Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Automobile Magazine REVIEWS: 2010 Kia Soul

Back in the summer of 2003, after polarizing Japan for three years as the Toyota bB, the defiantly quadrilateral Scion xB polarized America. Those who got it, loved it; those who didn't, definitely didn't. Like it or not, though, the xB birthed a new brand and stoked its youthful target demographic. Fast-forward almost six years, and we prepare to welcome to America the 2010 Kia Soul, a kimchi-flavored take on the xB and, without question, the wackiest thing to come out of Korea since M*A*S*H. It's similar to the xB in size, specification, and price, and it's identical in aim. Can it cause a similar commotion?

To find out, we headed to Seoul for an early drive of the Soul in its homeland. As long as you missed Kia's very happening Soul concept car at the 2006 Detroit show, you're likely to find the production version mostly unobjectionable, maybe even fetching. It's offered in four trim levels: a base edition, the punctuated Soul+ and Soul!, and the top-drawer Soul Sport. The base car gets a 122-hp, 1.6-liter in-line four and a five-speed manual; the rest of the range gets a 142-hp, 2.0-liter four with the stick shift or a four-speed automatic. We sampled only the 2.0-liter/manual combo during our brief outing. So equipped, the Soul exhibited reasonable pep, although engine and road noise could be intrusive.

The car rides on a stretched and stiffened version of the subcompact Rio's platform, with struts up front and a torsion-beam setup in back. Now, admittedly, this bottom-up platform engineering is the chief enabler of the Soul's low, low price (the base car will sticker in the low teens, and even a loaded Sport model is expected to slide in under $20,000). Unfortunately, the Soul's cost-saving conception inflicts it with road manners that aren't too far removed from those of the fairly uncouth Rio. Initial damping has been tightened, but the resultant ride can verge on cruel over imperfect pavement. And although you'd expect such stiffness to pay off in the curves, the Soul's tallish, mini-minivan body wallows and wobbles during spirited driving.

What it lacks in autocross ability, though, the Soul makes up for in customizability. Buyers will pick from colors with names like "Alien" and "Java" and from a profusion of dealer add-ons: wheels, decals, and assorted shiny bits. Beyond some mildly eccentric cabin decor options, including a bold red-on-black color scheme and disco-riffic glow-in-the-dark seat fabric, the Soul's fairly spacious interior doesn't fall too far from the Kia tree: glossy and hard but functional and inoffensive.

In the end, as with pretty much every Korean car, the Soul's bottom line doubtless will figure more prominently in its appeal than the way the car goes or looks. Perhaps because the original Scion xB long ago took the hits (and the praise) for its outlandish box-car style, the Soul's shape doesn't polarize. Getting attention in this segment of the market calls for risk-taking: anticipation, not reaction; innovation, not imitation. The Soul seems downright sensible, and sensible rarely causes a commotion.

By Matthew Phenix
Automobile Magazine

Monday, December 29, 2008

Auto review: 2009 Kia Borrego EX

Kia Borrego is good, but is there room for another SUV?

Kia and its South Korean corporate cousin, Hyundai, continue to expand their lineups far beyond their original economy-car origins. This year we get a genuine luxury car from Hyundai, the Genesis. And from Kia, we get the largest SUV from a Korean manufacturer yet -- the all-new 2009 Borrego.

Sizewise, the Borrego is about a foot longer than the current Kia Sorento. It's about an inch shorter, and more than an inch wider, than the segment-leading Ford Explorer. The Borrego is a little bigger than the Hyundai Veracruz, and there's one other big difference: The Borrego is offered with Kia's first-ever V-8 engine, while the Veracruz comes with only a V-6.

The test Borrego came with the standard V-6, too -- a 276-horsepower, 3.8-liter engine that has so much power I'm not sure why I'd want to opt for the thirstier, more expensive V-8 unless I towed a lot. The V-6 Borrego can handle a 5,000-pound trailer, while the 337-horsepower V-8 can tow 7,500 pounds.

EPA-rated fuel mileage for the four-wheel-drive V-6 is 16 mpg city, 21 mg highway. The four-wheel-drive V-8 Borrego is rated at 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway. Regular gas is fine for either engine.

The Borrego is a traditional body-on-frame SUV, as opposed to the more carlike "crossover" SUVs, such as the Ford Flex, that are built on unibody car platforms that don't have a separate frame. Traditional SUVs are typically more rugged but ride more roughly, and that applies to the Borrego, though the ride isn't bad at all except on really rough pavement.

Inside, the front bucket seats are fine; the middle seat is roomy for two adults, passable for three. The rearmost seat will hold two adults -- thankfully, the middle seats are adjustable to a near-upright position to give a little more legroom for the back-seat passengers -- but getting in that rear seat requires some minor gymnastics. For kids, though, it's fine. And even with all three rows of seats in place, there's quite a bit of storage room in the back for groceries and such. The second and third rows fold forward for an almost flat load floor.

The Borrego comes standard with rear-wheel-drive, but the test vehicle had four-wheel-drive, including a "low range" setting for off-road use. The Borrego might not be as adept in the woods as a Jeep Wrangler, but it holds its own on tough terrain.

The base Borrego is the LX model, which starts at just less than $27,000 and comes with plenty of standard features, including air conditioning, traction control, stability control, side and side-curtain airbags, cruise control, and a good sound system. Upgrade to the EX, the test vehicle, and you get some extra features, such as dual-zone climate control, fog lights, power front seats and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls. Both models have a full-sized spare tire. Even so, interior trim was relatively Spartan and plastic-heavy, given the price.

Options on the test Borrego included bigger 18-inch tires on chromed wheels ($750), an $1,800 premium package that added a sunroof, an upgraded 10-speaker Infinity sound system, running boards and rear air conditioning, a navigation system ($1,500), and a $1,500 luxury package that added leather upholstery for the first and second rows of seats. With shipping, the total was $36,295, roughly on par with the competition.

This is a very, very tough part of the market, not only because there are lots of excellent midsized SUVs, but because of slow sales, so there are some rather astounding discounts being offered. Have you priced a Dodge Durango lately?

The Kia Borrego compares very well with more established models on the market, but it doesn't really offer much that's new. Price tends to drive this segment of the market, and Kia might have to discount the Borrego more than the company wants to for it to get some initial traction.

Steven Cole Smith | Sentinel Auto Editor

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

REVIEWS: 2010 Kia Soul

I took the Kia Soul for a 10-mile blast around Ann Arbor. First things first, the car looks great. It's obvious that Kia is trying to imitate Scion with the Soul's styling, but who cares? It's cool. Our test car's red interior is a bit much, but it works. It's great to see a Korean company having some fun with its designs.

That said, don't look for Mini Cooper fun in the Soul. It's clear that the underpinnings are from a far less exciting car. The Soul isn't a bad car, but it isn't sporty, despite the fact that our test car was the sport model. The large wheels and stiffer suspension just accentuate its economy car roots on bad roads. The 2.0-liter engine has decent torque and midrange punch, but don't try to rev it to the moon as all you really get is noise. Additionally, the five-speed manual gearbox has vague feel and first gear seemingly disappeared on more than one occasion during my drive. We can only hope that there was something wrong with our test vehicle and the shifter feel we experienced is not typical.

