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.
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.
“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…
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.
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.
Though Hyundai owns a controlling stake in and shares platforms with Kia, the two Korean car companies continue to operate more independently than GM’s divisions did back in their heydays. So the decision between related products often comes down to something beyond price. Take, for example, the Kia Sportage. Why buy it instead of the related Hyundai Tucson? Read More >
Offering everything from the Accent subcompact to the Equus large luxury sedan, Hyundai covers a lot of territory. With gas, turbo, and hybrid engines, and basic, sporty, and luxury trims, the Sonata stakes out much of the midrange sedan segment. Which leaves Kia and its new Optima midsize sedan…where? Mercury to Hyundai’s Ford? Not if Kia and chief design officer Peter Schreyer (of Audi TT fame) can help it.
The relationship between automotive writers and manufacturers is based on trust in the basic fairness (or pliability) of the writer, and usually it’s incumbent upon the writer to establish their reliability before being trusted with a week-long tester. What many PR types and press fleet managers don’t seem to understand is that allowing even the snarkiest writer to actually spend time with a product actually helps create a more even-handed review than might result from a brief encounter.
Such was certainly the case with the 2011 Kia Sportage EX. My initial reaction was “boy is this thing cheap,” and had I spent only a day in the car, that would have been my major conclusion. The fact that two days earlier I had to turn in a $70,000 Jaguar XF Supercharged certainly reinforced that initial impression. And after a week with the Sportage I still think it pegs the cheepnis meter, so it’s a cheap car… but it’s an honest cheap car that delivers some real value.
The Korean word for ‘five’ sounds like “oh,” as in, “Oh, Snap!” or “OMG.” So in Korea, that makes Kia’s new K5 a “K.O.,” at least in name. But does Kia’s new Camccord fighter actually land a knockout on the all-important D-Segment, or is it a mere win by decision?
If you’re a driving enthusiast with a family and a sub-$20k budget, then a four-door sport compact tends to be the way to go. Unfortunately, you don’t have as many choices lately. Nissan’s, Honda’s, Suzuki’s, and VW’s suitably sporting offerings are priced out of reach. Mitsubishi is barely hanging on with the Lancer GTS. Toyota offers the Corolla XRS, but few enthusiasts take it seriously. Only the Mazda3 sells well in this segment, but the new styling isn’t for everyone. Perhaps the Kia Forte SX? The lone Korean offers the most horsepower for the lowest price, and for 2011 will be available in practical hatchback form. But is it truly a contender?
Within my first mile in the original Kia Sorento I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is that a live rear axle I feel?” I stopped the vehicle, peered beneath it and, sure enough, there it was. The Sorento looked like a car-based crossover, but body-on-frame construction, a two-speed transfer case, and a live rear axle dwelled beneath the Mercedes-inspired sheetmetal. The upshot: superior off-road capability, but subpar fuel economy and ride quality. Well, the Sorento has been redesigned, and as with the Sportage before it the trucky bits have been tossed in favor of a Hyundai car-based foundation. Specifically, the 2011 Kia Sorento is now a Hyundai Santa Fe beneath the surface. Now that it’s much like all of the others, why buy the Kia?
Back in 1997, when Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle, my wife badly wanted one because it seemed so much more young and fun than her current car. But she also wanted children. The two were not compatible, so no Beetle for her. No doubt she was not the only person seeking a cute, quirkily styled car with four doors. But at the time there were no such cars. Chrysler was arguably first to fill this void, with the PT Cruiser. So that’s what my wife has been driving for the past five years. Today there are a number of contenders. The latest: Kia’s Soul and Nissan’s cube. Which comes closest to the mark? Well, since you’re reading about the Soul first, clearly the cube. Here’s where the Soul falls short…
First impressions last. Except when they don’t. A few years back, I didn’t think the new-generation Accord was all that special. The enlarged Honda mid-sizer did the monkey-making thing; ascending the sales charts to become America’s top-selling mid-size family sedan. My first impression of Kia’s all-new Forte: it’s a hit. The Kia Forte’s a cheap (as in inexpensive), safe, somewhat stylish, fuel-efficient sedan that transports up to four adults in perfect comfort, without driving like a penalty box. In fact, this car is good enough that it could be a turnaround product for Kia, which has struggled to establish its place on the American automotive scene. But will it? What am I, psychic?
Marketing to a particular demographic is a tricky business–just ask Honda or Toyota. Honda introduced the Element in 2003. Toyota brought us the Scion xB in 2004. Both machines were designed as funky vehicles to fit the twenty-something lifestyle. Needless to say, their room and versatility immediately found favor with the quintagenarian crowd. Now Kia’s taking a shot with the Soul. Our own Eddie Niedermeyer, squarely in the demographic Kia’s aiming for, liked it. But then there are us pesky demographic-bustin’ Boomers. Will we see more Souls parked at the old farts’ home than on college campuses?
Review: 2010 Kia Soul Sport, Take Two Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars