue, 29 Oct 2013 15:16:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=636945 20120527_kia_k9_1Over a month ago, we brought you news on the upcoming arrival of Kia’s rear-driven K900 sometime in early 2014. If you can’t wait to see the car in the flesh, however, the car will make its debut in November during the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The brief press release issued by Kia claims the K900 (otherwise known as the K9 in its home market, and the Quoris in export markets not known as the United States) will allow the automaker to “take value to new levels of sophistication,” positioning the car as their flagship among the Fortes and hamster-piloted, Lady Gaga-blasting Souls normally found on the lots.

Though the release didn’t specify beyond stating that the K900 will have either a V6 or V8 driving the power to the back, the flagship sedan will possess a 3.8-liter V6 pushing 240 horses out of the stable with a larger V8 bringing 420 wild stallions to the party, both attached to an eight-speed automatic.

The K900 is set to take dead aim at the BMW 7 Series, just in time for your next high school reunion under the serious moonlight. Price of admission is expected to be between $50,000 and $70,000, with a big campaign to debut during Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014.

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Review: 2014 Kia Cadenza (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 22:08:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501244 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Kia has big plans for America. The Korean brand that was written off in the 1990s, and is best known for making inexpensive cars with long warranties, isn’t planning an assault on the mass market. Kia has bigger plans: compete head on with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Say what? Yep. By 2017 Kia promises they will be ready. Rather than leaping right into the market, Kia is dipping their toes into the murky waters of the near-luxury pool. In many ways the near-luxury segment is a harder place to compete. This segment is full of aspiring brands trying to move up (Buick and Cadillac), brands that are floundering (Acura), brands that are treading water (Volvo and Lexus’s FWD models ), brands trying to expand down (Mercedes with the CLA) and brands that have no idea what their mission is (Lincoln). Into this smorgasbord lands a sedan that managed to be the most exciting car I have driven this year and the most awkwardly named. Now that I have that spoiler out of the way, let’s dive into the Credenza. I mean Cadenza.

Exterior

Kia has long been accused of copying styles and jamming discordant cues into one product. The pinnacle of this was the unloved Kia Amanti, mercy killed a number of years ago. That model had Mercedes E-Class headlamps, a Jaguar-meets-Chrysler grille, Lincoln tail lamps and a decidedly Town Car profile. The 2014 Cadenza is so different you’d think it was from a different car company. The overall style is “Optima’s big brother” with the same “tiger nose” grille up front. The large grille strikes me as the best interpretation of this style yet, although the plastic accent strip inside the aggressive headlamps struck me as slightly cheesy. There is still something derivative about the Cadenza, the side profile is exactly what a FWD 7-series would look like. (Shorten the hood, stretch the overhang.) Overall the Cadenza’s “smoothed out Optima” lines strike me as conservative and elegant, something that appeals to me.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Before we go further, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the Hyundai Azera. The Cadenza isn’t simply a badge engineered Azera, but neither is it a unique vehicle. Through a convoluted set of financial arrangements, Hyundai and Kia are 32.8%  joined at the hip, which means Hyundai doesn’t “control” Kia and Kia can’t just grab an Azera and stick a Kia logo on the front. Instead what we see are two cars with common drivetrains, crash systems, hard points and bits grabbed from the same parts bin. Think of the Cadenza as the Azera’s younger cousin and not a corporate twin.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Style is a subjective matter, there’s no way around that. I found the Cadenza to be traditional, almost to a fault, on the inside but still handsome. For me that’s a good thing as I don’t tend to gravitate to “ground breaking designs” like crazy asymmetrical dashboards or shifters that require an instruction manual and 30 minutes to master. I found the Azera’s interior to be more unique, but less to my taste. On the flip side there is little about the Cadenza’s interior that creates a burning desire, unless you like value. Being the cheap bastard that I am, words like “value” “bargain” and “deal” light a primeval fire in my loins. Keep that in mind.

As I have said in the past, value is all about cutting corners. Lately Kia has been displaying a level of perspicacity unseen in the competition. This balance is obvious when you look at the dash and doors which combine hard and soft touch plastics. This isn’t unique by itself, what is rare is the placement of the hard bits away from the driver’s reach and a careful matching of color and texture so that its hard to tell what’s hard and what’s not. This is something Lexus got totally wrong with the new ES. Most Cadenzas on my local lot had the optional Alcantara headliner and cream colored leather seats which have a huge impact on the feel of the interior. Faux-suede used to be something you’d only find on high-end European models, but it can be yours for under 40-large in Kia-land. Unlike Chrysler’s application of the soft-stuff, Kia also coats the A, B and C pillars in fake cow. Speaking of fake, the wood isn’t real. The lack of real tree bugs me a hair, but when you consider that a $60,000 Acura still has imitation burl I guess I shouldn’t complain. In terms of interior feel, the Cadenza ranks slightly above the new LaCrosse and Azera and just below the Toyota Avalon. While I think the Acura RLX’s interior was made of nicer bits, the Cadenza isn’t far off and almost everyone had a nicer interior than the current Lexus ES.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Front seat comfort proved good for the driver in the base model and excellent with the optional soft Nappa leather which adds a power extending thigh bolster. You should keep in mind that the front seats aren’t created equally and the passenger seat doesn’t have the same range of motion making it harder for your spouse to find an ideal sitting position. Trust me, I heard the complaints. Being self-centred, this didn’t bother me, but I should note the American competition offers matching controls on their front passenger throne. The Cadenza’s lumbar support hit me at exactly the right spot on my back which is fortunate because unlike the GM sedans the lumbar isn’t adjustable for height.

The Cadenza’s rear compartment was surprising, not just because the seats seemed designed for adults with cushy cushions suspended high off the floor, but because the plastics quality was consistent with the front cabin. That may sound like an odd thing to comment on, but most mass market entries and even cars like the Lincoln MKS and Lexus ES350 gets cheaper bits in the back. Speaking of the back, the Cadenza’s trunk is acceptable for the class at 15.9 cubic feet, notably below the Impala and Taurus with their cavernous trunks. It’s worth noting that the Cadenza’s rear seat backs don’t fold like some of the competition so keep that in mind if you’re a regular IKEA shopper.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The dashboard of the Cadenza is dominated by a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment/navigation system dubbed UVO2. The Microsoft-powered system is bright, easily readable and a bit far from the driver. This distance could be a problem if you have short arms or long legs. The Cadenza gets the latest version of Kia’s software featuring full voice commands of your music library, allowing you to select songs and playlists with voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC. Also included is an array of OnStar-like services including vehicle diagnostics, car locator and automatic 911 dialing when your airbags deploy. Unlike OnStar however the system depends on a compatible smartphone being paired with the system and present for these services to work. The lack of a cell modem means you also need a paired smartphone for some of the data services to operate. In an odd ergonomic twist, Kia places the system’s button bank between the screen and the climate controls. The loaded Cadenza we tested gets a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster which houses the speedometer, trip computer, secondary infotainment display and navigation instructions.

Overall the Cadenza’s system is easy to use and intuitive but not as feature rich as some of the other options on the market. Notably uConnect and MyFord Touch offer sexier graphics and better app integration, although the Ford system crashes as often as a 1980s computer. Toyota/Lexus’ systems are getting a little long in the tooth at the high-end with older graphics and a smallish 7-inch screen, and their less expensive systems use small and dim 6.1 inch screens that are easily outclassed. GM’s direct competition is a bit disappointing because the LaCrosse and Impala use the same buggy software as the Cadillac XTS with a different brand attached instead of the excellent systems used in the Buick Verano and Chevy Malibu. If you want to know more, I take a deep dive into UVO2 in the video.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

The Cadenza uses the same 3.3L direct-injection V6 engine as Hyundai’s Azera mated to the same 6-speed automatic transaxle. The six-pot is good for 293 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 255 lb-ft of toque at 5,200 RPM. These numbers place the Cadenza in the middle of the pack, below the GM triplets and the Acura RLX, but above the Avalon and ES350 and a virtual tie with Chrysler’s 300 V6. When it comes to performance, curb weight and transmission design are  just as critical as raw engine numbers. At around 3,750lbs the Cadenza is lighter than everyone but the new Avalon and ES (around 3,550lbs). In theory, this should skew performance in the Cadenza’s favor, but when the numbers are tabulated the Kia is 3/10ths slower than the RLX to  60 and half a second slower than the Impala and LaCrosse V6. Compared to the AWD XTS, the Cadenza is a hair faster. (The XTS AWD was tested in-house which is why I don’t use a FWD XTS estimate.) The 8-speed V6 Chrysler 300 was the slowest to 60 by around half a second. What gives? The 300 isn’t a light-weight. Our last instrumented test of the Taurus V6 and MKS put the Ford at the bottom of the pack with the 300 and the MKS on par with the Kia.

GM’s 3.6L V6 not only delivers more twist, it also has a broader torque curve and the GM/Ford 6-speed transaxle has an extremely low first gear helping the Impala and LaCrosse get off the line rapidly. Chrysler’s 8-speed auto may be a gem but it can’t re-write the laws of physics, the 300 is just too heavy. At this time Kia isn’t saying if there will ever be an AWD version of the Cadenza, so if you need four-wheel-motivation you need to look to elsewhere.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Pricing

$35,100, $38,100 and $41,100. That’s all you need to know about the Cadenza’s pricing since the up-scale sedan only comes in three flavors. Why the lack of variation? It keeps prices low and helps inventory issues as the Cadenza is made in Korea. The Cadenza is extremely well-featured at the base price with standard heated leather seats, navigation, backup camera, keyless go, dual-zone climate control, 10-way driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support and rain-sense wipers. This price point sets the Kia at a slight discount versus the main-stream competition, and about $1,600 cheaper than a Lexus ES350 or Lincoln MKS. If that doesn’t sound like a “deal” yet, hang on. For $38,100 Kia adds a ginormous sunroof, HID headlamps, ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seats, electric tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power extending thigh bolster (driver’s seat only), a seat/wheel memory system, power rear sun shade, a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster and snazzy Nappa leather seats. This level of Cadenza is where the value proposition starts slotting in $2,500 less than the LaCrosse and $4,000 less than an ES350 or MKS before you take into account the features you just can’t get on the competition. Jump to $41,100 and Kia tosses in 19-inch wheels, radar cruise control with full-speed range ability, blind spot warning, lane departure prevention, an automatic electric parking brake, water-phobic glass and (if you select the no-cost white leather) the faux-suede headliner. This is the option level where the Cadenza (like most Kias) starts to shine. The loaded Kia is a $7,000 discount vs the Lexus ES350 which is an apt comparison. The Kia doesn’t offer real wood but it does offer a nicer interior and a few features you won’t find on the Lexus like the LCD disco dash. Compared to the Acura RLX we had the week before, the Cadenza is nearly $20,000 less expensive. The discount is similarly large with you compare the Cadenza to the XTS and smaller vs the MKS.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The one area where the Cadenza didn’t surprise was behind the wheel. Kia’s relative inexperience in the near-luxury market shows, if you know where to look. However the delta between the Kia and the competition, once as wide as the grand canyon,  is now a light shade of grey. Although very well controlled, the Cadenza exhibited slightly more torque steer and wheel hop than you’ll find in GM’s Epsilon II triplets or the Avalon/ES sisters. Of course when it comes to driving dynamics the Chrysler 300′s rear wheel drive layout is the clear winner. When it comes to absolute grip, the Cadenza is likely the equal of the Impala and Avalon, however the steering is not as communicative and the chassis isn’t quite as predictable or refined. Don’t think that makes the Cadenza “feel cheap”, far from it. The Cadenza nails the ” substantial”  feel that this large sedan category is known for.

While drivers will notice the Cadenza is a hair less sophisticated than the competition, passengers are unlikely to notice. The Cadenza’s springs and dampers did an admirable job of soaking up road imperfections around town and are tuned to land somewhere between the Acura RLX’s sportier aspirations and the pillow-soft ride of the LaCrosse. Cabin noise in the Cadenza is extremely well controlled on all road surfaces and thanks all throttle positions. In some ways the Cadenza was too quiet, hushing the engine’s emissions during our 0-60 testing.

In a straight line the Cadenza’s gear ratios and relative lack of low end torque make the Kia feel sluggish compared to the competition, something I hadn’t expected given the engine specs. Part of this is a transmission that feels reluctant to downshift which takes some of the joy out of mountain driving. Fortunately Kia includes paddle shifters so you can command the gears, but in comparison the Ford/GM transaxle and Chrysler’s ZF sourced unit seem psychic in comparison.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to nannies and gadgets Kia took an interesting line. The Cadenza has lane departure warning but no prevention system tied to it unlike Lincoln and Acura’s systems. On the flip side Kia over-delivers with the radar cruise control system. Acura’s systems brake too hard and too early, Infiniti’s systems brake hard and late, most of the other systems on the market are a combination of the two and the majority give up when speeds drop below 20MPH. Much like the systems on current Volvo and Mercedes models however the Kia system drives like a moderately cautious driver, braking progressively but smoothly to a complete stop, and accelerating at a moderate rate when traffic resumes. The system is so fluid that passengers didn’t know the car was “driving itself”  in heavy traffic until I told them to pay attention to my right leg.

After a week with the Cadenza and 611 miles I have to admit I was hooked and that’s not something I say often. The Cadenza’s elegant but restrained looks, comfortable and well-assembled interior, heavy gadget content and value pricing are an incredibly compelling combo. The interior and sticker price more than justify the negatives I encountered during the week. The only major problem with the Cadenza is the Kia logo on the hood. This begs the question: is luxury looking expensive or feeling coddled? At higher price points I would argue you need both, but near luxury is about value and that’s where the Cadenza shines. I’m not sure about Kia’s Mercedes ambitions, but one thing’s for sure, the Cadenza puts Acura on notice and Lexus needs to watch their back.

 

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • It turns out you can have an Acura at Honda prices.
  • Alcantara headliners rock.
  • Near-luxury without near-pretentiousness

Quit it

  • Can you handle your premium car’s discount badge?
  • I had expected better performance numbers.

 

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.51 Seconds

0-60: 6.08 Seconds

1/4 mile: 14.67 Seconds @ 97 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 24.5 MPG over 611 miles

 

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-001 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-002 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-003 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-004 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-005 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-006 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-007 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-008 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-010 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-011 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-012 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-015 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-002 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-003 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-004 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-006 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-007 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-009 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-010 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-011 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-012 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-013 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-014 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-015 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Forte EX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/capsule-review-2014-kia-forte-ex/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/capsule-review-2014-kia-forte-ex/#comments Tue, 27 Aug 2013 13:18:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501408 20130805_174446

 

On paper and in person, the 2014 Kia Forte looks like a Very Good Car™. Is it really, though? The outgoing Forte pulled the same trick, looking all the world like it was going to keep the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus up at night, an illusion that fell apart upon driving. Oh sure, the Forte has always been very good looking, and Kia is known for offering a lot more equipment for less money, but you can’t just strap styling and stuff to a base-model-1992 driving experience and call it a day. And that is why there’s a 2014 Kia Forte, with great new looks and a price-to-equipment ratio that would please even the crustiest quartermaster. Fine, newly-minted college graduates (at least those with jobs) and equally-new AARP card holders looking to downsize will still be thrilled, but what about the enthusiast?

The styling is, of course, the first thing you notice. The 2014 Forte has a roofline that swoops instead of sucks. It may be swimming in the “needs a car” end of the pool, but the Forte looks expensive. Of course it does, because Peter Schreyer is in charge; a man who spent years plying his trade for style-forward juggernaut Audi. Handsome form underscores everything about your first impressions of the Forte.

There’s still a few gimmicks – a string of LED running lamps in the headlight clusters look like someone glomming on to a trend, because that’s exactly why they’re there. There are, of course, benefits to LED lighting elements: they’re efficient, lightweight and long-lived, but really, they exist here because it’s the latest bit of bedazzling that the automotive industry is pushing.

During my week with the Forte, nobody stopped me to ask about it, but I always enjoyed walking up on it. It’s a great-looking car, especially in EX trim, like the one I had. Of course, the fancy wheels, fog lamps and big engine in the Forte EX will cost you. The 2014  Kia Forte LX starts at $15,900 with a 1.8 liter four cylinder and six-speed you-shift-it transmission. The six-speed automatic bumps the price to $17,400, and if you want more stuff in your LX, you’re looking at the LX (Popular) for $18,300, which also adds a bunch more exterior paint colors.

The EX means a 2.0 liter four cylinder that’s a solid middleweight performer, six-speed auto, and all kinds of other goodies like automatic headlights, adjustable steering assist that Kia calls FlexSteer, the maddening Active Eco system that you immedately make inactive, rear-view camera, and up-rated materials on the door panels, steering wheel and shift knob, the latter two being done in the skin of some cow that probably became a burger for the fast food joints that Forte drivers might manage.

The Forte left a very good impression in terms of interior materials and fit and finish. Kia is smart. They didn’t send me the LX with the less nicey-nice door panels and un-equipped option list. Instead, what I drove was a car that rung up $25K and was equipped like you’d expect a Lexus ES. No lie. This thing even had seats done in leather with memory and power adjustment and a ventilated driver’s seat. Again: ventilated driver’s seat in a Kia.

This is what Kia is good at. There’s climate control, HID headlamps, more LEDs for the taillamps, a power sunroof, voice-recognition navigation, pushbutton start, and auto-dimming mirrors all available optionally, and included on the test car by dint of it carrying the Premium and EX Technology Packages.

Kia got the memo loud and clear that people buying these smaller cars (that have really grown to be as big as midsize cars once were) don’t expect or desire to settle  for less. But so far, all that means is that your father the Actuary will find the Kia an eyebrow-raising candidate. It won’t mean bupkus to anyone with an inner ear accustomed to simultaneous elevation and directional changes at high rates of speed. That’s where the Kia Forte has fallen down in the past, with a brittle ride and numb feedback making for a sloppy, underachieving driving experience.

For 2014, it’s a lot better. That’s not to say it’s all fixed, the steering is still a little weird, even if you can switch the electric assist between “Electra 225″ and “busted hose.” The rear suspension is a torsion beam with coil springs, a setup that’s next on the list for the autowriter cool-kids to talk shit about, behind the Mustang’s “ox-cart live axle” ( I swear, if I read that one more time, I’m getting an ox, just so I can gore whatever twit with a keyboard taps it out). You know what, though? Struts ‘N A Beam was delightful enough on a Mk1 GTI, and it doesn’t get in the way here, either. The new Forte isn’t as good a handler as the Ford Focus, for instance, but it’s clear that Kia has been doing its ride and handling homework. The Forte played along just fine when asked to clip an apex or unkink a back road. The structure feels pretty solid, but still not as tight as some others, Focus example included.

Bumps are absorbed by the suspension, instead of your tailbone; evidence that someone at Kia has been hitting the books when it comes to balancing jounce and rebound stiffness. The 2.0 liter engine has a power level that was only possible with forced induction not too long ago. Now, thanks to direct injection, it’s possible to run the compression ratio up to 11.5:1, which yieds 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque. It makes for an eager little mill, and the 2.0 is a noticeable upgrade over the still-respectable 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of the 1.8 liter engine (145 hp/130 lb-ft in SULEV configuration). Another annoying thing that’s plagued Kias in the past has been super-jumpy fly-by-wire throttles, like they were programmed to give a strong initial response to make the car feel extra-peppy. Now there’s finally some refinement and subtlety to the Forte’s response to the accelerator pedal.

Kia has growed the Forte all up for 2014. The interior is as nicely styled as the exterior, and in EX trim, the materials that surround you are nice enough to be considered among the top half of the class. The ergonomics are very good, better than the button-tastic Ford Focus, weird-ass Civic, or even the Chevrolet Cruze, which is better than the other two, but not as good as the Forte.

If your idea of a “good” car is value by the pound, you might not think there’s much to recommend at roughly $25,500 for the 2014 Kia Forte EX with all the packages. That would be wrong. It’s a fully-loaded box of new car smell at that price level. There’s a decent trunk, respectable fuel economy (32 mpg observed), build quality that (probably) won’t run out before the considerable warranty does, and a driving experience that’s good enough to have some of the perennial darlings looking over their shoulders, if not fretting just yet.

The Forte is a lot better than it was, to the point where it’s a legitimate player among its peers, rather than just an on-paper par-baked bargain.

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Review: 2014 Kia Forte (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-kia-forte-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-kia-forte-video/#comments Fri, 26 Jul 2013 22:16:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=496635 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When Kia started selling the ’94 Sephia in America, nobody was worried. Not the American car companies still adjusting to the market share lost to the Japanese competition, and not the Japanese who used cheap and reliable cars to take the market share in the first place. The laissez-faire attitude to the Korean upstart was understandable, the Sephia was a truly horrible car. In 1997 Kia filed for bankruptcy protection and the big boys patted themselves on their back for not worrying about the Asian upstart. When another unremarkable Korean company purchased 51% of Kia, nobody cared. They should have.

Through a convoluted set of financial arrangements, Hyundai and Kia are 32.8%  joined at the hip and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. The reason seems to be “internal” competition with rumors of Kia/Hyundai in-fighting constantly swirling. Apparently each believes that they should be king of the hill. This means we can’t talk about the 2014 Forte without talking about the Hyundai Elantra. This is not a case of Chevy/Buick/Oldsmobile badge engineering. Kia and Hyundai have access to the same platform, engine and other parts bins but they operate on their own development cycles. What that means to you is: these brothers from a different mother exist in different generations. The 2006-2010 Elantra was the cousin to the 2009-2013 Forte meaning the Kia was a “generation behind”. That’s changed for 2014 with the Forte being the new kid on the block and while the related Elantra won’t land until the 2015 model year at the soonest.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The old Forte was very “grown up” with lines that were clean, straight and unemotional. For the Forte’s first redesign, Kia  injected styling from Kia’s successful mid-sized Optima. Up front we see a larger and better integrated corporate grille. The shape is supposed to be modeled after the nose on a tiger, but I fail to see the resemblance. The larger and more aggressive maw is flanked by stylish headlamps with available LED day-time running lamps and bi-xenon main beams. Yes, this is a Forte we’re talking about.

From the side profile, it’s obvious this Forte is bigger than last year’s compact Kia. The wheelbase has been stretched by 2 inches, the belt-line has been raised and raked, and attractive new wheels have been fitted. Despite the growth, weight is down 280lbs vs the 2013 model and chassis stiffness has increased. Moving around the back you’ll find something unusual: a rump that doesn’t offend. It seems rear ends are difficult to design these days with cars like the Jaguar XJ and Ford Fusion having incredible noses and disappointing butts. Our EX tester came with the optional LED tail lamps further bumping the Kia’s booty.  Taken as a whole, I rank the new Forte and the new Mazda 3 the most attractive in the segment.

2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

While I spent most of my time in the Forte EX (that’s the model two of our readers requested), I snagged a base Forte from a local dealer for comparison. The reason I sampled both the EX and LX is because the top-line trim (and the base with the “popular package” swap hard plastic door panels for soft injection molded bits. I’m also not a fan of black-on-black interiors (as this was equipped) so I needed to check out the lighter options. Most LX models on the lot were equipped with medium grey fabric and two-tone dash and door plastics (black upper, fabric matching lower). Most EX models on the other hand were dressed in black like out tester. I found the darkness not only slightly oppressive, but also cheaper looking than the grey leather alternative. Either way you roll, you’ll find more soft touch plastics than the Honda Civic and more hard polymers than a Ford Focus. Is that a problem?

In the US, compact cars are all about value. Value means compromise and cutting the corners you can get away with. The trick to creating a winner is knowing which corners to cut and where to bling. (The rapid refresh of the 9th generation Civic shows that even the big boys can clip the wrong corners.) For 2014, Kia uses plenty of hard plastic but it is now located away from frequent touch points like airbag covers, front door panels, etc. The faux-carbon-fiber surround on the radio is a bit cheesy and the style is a bit boring, but our fully-loaded $25,400 model had a gadget list that could easily have been an option list on a BMW. Out tester had heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, HID headlamps, a cooled driver’s seat, 2 position seat memory, power folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, sunroof, keyless entry and keyless go, lighted exterior door handles and dual zone climate control. The extensive gadget list forgives the visible body-painted window frames in my book.

Front seat comfort is greatly improved over the outgoing model with thicker foam in the seat bottoms and backs, and a wider range of adjustibility. Kia claims best in segment front legroom and I’m inclined to believe them as passengers with long legs had no troubles finding a comfortable position. The rear seats benefit the most from the platform stretch with 36 inches of legroom and a seating position that didn’t offend my back after an hour. If rear seat room is what you’re after, that new Sentra still trumps with an insanely large back seat and seat cushions positioned higher off the floor than most.

2014 Kia Forte EX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

It’s obvious the Forte is a half generation ahead of the Elantra when you look at infotainment. LX models make do with four or six speakers and an attractive (but basic) AM/FM/XM/CD head unit with USB/iDevice integration and a Bluetooth speakerphone. The base system is competitive with base and mid-range systems from the competition, although Kia doesn’t include smartphone app integration, Pandora or other streaming radio options. Jumping up to the EX model ($19,400) gets you the latest “UVO 2 with eServices” system. The Microsoft powered 8-inch touchscreen system is bright and easily readable, and has improved USB/iDevice integration allowing you to select songs and playlists with voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC. Also included is an array of OnStar-like services including vehicle diagnostics, car locator and automatic 911 dialing when your airbags deploy. Unlike OnStar or Chrysler’s latest uConnectm, your phone must be paired and present for these services to work.

Adding navigation to the 8-inch system is only possible by selecting the $2,300 “Technology package” which also nets HD Radio, a 4.2″ LCD in the instrument cluster, HID headlamps, dual zone climate control, rear HVAC vents and LED tail lamps. The package is a good deal but $2,300 is a big pill to swallow. Making matters more expensive, you can’t check that option box without checking the $2,600 “Premium Package” as well. The premium pack adds a power sunroof, 10-way memory driver’s seat, leather, ventilated driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, auto dimming mirrors, keyless go, car alarm, and puddle lamps.

2014 Kia Forte EX UVO2 Connections, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

While most subcompacts make do with one engine, the Forte has two. LX models get a 1.8L four cylinder engine with variable valve timing cranking out 148 HP and 131 lb-ft. Not very exciting. Jumping to the EX swaps in a 2.0L mill with direct-injection. The larger engine bumps power to 173 ponies and 154 lb-ft. While this isn’t hot hatch territory, it is more oomph than you find in the Civic, Focus, Mazda 3, or Elantra.

Cog counts are higher than some of the competitors (I’m looking at you Civic) with the 1.8L starting off with a standard 6-speed manual and optional 6-speed automatic. That same 6-speed slushbox is the only transmission for the 2.0L EX. (Pay no attention to the EPA’s 2.0L/MT scores, we’re told that combo remains on the cutting room floor.) Raining on the Forte’s parade is mediocre fuel economy. The LX scored 25/37/29 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the manual, 25/36/29 with the automatic and the EX slots in at 24/36/28. Over 657 miles we averaged 32MPG which is slightly lower than the 2013 Honda Accord 4-cylinder.

2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, 17-inch Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The last gen Forte was a great deal but it wasn’t exactly king of the track. As a result my dynamic expectations were fairly low as I got behind the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised. The new Forte’s chassis is noticeably more rigid on the road, a distinct improvement over the Elantra which can feel like a damp noodle on uneven pavement. Kia’s engineers have also worked most of the kinks out of the Forte’s suspension giving the 2014 model a well tuned ride that’s on the stiffer/sportier side of the spectrum. Electric power steering is here to stay, but at least the Forte allows you to adjust the level of assist via s button on the steering wheel. In the firmest steering mode, there *might be* the faintest whisper of steering feedback. Maybe. Either way, the Forte is a surprisingly agile companion on winding roads. The Forte’s new-found abilities made me wonder for the first time what a turbo Forte would be like.

I’m not saying the Forte is as engaging or exciting as a VW GLI, but this chassis finally shows some potential. The 2014 model is certainly the dynamic equal of the Focus and Cruze. I would be one of the first customers in line if Kia went out on a limb and jammed the 274HP 2.0L turbo from the optima under the hood. Such a move wouldn’t just blow the Civic Si and Jetta GLI out of the water, it would give the Focus ST a run for its money.

2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The feel of the Forte EX is down to the suspension, but the road holding is thanks to optional 215/45R17 rubber. Base Forte models get fairly high-profile 195/65R15s while mid-range models get 205/55R16 tires. The flip side of this tire choice is that mediocre fuel economy. 32 MPG is 1.5MPG below the Civic and 4.5 MPG less than the Nissan Sentra. Despite the wide tires the Forte ranks among the quietest in the class easily tying with the Focus and Cruze.

I prefer to think of myself as “financially frugal”  but at home that’s spelled c h e a p. It’s not that I want the cheapest car or the most economical car, I want the best deal. I can’t help it, the word “bargain” ignites a fire in my loins. The new 2014 Forte is that kind of bargain. Sure, it’s not as roomy as the Sentra, not as quiet as a Cruze, not as dynamic as a Focus and lacks the Civic’s reputation, but this new Forte is well priced, packed with features you won’t find on the competition, and I was unable to find a single thing to dislike. Kia’s compact car transformation from the Sephia, a car I wouldn’t make my worst enemy live with, to a car that I would recommend to friends (and have) has taken only 20 years. To copy a line, that makes Kia the fastest social climber since Cinderella. Since I care more about the driving experience and gadget list than fuel economy, this shoe fits.

 

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.24

0-60: 8.24

1/4 Mile: 16.47 @ 85.2

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 32.0 MPG over 657 miles

 

2014 Kia Forte EX Engine 2014 Kia Forte EX Engine-001 2014 Kia Forte EX Engine-002 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-001 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-003 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-004 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-005 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, 17-inch Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-007 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-008 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-010 2014 Kia Forte EX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-013 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-014 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-015 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-016 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-017 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-018 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-019 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-020 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-021 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-022 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-023 2014 Kia Forte EX UVO2 Connections, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-025 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-027 2014 Kia Forte EX Gauges 2014 Kia Forte EX Trunk 2014 Kia Forte EX Trunk-001 ]]>
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You Can Buy The Millionth U.S. Built Kia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/you-can-buy-the-millionth-u-s-built-kia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/you-can-buy-the-millionth-u-s-built-kia/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 12:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495170 628x469x2014-kia-sorento-milionth-kmmg.jpg.pagespeed.ic.zlfNQH4Eo0

Ever since Isaac Singer figured that he could make more money making sewing machines for the European market in a factory near Glasgow rather than export them from his Elizabeth, New Jersey plant, manufacturing companies have built products where they’ve sold them.

Last Thursday a pearl white 2014 Sorento SXL trundled off an assembly line in West Point, Georgia. It was the millionth Kia that the Korean company has assembled in the United States, all accomplished in less than four years. Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG) started building Sorento crossovers in late 2009, and added production of the mid-size Optima sedan after a $100 million expansion of the billion dollar West Point facility in 2012.  Surprisingly, the landmark Sorento will not be headed to a Kia museum somewhere. It will be allocated to one of Kia’s 765 or so U.S. dealers for regular retail sale, so if you’re a Kia enthusiast who wants a piece of Kia history, you’ll have a chance to buy it. I’m not sure how you would locate the lucky dealer, though. Total capacity of the KMMG factory is now 360,000 vehicles, so as long as the company’s North American sales continue to be strong, they should produce the next million U.S. built Kia even faster than the first.

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Review: 2014 Kia Sorento EX (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/review-2014-kia-sorento-ex-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/review-2014-kia-sorento-ex-video/#comments Sun, 19 May 2013 15:20:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=488293 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

To say the Sorento’s transformation from rugged body-on-frame SUV to car-based softroader has been a sales success is putting it mildly. In the first 27 months of production Kia shifted more Sorentos than they did the 8 years prior. Sales numbers like that catapulted the Korean krossover (couldn’t help it) from CX-9/Xtera/Murano competition to 7th place in the midsized battlefield. Three model years later, Kia is spicing things up with a refresh. I know what you’re thinking: why bother looking at a refresh? Because 2014 brings enough changes to call the 2014 Sorento a redesign.

Click here to view the embedded video.

After three years, most car companies slap on a new nose, tweak some paint and trim options and call it good for another three years. At first glance it seems that Kia has done the usual, but the similarity is skin deep. The front and rear get tweaks of course, but its the chassis that’s been substantially changed with new floor stamping to improve interior room, new suspension subframes, different welding techniques, suspension geometry changes, additional chassis bracing in addition to a refreshed interior and exterior. In all, only 20% of the parts from last year remain. If you doubt the magnitude of the change, check out the curb weight which is down 250lbs vs the 2013 model, that’s no small feat.

As before, the Sorento offers your choice of 5 or 7 passenger seating, yet the Sorento still isn’t a large SUV at 184-inches long. That’s 15 inches shorter than a Durango, 7 inches shorter than a Pilot and even 6 inches shorter than the other 5/7 passenger “tweener” crossover, the Dodge Journey. The RAV4, CR-V and Sportage are a half step smaller putting the Kia and its Hyundai sister-ship in their own small category. (Remember, the RAV4 ditched its 7-seat option this year.)

The Sorento has never been a flashy vehicle, that’s not Kia’s style. Instead we get slab sides reminiscent of the American competition and a front end that could easily have been turned into a new Saab 9-7x. Up front we get Kia’s new bow-tie/semi-kidney grille and our EX model came standard with the rather vertical foglights. Out back 2014 brings new tail lamps and new sheetmetal to the tailgate giving the Sorento’s rear as much style as any other mid-size crossover. Checking out that side profile you’ll notice the Sorento still sports a rather vertical hatch thanks to the 7-seat option. That means if you opt for the 5-seats you still get a cargo area that’s nice and square, making it more useful (but perhaps less sexy) than the sloping profiles of the 5-seat-only crossovers.

2014 Kia Sorento EX, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

On the surface the Sorento looks like any aspiring near-luxury crossover. Until you put your hands on the dashboard. While everyone else is doubling-down on squishy injection molding and stitched pleather, the Sorento’s trendy shapes are cast from hard plastic. Before we start drawing any Chrysler parallels, you should know that Kia’s plastics look attractive, they just don’t feel premium. Is that a problem? Not when the Sorento starts at $24,100, but it is something to keep in mind if you’re contemplating a fully-loaded 7-passenger Sportage Limited at $41,850. On the flip side, the Sportage offers a high level of equipment for the dollar and a 5 year/ 60,000 mile warranty with 10 year / 100,000 mile powertrain coverage. How much are soft surfaces worth to you?

Thanks to tweaked seat designs, the Sorento’s thrones no longer feel as if they are cast from concrete, but they still aren’t as cushy as GM’s seats. For $32,650, our EX heated and cooled my backside compensation. As with every other vehicle, seats get less comfortable as you move to the back. The middle seats recline and fold in a 40/20/40 fashion allowing you to carry long cargo and four passengers at the same time. Available heated seats and integrated sunshades round out the Sorento’s compensation for the plastics choices. While the middle seats are fine for long road trips, the $1,200 third row should be reserved for emergencies, enemies and mother-in-laws.

2014 Kia Sorento EX, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When you’re a half step between the competition dimensionally but offer the same number of seats as the big boys, something has to give, and that’s the cargo area. With 36.9 cubic feet behind the second row, the Sorento lags even the smaller RAV-4 and CR-V (38.4 and 37.2). If you don’t get that third row, you get an additional 9+ cubes under the load floor, just under what’s required to hide a journalist. (Don’t know what that’s about? Click on that video.) If you put a pair of passengers in the third row, you’re going to need a roof-top cargo box or a trailer because the cargo area shrinks to 9 cubic feet, only 2 cubes more than a Beetle Convertible.

So is $600 a pop for two seats worth it? I’d do it, and here’s why. Despite being considerably smaller than the Highlander, Pilot, Durango and Explorer, Kia’s third row offers about the same amount of room with 31.7 inches of legroom and 35.7 inches of headroom. I wouldn’t recommend anyone’s third row for daily use, but it is handy in a pinch.

2014 Kia Sorento EX, Center Console, Interior, UVO, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Base Sorentos come well equipped with standard Bluetooth streaming/telephone integration, SiriusXM Satellite radio, a CD player, USB/iDevice integration and six-speakers. I’m so used to saying “you won’t find one of these base models on the lot” that I did a double take when the Kia vehicle locator found 24 such examples (out of 174) within 50 miles of my location. The base system surprised with excellent sound for the price and if you don’t need navigation, there is little to complain about.

Most Sorentos on the lot will have Kia’s refreshed 8-inch touchscreen system (navigation is a further option, but standard on SX and Limited) and a large number of them will have the up-level 10-speaker audio system by Infiniti (Standard on SX and Limited, optional on all modes). For 2014 Kia has renamed and re-worked the software. “UVO eServices” must have sounded better than UVO two-point-oh. The software tweaks bring better graphics, faster response times and improved voice commands including USB/iDevice voice control. In addition to improving the system, Kia has integrated a number of smartphone apps with Google’s help. You can now download destinations to the car after looking them up on your iPhone (there is only an iOS app at the moment), find your lost car in a parking lot, use your phone’s data connection to run vehicle diagnostics/heath checks and the car will call 911 for you if the airbags deploy. None of this is revolutionary, putting UVO right in the middle of the pack. What is new is the price for the service: there isn’t one. Unlike Toyota’s Entune, Kia claims there is no fee for the service even after a few years. If you want to know more about the infotainment options, just click on that video at the top of the review.

While not strictly an infotainment device, EX models and above (optional on the base LX) get Kia’s oddly named “Supervision” instrument cluster. The 7-inch LCD disco dash looked good even in strong sunlight, but it will never be as readable as a regular old analogue gauge. Rather than going completely modern, Kia stuck to a red analogue needle against white numbers for the speedometer while the center of the LCD is used for vehicle settings, navigation directions, infotainment details and a trip computer. Unlike Chrysler and Cadillac’s latest LCD systems, this display isn’t very customizable as there are no alternative layouts or themes that can be applied.

2014 Kia Sorento EX, Engine, 3.3L Direct-Injection V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Rounding out the refresh is a revised engine lineup. The 175HP 2.4L base engine is gone with the formerly optional 191HP, 181lb-ft 2.4L direct-injection four taking its place. The 16HP and 12lb-ft bump are minor, but a better torque curve made possible by the DI sauce combined with a 250lb weight loss make the difference noticeable. On the downside, fuel economy suffers from the upgrade dropping the AWD model from 21/27/23 (City/Highway/Combined) to 19/24/21. Some of the drop is likely due to changes in the way the transmission shifts, but also perhaps to Kia re-stating their MPG numbers to be more realistic.

Optional on the Sorento LX and standard on EX, SX and Limited is Hyundai/Kia’s newest 3.3L direct-injection V6 making its way across the lineup. Cranking out 290 ponies and 252 twists vs 273/247 for the old 3.5 mill, the difference behind the wheel is largely in the way power is delivered. Our tester scooted from 0-60 in 7.23 seconds, about 2/10ths faster than last year’s 3.5L model. If you go by the EPA scores, the new engine is simply an even trade with the same 18/24/20 MPG score as before. However, unlike the 2013 model, our Sorento averaged a better than expected 22.1MPG in mixed driving as compared to 19.5 in the old model on the same route. Adding the V6 increases towing capacity from 1,500lbs to 3,500lbs with or without AWD.

2014 Kia Sorento EX, Interior, LCD Gauge Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Sending power to the ground is the ubiquitous Hyundai/Kia 6-speed automatic transaxle. For $1,800 you can add an AWD system with a driver-lockable center coupling. This isn’t quite the same as a locking differential in a traditional truck-based SUV, but it is more than you find in most softroaders. For 2014 Kia has also tossed in a torque vectoring system that uses the ABS system to brake wheels independently to shuttle power around for better grip. Why bother? Because everyone else is doing it and it doesn’t take much effort to re-program your braking system. Does it help? I didn’t notice a difference.

Despite the changes to the suspension and chassis, you won’t notice much of a difference out on the road either. The Sorento is light of steering and soft of spring. Thank the steering feel, or lack there of on a new electric power steering system. (Yes, the Sorento offers variable assist electric steering, but neither of the three modes brings extra feel with it.) Perhaps in keeping with its light-truck origins, the Sorento wears some high profile rubber, LX models start out with 235/65R17s , our EX model took things down to a still tall 235/60R18 and Limited models get 235/55R19 tires. Tall tires, light steering, soft springs and light weight roll bars allow the Sorento almost as much body roll in the curves as that GMT-360 SUV that came to mind earlier. Thankfully, the light curb weight which is only 140lbs more than the RAV4 (four-cylinder Sorento) means that despite the lean, grip is on par with the small guys and slightly ahead of the considerably heavier Edge, Explorer, Pilot, Highlander or Traverse.

2014 Kia Sorento EX, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Sorento is a textbook modern Kia. The exterior styling is unlikely to set your heart on fire, but it won’t offend anyone either. The interior apes the style and features of the next price class above, but casts it in durable, hard plastic. That makes the Sorento sound like a very average vehicle, but the key to Kia’s success is value. When you adjust for the standard features on the base LX model, the Sorento is a $1,500 better value than the Dodge Journey, often cited as the cheapest and most un-loved of the 7-seat set. Compare the Sorento to a comparable Ford Edge or Toyota Highlander and the Kia is $4,000-5,000 less. See why the hard dash plastics that other reviewers complain about don’t bother me? Because value speaks to me, and judging by the sales it speaks to a large number of shoppers. Toss in that long warranty and the only thing that surprises me is that the Sorento is only “7th” in the mid-size SUV class.

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Finally a base model that isn’t a penalty box.
  • Possibly the best MPGs for a non-hybrid, V6, 7-seat crossover.

Quit it

  • The LCD speedo is interesting, but I expected it to “do” more than just show me an analogue needle.
  • The Sorento’s ride still needs a redesign.

 