Still, the Soul has a ton going for it. Most notably (other than the styling), it's inexpensive. Our test car included stability control, satellite radio, USB iPod integration, and Bluetooth. The folding rear seats create a flat load floor, and there's additional hidden storage in back as well. All this for an estimated as-tested price of around $19K. Not bad at all.

So throw the Kia Soul in with the other fun-to-look-at cars like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Scion xB, Honda Element, and the Mini. Just make sure you know that the fun is in the styling and the price point, not the driving dynamics, much like most of its competition.

Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor

Fashion trends in junior high school tend to go like this: the rich, popular kids show up one day wearing the newest style from the Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch (I might be dating myself here). One month later, every single student, save for the nerds of course, is dressed in very similar-looking threads purchased from Wal-Mart and Target. Basically, the cheapo chain stores make large profits by satisfying all the pent-up demand created by the boutiques, who already paid for all the design and marketing. Kia's decision makers clearly think they can use the same formula with the Soul, which should start for about $1500 less than a Scion Xb. I think they're right.

There is definitely a distinct preproduction press-car feel to our test vehicle - the horn doesn't work and, as Marc noted, first gear has a way of completely disappearing. Problem is, the Soul is already on sale on Korea, and it's hard to imagine journalists have been hammering on this little thing. Let's hope the ones that land in dealerships next spring have these issues settled. Otherwise, the Soul is exactly what I expected - not fun to drive, but not offensive either. Handling and acceleration are both perfectly adequate for a car in this segment.

The car certainly looks cute, but doesn't really stand out - no one looked twice when I pulled into a supermarket parking lot. Then again, no one swoons over the clothes at Wal-Mart - but they still buy them.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

Even in the generic silver our test car was covered in, I was able to spot the Soul from the opposite end of the parking structure. Its tall, slightly curvy box-on-wheels shape and high-mounted vertical tailights pushed to the corners distinguish it a bit from the crowd. Even, possibly, from the crowd it mimics (xB, Cube, Element).

I was glad to hear that other staffers had the same experience with the magically disappearing first gear and that it wasn't just my own faulty shifting technique. That said, I was very disappointed in the sloppy, vague shifter feel. Even though the Soul is not powerful or necessarily sporty, a firm, precise shifter would go a long, long way in upping the fun-to-drive quotient.

Although the red seats are a bit much, the the fit and finish beat the xB hands down and in some areas equal or better those in the Honda Element. The steeply raked windshield helps to make the interior feel more open and airy than these competitors, too. This is despite the smallish, slot-like rear side-windows that get smaller as they go rearward.

Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor

What we have here is the first Kia that people will buy for reasons other than price, although the price is mighty attractive, too. I liked this funky little box far more than I expected. First, as Ms. Misaros notes, the interior is really nicely done. I love the bright red materials. Why should a fun and funky young person's car be lined with drab black and gray?!? Bring on the color, I say.

Second, the exterior is also really, really good looking, especially for Kia. It would be easy to attribute the Soul's distinctive styling to Kia's design chief, Peter Schreyer, but the fact is that he has only been on the job for a couple of years, so he could have done nothing more than minor retouching to the Soul. But the Soul is a tribute to the fact that there clearly are some talented designers within Kia, aside from Schreyer. And since Schreyer is a veteran of the Volkswagen and Audi design studios, we can expect to see even more good stuff from him and his team.

What I'm getting at here is that the Soul doesn't look or feel cheap. It has substance and it has style, attributes sorely missing from most Kia vehicles in the past. It's a vehicle I was happy to be seen in.

It's true that the Soul is no sport wagon, but it will serve the needs of young urbanites and small families quite well for nightclubbing, shopping, and weekend jaunts. Yep, there was definitely a syncro problem in our test car's five-speed manual transmission; let's hope similar issues don't rear their heads in production cars.

As it is, the Soul doesn't feel anything remotely like a bargain basement ride. I was shocked as I slithered up my snowy driveway to feel stability control at work; I had never imagined that it would be available.

All in all, I come away very impressed.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

I guess car companies are finally realizing that young, cool people won't be caught dead in nerdy econoboxes - unless those nerdy econoboxes are so unabashedly nerdy that they actually become cool. I adored the first-generation Scion xB (I actually contemplated trading in my BMW 5-series wagon for one), but the current, second-gen xB lost a lot of that charm.

And now Kia made the real sequel. The Soul fixes the original xB's two biggest problems - the 1.5-liter Hamster wheel under the hood and those atrocious center-mounted gauges - with a 2.0-liter and some cool gauges. The shape of the gauges really reminds me of mid-1990s Opel products (not a bad thing) and even the shift knob - with it's pull-up-to-engage-reverse-sleeve is straight Opel. Dunno where the Opel reference comes from, but I like it. Yeah, the shift linkage is slightly out of adjustment on this Soul, but that's easily fixed, and anyone who's driven an old VW knows how to get around that little problem.

I drove the Soul in four inches of fresh snow, so I can't say much about its dynamics. It was ten degrees outside, so I also didn't spend much time poking around the cargo hold. But I can say that when I first saw it, it made me grin - and let's face it, buyers in this segment won't care much about skidpad grip or at-the-limit handling. They'll be looking at the Soul because it's cute and cheap. And it does those two things really well.

Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor

2010 Kia Soul

Base Price (with destination): Estimate of $15,000
Price as tested: Estimated: $19K
Options: N/A

Fuel Economy: Not Available (city/hwy/combined)

Size: 2.0 L I-4 (CVVT)
HP: 142 HP @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 137 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm

Transmission: 5-Speed Manual

Weight: Not Listed

Wheel/Tire Info:
-5-inch steel w/ full wheel cover (base)
-16-inch aluminum alloy (+)
-18-inch aluminum alloy (! and sport)

-195/65R15 (base)
-205/55R16 (+)
-225/45R18 (! and sport)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Can't Believe It's a Kia!

That was my first reaction on spotting the silver 2008 Kia Amanti with black interior and leather trim sitting in our driveway. I could not believe this classy car was a Kia!

Driving it made me even more excited. This sporty-looking, smooth-driving, automobile seemed too luxurious to be made by the South Korean automakers, the same guys who first brought "very inexpensive" cars to the U. S. I remember some folks even sneered at the Kia as being "too cheap" to buy even with fantastic warranties and the lowest prices in town.

The Amanti quickly dispels all that. The sporty styling features chrome accents on the front grille, door handles, and body-side moldings, along with clear-lens halogen headlights with front projection fog lights, tinted windows, and a dual exhaust.

The full-size sedan is the flagship car of Kia Motors America, who recently announced the Amanti had topped the large car segment in the Strategic Vision Total Value Index or TVI®, which considers complete consumer ownership experience as well as the buyer's beliefs about the economic consequences of purchasing the product.

Kia's Amanti also recently received a Strategic Vision SmartGreenIndex(SM) in the large car segment, and was awarded a "Good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in frontal and side impact crash tests.

The Amanti boasts a unibody frame on a platform 250 pounds lighter than previous generations, and a 3.8 liter all-aluminum DOHC V6 engine that generates 264 HP and 260 pound-feet of torque with a five-speed gated automatic transmission with Sportmatic™ shift that gives it an extra power boost. Thanks to a precise power rack-and-pinion steering system, and super suspension and shock systems, drivers enjoy a smoother ride that contributes to the overall feeling of being in a luxury sedan.

Amanti's many amenities that help push it toward the luxury class include stylish upgrades like leather seat trim, 17-inch chrome wheels, power adjustable pedals, a premium Infinity sound system, dual zone automatic temperature control, power front seats, power windows, and heated outside mirrors.

Safety features include eight airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Lower Anchors & Tethers for Children (LATCH), engine immobilizer, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The base price of the Amanti I drove was $25,495, but added options including an Electronic Stability Package, leather trim package, heated front seats, Infinity Audio system with 9 Infinity speakers with subwoofers, a 4-inch monitor with trip computer, and a power sunroof, brought the total to $31,695.

The estimated fuel economy ranged from 17 in town to 24 on the highway for an estimated fuel cost of $2,209.

And it's good to know that while the Kia's prices may have gone up, the 10 years/100,000 mile warranty is still there, with 24-hour roadside assistance also available.

By Jo Ann Holt
Epoch Times

Monday, December 22, 2008 Kia Borrego Review

It's a question that very few car shoppers have been asking: When's the next all-new truck-based SUV coming out? Well, Kia stepped up and answered with its new seven-seat Borrego.

The Borrego may answer a question few outside Kia are asking, but when you take the time to size up the new midsize SUV, it's clear that it's a very well-executed truck-based model. It mitigates many of the undesirable aspects of this type of platform -- from unrefined ride quality to lower fuel economy -- while retaining the design's strengths, like towing capacity.

While the Borrego is a refined truck-based SUV, its existence begs a second question: Does the U.S. need another truck-based SUV? The answer for many shoppers is probably no, and the fact that Kia was able to make a nice vehicle using this type of platform is trumped by the reality that it's about 10 years late to the SUV party.

If you're a fan of traditional SUVs, there have been few all-new models for you in recent years, as many manufacturers have been churning out sleeker crossovers. While a few of these crossovers, like the GMC Acadia and redesigned 2009 Honda Pilot, have tried to emulate the tough-SUV look, many more have spurned it. The Borrego embraces it.

The Borrego is similar in size to the Explorer, and my wife thought it looked a lot like an Explorer, too. It definitely has the upright, angular design of the Ford, and it's defined by its large front grille, one that's flanked by projection-beam headlights.

Ride & Handling
The most impressive thing about the Borrego is that Kia has eliminated nearly all of the negative ride and handling aspects of its body-on-frame platform. This design is often associated with wallowing on undulating pavement, pitching when braking or accelerating hard, and vague steering. The Borrego, by comparison, offers precise steering that wouldn't be out of place in a car-based crossover, and it handles corners with confidence. It also remains remarkably even-keeled during hard acceleration and braking. Overall, it's a surprisingly easy vehicle to drive.

Where the Borrego does retain a truck-based-SUV trait is in its firm suspension tuning, and you'll feel it whenever you hit a rough patch in the road. You'll hear it, too, when the cabin gets noisy on rough surfaces.

Going & Stopping
I spent most of my time driving a Borrego with the base 3.8-liter V-6 engine, and came away thoroughly impressed with both the power and refinement that this drivetrain offers. The V-6 produces 276 horsepower and teams with a five-speed automatic transmission. This engine doesn't feel burdened in the least by the four-wheel-drive V-6 Borrego's 4,460-pound curb weight; the SUV moves fairly quickly when you step on the gas pedal.

Equally impressive is the automatic's smooth shifts; there's not even the slightest tug when the transmission moves from one gear to the next. It's the kind of sensation you'd expect from a high-end luxury car but might be surprised to experience in a mainstream SUV.

I also had a chance to drive a Borrego with the optional 337-hp, 4.6-liter V-8. Interestingly, the difference between it and the V-6 in everyday driving is minimal. Despite the V-8's extra torque at lower rpm (323 pounds-feet at 3,500 rpm versus 267 pounds-feet at 4,400 rpm), the engine doesn't feel any quicker than the V-6 when taking off from a standstill or accelerating hard at midrange speeds. The V-8 is very quiet, and the six-speed automatic it works with makes shifts so smooth you can hardly feel the gear changes. That said, the V-6 drivetrain is already rather refined, so while the extra dose of smoothness is appreciated, it's not enough on its own to make the V-8 more compelling than the V-6.

However, you will want the V-8 instead of the V-6 if you plan to tow a heavy boat or camper trailer. The V-8's 7,500-pound maximum towing capacity is 2,500 pounds greater than the V-6's.

When it comes to gas mileage, the V-6 isn't the clear winner you might expect it to be. Two-wheel-drive V-6 models get an EPA-estimated 17/21 mpg city/highway, while the V-8 version achieves 15/22 mpg. The figures are similar when looking at four-wheel-drive models: the V-6 is rated at 16/21 mpg, while the V-8 gets 15/20 mpg. The Borrego V-6's gas mileage estimates are fairly close to those of three-row crossovers like the Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz and Mazda CX-9.

The V-6 Borrego's brake pedal has an even, natural feel, and the all-disc antilock brakes produce sure-footed performance when a quick stop is needed. The V-8 model's brake pedal isn't as linear.

The Inside
First of all, let me say that Kia really needs to get away from its all-gray interiors. That's the color scheme (if you can call it one) that my Borrego V-6 test model had, and it gave the cabin a "blah" feel, even though overall materials quality and fit and finish are good. The red-lit LCDs for the optional dual-zone automatic air conditioning and trip computer look really nice, as does the optional navigation system's graphics.

The front bucket seats are comfortable and can have power adjustments that let you raise the seat high for good forward views over the hood. A memory feature for the driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors is included in an option package.

The Borrego has a 60/40-split second-row bench seat that can slide forward and back. The backrest also reclines, though the handle to do this is located high on the outside corner of each backrest. It's easy to reach when standing next to the SUV, but if you're already seated you have to twist around to lift it. This design is common, but Toyota, for one, has a better way: in its Highlander crossover, there's a lever on the outside of the seat cushion that reclines the seat.

There's decent space in the second row for adult passengers, and the seat cushioning is comfortable enough. However, the seat is close to the floor, which makes for a knees-up seating position that doesn't offer taller passengers a lot of thigh support.

The third-row bench has space for two people. Kia makes it easier to get back there by including a slide-forward function for the passenger-side section of the second row. The Borrego's third row is similar to the ones in the Pilot and CX-9; adults can ride back there in a pinch, but would likely balk at the prospect of a road trip. Again, taller passengers ride with their knees up because the seat is close to the floor.

When the Borrego's three rows of seats are up, there's just 12.4 cubic feet of cargo room. That's about the size of a Honda Civic sedan's trunk, and it's less space than the Pilot and CX-9 offer behind their third rows.

Kia makes it easy to expand that space with a fold-flat third row. There's a handle on the back of each section of the 50/50-split bench that, when lifted, lets you push the backrest down until it's level with the cargo floor. The process for folding the second row is similar, and when down this backrest is nearly level with the cargo floor.

The Borrego's list of standard safety features includes antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for all three rows, an electronic stability system, active head restraints for the front seats and rear parking sensors. V-8 models have a knee airbag for the driver. A backup camera is part of an optional Premium Package for EX models.

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's front-impact crash test, the Borrego achieved a five-star rating, which is the best possible score. As of publication, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hadn't crash-tested the Borrego.

Borrego in the Market
The Borrego enters the U.S. market as the truck-based Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy midsize SUVs exit. While sales are down this year for crossovers and SUVs alike, truck-based SUVs have been hit especially hard; sales of Ford's Explorer are down 42 percent through October, and Toyota 4Runners' are off 45 percent.

Now, if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you might think the withdrawal of competitors like the TrailBlazer and Envoy means there are more buyers for the Borrego. I like your optimism, but with the way SUV sales are getting hammered in today's struggling economy, I'm not about to buy into that theory right now.

A sometimes-overlooked element of vehicle launches is timing and the ability to predict what the next hot vehicle category will be. Ford's timing was nearly perfect when it launched the original Explorer, which helped kick-start the SUV phenomenon. In contrast, Kia's timing with the Borrego is way off as buyers shift to large crossovers, a type of vehicle that Kia doesn't currently sell.

By Mike Hanley

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Weekly Driver: 2008 Kia Amanti

Since its debut in 2004, the Kia Amanti has been one of the most unheralded cars on the road. And it's difficult to understand why more premium midsize sedan buyers haven't considered the Korean manufacturer's top-of-the-line offering.

I hadn't driven the Amanti since its debut model. It's been redesigned once, but for 2008 the Kia remains largely unchanged from a year ago. It still features exterior characteristics reminiscent of Audi, Lincoln and Mercedes, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The Amanti (it means "love" in the Italian dialect Calabrese) remains a premium vehicle at a budget-conscious price and with one keen feature none of its more popular and well-heeled competitors can offer -- a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

In 2005, about two years after the Amanti was introduced at various auto shows, J.D. Power and Associates selected it as the "Most Appealing Premium Midsize Car," in its Performance, Execution and Layout Study."

Two years later, the Amanti outscored several more expensive luxury car in the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) side-impact crash testing, and earned the highest rating of "Good."

My recent weekly test drive was the 2008 Amanti. It's available in only one trim, a 3.8-liter, 264-horsepower V6 with a five-speed automatic transmission.

Audi, Lincoln and Mercedes have all had long head starts and decades to refine their offerings. But some of the Amanti's interior features are equally impressive. The wood grain-accented dash is well designed and handsome. The driver and passenger front seat adjustment controls are shaped like seats and are contoured into the sides of the seat panels. And the Amanti has well-positioned seats, easy entry and exit and plenty of room for five adults.

Standard equipment includes: dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way driver seats and four-way passenger seats, cruise control, three 12V power outlets, leather steering wheel with audio and cruise remote functions, front fog lamps and front windshield de-icer, among a dozen other items.

My weekly driver also included two option packages: the $2,500 leather package (leather seat trim, two-way memory for driver's seat and outdoor mirrors, heated front seats, Infinity AM/FM/CD audio system with 9-inch speakers and 4-inch monitor with trip computer; and the $1,600 premium package (black interior key color, supervision meter cluster, aluminum interior trim, 17-inch chrome finished alloy wheels and power-adjusted pedals. The sunroof with tilt option added another $900, pushing the price to just under $31,000.

Amanti's refined looks its and generous features are also complemented by a fine drive. The Kia flagship accelerates well in traffic and cruises with a nice, quiet ride in highway situations. The power steering is near effortless and the car maneuvers in and of tight situations without hesitation.

Five years ago, I concluded the debut Amanti was a surprising newcomer and that its more luxurious cousins would do well to keep a close watch on their half-priced relative. What I can't figure out is why the Amanti still hasn't become more of a family leader.

Safety Features -- Dual front, front and rear-mounted and curtain side airbags.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) -- 17 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway).

Warranty -- Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/100,000 miles; 24-hour roadside assistance, 5 years/unlimited miles.

Base Price -- $25,495.00.

Price As Driven -- $31,695.00.

Thursday, December 18, 2008 2010 Kia Soul Preview

So what do you think of Kia's new Soul? Great name, no? I saw the production version in São Paulo, Brazil, at the largest auto show in the South American region last month, and the Soul was a major hit there, as the concept was when I watched it roll onto the Kia stage in Frankfurt the year before, and Detroit's North American International Auto Show in 2006, where I took in its official debut.

Hardly changed from concept form, it's really the ideal car for the current market situation. Compact, yet extremely roomy inside for five in comfort, with a little luggage to boot, thrifty on fuel yet apparently sporty enough to be enjoyable on the open road, and extremely stylish in its cubic configuration. Still, it's unfair to dub it a "cube" as it's more gracefully penned than the Nissan that goes by that boxy name, and much more alluring than the Scion XBOX... er... xB, or Honda's rather odd Element. No, while totally cool in its own right, I think that the Soul will attract a wide range of buyers from all over the spectrum, and not just among the young and hip crowd. It makes sense, really. The same attributes that make a vehicle attractive to ski and surf minded young adults make it ideal for empty nesters hitting the nursery (horticultural nursery... of course) on weekends or picking up the grandkids for a day at the cottage.

"The Soul is for those who love individuality but don't like to be categorized by finding the next best thing," offered Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing, KMA. "Indicative of the new design direction of KMA, Soul is an attractive and customizable vehicle for those looking for something with a little more personality than other vehicles on the market today."

I've taken the opportunity to sit inside and look around at the various auto shows the Soul has shown up at, and it offers stylish seating fabrics complementing its bright, fun exterior colors, while a clean, uncluttered dash ensconces attractive three-dial instrumentation and LCD illumination. A stylish floating centre stack design shows off a straight-forward, simple to operate HVAC system and high-grade stereo interface.

That audio system gets an AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit enhanced with satellite radio, plus USB input jacks can be found in the centre stack with full iPod controllability through the stereo or via the steering wheel controls. Now, that's what I like. Even better, an Audio Upgrade Package can be had on top-trim levels that adds a centre speaker, a subwoofer and a 315-watt external amplifier. Ooh, I like this even more. Good audio is the way to my heart, and pocketbook, unfortunately.

The more powerful stereo can only be had in the two nicest trim levels, Soul! and Soul sport (lower case intentional). The little compact people mover is available in two other trims too, mind you, the base model simply designated Soul and the second-rung version Soul+. Even in base guise it gets plenty of standard features, including black door handles and side mirrors, body-colored bumpers, a rear wiper/washer and 15-inch steel wheels wrapped in P195/65R15 tires. Not a bad start. A little more money will get you a Soul+, which adds keyless remote entry, solar glass, privacy glass on the rear side and rear windows, body-color handles and power side mirrors along with 16-inch alloy rims covered in P205/55R16 rubber. The Soul+ also boasts standard air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and tweeter speakers to enhance the stereo's sound. Soul+ buyers can opt for an audio upgrade package, a power moonroof and floor mats that are standard on the Soul! Additionally, that third-rung Soul! gets fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels riding on P225/45R18 tires, plus it benefits from a special beige and black interior with cloth seats and metal-finish accents. The abovementioned audio option can be added on, and is also extra with the Soul sport which additionally ups the ante with a sport-tuned suspension, metal foot pedals, red and black interior trim with sport cloth seats and metal-finish accents throughout, extended side sills, a rear spoiler, 18-inch alloy wheels and unique front and rear fascias. It's the ultimate in Korean Soul.

I mentioned that it seats five, which is hardly unusual, but Kia's put together a truly flexible seating and storage system that should intrigue buyers. The seats fold in a variety of ways for optimizing people and cargo carrying duties, the rearmost split 60/40, while the car features fourteen "storage zones" for stowing all of your knickknacks.

