The Truth About Cars » Kia The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 Nissan: 633 CHAdeMO Fast Chargers Available For Use Today, More Coming Thu, 03 Jul 2014 12:00:57 +0000 nissan-leaf-using-chademo-fast-charger_100457004_l

Just in time for the Fourth of July travel weekend, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MIEV owners will have access to 633 CHAdeMO fast chargers, up from 160 stations in January 2013.

Green Car Reports says back then, the majority of those chargers were along the West Coast and Texas, with Nissan promising to triple that number within 18 months. Nissan North America senior manager of corporate communications Brian Brockman announced last week that his employer had gone above and beyond by bringing online nearly 500 units in the time period, with all listed on PlugShare.

As for the rest of FY 2014, Nissan will push forward to bring more CHAdeMO stations online, from its network of dealerships, to top Leaf markets such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Houston. Meanwhile, another vehicle will be able to make use of the chargers when the 2015 Kia Soul EV goes on sale later on this summer.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Soul Tue, 17 Jun 2014 13:00:13 +0000 TTAC-2014_Kia-Soul-SX-Luxury-white-front

Even those who didn’t appreciate the first Kia Soul’s eye-catching exterior would acknowledge the Soul was a car that majored on style.
Replacing the underlying platform, updating the interior, and adding features are, to a degree, a set of secondary concerns in a car like this. The new Soul had to look every inch like the Soul, but if it didn’t look new, it may not incite the necessary reaction from the style-conscious portion of the car-buying public.


Let’s not bore ourselves with the details: the plentiful black surround on the tailgate, the headlamps that no longer grow deformities out of themselves, and the tiny but meaningful increases in length and width. To my eye, it looks like a more modern Kia Soul. Job well done. You are welcome to be the final arbiter.
As much as the exterior is an important section on the 2015 Soul’s resume, I had high hopes that the rest of the car would undergo the more serious makeover. The first-generation Soul was obviously a marketplace success, but not because it rode smoothly, steered sweetly, or made efficient use of its powerplants, and not because it felt as well-built as the vehicles Kia has introduced since 2009.
In the 2015 model I drove around last week, superior ride quality was the most dramatic dynamic improvement. You’ll continue to suffer from a few unwelcome encounters out back where there’s still a torsion beam, but if poor ride quality was the key factor restraining a potential Soul buyer a year ago, they won’t feel the same way now. Losing the 18-inch-wheels from this fully-optioned SX Luxury model (a $21,095 ! with The Whole Shabang Package for $26,195 including destination, in U.S.-speak) may further isolate road imperfections.
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Kia’s FlexSteer, which allows you to select one of three steering weight modes, is not uncommon in its lifelessness. I’d take GoodSteer from the latest Mazda 3 over the Soul’s trio of optional steering modes, but the Soul’s rack isn’t offensive. Nor is the handling anything worse than perfectly adequate. This isn’t a sporting device; there is no great level of athleticism. But as with any properly small car, the Soul is delightfully agile in urban scenarios, and the new Soul is also pleasantly quiet during highway jaunts.
I would appreciate the availability of a manual transmission with the 2.0L engine. Subcompact-like dimensions and 164 horsepower sounds fun at first. This Soul, however, is carrying around 3100 pounds, and it’s fitted with a 6-speed automatic that favours smoothness over swiftness. The 2.0L-powered Soul Exclamation Point isn’t slow, but there is a sense of weight you don’t expect in a car that’s only 163 inches long.
Regardless of its on-road characteristics, the Soul has proven to be a winner because of its engaging design, outside and in, and its vast interior. Rear leg room is terrific, and thanks to our slim Diono car seat, two adults could sit in the back with the baby and voice no complaints. The driver’s seat doesn’t have the top-end Forte’s extendable seat cushion, but I still enjoyed the chair-like seating position and the improved material quality in all the places no car owner ever touches except when cleaning. The driver’s seat is powered in all sorts of ways, including lumbar, but the passenger makes do with basic manual adjustments. Both receive heated and cooled cushions, however. Living alongside the north Atlantic as I do, those ventilated front seats sure do come in handy for a long stretch during, well, the first week of August.