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.0

0-60: 7.23

1/4: 15.68 @ 89.6

22.1 over 786

2014 Kia Sorento EX-003 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-002 2014 Kia Sorento EX-001 2014 Kia Sorento EX-040 2014 Kia Sorento EX-043 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Interior, LCD Gauge Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-041 2014 Kia Sorento EX-042 2014 Kia Sorento EX 2014 Kia Sorento EX-039 2014 Kia Sorento EX-038 2014 Kia Sorento EX-036 2014 Kia Sorento EX-037 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Engine, 3.3L Direct-Injection V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-034 2014 Kia Sorento EX-033 2014 Kia Sorento EX-032 2014 Kia Sorento EX-031 2014 Kia Sorento EX-030 2014 Kia Sorento EX-029 2014 Kia Sorento EX-028 2014 Kia Sorento EX-027 2014 Kia Sorento EX-026 2014 Kia Sorento EX-025 2014 Kia Sorento EX-024 2014 Kia Sorento EX-019 2014 Kia Sorento EX-023 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Center Console, Interior, UVO, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-022 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-021 2014 Kia Sorento EX-016 2014 Kia Sorento EX-015 2014 Kia Sorento EX-020 2014 Kia Sorento EX-014 2014 Kia Sorento EX-009 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-008 2014 Kia Sorento EX-012 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Sorento EX-011 2014 Kia Sorento EX-005 2014 Kia Sorento EX-006 2014 Kia Sorento EX, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ]]>
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Real-World Review: Fleeing Hurricane Sandy Across 8 States In a Rented 2012 Kia Sorento http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/real-world-review-fleeing-sandy-across-8-states-in-a-rented-2012-kia-sorento/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/real-world-review-fleeing-sandy-across-8-states-in-a-rented-2012-kia-sorento/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2012 13:30:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466805 So the Halloween Hooptiefest 24 Hours of LeMons at New Hampshire Motors Speedway went well, with the Rust In The Wind Saab-powered Nissan 300ZX taking a very improbable overall win, and we of the LeMons HQ crew were packing up the gear on Sunday afternoon and getting ready to head home… when we heard that all of our flights out of Logan— in fact, all flights out of the northeastern United States— were canceled due to ZOMG THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING PANIC YALL!!!1! The plan had been to drive our rental Kia Sorento 70 miles or so to an airport hotel, spend the night there, and grab our flights early Monday morning. We got to the hotel in Burlington, Massachusetts, where we convened an emergency meeting of the very exhausted LeMons brain trust.
The four of us— me, Nick Pon, Jeff Glenn, and Jay Lamm— figured we could hunker down in the hotel for what was shaping up to be at least three days of hurricane hell, probably without electricity and most likely fighting with roaming bands of storm-maddened locals for D batteries and maybe rat carcasses to roast over burning tires… or we could leap into the Sorento and drive west or south in order to get to an airport both out of reach of Sandy’s path and featuring flights to San Francisco (for them) and Denver (for me). If we were going to go for the latter choice, we’d have to start quickly; it was already 8:30 PM and the edge of the fast-approaching storm would soon be closing roads and probably gas stations along any route we might take. We’d all been running on a few hours’ sleep per night for the previous few days— running a LeMons race with 100+ entries takes a lot out of you even when you are catching eight hours of Zs each night— but each of us had plenty of wild-eyed road trip experience and we figured we could split the driving four ways, crank the Melt-Banana to stay awake, and arrive alive. After a flurry of calls to airlines and frenzied study of weather maps— all four guys on laptops and phones— we narrowed our choices to Cincinatti and Charlotte. The storm looked likely to head east, but it had already been south, so we opted for Charlotte, North Carolina, close to 900 miles to the southwest. OK, let’s do it!
Jay Lamm samples Pickle Vodka - picture courtesy of Judge PhilLeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm, however, decided that he just wasn’t crazy enough to do the drive; he’d tried to dodge Hurricane Irene when in New York the year before and just ended up dealing with more hassle than if he’d just stayed put. So, he handed us the keys to the Kia and all the cash he could spare and sent us on our way. It was 8:50 on Sunday night and we had reservations for flights out of Charlotte for early Tuesday morning. No sweat, as long as we didn’t get trapped by closed roads and/or panic-stricken crowds clogging the roads in an escape frenzy.
Because we had visions of getting trapped on a dead-stalled highway in Maryland or Pennsylvania (I was getting sweated by visions from Cortázar’s endless-traffic-jam story La Autopista del Sur), we blew into the nearby Trader Joe’s to get provisions to last us a few days. I had several bottles of quality bribe booze from racers in my luggage, so I figured we’d be able to barter that for a few tin cups of mulligan stew from friendly hobos camped next to the miles of abandoned cars. Our shopping expedition was a whirlwind affair, since we showed up four minutes before closing time; three race organizers grabbing random stuff off the shelves as the apocalypse bears down results in a strange menu indeed. Two weeks later, I’m still eating leftover Plutonium Joe’s Isotopes-n-Capers Trail Mix™ and Hukbalahap Joe’s Balut Sticks™.
Assuming that the power was about to go out everywhere, we filled up the Sorento at the first gas station we found. While Jeff pumped, I went in to the station to buy Nitrute-Enhanced™ meat-stick snacks and caffeinated beverages. “Stocking up for the storm?” asked the clerk. “Hell no!” I replied, “We’re driving straight to North Carolina!” Everyone in the place turned and gazed upon me with respect. Or something.
The cargo area of the Sorento was just about completely filled with our luggage; we bring all the transponders and a bunch of other bulky race gear with us as checked baggage when we travel to races, so we had a lot of crap. It was a good thing that Jay had decided to stay behind, because we needed the unoccupied rear passenger seats for our food, phone chargers, and other stuff we’d need to be able to reach while the Sorento was in motion. So, if you’re traveling heavy, the Sorento barely has room for three adults and their equipment.
Even though Jeff had just spent a long day as Race Manager in the NHMS tower— that is, the guy who coordinates all the flaggers, emergency crews, pit-in/out staffers, sends me the penalty information, everything, a job akin to being an air-traffic controller combined with a police dispatcher— he swore he felt alert and ready to go and he insisted on driving the first leg of our journey.
We decided that we’d need to give New York City a wide berth, due to the increasingly scary reports of evacuations from the city, and so we planned a route that took us west to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then southwest to Charlotte. Since Sandy at this time was just off the Virginia coast and moving due north, our route would be taking us down into the storm— or at least its western edge— but we figured we’d be far enough inland to avoid the worst effects.
The wind was getting wilder, the rain was starting to pelt down pretty hard, and I-84 was crowded with erratic-driving hurricane escapees, but Jeff kept saying “I feel great!” and kept the hammer down. The unibody, car-chassis-based Sorento proved to be surprisingly agile for a tall-looking CUV packed to the rafters with passengers and cargo.
One of my jobs as Chief Justice of the LeMons Supreme Court is to write the post-race summaries for the race sponsor, preferably on race day, so I tethered my laptop to my PDANet-equipped smartphone, fired up Photoshop to prep my shots of the winners, and got to work. The Sorento’s back seats aren’t up to, say, Crown Victoria levels of roominess (starting out, we felt that the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis would have been the ideal rental vehicle for this situation) and the ride got fairly bouncy, but I was able to get the job done before the laptop’s battery died. Meanwhile, the final game of the World Series was going on, and lifelong Giants fan Nick was doing his best to pick up the ballgame broadcast on the Kia’s radio.
We managed to pick up the final pitch of the game while we were somewhere in New York, and Nick wanted this shot to immortalize the moment (I’m an Oakland A’s fan, but— unlike most A’s fans— I don’t wish ill upon the Giants). Outside the car, the weather just kept getting uglier, but Jeff rebuffed all suggestions that someone else might take the wheel: “No, no, I feel good.”
At this point, the wind levels were getting worrisome. 18-wheeler drivers were pulling off at rest areas and hunkering down while many of the car drivers were getting increasingly erratic; some were creeping along at 35 while others pulled off head-clutching thread-the-needle passes on the road shoulder. Our Sorento was the quickest thing on the road, hauling distinctly un-CUV-ish levels of ass under dangerous conditions, and yet Nick and I weren’t the slightest bit nervous. Here is the place in this tale where I need to discuss the differences between good drivers and professional racers, because Jeff Glenn is a member of the latter group.
Jeff came from a racing family and was autocrossing an MGB and a Mini years before he was old enough to get a street license. As he got older, he graduated to faster and faster cars, until eventually he was piloting open-wheelers for a living. A few years older than the competition— because he’d opted to get a college degree and “wasted” four years— he realized that the reality of being a pro racer hadn’t turned out to be as much fun as he’d imagined as a kid, and so he became an automotive journalist and, when his editor started putting on goofy races, a race promoter.
Most of the time, Jeff is just the well-organized LeMons HQ staffer who talks to corner-workers on the radio, answers confused questions from racers who can’t figure out how to choose a car number, and makes sure all the gear gets shipped to the correct tracks. It’s when he gets behind the wheel of a vehicle— any vehicle— and the situation turns weird that you realize that you’re dealing with a heavy-duty, alien-DNA driving mutant here. Running late for your flight and need to do a 60-MPH bootlegger turn in an Aveo on a crowded airport road in order to get to the rental-car dropoff in time? No problem, Jeff makes it happen. Or, say you’re in Jamaica on the LeMons corporate retreat, you’ve got a diesel Toyota HiAce with 13 passengers and right-hand drive, and you need to navigate Jamaican roads teeming with stray dogs, overloaded buses, and “drug dons” in Escalades. Again, this is the guy you want driving.
Jeff gets an unnerving sense of focus when a driving situation becomes serious; his responses to communication go all robotic and he lasers holes in the windshield, looking several turns ahead at all times. In Jamaica, he had a way of knowing that there’d be a Montero with a busted axle blocking the road just around the next blind curve and he’d have the HiAce ready for it. In the Sorento, he got faster as the worsening weather conditions chased the other drivers off the highways and we knew that we had to outrace Sandy before she trapped us for three days at the Northern Maryland Chlamydic Lot Lizard Rest Area.
By the time we reached I-81, the southbound direction was empty save for a few hell-bent-for-leather diesel demons determined to get their 18-wheelers out of Sandy’s reach and barreling their wind-tossed trucks along at 85 MPH. The Smokeys were all tied up dealing with storm-related problems, and so Jeff really got on the Kia’s throttle at that point. I can’t say that the Sorento is quiet at speed in a hurricane, nor can I say that its ride is smooth. In fact, all that marketing talk about SUVs coddling you in a cocoon of isolation from the scary world outside— be it full of Uzi-packin’ carjackers or cataclysmic weather extremes— had nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of our Sorento experience. At one point I thought to fret about storm-addled cervidae hurling themselves into our windshield. “Don’t worry,” said Jeff, passing a careening Freightliner uphill as various tree parts bounced along the tarmac, “I’ll see them.” The storm got worse and worse as we blew through Maryland and the corner of West Virginia where we hold the Capitol Offense LeMons races, and we resorted to blasting Blood Sugar Sex Magick, repeatedly, to drown out the road noise. The sound system in our Sorento— I’m assuming the fleet version gets the El Cheapo stereo— was adequate, with a handy USB jack for our iPods, though the rear speakers deliver tinny sound reminiscent of the Flavoradio and the interface is on the maddening side.
We were in too much of a frenzy to keep track of fuel economy, but we had to make several fuel stops to refill its 18-gallon tank. Our all-wheel-drive, squarish pseudo-truck probably didn’t crack the 20 MPG barrier, given our not-so-efficient pace.
We encountered snow and sleet in the hills of Virgina, but the winds began to calm as Sandy and the Sorento headed in opposite directions. Nick and I gave up asking Jeff if he wanted to take a driving break, even as he began talking up the idea of roaring straight through to Atlanta, where we’d be able to catch Monday-morning flights.
Somewhere near the Virginia-North Carolina line, the skies cleared and the sun began to rise. We woke up the LeMons Travel Boss and official moonshine taster and had her start looking to move our flights out of Charlotte from Tuesday to Monday. Success!
Just before 9:00 AM Monday, exactly 12 hours after beginning our journey (that’s an average speed of just over 74 MPH, including fuel stops and the traffic-slowed leg to Scranton), we arrived at Charlotte Airport. We had a few hours to kill before our flight, so we blew some of Jay’s cash on an airport hotel suite to shower and catch a few hours of sleep. Then we dropped off the Kia at the rental-car lot (it turns out that the rental companies waived the drop-off-at-different-airport fees for customers traveling from Sandy-affected areas) and settled down to wait for our flights.
By 3:00 PM Monday, I was on a Denver-bound plane, just six hours later than I’d have been if my Logan-DIA flight had taken place.

As for Jay’s idea to ride out the storm in Massachusetts… well, he tells his story in the official LeMons wrapup video (all the 2012 season’s wrapup videos may be viewed here).

Here’s my (probably) NSFW personal wrapup video of the drive.
As I contemplated rummaging through my troubled fellow passenger’s carry-on bag— yeah, it was very difficult in my sleepless, giddy state to avoid provoking an entertaining incident with Mr. DO NOT Touch— I thought about the 2012 Kia Sorento as high-performance hurricane-fleeing machine. Was its impressive high-speed performance all driver/no car (as was the case when we stuck Randy Pobst behind the wheel of a worse-than-stock MGB-GT at Charlotte Motor Speedway)? If we had it to do over again with a different vehicle, would we have taken the Crown Victoria or— shudder— the Mitsubishi Galant from the rental-car lot? The choice of the Sorento makes more sense when you consider the “what if” scenarios. Say, the nightmare 48 hours stuck in the vehicle when the highway floods and you need to sleep in the thing, or the highway gets covered in a foot of mud and only four-wheel-drive can get you unstuck; in those cases, the Sorento provides the right mix of decent speed and versatility that your discerning race organizer prefers. The Kia Sorento: It’s Reasonably Competent™!

19 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 01 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 10 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2010 Toyota HiAce  - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2010 Toyota HiAce - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - Jeff Glenn at Laguna Seca - Picture courtesy of Jeff Glenn Jay Lamm samples Pickle Vodka - picture courtesy of Judge Phil 19 - Psycho Kia Sorento Drive - Picture Courtesy of Google 20- Kia Sorento Drive - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 21 - Psycho Kia Sorento Drive - Picture Courtesy of Google 22 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2012 Kia Rio SX Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2012-kia-rio-sx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2012-kia-rio-sx/#comments Sun, 18 Mar 2012 18:01:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435366

For members of the North American Small Car Love Association, this might seem to be a golden age. Lately every manufacturer (with the notable exception of Volkswagen) seems to be taking the B-segment seriously. GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Hyundai, and Kia have all recently introduced new or substantially redesigned models. Yet, amidst this orgy, where’s the love? With so many new cars, why aren’t we lusting after ANY of them? Case in point: the 2012 Kia Rio SX.

Not a problem for the Rio: styling. Though Hyundai controls Kia, and the two share platforms and powertrains, the latter company retains a high level of independence. So the redesigned-for-2012 Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio have substantially different exteriors and interiors. The latter has a cleaner, almost German appearance. The athletic stance and taut surfacing are very VW, while the ovoid shape suggests what VW might do if it weren’t so intent on recreating the 1970s Golf over and over. The Rio comes by this resemblance semi-honestly, via ex-VW designer Peter Schreyer. The SX has 17-inch alloys, an inch larger than those on the Accent SE.

The Rio’s interior strongly resembles that in the Sportage crossover. Though less sexy than the exterior and less overtly futuristic than the Accent’s cabin, it’s subtly stylish and logically laid out. A MINI-like touch: a row of four prominent switches at the bottom of the center stack, including one more than is necessary for switching between fresh air and recirc. A canted center stack as in the Optima would make the rightmost audio controls easier to reach

Interior materials and features approach the top of the segment. Intelligent design artfully combines a padded instrument panel face with a hard plastic instrument panel top. You won’t be touching the latter, so why spend the money to make it squishy? (Toyota had the same idea with the new Yaris, but a much less attractive execution.) The headliner is woven. The steering wheel suggests that the Koreans have finally grasped that the point of a leather wrap is to facilitate your grip. The pedals have metal faces. Features on cars with the $2,200 Premium Package include heated leather seats, a sunroof, a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes, keyless access and ignition, lighted visor mirrors, a UVO voice-control system that integrates external devices, nav with a rearview camera, and even power-folding mirrors. The last isn’t common on cars with prices in the thirties and forties, much less those that list for $20,650. A puzzle: even on this fully belled-and-whisteled car you’ll find button blanks. Will they be adding even more content in the future or elsewhere?

The tested car’s sticker might seem steep for a B-segment hatch, but it includes about $3,000 worth of features you cannot even get on a Hyundai Accent. Equip the car like an Accent SE and adjust for remaining feature differences (using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool) and their prices are about the same. You can get many of the high-end features on a Fiesta, but the Ford is about $1,000 more before adjusting for feature differences, and about $2,200 more afterwards.

The driving position is passable. I’d personally prefer a less distant, less aggressively raked windshield that didn’t require windowlettes ahead of the doors (as on the Accent). But this architecture does enable a sleeker, swoopier exterior and roomier-feeling interior. A very small rear window (also found on the Accent) visually pancakes other cars. The front seats, though they provide little lateral support, are comfortably firm. This being a B-segment car, the rear seat isn’t expansive, but it’s at least roomier than that in the Fiesta. The average adult male will fit with perhaps an inch to spare.

Thus far we have an attractive, well-equipped contender, and the specs suggest that the Rio will drive as well as it looks. A direct-injected 1.6-liter four kicks out 138 horsepower, tying the Accent and Sonic for segment leadership and well ahead of the 120-horsepower Fiesta and 100-horsepower Mazda2. A six-speed automatic (unlike with the Accent, a manual is only offered with the base trim) offers plenty of ratios. In practice, acceleration is only adequate and the engine sounds thrashy when revved. The automatic is slow to react to manual inputs, and downshifts with a firm tug when slowing to a stop. Engaging the “active eco” system quickens upshifts to the point of mildly lugging the engine. This powertrain will serve, and even outperform the segment average, but it won’t bring a smile to your face.

Despite the engine’s impressive specs, its EPA ratings are also at the top of the segment, 30 miles-per-gallon city and 40 highway. The problem: C-segment cars do about as well, leading potential buyers to rightfully wonder about the payoff of the lower curb weight (about 2,500 pounds) and smaller engine. In typical around-town driving with a moderately light right foot the trip computer usually reported about 30, with a high of 33. I observed roughly equal numbers in the new 240-horsepower 328i—and much more impressive numbers when hyper-miling the BMW in “eco power mode.” Trip computer error? Stay tuned.

The Accent suggests that Hyundai is finally figuring out how to properly tune a suspension. Not that its ride and handling are excellent, but they’re not the weakest aspect of the car—that would be the manual shifter (which I nevertheless prefer to the automatic). The Rio, unfortunately, neither rides nor handles as well as its sib. Its ride feels lumpier—the car’s wider, lower profile tires might play a role—and less expertly damped. The chassis feels stable, and even serves up some mild entertainment in casual driving, but lapses into a vague plow when rushed. The steering remains mute throughout.

Of course, most current cars suffer the same dynamic shortcomings. The Rio is far from a bad car to drive. In fact, it’s quite pleasant and certainly offers a lot of style and stuff for not a lot of money. But, like a number of others in the segment, the most diminutive Kia is so intent on behaving like a larger car that it drives too much like a larger car, sacrificing the tossability that made the best small cars of the past such a delightful alternative. Granted, most car buyers aren’t looking for “fun to drive.” But plenty of larger cars offer what they’re looking for. Why not have a small car focus on what small cars do best–and that larger cars can’t do? As it stands, we have buff book comparison tests where the judges seem excited by none of the cars and the contender that sucks the least wins.

Kia provided the tested car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Rio front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio button blanks, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio cargo, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Rio engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]>
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Review: 2012 Kia Sportage SX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/review-2012-kia-sportage-sx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/review-2012-kia-sportage-sx/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2011 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418062

Kia’s mission in America over the past decade was to compete squarely with the likes of Honda and Toyota. Lately however, the plucky South Korean brand seems to have larger aspirations. With the new Optima and Sportage turbos it would appear that Kia may just have budget near-luxury brands in mind as competition. Competition is fierce in the CUV market and the cute-ute segment is especially cut-throat with (by my count) no fewer than 11 vehicles that more-or-less compete directly with the Sportage. Among the main competition lurk the likes of the Rav 4, CR-V, Rogue, Juke, Compass, Patriot, Escape, Tiguan, Equinox, RDX and possibly the Q5.