Kia introduced the Soul to North America at the Los Angeles auto show, not far from where it was initially designed, and again it stole the hearts of show goers. The metallic green color chosen for the photo release that preceded its LA intro is more subdued than Kia has shown other markets, although it is expected a full palette will be available wherever it is sold.

While it was previously reported that the North American Soul would deliver more power than the base models of other markets with only the 140+horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder being offered, fuel efficiency has been given top priority and a 120-horsepower 1.6-liter four will be the standard engine in the base five-speed manual-equipped model. Soul+, Soul! and Soul sport models will get the peppier powerplant, which should also deliver thrifty mileage in the neighborhood of 30 mpg. Additionally, a five-speed manual will be standard equipment, with a four-speed automatic optional. I've tried similar powertrain combinations in other Kia models, and the 2.0-liter makes for sporty performance and thrifty fuel economy, while the latter should be more than adequate for those more price sensitive.

Rather than build the Soul on an existing platform, Kia has developed an all-new front-drive architecture with an especially long wheelbase for optimizing interior room. It measures 100.4 inches wheel to wheel, while the entire car stretches 161.6 inches in length. It's also 70.3 inches wide and 63.4 inches tall.

With a long wheelbase, the concern would always be torsional rigidity, or the lack thereof. Kia offset this problem with more than seventy-percent high-tensile steel, for maintaining overall structural strength without adding weight, so the handling, ride quality and overall refinement is good, as is crash worthiness.

Such safety concerns can be left curbside as over and above its rigid body structure the Soul will be well prepared for any potential accident. Each model, regardless of trim level gets front seat active headrests, dual front advanced airbags, front seat-mounted and full-length side curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). What's more, ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC), and rear discs are standard on Soul+, Soul! and Soul sport models. The base Soul gets drums.

A car's handling, making it capable of avoiding an accident in the first place, can often be its most important safety consideration. On that note, the Soul mounts a fully independent suspension setup on a front sub-frame, with MacPherson struts and coil springs that should deliver good response to steering input. In the rear, a sub-frame is the basis for a transverse torsion beam axle with trailing arms, optimizing ride quality and maximizing the cargo area.

Hauling things in mind, Kia will offer a number of OEM-backed add-ons available at the dealer level so that Soul customers can personalize their vehicles. Items include the usual stuff that a Scion dealer would offer its xB customers, such as aerodynamic body kits and exterior garnishes that Kia calls Soul Essentials, plus roof rails, an exterior cargo box, two different bike carriers, a ski rack, various floor mats, a cargo mat, car net, trailer hitch, sunroof visor, and many more typical accessory items. But then there are a few oddities like an SUV-like roof-top basket, like something off of Land Rover Defender, a stylish red and silver engine shroud, a B-pillar applique, and body decals. Performance accessories can be had from the dealer level too, such as anti-sway bars, lowering springs, a cold air intake system, chromed cat back exhaust system, billet aluminum oil cap, aluminum fuel door, a set of aluminum foot pedals, and wheels of course, in silver and black plus red and black designs. The accessories shown are exclusive to Canada, although the US should get similar options.

The Soul is expected to arrive in Kia dealerships across the country in the spring of 2009, with the South Korean brand hoping to attract an entirely new type of customer, in similar fashion to how Toyota widened its reach with Scion. Expect to see a lot of Souls on the streets next year, as it's the right kind of car for the times, combining great styling, endless personalization options, excellent fuel economy and no shortage of interior room for all your gear, all for a price that is bound to lure in would-be buyers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turn On The Lights -- The Party's Not Over

As 2009 draws nigh, Kia's new 'Borrego' emerges as the mid-size luxury SUV you can actually afford

Who knew? The V-6-powered Borrego is rated to two up to 5,000 pounds, while V-8 models can handle a 7,500 pound trailer. The V-6 scampered to 60 miles per hour in just 8.1 seconds (without a boat) for this review. There's a lot of room and the optional leather interior was rated divine. It's the modern New Age family SUV.

Who knew, back when Kia started designing the Borrego, its first mid-size sport utility vehicle with rugged body-on-frame construction (and optional V-8 power) that it would arrive just as gasoline prices peaked?

Who knew that gasoline prices would begin free-falling as the credit market deteriorated and the economy started seizing up?

Who knew? Certainly not Kia, nor any other auto manufacturer, it seems.

One look at the specifications and you know the new Borrego has the right stuff to cope with difficult conditions.

Our week with a new EX model proved to us that the Borrego has the size, performance, equipment and price to get a leg up in the current economy.

"I'm driving one right now," said Dan Leonard, general manager of Crowley Kia in Bristol, "and I can tell you that it is a great vehicle for the money."

"The money" is $26,245, plus $750 for destination charges and handling, for an LX model with a generous list of standard features.

In addition to a peppy and refined 3.8-liter V-6 engine, rated at 276 horsepower, Kia includes a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, seating for seven in three rows, traction control, six air bags (including side curtain air bags that cover occupants in all three rows,) and all the comfort and convenience items expected in a modern family SUV.

This means air conditioning, power windows, power remote locks, power mirrors and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system. All that is standard, plus with countless additional features that may seem unimportant when you see the list but make a real difference over time in day-to-day use of a vehicle.

There's also an upscale EX model, which was the model Kia loaned us. It added dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a trip computer -- and heated power mirrors.

It also had four-wheel drive, an available option.

The EX also has, as an option, Kia's first V-8 engine coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Trials conducted during the press presentations this fall at Pocono in Pennsylvania and the Ontario race track in California demonstrated that the V-8 is refined and noticeably more powerful than the V-6.

Yet our V-6-powered Borrego driven in Connecticut delivered all the punch most drivers would ever need.

It scampered to 60 miles per hour in just 8.1-seconds.

V-6 models are rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds while V-8 models can handle a 7,500-pound trailer.

If there was any quibble with the V-6's performance, it was the fact that the generally smooth-shifting automatic transmission required a healthy push on the accelerator pedal before it would downshift for added power during merging and passing maneuvers.

"Right now, people are looking at the EX with the V-8 engine and four-wheel drive. They want it loaded with Sirius radio, a power sunroof and leather. The third-row seat [a standard feature] is also a big plus," Leonard said.

Inside, the Borrego offers front-seat occupants impressive room in all directions. These seats are not at all uncomfortable.

The second-row 60/40 split seat is a pleasant surprise -- it is perfectly capable of keeping grownups comfortable.

Even the 50/50 split two-passenger third row can accommodate adults, though they might grumble. Access requires some flexibility and once in, you discover that the bottom cushion is entirely too low. Of course that means the head room is fine even for six-footers.

Both the third- and second-row seats fold easily to dramatically expand the rather limited cargo space at the very rear -- when all seats are up to accommodate passengers.

With the second and third rows folded, the interior turns cavernous -- clearly competitive with other mid-size and larger SUVs.

This is, essentially, a truck-based SUV. And for a truck-based SUV, the ride was good.

Some previously smooth stretches of road delivered a few minor vertical motions, but overall, the Borrego feels good. Really rough pavement results in some abrupt motions, but you'l find that rare.

Another surprise -- the Borrego is easy and pleasant to drive.

And to compound the enjoyment, the interior -- design, materials and assembly -- is right up there.