A bit longer than a Rio hatchback and a bit shorter than a Forte hatchback, the Soul’s interior only forces you to sacrifice when it comes to seats-up cargo capacity. It’s decidedly more subcompact-like than compact-like (18.8 height-assisted cubic feet compared with 15 in the Rio hatch and 23.2 in the Forte) until you fold the seats down. At which point, the Soul’s boxy shape creates greater space than you’d get in, say, hatchback versions of the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus.
The Soul also feels like a much better-built car than the majority of, if not all, subcompacts. The rear doors thunk just as well as the front doors, rather than the thunk/thwack front/rear disagreement endured in many small cars. Kia’s UVO system continues to operate at an above-average level, with multiple menus visible on the screen at any given time, quick responses, and conventional controls for most features.
For way less than $30,000, the level of luxury content in this Whole Shabanged Exclamation Point Soul is impressive, from the panoramic sunroof to the upgraded Infinity stereo, navigation, and heated rear seats. Plus, power-folding mirrors that unfolded and folded back a thousand times while I did yardwork beside our driveway with keys in my pocket, wondering all the while what that faint buzzing sound was.
The Soul still isn’t sufficiently fuel efficient relative to most small cars, with EPA ratings of just 23/31 mpg. There is also genuine potential for a hot hatch here, and it would be wonderful if the Forte’s turbo and manual transmission made the trek over to the Soul. It’s easy to suggest that halo models are insisted upon only by non-buying enthusiasts but won’t turn out to be profit generators. Yet the Soul’s audience has become so numerous that I have to believe a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, sport-suspended Soul would gain more than just a small cult following.
Perhaps not. I won’t argue with the merits of the car in its current state, nor the level of success Kia has stumbled upon with the Soul since it arrived in 2009. Through the end of May, Americans have registered nearly 500,000 Souls. Sales have improved every year, rising above 118,000 units in 2013. So far this year, U.S. Soul volume is up 21%, and it’s outselling all “small” cars other than the Corolla, Civic, Cruze, Elantra, Focus, Sentra, and Jetta.
Kia Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.
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Kia Building First Mexican Plant To Alleviate Strained U.S. Production Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:00:07 +0000 2014-kia-forte-5-door-rear-left-view

In light of high demand in the United States for its offerings, Kia will build its first Mexican plant in Monterrey to help bring additional capacity to North America.

Reuters reports the factory will open 21 months after groundbreaking, supplying a total of 300,000 vehicles annually to the United States. Production will focus on Kia’s compacts — the Forte and Rio — at first before taking on work from the brand’s sole U.S. factory in Georgia, where the Optima, Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe are assembled, and from Hyundai’s Alabama plant, where the Sonata and Elantra are built. No word was given on when the first shovels would break the earth.

Aside from supply-and-demand issues in the U.S., Kia is likely building the Monterrey plant — to go with Hyundai’s production expansion into Chongqing, China — in order to maintain its market share around the globe. The duo together hold fifth place in the global auto sales race, a position it could lose by 2016 if no more capacity is added, according to Korea Investment & Securities auto analyst Suh Sung-moon.

The capacity limit was unofficially put in place by Hyundai/Kia chair Chung Mong-koo over two years ago, fearing his two brands would end up like Toyota in the 2000s if they expanded as aggressively as had the Japanese automaker.

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New York 2014: 2015 Kia Sedona Live Shots Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:34:17 +0000 2015-Kia-Sedona-4

The 2015 Kia Sedona quietly made its public debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show, ready to take up to eight passengers to the nearest Trader Joe’s after soccer practice.

Behind the tiger nose, Kia dropped in a 3.3-liter V6 pushing 276 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic.

Inside, up eight passengers can pile in depending on configuration, with third-row riders receiving 34.8 inches of legroom, second-row gaining 41.1 inches, and the parents enjoying 43.1 inches up front. Access to the third row is enabled by the Sedona’s Slide-n-Stow system in the second row, which also allows for increased storage room if needed.

Other features include auto-opening tailgate, surround-view monitoring, electronic stability control and ABS.

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Hyundai Sonata Fuel Economy Rating Found Lower Than Stated, Corrected Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:40:58 +0000 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 Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:55:24 +0000 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 ! Fri, 21 Feb 2014 14:00:45 +0000 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?



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.


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.


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.


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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]]> 107 Hyundai Ready To Add Capacity After Two-Year Break Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:00:59 +0000 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 Wed, 29 Jan 2014 17:00:50 +0000 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 Thu, 23 Jan 2014 16:32:38 +0000 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 Thu, 02 Jan 2014 16:59:53 +0000 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 Tue, 12 Nov 2013 13:00:22 +0000 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 Fri, 01 Nov 2013 17:31:54 +0000 ???????????????????????????????

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 for the photography.

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Kia K900 To Debut at LA Auto Show Tue, 29 Oct 2013 15:16:28 +0000 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) Fri, 30 Aug 2013 22:08:39 +0000 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.


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


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


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


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


$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


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


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Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Forte EX Tue, 27 Aug 2013 13:18:02 +0000 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) Fri, 26 Jul 2013 22:16:16 +0000 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.


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


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


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


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


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 ]]> 144
You Can Buy The Millionth U.S. Built Kia Mon, 15 Jul 2013 12:00:50 +0000 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) Sun, 19 May 2013 15:20:52 +0000 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


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


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


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 ]]> 42
Real-World Review: Fleeing Hurricane Sandy Across 8 States In a Rented 2012 Kia Sorento Wed, 14 Nov 2012 13:30:06 +0000 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 ]]> 28
Review: 2012 Kia Rio SX Take Two Sun, 18 Mar 2012 18:01:03 +0000

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, 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 ]]> 66
Review: 2012 Kia Sportage SX Wed, 14 Dec 2011 12:00:34 +0000

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) Mon, 24 Oct 2011 12:18:05 +0000

“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 ]]> 91
Review: 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door Tue, 18 Oct 2011 13:23:41 +0000

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 Fri, 07 Oct 2011 23:27:50 +0000

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


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