However the 260HP turbo Sportage SX is possibly a different beast, and if you were to whittle this list down to just the 200HP+, turbocharged competition the list gets considerably shorter: Tiguan, Q5 and RDX. As Kia continues their claw upmarket, it should come as no surprise that Acura’s baby crossover should be found in Kia’s crosshairs. The question is: does the Sportage have what it takes to convince entry-level luxury CUV shoppers to stop at the Kia dealer? Or is this just faster competition for the RAV 4 and CR-V? Michael Karesh was able to get a Sportage SX turbo for a day from a local dealer, but what’s it like for a week? Lets find out.

From the outside, the new Sportage strikes a much more aggressive pose than the outgoing model. The clean lines and angular styling echo many of Acura’s latest design cues without being as “me-too” as previous Kia products. The large corporate grill looks at home on the Sportage and possibly better suited to the compact CUV than some of the other products that wear this nose.  While styling opinions vary, one thing seems to be universal: the Sportage’s proboscis is far more attractive than Acura’s ungainly beak.  In addition to the new engine, the SX model also gets large 18-inch wheels, a unique grill, dual exhaust, tweaked sills, aluminum door scuff plates, a different instrument cluster and some optional unique interior trim. Oh, and that T-GDI badge on the rear hatch.

The new Sportage’s interior was something of a let-down after spending a week inside the new Optima. That’s not to say the Sportage’s interior isn’t competitive, it’s just not class leading the way the new Optima SX is. Compared to other new Kia products, there are fewer soft touch plastics and no stitched-dash-trim bits to be found. Still, the interior is notably better than the majority of the competition in truth only a notch behind the likes of the more expensive Acura RDX. Even the new CR-V we crawled around inside during our coverage of the LA Auto Show only matches the Kia in interior refinement. Lesser Sportage trims are available in a two-tone grey motif that looks decidedly up-market,  the SX model however is available only in black, however the black-on-black-on-black interior of our test car made the interior feel a bit too cold and dark for my tastes.  The daring black and orange we saw on the 2011 model seems to have found few homes and is sadly no longer available. In comparison the interior of the RDX is a higher rent for sure, but the difference is mostly in design rather than component quality as the plastics inside the RDX are no more inspiring than the Kia. The RDX serves up similar proportions to the Kia but offers a modest 1.7 cubic feet more cargo room than the Sportage.

As is often the case with specialty trim-lines, it’s what’s under the hood that makes the SX worth the second look (and possible competition for the near luxury crowd). While the base Sportage gets by with a naturally aspirated 2.4L four-cylinder Hyundai/Kia Theta engine good for a middling 176HP and 168lb-ft of torque, the Sportage SX gets the new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine from the new turbo Optima and Sonata. The new forced induction mill is tuned for 260HP at 6,000RPM and a beefy 269 lb-ft of torque from 1,850-3,000RPM. Like many turbo engines, the SX’s torque curve is flat, but unlike many turbo engines on the market it tapers off somewhat quickly at the top end. Compared to the heavy hitters in the near luxury segment, the SX tops the forced induction group with VW’s 2.0L turbo delivering 200HP and 206lb-ft of torque, Audi’s 2.0L cranking out 211HP/258lb-ft, and the RDX ‘s 2.3L turbo delivering 240HP/260lb-ft. The Theta turbo also delivers arguably more punch than the Q5′s 3.2L V6 or BMW’s naturally aspirated 3.0L inline-6. The cost for this extra punch? $2,500 more than a comparably equipped Sportage EX.

The RDX and other compact near-luxury CUVs sell on acceleration, sporty handling with a modicum of cargo capacity while the mass-market CUVs seem to focus mostly on upright seating, and this is where the Sportage seems to straddle the fence. Out on the road the light weight (3,466lb vs 3931 for the RDX), stiff chassis and wide 235-series 18-inch rubber conspire to make the Sportage a near equal to the RDX (or dare I even say EX35) when the going gets twisty despite not having Acura’s slick torque-vectoring SH-AWD system. Kia fitted their latest electric power-steering system to the Sportage SX which provides more road feel and feedback than I had expected. When throwing the baby-SUV into corners, the Sportage compares favorably with the premium compact CUVs on the market. What little the Sportage SX gives up to the RDX in handling, it makes up for it in straight line performance running to 60MPH 0.3 seconds faster than the RDX turbo and finishing the  quarter-mile 0.4 seconds faster as well. The SX also ran to sixty 0.4 seconds faster than a 2011 AWD RAV 4 I got my hands on, and 0.7 seconds faster than the Audi Q5 2.0T we tested in April.

Directing the power to the tarmac is the Hyundai/Kia 6-speed automatic transmission and an optional AWD system. Much like the RDX however, AWD is essential if you care about on-road performance as the turbo brings the torque to a boil quickly. (A FWD model we tested suffered from wheel hop and severe front-wheel-peel at the merest press of the go pedal). Kia’s AWD system uses a center clutch pack (rather than a true center differential) that can connect or disconnect the rear wheels at will but (unlink SH-AWD) will never send more than 50% of the power to the back. Sadly Kia chose not to snag the Optima SX’s paddle shifters for use on the Sportage SX, nor did the slightly sportier transmission programming make a cameo. When driven hard, the transmission is eager to down-shift to do your right-foot’s bidding, but its just as eager to up-shift as you brake to enter the next curve. While Kia does provide a manumatic mode, it is a bit slow to react and without paddle shifters, its less convenient to use as well. The RDX’s 5-speed transmission is more willing to dance and the shift paddles make commanding (and staying in) a particular gear easier.

Now to the nitty-gritty: While the base, naturally-aspirated, FWD Sportage starts at a reasonable $18,500, stepping up to the SX turbo with AWD will cost you an extra $9,900, bringing your total to $28,400. The FWD SX may be $2,000 cheaper and deliver 2 more highway MPGs, but trust me, powering all four wheels is worth both costs. Besides, if you cared about economy you’d be buying the base FWD Sportage anyway. Our tester also wore the $2,000 premium package which gets you the panoramic sunroof, power mirrors with turn-signals, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated front seats and a cooled driver’s seat. The $1,000 navigation system option bumped our as-tested price to a somewhat steep $32,200. While I (like many of you) gasped at the total, a quick trip to my local Honda and Toyota dealers revealed the Sportage SX is actually a hair cheaper than a comparable RAV-4 (5 seater). Adjusting for options and the engine upgrade, the Sportage SX costs about the same as Honda’s CR-V, but is a significant $6,680 cheaper than a comparably equipped RDX which starts at $32,895 and comparably equipped (to our fully-loaded tester) rings in at $37,995.

There was a time where Kias were the cheap option, once that age ended, Kias became the value option, and today Kia has become a mainstream player. The Sportage is a perfect example of this transition, when Kia’s Sportage rolled into the light in 1993, it was cheap, and, well, cheap. The second generation Sportage was a value option to the main-stream shopper and as such, its faults could be forgiven because of its price. The base Sportage seems to slot firmly in the mainstream CUV line-up with competitive pricing, competitive features and average performance. Meanwhile, the Sportage SX seems to aspire to the near-luxury segment, trying to sell on handling and acceleration. While I’m not 100% sure the Sportage is ready to lock swords with Acura on the CUV battlefield, it is a very solid alternative for CUV shoppers. Of course, I value the “deal” so while the RDX is still the better small crossover, the Sportage SX is a close second and my personal choice, it’s just not quite near-luxury material yet. Wait till the fourth generation for that.

 

Kia provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Statistics as tested

0-60: 6.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Fuel Economy: over 629 miles, 23.0MPG

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Review: 2012 Kia Soul+ (6-Speed Manual) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-soul-6-speed-manual/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-soul-6-speed-manual/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2011 12:18:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415199

“You know,” editor Ed told me, “that would be, about, like, a Take Four on the Soul, we’re not gonna do that.” I’d rented a 2011-vintage Kia Soul for a LeMons race in Houston and had been quite impressed. Although the powertrain (the traditional two-liter Hyundai/Kia four-banger and a lackluster four-speed auto) hadn’t been stellar, the rest of the car was just awfully useful and pleasant besides. Nevertheless, Ed wouldn’t let me review the thing. Oh well. If you want to know what we thought about the Soul, collectively speaking, (zing) you can read Ed’s 2010 Sport review and Frank Williams’ Take Two.

To ensure that I would have a chance to talk about this very interesting little car, however, Kia went through the trouble of thoroughly revising the Soul just a few months after my initial drive… and they were kind enough to have just one six-speed manual version available during the press introduction. I snagged said manual-transmission Soul with ferocity and am ready to convey all the details to you. For those of you too diffident to click the jump, here’s the sum-up: Great car, shot in the foot at its launch by a rather unfortunate decision on Kia’s part…

Although the Soul hasn’t been in production very long, its “reverse halo” position at Kia, along with its recent (and unexpected) domination of American subcompact sales charts, dictates that some of the weak points be shored up sooner rather than later. So welcome a new nose, tail, and revised dashboard. LED running lights and taillights make an appearance on the top-line “!” model, the new Microsoft UVO infotainment system is an option, and the lineup has been rationalized to eliminate the top-shelf “Sport” with its individual suspension tuning.

More importantly, the old 1.6 and 2.0 have been replaced by direct-injection, new-generation efforts. The 1.6 is the same engine as found in the Veloster, Accent, and Rio; the 2.0 is a 164-horsepower Elantra transplant. Fuel mileage has improved considerably; the two-liter automatic is now rated at 26/34 city/highway. Choosing the “eco” package with stop/start technology bumps that to 27/35. The base Soul comes with the 1.6 and a manual transmission at $13,900 plus destination or $15,700 for the automatic. The “+” trim adds the two-liter, some shiny stuff inside and out, and retails at $16,900 for the manual transmission. That’s the car I drove. The top-end “!” trim is an automatic only at $19,600. Leather is an option as well. It’s possible to spend well over twenty grand on a Soul, if you’re so inclined.

At seventeen grand or so, however, the six-speed “+” makes a solid argument for itself. The interior is high-quality, the metal trim is convincing, and the “SOUL”-logoed cloth seats look durable. Despite the Soul’s barn-door aerodynamic profile, it’s remarkably quiet inside and rides very well. It won’t fatigue or annoy you; Frank Williams’ suggestion that the Soul was meant for middle-aged men won’t get any contradiction from me. Both rows of seats continue to be spacious and comfy. The doors click shut with precision. If your last experience of a cheap Korean car was a 2001 Elantra or something like that, you will be amazed.

Unlike its Rio cousin, the Soul has a perfectly adequate sound system and the Bluetooth integration is very easy to use. I made a few calls and had no trouble understanding or being understood. Although temperatures at the Austin, TX press event were in the 98-104 degree range (F, not C!) the Soul had no trouble cooling the cabin. It has to help that there just isn’t that much glass in the car.

Dynamically, the Soul is a real pleasure. A few of my fellow journos complained that the aluminum-topped shifter was “long-throw”. Maybe in comparison to a Grand-Am BMW. Regardless, it’s swift and sure to operate. Clutch effort is about nil; the first few times I engaged the pedal I was afraid something was wrong with the car. Once underway, the direct-injected two-liter pulls along with authority. The ratios are wide, and sixth gear is tall enough to effectively prevent acceleration up even a mild hill, but let’s keep things in perspective here: this low-priced Korean box is still about as quick as Tom Selleck’s Ferrari 308GTSi. It won’t encourage any high-g antics, but surely that isn’t the point of these boxy subcompacts. The engine note is more cultured than thrashy, and it doesn’t sound terribly direct-injected. At idle, the Soul isn’t subjectively much louder than a Lexus ES.

For once in my life, I feel sorry for American Toyota dealers. Scion had this market pretty much sewn-up with the original xB, but the successor to that vehicle just isn’t compelling or focused enough to bring those buyers back. Instead, they are flocking to Souls at the rate of about ten thousand new owners per month. (Last month’s sales were down to about 7,000 units; Kia PR folks assured me that was due to reduced 2011-model inventory.) The Soul has true multi-generational appeal. Fifty-year-olds appreciate the high seats and quiet freeway ride. Twenty-five-year-olds like the features, the look, and the hamster marketing. Everybody likes the price.

What’s not to like? Well, there isn’t much real cargo space available. Four friends can roll in a Soul, but only two amigos will be able to travel in one. Parking is a bit more difficult than one might think; the rear corners aren’t easily discernible. I’d also have some concerns as to the durability and service needs of these first-effort direct-injection engines from the Hyundai/Kia group.

Do we have room left in this article to make an Eldridge Cleaver joke? Yes we do. This new Kia is so hot… that the dealers may be forced to keep their Souls on ice. (Oooooooh.) Unfortunately for said dealers, however, there’s one little bitty problem with the manual-transmission models. Many of the people who ordered 2012 Souls, or took early delivery from dealer stock, were under the impression that they were getting a car with cruise control. This was because Kia’s marketing materials seemed to indicate that the manual-transmission Souls, like their automatic-transmission counterparts, had cruise control as standard equipment. According to Kia owner forums, many Souls were delivered to the dealer, and from there to their new owners, with cruise control listed on the Monroney sticker. The official line from Kia is that there was a “last-minute” change. This owners’ forum thread details a lot of disappointment and anger on the part of early adopters — and Kia isn’t doing a lot to make things right.

It’s difficult to imagine Toyota or Honda making a mistake of this magnitude, but they’ve had a few decades’ more practice at controlling the specifications of imported vehicles, communicating with dealers, and resolving issues with the end users. This isn’t good news. As a former car salesman, I can attest that it’s not a promising sign when buyers feel they have to verify every feature on the window sticker. Though it affects a small percentage of Soul owners, it’s an issue that Kia needs to address pronto.

It’s also simply ridiculous that Kia doesn’t feel that it can or should include cruise control on a manual-transmission vehicle. The buyers want it, the technology has been available for a very long time, and the actual cost of such a feature on a modern direct-injection engine is almost zero. If you can live without cruise control, the manual-transmission Soul is an entertaining, useful vehicle. For those who can’t, perhaps the Scion xB isn’t such a ridiculous choice after all.

Soul on road. Alien Green. Party, Houston, Austin 118 Party, Houston, Austin 119 Party, Houston, Austin 120 2012-Kia-Soul-Interior Eldrige Cleaver wouldn't approve. I can see inside your SOUL, man! KiaAustinWave1-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-rio-5-door/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-rio-5-door/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2011 13:23:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414632

In his novel Excession, sci-fi writer Iain M. Banks introduced the concept of the “Outside Context Problem”. It’s described like so:

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever… you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

The current players in the subcompact game have defined their roles pretty well. Yaris: cheap and crappy. Versa: metal for money. Fit: Magic Seat and Honda markup. Fiesta: sporty, but pricey and slow. Sonic: Second-tier Korean car made by UAW labor. Putting aside the Accent (which we’ll get to in a bit), those were your choices. This situation has worked out pretty well for all involved, because with the exception of Nissan nobody was looking for volume anyway and the rest of it amounted to eco-friendly window dressing, lip service to the media loudmouths who talk about small cars and then catch a limo ride home to Park Avenue. It’s a happy little society.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, however, there’s an Outside Context Problem arriving at Kia showrooms. The 2012 Rio is good. It is cheap. Compared to its competitors, it’s even fast. If you’re swimming in this segment, you’re about to see blood in the water.

TTAC readers know that Kia is on a bit of a roll lately. During the media presentation which accompanied our Rio test drive, the company’s PR people hammered all the relevant numbers directly into our brains. ALG residuals for their products have soared from the outhouse (37% for the Amanti) to the penthouse (55% or above for many current models). Their median buyer age is below the industry average, while their median education level is up. Some of that change is due to savvy marketing, but a lot of the gains have come the old-fashioned way of simply building a better mousetrap.