Our EX had the optional leather upholstery, which added a feeling of luxury. Further enhancing comfort was the good noise control over most surfaces including coarse pavement.

Regardless of the turn of events, Kia dealers have been dealt a strong hand with the arrival of the new Borrego. Buyers, however, may tend to overlook the performance and concentrate instead on the exceptionally strong warranty that comes with this new model. Just as with every other Kia, its warranty covers the vehicle for 5 years or 60,000 miles and the drivetrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles. In today's unsettled times, that adds a level of certainty that many customers will find comforting.

The optional leather upholstery in our Kia Borrego LX really added a feeling of luxury.

Further enhancing comfort was the good noise control over most surfaces including coarse pavement.

Regardless of the turn of world events, Kia dealers have been dealt a strong hand with the arrival of the new Borrego.

Buyers, however, may tend to overlook the performance and concentrate instead on the exceptionally strong warranty that comes with this new model. Just as with every other Kia, its warranty covers the vehicle for five years or 60,000 miles and the drivetrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

In today's unsettled times, that adds a level of certainty that many customers will find comforting.

Paula Says...

The new Kia Borrego is a roomy, substantial vehicle. Its height means that shorter adults and children will find that getting in is a bit of a climb.

Once in the driver's seat, however, THIS shorter adult was impressed by the commanding view ahead.

The main visibility problem comes from the driver's side mirror. While it gives a great view to the rear and side, its position and size can completely hide a larger vehicle coming up from the left at intersections. Backing also suggests that every Borrego should come with the optional backup camera.

Those issues aside, I found the Borrego fun to drive. The engine is powerful and responsive and the handling is easy. The Borrego felt smaller to me on the road than its dimensions would suggest and its relatively tight 37-foot turning circle aids maneuverability in tight parking lots.

The ride is comfortable, but I did notice that it has some bounce over certain bumps and there were stretches of road on which I felt a lot of small, vertical movements that I had not detected in other vehicles.

Aiding comfort is the lack of noise, even at speed.

The upscale interior is another plus.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2009 Kia Amanti: Upscale sedan at a reasonable price

It doesn't cost an arm and a leg to enjoy a luxurious, powerful sedan. Take a test-drive in a Kia Amanti to feel quality and performance.

Back in 2005, this midsize sedan earned the J.D. Power and Associates APEAL Award. Since then, Kia has kept making improvements. The 2009 model now offers Sirius Satellite Radio and MP3 playback capability, plus a whole new audio system.

Although Kia hasn't as yet disclosed an exact price for the 2009 Amanti, it is expected to be about $26,500, which is a bargain considering what this sedan has to offer: spacious interior, luxurious appointments and a very exciting engine.

What was surprising to me about the Amanti was the V6 produces a good 264 horsepower and this front-wheel drive sedan accelerates quickly. The engine is linked to a five-speed electronically controlled Sportmatic transmission with overdrive. The Kia Amanti is rated to achieve 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway - using regular gasoline.

My tester featured the colors of dark red wine/black - one of eight choices - giving it a quality exterior appearance as it sat on 17-inch sparkling alloy wheels.

The Amanti has a massive grille with front projection fog lights and clear-lens halogen headlamps. It also has tinted windows and at the rear end it has a dual-exhaust system, plus a very large trunk. It also had the optional leather package, which included upscale appointments, such as two-position memory settings for both the driver's seat and outside mirrors.

As standard equipment the Amanti comes with an eight-way power driver's seat, (four-way power passenger's seat) and both seats can be heated. It also has an auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, leather-covered steering wheel with cruise control and a keyless entry and alarm system. Even the three rear seats are spacious and comfortable.

Another elegant touch: one-touch up/down front windows. The 2009 model now has a 5.5-inch display screen, replacing the 4-inch monitor.

On the road the Amanti responded in the same manner as sedans costing nearly twice as much. I was able to take every bend in up- and down-hill curved back roads and accelerate through them with precision.

Kia engineers say the Amanti is built with a precise power rack-and-pinion steering system that will adapt to sudden driving changes. It also has a fully independent suspension, featuring gas-pressurized shocks, a double wishbone suspension and rear multilink setup, plus other attributes that are commonly associated with pricier luxury cars.

Regarding safety equipment, the Kia Amanti has more standard air bags than any other vehicle in its segment. The Amanti has side-impact air bags for the second row passengers. Most vehicles are offered with front row side-impact air bags only. The Amanti has dual front air bags, and full-length side curtain air bags. The list of standard safety features also includes antilock brakes, active front headrests, anti-pinch windows, front and rear three-point seatbelts and front seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters.

The Amanti also has electronic stability control, traction control, brake assist, which are part of the optional Electronic Stability Control package.

Kia comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile limited power-train warranty, plus a 24-hour roadside assistance plan.

Put all this together and compare the price to just about any other midsize car and it becomes quite evident that luxury, quality and performance doesn't have to cost and arm and a leg.

2009 Kia Amanti

Vehicle type: five-passenger FWD midsize sedan

Base price: est. $26,495

Engine type: V6 DOHC 24-valve with MPFI

Displacement: 3.8 liter

Horsepower: 264 (net) at 6000 rpm

Torque: 260 pound-feet at 4500 rpm

Transmission: five-speed Sportmatic with OD

Wheelbase: 102 inches

Track: 62/63 inches (front/rear)

Overall length: 197 inches

Overall width: 73 inches

Height: 58 inches

Turning circle: 38 feet (curb-to-curb)

Curb weight: 3,770 pounds

Fuel capacity: 18 gallons

EPA mileage rating: 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway

Tom Keane
Motor Matters

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kia's Bargain Borrego

With gas prices dropping and the economy softening, there's never been a better time to buy a midsize, inexpensive SUV like the Kia Borrego

Up Front

There are some great deals around right now on midsize sport utility vehicles, with one of the best bargains being the new '09 Kia Borrego. The Korean company's timing isn't great bringing out a classic SUV in the midst of a financial crisis and continuing gasoline price jitters. But if you really need the seven-passenger capacity, available V8-power, and the four-wheel drive of an SUV, the new Borrego offers excellent value.

Almost exactly the same size as a Ford Explorer, the Borrego is the heaviest and most powerful vehicle Kia has ever sold in the U.S. It comes with a choice of two engines, a 3.8-liter, 276-horsepower V6 coupled with a five-speed automatic transmission or a powerful 4.6-liter, 337-horsepower V8 coupled with a six-speed automatic. With the bigger engine, the Borrego weighs 4,600 lb. and can tow as much as 7,500 lb., best in its class. Its 8.5-inch ground clearance even gives it limited off-road capability.

It's hard to beat the Borrego's price. The model starts out at $26,995 for a two-wheel-drive, V6-powered LX, rising to $33,745 for a fancy EX with four-wheel-drive and a V8 engine.

However, rival SUVs are being heavily discounted (a $2,000 Borrego rebate ended Dec. 1). Through Jan. 5, Ford (F) is offering rebates of up to $4,000 and $2,000 on the '08 and '09 Explorer, respectively. General Motors' (GM) rebates total more than $4,000 on the '08 Saturn Outlook for some customers, and more than $3,000 on the '09, also through Jan. 5.