The 2012 Rio is handsome enough to these eyes, sporting the new Kia brand-identity face in front and bearing a considerable resemblance to the old SEAT Leon in the back. On the road, it looks more European than Korean, and perhaps more importantly it takes its proportional cues from the next class up. There’s no Fiesta/Fit/Yaris tall-car/toy-car vibe here. Kia was unashamed about the fact that a few interior dimensions have been reduced from the outgoing model, particularly for the rear passengers. Unlike the competition, Kia has two entrants in this segment — Rio and Soul — and therefore it doesn’t need to provide a high roof. If you want to wear a homburg while you drive, or if you want to carry a double bass, buy a Soul.

Behold, the premium sixteen-thousand-dollar car. While the interior shot comes from the completely-loaded $19,900 SX model, the fundamentals are there from $13,600 and up. The steering wheel would be an upgrade to any number of vehicles including the Corvette ZR-1, while the interior materials are rather disturbingly reminiscent of the Infiniti G25. I had to grab my test car in a bit of a hurry during the event and spent two hours behind the wheel thinking “This is a really solid interior for nineteen grand.” It wasn’t until I reached the end of the drive and looked at the exterior badging that I realized I’d been driving the $16,000 mid-level model. This is the class-leading interior without a doubt, and by some clear distance. Visibility is excellent all-around, helped not a bit by the silly triangle windows in the A-pillar, and the gauges are easy to read. The metal-finish center console offers some nifty “aircraft toggles” for the defroster, A/C compressor, and a few other things. They are satisfying to operate, even if the driver will never be fooled into believing that he is flying an aircraft. The available feature set is extremely complete, including the expected (Bluetooth), the useful (heated seats) and the positively premium (keyless start).

My test car had the “Powered by Microsoft” UVO system for iPod integration. It works about the same way that SYNC does, and is likely about the same as SYNC under the skin. UVO had no issue passing my personal voice recognition test (“Play… Artist Vladimir Ashkenazy”) and it indexed 118GB of music from my iPod Classic in about ten minutes. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news stops; the audio quality was severely disappointing, so much so that I stopped the car so I could roam around the cabin and make sure all the speakers were working. If there is anything on the Rio which connects it to the Hyundai and Kia small cars of a decade ago, it’s this stereo. Not only is it low-fi, it’s underpowered. A few other autojournos told me they’d turned it all the way to “Max” volume just to hear the music over the road noise.

Which leads us to the Rio’s primary over-the-road fault. The mechanical noises are very well-damped, so much so that it’s tough to tell if the engine is running at stoplights, but once underway it’s simply loud in the cabin. The top-end SX model, with its 17″ wheels and sport-tuned suspension, is likely even worse. On the positive side, the Rio is the only car in its class to have power folding mirrors, as seen in the photo above. All I can say is that the young woman driving that white Rio kept her mirrors folded for the entire trip. No, wait. I can also say that she was stunning-looking.

The rest of the Rio’s dynamic package is very satistfying. The engine is surprisingly strong, twisting 138 horsepower out of 1.6 liters thanks to direct injection. According to Kia, the manual-transmission “take rate” of the Rio is slightly under five percent, so they’ve made the autobox mandatory for all but the cheapest model. This is a genuine shame, because the conventional torque-converter six-speed slusher really does blunt the 1.6′s verve. The Rio is very far from being a “hot hatch” but in my hands it romped up to 105mph with no difficulty whatsoever and there appeared to be plenty more left.

Handling with the non-sport suspension was on the pleasant side of perfectly adequate. The Rio feels nimble, although it doesn’t have the Fiesta’s reflexes, and the steering feel is well-damped and perfectly communicative. Kia’s press launch was held north of Austin, TX, which significantly limited the opportunities to test handling and braking. Most of the gentle curves in the Texas two-lanes were easily swallowed at eighty-five or ninety miles per hour, and the descents were rare enough that the brakes never got taxed. All Rio models do have four-wheel discs, which will surprise and delight Honda conquests.

So, let’s review. Looks nice on the outside. Looks nice on the inside. Top-notch interior, comprehensive feature set. Reasonably spacious but not tall-roofed or supermini-proportioned. A choice of six-speed transmissions and 138 horsepower. One thing I didn’t mention: the Rio hits the mandatory 40mpg mark with both transmissions, and there will be an extra 1mpg in the city from an optional stop-start system coming in 2012 proper. None of this sounds terribly revolutionary.

Except. This is a subcompact. It’s a subcompact that sells for less money than the competition. It’s a real car for less than the price of a high-roofed runabout. The base car is perhaps the best value in the market, while the loaded model offers an ES350′s worth of equipment for half the price. It doesn’t punish its owner for saving money and it doesn’t scandalize the neighbors by announcing your poverty. Compared to its Accent sibling, it has all of that car’s virtues plus a two-fisted helping of style and upscale appeal.

With this new model, the Rio has jumped from being off-the-radar credit-criminal transportation to the class-leading entry. It’s become my default answer to “what new car should I buy?” If you have less than twenty grand, expect to hear a Rio recommendation. (If you have more than twenty grand, I suggest the Veyron Sang Noir.) The only thing that stops me from being a complete Rio evangelist is the fact that the company has explicitly not stated any plans to build the car in the United States. Perhaps the weak dollar will eventually change that. In the meantime, the Rio is the best small car money can buy for almost nearly everyone. Drivers who need slightly more space and/or a little extra utility will have to look elsewhere, but as we will see later on in this week, they’ll be looking in the same dealership.

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Review: 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-optima-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-optima-hybrid/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2011 23:27:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410666

I’m a product of the 1970s, and as a result I was just the right age to remember when Kia came on the scene in 1992 (available for sale 2 years later), the first Kias were cheap to buy but fairly cheaply made as well prompting the running joke was that Kia meant: “Korean, Inexpensive, and Awful.” Fast forward to 2011; Kia/Hyundai products are on an impressive roll, sporting competitive looks and competitive features without the sting of a large price tag. Could the new Optima Hybrid be the frugal shopper’s green alternative to the mainstream Camry and Fusion or even the Lexus HS250h? Let’s find out.

From the outside, the new Optima is by far the looker of the mid-size hybrid segment. The Fusion hybrid is handsome but plain-Jane, the Camry has never stuck me as attractive with its oddly droopy beak and the new 2013 Camry’s exterior strikes me as “beige re-imagined”. Similarly, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (the Optima’s close cousin) just doesn’t get my juices flowing, looking in my mind like it is trying to be too Japanese rather than something unique. Similarly the HS250h is dreadfully boring and feels more like a Corolla with leather than a “real” Lexus. The Optima on the other hand checks all the right boxes for me from the aggressive front grille and headlamps to the kinky C-pillar. Opinions varied wildly, but I have to say Kia’s hybrid alloy wheel option set an unexplainable fire in my loins.  Right about now is the point where you either agree with me or not as styling is a subjective business and indeed my better half despised the wheels as much as I loved them. Go figure. Unlike Michael who reviewed the Optima EX back in January, I don’t find the front overhang to be too much of a styling faux pax, but then again, I don’t mind the usual FWD proportions either. Like EPA numbers with hybrids, your styling mileage may vary.

On the inside, the Optima appears to be what a modern Saab might look like (if they hadn’t been bought by General Motors and lost their way). The hybrid’s cabin and option list is essentially the same as the Optima EX with the driver-focused center console, dual-zone climate control, large air vents and infotainment systems positioned high on the dash. While the major components are shared with the Hyundai Sonata, the overall look is fairly distinct. Our tester came with the optional “leatherette” stitched trim around the instrument panel, replacing the base model’s shiny plastic dash components with faux cow. The look makes the Optima’s dash fairly upscale in comparison with the Camry and Fusion competition.

While the button array on the dash was found to be distracting to some, I found this to be a relatively minor complaint and as I’m a gadget person at heart I acclimated fairly quickly. While the button layout is not as logical as I would like, by the end of the week I was successfully stabbing buttons in the dark without an issue. Standard equipment has lately been a Kia hallmark and the Optima Hybrid is no different; power mirrors, fog lamps, iPod/USB integration, touch screen radio, steering wheel audio and phone controls, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, one-touch power windows, air conditioned glove box, trip computer, auto-dimming rear view mirror and power driver’s seat are among the long list of standard features on the Optima Hybrid. To keep prices at that low Kia level the hybrid sports only one option: the $5,000 “premium package”. While sticker shock applies with any package this pricey, but the package contents are worth it in my book. Five-large gets you the panoramic sunroof, navigation system, backup camera, up-level Infinity sound system, HID headlamps, 17-inch wheels, power passenger seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, snazzier trim bits, auto dimming rear-view-mirror, and the holy grail: the heated steering wheel. Seriously, who at Kia comes up with these things? They need a raise. I have a special love for the heated wheel and you can take away all my squishy dash bits if you just give me auto climate control, cooled seats and a heated wheel I’m a happy man.

Standard tech has recently become a Kia hallmark and the Optima Hybrid is no different. USB and iPod integration is standard, as is Bluetooth connectivity. The Optima Hybrid is the first Kia to come with the new UVO infotainment system by Microsoft. Comparisons to Ford SYNC are inevitable and warranted. The UVO stacks up well overall but seems to lack the polish of SYNC. Still, if you want to voice command specific tracks from your iPod, SYNC and UVO are basically your only options. Stepping up to the premium package gets the shopper Kia’s large screen navigation system and eight speaker Infinity audio system. Unfortunately the up-level package does not come with UVO which means you need to control your Apple device via the on-screen menu rather than by voice. Bummer. The navigation software is quite responsive, fairly intuitive and thankfully allows a passenger to enter a destination while the car is in motion. The premium package integrates the climate control into the large display as well as the crisp hybrid status displays. Someone needs to explain the “earth” page to me however because it seems to indicate that the earth is resting on some large roller bearings with a hybrid drivetrain making the world-go-round. No I say, it’s the legion of tiny fairies that make my globe spin!

Under the hood the Optima Hybrid beats a 2.XL four-cylinder engine, essentially the same “Theta-II” engine in the majority of Hyundai/Kia models but retuned to run on a modified Atkinson cycle. In hybrid form the engine turns out 168HP at 6,600 RPM and 154 lb-ft at 4,250 RPM. Much like the Infiniti M35h we reviewed recently, Kia removed the torque converter replacing it with a pancake motor and a set of clutch packs. The electric motor adds 40HP from 1,400-6,000 RPM and 150 lb-ft of torque from 0 to 1,400 RPM, which, like the M35h, combines with the engine’s figure in a more linear fashion than do the Prius or Fusion’s CVT motor/generator setup with a combined power output of 206HP at 6,000 RPM and 195-lb-ft of torque at 4,250 RPM. The clutch packs enable the Optima to operate under electric-only, gasoline-only, or both. Starting the engine is handled by a new starter/generator that replaces both the alternator and starter on the regular Theta II engines. Once the engine has started and has rev matched the transmission’s input shaft, the clutch packs locks up and you’re off.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Located behind the rear seats, the lithium-polymer battery pack is a technological step above the majority of hybrids including the Prius and Camry. The 1.4kWh, 270V pack’s high power density (compared to Ni-MH) is more of a necessity in the Optima however, as the platform is not a bespoke hybrid like the Prius. As a result, the trunk’s space is reduced from a middle-of-the-road 15.5 cu-ft to a smallish 9.9cu-ft. Kia was able to maintain the trunk pass-through for hauling longer items. Still, the 9.9 cu-ft is a step below the 11.8 provided in the Ford Fusion, 10.6 in the Camry Hybrid and 12.1 in the Lexus HS250. If a class trailing cargo capacity stings, the Optima makes up for it with 4-inches more front legroom than Camry, admittedly this comes at the expense of 4-inchec of legroom in the rear. Pick your poison.

Out on the road the Optima delivers a firm, quiet ride. Due to the lower cd of .25 vs the regular Optima’s .28 combined with the frequent all-electric locomotion, noise is particularly muted in the hybrid model. Speaking of all-electronic driving, rather unlike the Camry Hybrid, the Optima spends a considerable amount of time in electric-only mode, for better or worse. With the cruise control set to 65 MPH on a level highway, the Kia will run electric only until the battery is partially depleted, then start the engine and charge the battery while running on the engine, then once charged, it will shut down the engine and run on electric power again. This is decidedly different than the other mid-size hybrids on the market which run their gasoline engine constantly at highway speeds. The 6-speed automatic transmission is up-shift happy as are most sedans with a leaning towards frugality. If you prefer a smooth CVT experience the other hybrids will be your cup of tea, if shifts are more your thing, the Optima delivers in spades. When the road gets twisty the low-rolling resistance tires certainly tone down the excitement, but no more than they do in the Fusion which is probably still the “sportiest” mid-size hybrid on the market thanks no doubt to the wider 225-width rubber.

Of course Hybrids are all bout fuel economy and the Optima is no different delivering a respectable EPA score of 35/40/37 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) which places it behind the Fusion’s 41/36/39 MPG score and the (2012) Camry’s 43/39/41 but ahead of the HS250h’s 35/34/35. If highway cruising describes the majority of the miles on your future hybrid, the Optima is the natural choice as it delivers the highest highway numbers in the bunch, four MPGs more than Fusion. Of course, the glaring problem here is that a seeming bevy of new cars will match the Optima Hybrid’s 40MPG on the highway including the Cruze Eco, Fiesta, Focus and Elantra. You may have noticed I’m ignoring the Sonata Hybrid. That’s because in my mind choosing between the Optima and its kissing-cousin is more like deciding between the blue car and the red car as they differ mainly in style not substance. During our week with the Optima we easily averaged 40.4 MPG on the freeway and 32 MPG in heavy stop-and-go traffic, impressive numbers on the surface, but our week-long average fell to 35.5 MPG which is notably short of the EPA combined figure.

The Optima’s biggest feature, like most Kias, is its price tag. At $26,500 the Optima is significantly cheaper than the $28,600 Fusion or the $36,330 Lexus HS250h. Toyota has obviously decided the Optima is encroaching on their turf and the 2012 Camry Hybrid is now the cheapest in the bunch at $25,900.

So what should the greenie really buy? Is the new Camry Hybrid really the better car for the bargain hunter? No, the answer is: a turbo Optima of course. With EPA 22/34 MPG and 274HP/269lb-ft on tap for $29,600 it’s hard for the piston head to make the hybrid leap. Still, if a hybrid is in your future I would argue the Optima is the better value than the competition when you add in the $5,000 option pack. How is a $31,500 hybrid the better value? It still undercuts the loaded competition and delivers features like ventilated seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and panorama roof not available on the other hybrids. If you want a smooth driving hybrid sedan under 30K, buy the Ford. If you want a great car under $30K, skip the Hybrid and just buy a turbo Optima, if you are seeking a premium hybrid sedan, give the fully-loaded Optima Hybrid a long look before you swing by the Lincoln or Lexus dealer.

 

Kia provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Statistics as tested

0-30: 2.96 Seconds

0-60: 8.31 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.27 Seconds @ 88.4 MPH

Fuel Economy: 35.6 MPG over 489 miles

 

IMG_4059 IMG_4061 IMG_4063 IMG_4064 IMG_4066 IMG_4068 IMG_4069 Front 1 IMG_4072 IMG_4074 Trunk 1 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid IMG_4153 IMG_4154 IMG_4155 IMG_4157 IMG_4160 Engine + Motor = Spinning Earth IMG_4162 IMG_4163 IMG_4164 IMG_4165 IMG_4166 IMG_4168 Kia's inner Saab? IMG_4174 Interior 1 IMG_4179 IMG_4180 IMG_4182 IMG_4183 IMG_4184 IMG_4185 IMG_4187 IMG_4188 IMG_4189 IMG_4192 IMG_4195 IMG_4197 IMG_4199 IMG_4201 IMG_4202 IMG_4205 IMG_4206 IMG_4208 IMG_4209 IMG_4210 IMG_4212 IMG_4214 Engine Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2011 Kia Sportage SX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-kia-sportage/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-kia-sportage/#comments Fri, 08 Jul 2011 14:13:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=401913

Though Hyundai owns a controlling stake in and shares platforms with Kia, the two Korean car companies continue to operate more independently than GM’s divisions did back in their heydays. So the decision between related products often comes down to something beyond price. Take, for example, the Kia Sportage. Why buy it instead of the related Hyundai Tucson?

Sure, styling is subjective, but some designs are clearly worse than others owing to unbalanced proportions or unresolved transitions. Not this time. The Sportage and Tucson share similar athletic proportions and neither exterior has an obvious flaw. The two design teams managed to craft shapes different from every competitor, and from each other. No exterior panels are shared, even the cutlines are different. With the Hyundai, there’s a complex combination of many angles. The Kia’s exterior is much cleaner, achieving a distinctive look through muscular forms that’s further enhanced by the SX’s 18-inch alloy wheels. The decision between them is highly subjective.

Inside, the Sportage’s design is again cleaner, to the point where it looks a bit cheap in the lower trim levels. Step up to the SX, though, and subtle detail changes together with perforated black leather seat surfaces make the interior seem more-or-less worthy of a price in the low 30s. The center stack controls are much easier to reach and to operate than those in the Tucson. One minor oddity: the temperature control for the driver’s seat, though it includes both heating and cooling rather than just heating, is half the size of the one for the passenger’s seat.

Forward visibility is decent in both SUVs, as it had better be since this is a key reason for the popularity of the segment. Still, the raked windshield forces a deep instrument panel and the A-pillars are on the thick side. Rearward visibility is fairly limited in the Tucson and even worse in the Sportage, thanks to unusually wide C-pillars. I wouldn’t be surprised if rearward visibility is the major reason people reject the Sportage after seriously considering it. The Sportage’s front seats don’t provide much lateral support, but are otherwise comfortable.

Given the Kia’s exterior dimensions, the rear seat is roomier and more comfortable than it has any right to be. Cargo space isn’t as generous, with 55 cubic feet compared to the 73 in a Toyota RAV4, and the front passenger seat doesn’t fold to further extend the load floor (it did with the previous-generation Sportage).

Then there’s the big difference compared to the Hyundai Tucson: Kia offers not only the corporate 176-horsepower 2.4-liter four, but also the direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0-liter first offered in the Hyundai Sonata Turbo, detuned a bit to peak at 260 horsepower (vs. 274). Standard in the Sportage SX, the boosted four feels strong, especially in the midrange, but sounds like nothing special and doesn’t stir the driver’s soul. The 269-horsepower V6 available since the 2006 model year in the Toyota RAV4 likely remains the segment’s performance champ. As in the Sonata, the turbo four seems tuned and tweaked to serve as a V6-substitute for mainstream buyers rather than for enthusiasts. One definite plus: unlike many turbos, it’s tuned to run on regular unleaded. Its big advantage over the 2.4 is the effortless, nearly lag-free acceleration with fewer revs in typical around-town driving. There’s only one transmission option in the SX: a homegrown manually-shiftable six-speed automatic. It doesn’t lug the 2.0T like it often does the 2.4, perhaps because the turbocharged engine produces far more torque at lower rpm (with a peak of 269 foot-pounds at 1,850). You can get the turbocharged engine with front-wheel-drive, but given this torque output all-wheel-drive is the better way to go.

Four-cylinder turbos are expected to increasingly replace V6s because they tend to be more fuel-efficient. In this case, the benefits are mixed. Based on the EPA ratings, the Kia 2.0T matches the 2.4 and outpoints the Toyota RAV4’s V6 in the city (21 vs. 19 miles-per-gallon), but doesn’t do quite as well on the highway (25 vs. 28 vs. 26). Proving that a four-cylinder turbo can actually get much worse fuel economy than a V6, Mazda’s CX-7 manages only 17 city and 21 highway while kicking out 16 fewer horsepower.

Even in SX trim, the Sportage’s suspension isn’t as taut as that in the Tucson, which was designed primarily for the European market. Still, the Sportage’s chassis feels solid and composed, with more steering feedback than you’ll get from the tragically numb system in the Tucson. The ride is generally smooth and quiet. There’s some jiggle over tar strips and the like, but this is typical of the segment.

Kia Sportage SX AWD pricing starts at $27,990, of which $2,500 goes for the turbocharged engine and a few additional minor features. A Premium Package (panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition, heated seats, rear obstacle detection, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, cargo cover) adds $2,500. Leather with a cooled driver seat adds another $500, bringing the total for the tested vehicle to $30,990. And this is without the available $1,500 nav system. Yes, we have reached the point where a compact Korean SUV can cost over $30,000—they’re not just for cheapskates anymore. A similarly-equipped Toyota RAV4 Limited lists for only $449 more, a much smaller bump than in the past. Adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool adds about $1,000 to the Kia’s advantage. Not factored in: the Kia looks and feels like a more expensive vehicle than the Toyota.

The related Hyundai Tucson is better in some ways (handling, rearward visibility), but not so good in others (steering feel, ride quality, ergonomics). But the biggest difference is that, for undivulged reasons, Hyundai doesn’t offer the turbocharged engine in its compact SUV. So if you want 260 horsepower with a minimal fuel economy hit, your choice is obviously the Kia. There was a time when a turbocharged engine signified a driver’s car. Well, even with a torquey boosted four and a “sport suspension,” the Kia Sportage SX isn’t a poor man’s Audi Q5. What it is: a more stylish, better-finished, slightly more economical alternative to the Toyota RAV4 V6.

Summit Place Kia of Waterford, MI, provided the tested vehicle. They can be reached at (248) 682-6002.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and price comparison information.

 

 

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Review: 2011 Kia Optima EX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/review-2011-kia-optima-ex/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/review-2011-kia-optima-ex/#comments Wed, 19 Jan 2011 20:53:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=381109

Offering everything from the Accent subcompact to the Equus large luxury sedan, Hyundai covers a lot of territory. With gas, turbo, and hybrid engines, and basic, sporty, and luxury trims, the Sonata stakes out much of the midrange sedan segment. Which leaves Kia and its new Optima midsize sedan…where? Mercury to Hyundai’s Ford? Not if Kia and chief design officer Peter Schreyer (of Audi TT fame) can help it.

For better or worse, the new 2011 Kia Optima looks nothing like the Hyundai Sonata, or anything else in the segment. While the Sonata is hardly vanilla, the Optima’s design is bolder. As with the Sonata, chrome is employed in a new way. In the Sonata, a chrome strip extends forward from the base of the side windows to the headlight. In the Optima, one starts at the base of the A-pillar, runs along the top of the side windows, continues across a dramatically kinked C-pillar (itself unusually split between the rear door and the body), then runs down the side of the rear window, terminating at its base. The way this strip visually splits the C-pillar is unique. (For a more conventional alternative, see the 2004-2008 Nissan Maxima, where a strip that runs along the ditch molding then down the side of the rear window isn’t visible from the side of the car.) Sometimes I really like Schreyer’s innovation, sometimes it seems contrived, busy, and even jarring. Paint color plays a role: the strip stands out much more on deep colors like the dark cherry of the tested car. On a white car, like first Optima I saw in the metal, it looks more elegant.

Less open to debate: the new Optima’s monstrous front overhang. The headlights that extend a full foot-and-a-half into the fender can’t conceal it; the eye can only be fooled so much. This monstrosity is puzzling. Without the need to fit a V6—only fours are offered—the nose could have been and should have been much more compact. Perhaps to mirror the headlights, the tail lights extend deeply into the rear fender. Even with this odd touch the visual mass of the rear fender makes the 17-inch alloys appear undersized. The 16s on the base trim must look puny.

With so many unusual details successfully vying for attention, the longer you look at the Optima the harder it becomes to perceive a cohesive whole. The primary goal was likely to make the Optima stand out, and this has been accomplished. It won’t be mistaken for a Sonata, or anything else. It’s just not beautiful. Schreyer clearly had to work with the proportions Hyundai gave him, not the ones he wanted. If only the front axle could be shifted forward four inches…

My impressions of the Optima’s dramatically different, nicely finished interior similarly started high, then declined with familiarity. Driver-centered instrument panels are so rare these days, especially in sedans. Even BMW watered down its iconic IP design years ago. So it was refreshing to encounter inside the Optima an instrument panel that emphatically angles everything towards the driver. On top of this, many details, such as the air vents, faux-stitched trim ringing the IP, and the upholstery pattern of the seats, lend the interior a sporty, upscale, vaguely European ambiance. A prevalence of soft-touch surfaces backs up the visual impression.

After a week, though, there’s simply too much going on, with many details poorly designed or unresolved. For example: why is the area around the start button black while the corresponding area to the left of the steering wheel is tan? And why are the switches to the seat heaters vertically arranged to the right of the shifter, where the driver can’t see them? The ergonomic issues don’t end with these switches. Though the buttons on the center stack initially appear thoughtfully arranged, even after a week I had to spend far too much time with my eyes off the road hunting for the one I wanted. One unwelcome departure from the norm: a two-button operation to tune the audio system. After using a rocker switch to go from station to station, you must hit a separate “enter” button to actually select one. Station surfing isn’t practical. For that, you’ll want to use the audio display on the touchscreen—except that the touchscreen is a little too far away. Finally, my middle-aged eyes had trouble reading the red graphics at night.

The front seats initially appear those of a sport sedan, but they’re firm without a purpose as the side bolsters are too far apart to provide lateral support. Rear seat legroom is plentiful, but the cushion is a little too low to the floor—a common shortcoming among sedans with stylishly arched rooflines. The trunk is large, and can be further expanded by folding the rear seat, but cannot be unlocked without either first hitting the keyless entry button on a front door handle or hitting a button on the fob. Why doesn’t the keyless access work with the trunk?

This being a Kia, you do get a lot of features for the $27,440 MSRP (EX with Technology and Premium Packages; for the turbo and its larger, 18-inch alloy wheels add another $2,000). The related Hyundai Sonata is aggressively priced. But load up both sibs, and the Optima lists for $775 less—and according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool includes $800 in additional features. Items on the loaded Optima that you can’t even get on the Hyundai include the panoramic sunroof (regular sunroof on the Sonata), cooled front seats, driver seat memory, power front passenger seat, and a heated steering wheel.

As in the Sonata, a 200-horsepower direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine pairs with a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic to provide brisk acceleration. A 274-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter is also available, but few drivers in this segment will have any need for its additional thrust. A manual transmission is only available with the non-turbo engine in the base trim. In “Eco” mode the automatic transmission sometimes lugs the engine, but in general it selects the appropriate gear and reacts quickly to driver inputs. Shifts aren’t the smoothest—the best these days are imperceptible—but they’re far from harsh. One unexpected lapse in refinement: the powertrain has a rough spot around 800 rpm that is very perceptible through the steering wheel every time when braking to a stop. Once at a stop with a foot firmly on the brake the bad vibes disappear. But let the car roll even the slightest bit, or have accessories on that effect a bump in idle speed, and they’re back.

Fuel economy in suburban driving varies widely based on the heaviness of one’s right foot. With a very heavy foot I observed 20 on a trip to the mall. With a very little foot I observed 33 on the return trip. Driving the car like my mother I observed mid-twenties. And on my test loop of curvy road in full hoon mode…9.6. But the last doesn’t really count, as hardly anyone will drive the Optima so aggressively in real life. In straight highway driving at a steady speed mid- and even high-thirties are possible. Hyundai is serious about boosting fuel efficiency, and Kia shares the benefits.

The Optima’s steering is heavier than the segment average, with an especially firm feel on center. This plus decidedly firm suspension tuning lend the Optima a surprisingly sporty feel in casual driving. It’s not as sporty as the most aggressively tuned front drivers—the Acura TL and Nissan Maxima—but the difference compared to the Sonata is significant. The Optima also feels lighter and smaller than the typical midsize sedan. Partly because, at just over 3,200 pounds, it is lighter. But, by the same measure, it feels less substantial. The Optima might look European, but it doesn’t feel European.

Actually push the car through a challenging set of curves, and the sporty tuning suddenly seems superficial. The steering might have less assist, but there’s still little in the way of actual feedback. The steering isn’t intuitive, necessitating overly frequent corrections. Understeer is minimal, but the car leans enough that the inside front wheel fairly easily loses traction. The firm suspension tuning doesn’t translate into exemplary composure. Though firmly sprung, it’s underdamped, and over uneven pavement the car pitches, bounds about, and sometimes even floats a bit. The best cars feel better the harder you push them. The Optima suffers from the opposite tendency. Up to 6/10s or so it feels good. Beyond that point the harder you push the Optima the less precise it feels. Back on the boulevard, the firm suspension tuning makes for a lumpy ride, though not a harsh one.

Then there’s the stability control. A few weeks ago Ronnie criticized the system in the Kia Sportage for over-reacting on snow-covered roads. The system in the Optima does the same. On ice it’s okay, but on snow it tends to drastically cut engine power and obtrusively work the brakes mid-turn. I ended up turning it off much of the time, a step I avoid taking in an unfamiliar car. The Optima’s handling is very safe and predictable, so driving on snow and ice remained easy.

Ultimately, too much of the new Kia Optima—from the styling, to the ergonomics, to the steering and suspension tuning—seems to have been rushed. In a laudable bid to distance itself from Hyundai, Kia ambitiously turned the knob up to 11 (on the tame family sedan scale), but neglected the details. The result is certainly intriguing, and to be fair it’s a good, attractively priced car that deserves a look from any enthusiast shopping for a midsize sedan. But with more time spent finessing this and that it could have been a great one. Maybe with the next refresh?

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh owns TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.

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Review: 2011 Kia Sportage EX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2011-kia-sportage-ex/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2011-kia-sportage-ex/#comments Fri, 31 Dec 2010 18:53:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=376484

The relationship between automotive writers and manufacturers is based on trust in the basic fairness (or pliability) of the writer, and usually it’s incumbent upon the writer to establish their  reliability before being trusted with a week-long tester. What many PR types and press fleet managers don’t seem to understand is that allowing even the snarkiest writer to actually spend time with a product actually helps create a more even-handed review than might result from a brief encounter.

Such was certainly the case with the 2011 Kia Sportage EX. My initial reaction was “boy is this thing cheap,” and had I spent only a day in the car, that would have been my major conclusion. The fact that two days earlier I had to turn in a $70,000 Jaguar XF Supercharged certainly reinforced that initial impression. And after a week with the Sportage I still think it pegs the cheepnis meter, so it’s a cheap car… but it’s an honest cheap car that delivers some real value.

The Sportage makes no pretensions of luxury, like the rental Aveo with fake wood on the dash that my mom rented while her Saturn got a new used engine. Everything on the Sportage interior is some kind of plastic in some shade of gray or silver. Some kind of hard plastic. True, at ~$28,000 it comes very well equipped (press cars, even from more modest marques, tend to come loaded with optional equipment and packages), with most of the conveniences that would satisfy just about every driver who isn’t used to luxury marques. Nav system, smart key, backup camera, leather seating surfaces, dual zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, heated and cooled front seats with forced ventilation on the driver’s side, 6 way power driver’s seat, satellite radio, USB port (I copied some music files to a thumb drive and discovered that you can look at photos with the nav screen – why you’d want to I don’t know but you can select Images from the menu).

Yet even with all those toys, Kia doesn’t try to hide the fact that they’re working the customers in the cheap seats. Well, perhaps, except for the exterior design. Everyone that saw the car commented on its good looks. Peter Schreyer’s team has done well creating an attractive styling identity for the brand and did a fine job on the Sportage. Okay, so maybe they indulged in a few pretensions. The Sportage sports (couldn’t resist it) some Audi-ish LED eyeliners that I suppose are fog lights but don’t do much to light up the road and were of no use in the scary heavy fog I experienced driving north through the Poconos. The regular headlamp units do a perfectly adequate job lighting up the road under normal circumstances.