Considering the amount of standard equipment it comes with, however, the Borrego is highly competitive. Even the most basic LX comes with full power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, a tilting and telescoping steering-wheel, a backup alarm, a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio, and a USB port, an integrated trailer hitch, electronic brake-force distribution, side-mirror turn signal indicators, hill-start assist, and an automatic downhill braking control system. The EX adds power adjustable front seats, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, fog lights, and heated outside mirrors. Four-wheel-drive versions also have a windshield de-icer.

The main option on the entry-level LX is a $1,200 convenience package that adds leather seat trim and an eight-way power driver's seat. However, you can jazz up the EX with all sorts of add-ons: The $1,800 premium package adds a sunroof, a backup camera, a premium sound system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and running boards, while the $1,500 luxury package adds leather heated seats, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and memory for driver's seat settings. Navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems cost an extra $1,500 apiece, chrome wheels another $750, and Bluetooth capability $350.

Belying its size, the Borrego's fuel economy is better than average for this class of vehicle. With rear-wheel drive, the V6 version of the Borrego is rated to get 17 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway. Rated mileage drops to 15 city and 20 highway for the V8-powered four-wheel-drive version. In 185 miles of mixed driving in a V6-powered Borrego, I got 17.2 mpg.

The Borrego earned the top Five-Star crash test rating in frontal and side collisions from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It comes standard with front, side, and head-protecting side curtain airbags, as well as antilock brakes and stability and traction control. There's even an airbag to protect the driver's knees in the V8 models. Kia's excellent warranty includes comprehensive five-year/60,000 mile coverage with free roadside assistance

However, not surprisingly given the state of the auto industry, the Borrego is off to a slow start. Kia posted record U.S. sales as recently as July, but the company drove off a cliff this fall, along with the rest of the auto industry, right as the Borrego was hitting the market. As a result, Kia only sold 1,440 Borregos in the model's first three months on the market.

Behind the Wheel

Kia has made a quantum leap in recent years, New models such as Optima midsize sedan and the Rondo small SUV have excellent fit and finish and come packed with features you wouldn't expect from a budget brand. The same holds for the Borrego.

For starters, this new Kia is surprisingly quick for such a heavy vehicle. I clocked my V6-powered test vehicle at 7.5 seconds in accelerating from 0 to 60, and the V8 engine, the most powerful in its class, undoubtably provides even faster acceleration. Both transmissions have a manual mode for those who want to do the shifting themselves. The Borrego's suspension may be too stiff for some people, but it's about right for those (like me) who don't like a boaty ride.

There's nothing exceptional about the Borrego's bland exterior styling. But the vehicle's interior is remarkably well designed. Fit and finish is uniform, with tight gaps in the dashboard and door sections. The glove box closes with a solid thunk, and everything inside the car seems well-made.

What sets the interior apart is how roomy the rear seating area is. The Borrego's middle seats are adjustable—the seatbacks can be tilted back at different angles and slide back and forth. If you take the time to adjust the second row seats, there's plenty of space for adults to be comfortable in the third row. That contrasts with most midsize SUVs, where the third-row seats are suitable mainly for kids.

With all three rows of seats in use, the Borrego only has 12.4 cu. ft. of luggage space in back, considerably less than the larger Saturn Outlook and slightly less than the '09 Explorer. However, both rows of rear seats fold down in a split pattern, providing an enormous amount of cargo capacity when you need it. There's also an under-floor compartment in back for storing valuables.

My main gripe is that the Borrego isn't as responsive at cruising speeds as I would have liked. The transmission is geared to maximize fuel economy, so it switches into the higher gears relatively quickly and seems to run out forever in each one. You really have to punch the gas hard to get it to gear down for passing other vehicles on the highway.

Also, there's no trip computer on LX models. And you can't get a power lift-gate at all, even as an option. Buy it or Bag It?

The first question to ask before buying a Borrego: Do you really need such a large vehicle? If not, the much smaller Kia Rondo offers seven-passenger capacity at a much lower price (about $18,000) and gets better mileage (19 mpg in the city/26 on the highway).

The midsize Borrego is far roomier but sells for an average of $29,133, according to the Power Information Network (PIN). The '08 Ford Explorer ($27,136) and '08 Jeep Grand Cherokee ($28,095) are still available and sell for less, but also come with far less standard equipment than the Borrego.

If you want to spend a bit more for a slightly larger vehicle, the '09 Saturn Outlook ($33,103) and Honda's (HMC) '09 Pilot ($33,003) are both very classy and seat up to eight passengers. Toyota's (TM) '09 Highlander costs a lot more, with an average recent selling price of $39,821, according to PIN (which, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies—MHP).

Midsize SUVs aren't exactly selling like hotcakes these days. But it's a great time to buy if you want one, and the Borrego is one of the best bargains in the category.

Editor's Rating: 4-Stars

The Good: Standard features, seven-passenger capacity, rebates

The Bad: Bland styling, SUV fuel economy

The Bottom Line: A classic midsize SUV at a bargain price

By Thane Peterson
Busniess Week

Friday, December 5, 2008

Check out the Kia Soul

Is Kia cool?

Maybe not, but it's got Soul, a funky new funmobile designed to establish some street cred among the young.

The Soul train starts next year when the South Korean carmaker sends the wagon out to compete with the boxy Nissan Cube, a co-star at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show. Already circling the block are Toyota Scion's Xb, Honda's Element, a couple of counter-intuitive crates that seem to have captured the fancy of fashion-resistant trend setters.

"The Soul is for those who love individuality but don't like to be categorized by finding the next best thing," said Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing for Kia Motors America. "Indicative of the new design direction of KMA, Soul is an attractive and customizable vehicle for those looking for something with a little more personality than other vehicles on the market today."

Cars like the Soul are sometimes called "multi-purpose vehicles" because they're not quite sport utilities and typically taller than the compact or subcompact wagons. They've also been called "urban crossovers." Members of the segment fit somewhere between the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Honda CRV.

Unveiled as a concept vehicle at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in 2006, Soul features an angled window line, rounded nose, large flared back headlamps and chrome grille. The large windshield and the tapered roofline seem to emphasize the forward view. The beltline from the front wheel arch creates a subtle wedge shape and continues under and around the rear side window.

The production version of the car, designed in Southern California and manufactured in South Korea, is expected to arrive in U.S. showrooms in April.

Available in four trims, Soul, Soul+, Soul! and Soul sport, the five-door model will be priced "in the teens," according to Kia, so expect prices to be somewhere in the mid-teens so that teens will be able to afford it.

Two engines will be offered, both 4-cylinder versions. The base 1.6-liter engine produces a meager 122 horsepower, while the 2-liter version measures up to 142-horsepower. That can't be too overwhelming, but matches the Nissan Cube's power output at the base level.

The base transmission in the Soul is a five-speed stick, but you can upgrade to a four-speed automatic.

While the Soul won't blow anyone's doors off, fuel economy - not yet announced - should be much more encouraging. The comparable Nissan Cube is expected to get more than 30 miles per gallon with the stick shift.

The base model has black door handles and side mirrors, body-colored bumpers, rear wiper/washer and 15-inch steel wheels fitted with P195/65R15 tires.

The Soul+ adds keyless remote entry, solar glass, privacy glass on the rear side and rear windows body-color handles and power side mirrors along with 16-inch alloy wheels with P205/55R16 tires.