Other than the styling, Kia’s penny pinching shows. Everything is there, just lacking in some capacity. The cheap seats those aforementioned customers will be sitting in, for example, are, well, cheap. They do have leather surfaces, at least that’s what the sticker says. I do machine embroidery in real life and work with motorcycle and car enthusiasts so I handle and sew lot of leather. If Kia says it’s leather, I’ll believe them. It’s just not very fine leather, though it is more supple than the vinyl used on the non-seating surfaces of the seats. Comfortable enough for long rides, the seats are hard rather than firm, and there isn’t much contouring in the bolsters. The inflatable lumbar support did make a long drive (1,300 miles in less than 30 hours) bearable, but only on the highest setting.

That kind of lack of refinement abounds in the Sportage. Even the sound effect for the turn signals sounds tinny and cheap. Yes the Sportage has four wheel disc brakes and big aluminum rims with black paint. The wheels, though, look cheap, dwarf the tiny brake rotors and rather than effect a Brembo-like look, the rough castings of the brake calipers reinforce the fact that everything on the Sportage has been designed to a price point. The glass moonroof works nicely but they left out the little tab that opens the sun visor below as the glass slides back. You could be driving around with a hole in your roof and not realize it for a while.

I will say that the nav/audio system controls were very good, integrating the touch screen with real buttons for instant access to features. I had to RTFM only once, to figure out how to activate Bluetooth, everything else was intuitive, and unlike some systems you don’t have to scroll through all the modes and bands just to turn on the AM radio. So the infotainment system was first rate, until you listen to it and you realize that just because a subwoofer looks good on the spec sheet doesn’t mean the system isn’t going to sound muddy. It’s nice having dual zone ACC, with great control features, it’s not so nice having it blow cool air on you when it’s 15 degrees F outside. The ACC units on the Mazdas, Honda and Jaguar that I’ve tested recently were all much less obtrusive. The Sportage made me think that Kia had a checklist of features that they wanted included, but they didn’t bother to make sure the implementation of those feature was done well. As long as the feature sheet is long seems to be the design brief. Even in Korea a C is a passing grade.

The Sportage comes with the now de rigueur nannies but between the way the DSC [stability control]  is programmed along with the aggressive traction control [TCS] and obtrusive ABS system, it makes the CUV harder to drive, at least for me. Though the Sportage was fine in most normal driving, some fairly common maneuvers seemed to confuse whatever electronic brain controls the Sportage’s dynamics. Sharp turns out of steep driveways would kick in the DSC as the rear wheels lost traction. Clipping a curb on a corner would do the same. Sometimes the Sportage would just react in a confused manner to steering and throttle inputs.

Detroit didn’t get a ton of snow in the blizzard that took down the Metrodome’s dome in Minnesota, but there was freezing rain first and a wet snowfall here followed by bitter cold so the roads as I write this are about as slippery as they can get. I found the DSC, TCS and ABS to make it harder to drive in bad conditions than easier. They may keep average appliance operators out of harms way but they can be infuriating to folks who can drive.

I’ve been driving in Michigan winters for over four decades. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, AWD and 4WD (this was the FWD version of the Sportage, which also is available in AWD spec), I’ve driven them all and haven’t gotten stuck even a half dozen times. I’ve kinda liked FWD in the snow since first driving my brother’s original Mini but with the exception of F-body GM products and empty pickup trucks, I’d feel safe in just about any layout in winter. I also prefer to use smooth, light, control inputs, including a gentle braking foot. In today’s severe snow and ice, the ABS was kicking in almost instantaneously, creating skids where manual (pedual?) control on braking wouldn’t have caused skids. Also in bad traction the DSC and TCS were making it harder to drive, not easier. In addition to taking control of the brakes, the stability  system overrides the ECU. I’m trying to power my way through the crud out there and the damn DSC and TCS are conspiring against me,  killing the engine just because of some wheel slip.

The suspension is harsh, rather than just stiff, though it mellows out on Interstate asphalt. Concrete surfaces are a different thing, with the Sportage being darty on the freeway, needing constant corrections from steering that is possibly the least-road-feel-imparting steering in automobiledom. I’d call it speed-insensitive steering. Kia calls it “motor” assisted so I assume it’s EPS. When I say that the steering is numb, I mean that, like it’s been shot with Novocaine, at all speeds, in all conditions. As good as the Mazda 3 steering feels, the Sportage is the polar opposite.

There is not a single soft surface that a human being can touch in the Sportage. Hard plastics don’t just abound, they proliferate. Even the fabric headliner has a coarse feel to it. I thought that acrid off-gassing smells in Kias were an internet legend, until I noticed some funny smells myself. There’s a very clever niche for a drink bottle molded into the storage bin on the door panel. There’s also a pictogram molded into the hard, gray plastic of the panel warning people to not put their Slurpees and other non-bottled drinks in there. Real classy.

Still, for all of the Sportage’s cheapness, the people who choose to buy one will not have buyer’s remorse. I say that not to demean anyone, I’m not exactly rich myself, but it’s no secret that Kia’s business model is appealing to the budget conscious. If “Imported From Detroit” is self-aware and self-destructive, doesn’t “The Power To Surprise” translate to “Not as cheap as you think”?

The Sportage may be cheap but it seemed to be screwed together well. Fit and finish was fine, metal surface quality, like on all Korean cars, is world class. Nobody will be embarrassed by the Sportage’s looks.  Everything worked, all week long, even if somethings didn’t work outstandingly.  By the time I turned the Sportage back in there were over 5,000 miles on the odometer. With the caveat that this is a pampered press fleet vehicle, there were no rattles or buzzes and nothing to indicate that you wouldn’t get 100,000 or more miles out of the car.

Though I was left with grudging respect for the new Sportage, it’s not a driver’s car by any means, nor was it intended to be. It was intended to be an inexpensive family sized crossover. Frankly the similarly priced Mazda 3 Grand Touring that I tested not long ago was a much more pleasurable drive and had a level of refinement that the Kia just can’t touch. The Sportage, though, is a much larger vehicle. While a family might be able to use the Mazda 3 as a daily driver, camping trips in it would be a bit of a squeeze.  The Sportage dwarfed a Kia Soul that I passed on the highway (driven by a young black lady, not a hamster). The front seats are wide enough for my big tuchas, the back seat will fit adults so the kiddies won’t complain and there’s a nice CUV sized storage area with a large back hatch.

If space, features, good looks, and above all, price are what you’re looking for in a small CUV, the 2011 Sportage is probably on your short list already. It’s a new car with all the modern bells and whistles, and it comes with a long warranty. According to TrueDelta A fully equipped Sportage is about $1,000 less than a fully equipped Honda CR-V. It also comes with about $2,ooo worth of equipment that you can’t get on the CR-V. You can spec a Chevy Equinox with comparable options to the Sportage and, again, the difference is about $3,000.  For many consumers, that savings of 10% or so is very important. For others, it may be worth it to pay a little more and get a more refined car.

Kia Motors provided the vehicle for this review, along with insurance and one tank of gas.

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Review: 2011 Kia K5 (Optima) Korean-Spec http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-kia-k5-optima-korean-spec/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-kia-k5-optima-korean-spec/#comments Mon, 15 Nov 2010 22:02:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372816

The Korean word for ‘five’ sounds like “oh,” as in, “Oh, Snap!” or “OMG.” So in Korea, that makes Kia’s new K5 a “K.O.,” at least in name. But does Kia’s new Camccord fighter actually land a knockout on the all-important D-Segment, or is it a mere win by decision?

One thing is certain: this doesn’t look like any Optima we’ve seen before. From a distance, the K5 cuts a distinctively aggressive and appealing profile. On closer inspection however, the exterior design begins to display a certain amount of visual discord. Consider the K5 an automotive Monet: gorgeous from a distance, but more than a little muddled at close quarters.

One of the biggest visual distractions is the chrome accent that runs along the top of the side windows. When that strip passes through the rear door and trunk lid openings, it creates a cacophony of cut lines that make it look a little like Chucky from the Child’s Play movies.

A little further rearward, the design disarray continues. The Audi-inspired tail lights conspire with the trunk opening and rear bumper to create an overhang that gives the K5 an unpleasant bucktooth appearance.

The front of the car displays more design non sequitur elements. The in-vogue-for-the-moment LED positioning lights look jarring against the incandescent fog lights. The bright white light of the LEDs overpowers the yellowish light of the incandescent bulbs. Also, the positioning lights do not follow the contour of the fog lights and therefore look like an afterthought. What’s worse, lower trim level models without the positioning lights are left with a vast expanse of black plastic in their place that wouldn’t look inappropriate in a Tic Tac factory.

Speaking of lights, another element that misses its mark is the “eyebrow” light near the back of the headlamp assembly. Perhaps this piece is meant to mimic the gorgeous light treatment on the K7 (Cadenza), but on the K5 it looks disjointed and incomplete.The final piece of the K5’s exterior design puzzle is the faux air intake on the fender. On some models it illuminates, which does help to give it some visual appeal, but on most models it’s as superfluous as Krusty the Clown’s third nipple.

The K5’s interior recalls an apartment I recently considered buying. Promotional literature for this apartment made much of the fact that the kitchen, living room, bathrooms and bedrooms had each been designed and decorated by a different world-class architect or designer. On paper, the idea of having a dream team of top architects and designers working on one project sounded like a good one; in reality, it failed miserably. The result was a hodgepodge of rooms with different shapes, colors, textures, and designs that looked as though each had been crafted without any consideration of the other. The finished product was completely incongruous and lacked both cohesion and coherence. The interior of the K5 seems to have suffered a similar fate. One good example is the way the dashboard meets the door panels.

It seems as though nobody considered that these two areas might someday appear together in the same space. There is a complete lack of unity or flow between the two elements, as if the doors had been designed by one person and the dashboard by another and neither person knew what the other was doing. The door panels themselves are another example of the interior’s lack of design rhythm. The speakers appear to have been added as an afterthought as they protrude tumor-like from the door, giving the whole affair a lopsided, front-heavy look . Finally, the gear selector, with its leather boot, faux-wood trim, high-gloss center point, and chrome release button, also exhibits the K5’s Frankenstein approach to interior design.

If this sounds overly-harsh, consider the K5′s own in-house competition. By comparison, the K5’s kissing cousin, the Hyundai Sonata, has an overall interior design concept that is much more cohesive; lines flow together in unbroken harmony with a sense of balance and unity. It’s a night-and-day difference from the design-by-committee look of the K5’s interior.

Sitting behind the wheel of the K5, the first thing you notice is that the steering wheel is smaller than you might expect. On the road, the wheel feels even smaller as its four spokes are crowded by no less than a dozen buttons. On the plus side, three of those buttons belong to the K5’s cruise control, a feature not commonly found on midsize cars in Korea. Across the street at the Hyundai dealership, both the Sonata and Grandeur (Azera) are green with envy as cruise control is unavailable on either.

Another nice trick hiding up the K5’s sleeve is its heated steering wheel. Hiding is the appropriate word here however, as the switch is completely obscured by the steering wheel and is nearly impossible to locate and just as hard to activate. It’s worth noting however, that this feature is unavailable on other cars in this class (at least in Korea), so kudos to the K5 for having it.

Speaking of heat, both the front and rear seats are heated with special antibacterial polymer heating elements called Heatex. Kia claims that Heatex provides more uniform heating and uses infrared waves to stimulate drivers’ and passengers’ internal organs. The car I drove included cooled front seats which delete the Heatex option in favor of conventional heating elements. This, plus the 95-degree heat the day I drove the car, meant that my internal organs didn’t have a chance to experience Heatex in action. I can report, however, that the cooled seats work quickly and effectively, despite being a little too loud for my liking. At stop lights, the constant drone of the cooling units had me wishing that they had an automatic start-stop system. In fact, I often turned them off manually while idling at red lights. However, the vertical layout of the switches seemed counterintuitive and I often ended up activating the passenger’s heated seat. I’d prefer a side-by-side switch layout.

Several first-drive reports from the Korean media have suggested that the K5’s seats are hard and uncomfortable. In the 90 minutes I spent with a KDM version, I found the seats to be comfortable but a little too flat for my liking, especially the bottom cushion. In addition, the driving position was noticeably low (lower than the Sonata) and the center console was noticeably high (higher than the Sonata) which combined to give the cockpit a cocoon-like feel. Interestingly, and somewhat uncommonly these days, Kia spent the extra nickel to include pictograms on the power seat control buttons. It’s a nice touch, but seemingly unnecessary as the only time anyone will see them is when the door is open. Front-seat legroom in the K5 is excellent as the seats offer extensive fore and aft adjustment. With the front seats in their furthest rearward position (a position they are likely never to be in, but that’s the way Kia measures legroom), the K5 has nearly three-quarters-of-an-inch more legroom than the Camry and a staggering 3.2 inches more than the Accord.

Front-seat headroom is a slightly different story, at least numerically. Interior headroom in the front is only three-quarters-of-an-inch more than in a Camry and is almost 1.5 inches less than an in an Accord. In the real world however, the interior at the front of the K5 feels roomy, perhaps due in part to the noticeably low seating position.

In the back seat, headroom is both numerically and realistically tight. At 57.3 inches, the K5’s roofline is lower than that of the Sonata (57.9), Camry (57.9), and Accord (58.1), and it feels that way! The K5 has the least rear-seat headroom of any of its three competitors; nearly a full inch less than the Accord, slightly more than half-an-inch less than the Sonata, and nearly a quarter inch less than the Camry. In addition, outward visibility while sitting in the back of the K5 is somewhat restricted because the side windows sweep upward. This upward sweep gives the exterior a fastback-esque appearance but combined with the low sloping roofline, makes the backseat feel somewhat claustrophobic. On the plus side, rear legroom is good. The K5 has nearly an inch more legroom than the Camry and about a quarter inch more than the Accord (again measured in the Kia way with the front seats positioned all the way rearward). Rear seat passengers can also enjoy their own air vents, but (strangely) only on vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. The vents are a nice touch, but they cannot be opened and closed independently of each other as on the Sonata.

Overall, the K5’s interior is comfortable, roomy, well-equipped, and quiet. Kia engineers went to great lengths to make the K5 quiet. In fact, it has more sound insulation than both the Sonata and the larger more upscale K7 (Cadenza). That being said, its interior looks and feels somewhat bargain basement, especially in the lower trim levels and lacks design coherence and continuity across all levels.

Under the hood, the K5 uses the same 2.4-liter GDI engine as the Sonata. However, a keen eye will notice a few subtle differences in the engine bay. First, the K5 uses just a single gas strut fixed to the inside of the front wheel arch, whereas the Sonata uses two struts mounted to the outside. Cost savings for Kia and weight savings for the K5, perhaps?Also, the K5’s air intake is wider, lower, and better integrated than that of the Sonata’s.

Finally, the area near the firewall also differs between the K5 and the Sonata. The Kia has more insulation and a larger differently-shaped cowling near the windshield wipers, both of which are designed to reduce noise in the cabin.

Undoubtedly the K5 will be a hit for Kia, and it should be. It’s a quiet, well-equipped, affordable, and generally speaking, an attractive automobile. Unfortunately, it lacks the refinement necessary to compete against the likes of the Accord, Camry, and even its stablemate the Sonata. Had the K5 been given more of a sporting mission to match its extroverted exterior, it would make a stronger case for itself. Instead, the driving impression is extremely close to the Sonata only with less refinement. It throws a lot of punches, some of which hit and others of which miss, but at the end of the fight, the K5 falls short of being a K.O.

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