The Soul! adds power moonroof, fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels furnished with P225/45R18 tires. Soul sport features side sills, rear spoiler, 18-inch alloy wheels, unique front and rear fascias, wholly personifying the sporty, urban look Soul embodies.

Soul's functional features include 14 storage zones, tall doors for easy access and a high seating position. Buyers can select interiors with different colors, fabrics and audio system packages.

Interior decoration is minimized by an uncluttered dashboard with a three-dial instrument cluster, LCD illumination and a floating center stack design.

The top audio system comes with Sirius Satellite Radio and three months complimentary service . Standard auxiliary and USB input jacks also can be found in the center console with full iPod controllability via the audio head unit and steering wheel controls.

Additional standard interior features include a tilt steering column, power door locks, power windows with driver's side auto-down, map lamps and a rear wiper and washer. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat offers multiple seating and cargo arrangements depending on driver and passenger needs.

Soul+ offers additional standard features including air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, privacy glass and tweeter speakers. Available upgrades for the Soul+ trim include an audio upgrade package power moonroof and floor mats, which become standard on the Soul!. Advancing to the Soul! adds beige-black interior trim and cloth seats and metal-finish trim.

Safety features include front seat active headrests, dual front advanced airbags, front seat-mounted and full-length side curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system. An antilock brake system with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control, and rear disc brakes are standard on Soul+, Soul! and Soul sport models.

Soul's warranty covers the power train for 10-years or 100,000 miles, while providing five-years or 60,000-mile coverage for the other parts.

Richard Williamson
Scripps Howard News Service

Thursday, December 4, 2008

All-new 2009 Kia Borrego: strong engine, ample towing

Kia has made some significant changes to the Borrego for 2009, making the three-row, seven-passenger SUV a solid contender in its market.

For the first time ever, Kia is using a V8 engine. The Borrego is featured with a V6, as well as the optional 32-valve, 4.6-liter V8. This was the power plant in my tester. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the V8 generates 337 horsepower at 6000 rpm. The engine's torque rating is exemplary. It produces 323 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm.

In my V8 tester, with a curb weight of 4,621 pounds, this powerful pulling force was felt immediately under throttle. The big and forceful Borrego is smooth running as it proceeds through its six automatic shift points. With all this force under the hood, the Borrego can tow 7,500 pounds of trailer weight.

My 4x4 tester had a base price of $32,995. Its official 2009 EPA fuel economy ratings are 15 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway. The Borrego runs on regular gasoline and has a fuel tank capacity of about 21 gallons.

The 4x2 Borrego starts at $26,245 and is standard equipped with the 3.8-liter V6. This engine is coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission and has a horsepower rating of 276 at 6000 rpm and torque rating of 267 pound-feet at 4400 rpm. The V6 towing capacity is capped at 5,000 pounds. EPA estimates on this power plant come in at 21 mpg highway on both the 4x2 and 4x4 versions.

The Borrego is a true truck and competes with offerings from other top manufacturers. Kia's body-on-frame sport utility vehicle has a double wishbone front suspension with shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. The coil-over springs rear multi-link suspension incorporates a damper and stabilizer bar.

The Borrego is good for on-road towing and off-road adventures. This Kia SUV has a typical ground clearance of 8.5 inches. Drivers who will be doing off-roading should inquire with the dealer about skid plate protection.

The entry model Borrego has a high level of standard amenities, such as air conditioning; power windows, door locks and mirrors; keyless entry; cruise control; and a six-speaker sound system with MP3.

The up-level tester came standard with dual-zone climate control, Sirius satellite, eight-way driver and four-way passenger power seats, sliding and reclining second row seats, a back-up warning system and active head restraints.

A high level of standard safety equipment is offered. It includes electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes and six air bags. The V8 model has seven air bags with a driver's knee air bag.

2009 Kia Borrego EX

Vehicle type: seven-passenger 4WD SUV

Base price: $32,995 (as tested: $39,295)

Engine type: 32-valve DOHC V8 with SFI

Displacement: 4.6 liter

Horsepower: 337 net at 6000 rpm

Torque: 323 pound-feet at 3500 rpm

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 114 inches

Track: (front/rear) 64/64 inches

Overall length: 192 inches

Overall width: 75 inches

Height: 71 inches

Turning circle: (curb-to-curb) 36 feet

Curb weight: 4,621 pounds

Fuel capacity: 21 gallons

EPA mileage rating: 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway

Connie Keane
Motor Matters

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

2009 Kia Borrego: A new sport utility vehicle? Now? Kia is no stranger to swimming against the current

Kia's new multi-tasking wagon takes its name from the desert community of Borrego Springs, Calif. For Kia, no doubt, hope springs eternal that North Americans still have a healthy appetite for big rigs such as this seven-passenger sport utility vehicle, despite lagging sales in this once-dominant and almighty category.

To make matters even more interesting, Borrego takes aim at some of the biggest names in the off-roader world and is using its size and might to jostle its way into the midst of this crowd. According to Kia, in fact, the Borrego is more spacious than competitive stalwarts Honda Pilot, Jeep Commander, Hyundai Veracruz and Toyota's Highlander and 4Runner.

But size is only part of the equation. Borrego also looks the part with attractive sheetmetal that imparts a sense of muscular competency for whatever tasks its called upon to perform. In addition, the wide stance contained within none-too-subtle flared fender openings adds to the vehicle's strong-arm demeanor.

The athletic exterior contrasts with near luxury-class cabin that can be decked out to approximate any number of high-end off-roaders that are more than a couple of notches above the Borrego's station in life. Both rows of back seats are of the split-folding type with a sliding second row that enhances access to the rear-most bench. Whether both rear seats are completely or partially folded flat or left upright, the available cargo space is commensurate with the generously proportioned interior.

The body structure sits on a ladder-type frame that, for the most part, is still the industry standard for tackling the toughest rough- or off-road assignments as well as towing heavy loads (up to 7,500 pounds).

The business end begins with a 276-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 connected to a five-speed automatic transmission. Those requiring more guts can select the optional 337-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 that operates with a six-speed automatic. In this class, only the Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder offer V8 power in their lineups. Rear-wheel-drive (no matter the engine) is standard while four-wheel-drive is optional.

For the moment, Borrego is available in two versions. Base LX models feature the usual air/cruise/tilt trio plus power windows/locks/mirrors and a six-speaker audio system. A back-up warning system, hill start assist (that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when moving forward from a full stop on a hill) and downhill brake control (that holds the vehicle at a controlled speed while descending) are included on the standard-equipment list.

Spring for the EX and you'll get power-adjustable driver's and front passenger's seats are included, along with climate control, heated outside mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Additionally there are a couple of stand-alone options and packages that provide heated front leather seats, power sunroof, separately controlled rear air conditioning, premium entertainment and navigation gear, backup camera and power tilt/telescopic steering wheel as well as fancier wheels.

A Limited edition arrives later in the model year that features special trim, push-button start, power adjustable pedals and other fancy fittings.

Given the lagging sales in the mid- and full-size sport utility vehicles, launching the Borrego is no doubt a gamble. However, Kia appears fearless in the face of this uncertainty and seems bent on scooping up buyers wanting a high-value sport ute - and there are still plenty of them out there - with room and performance to spare plus the kind of styling that gets them noticed in Borrego Springs, Calif., or anywhere else for that matter.

What you should know: 2009 Kia Borrego

Type: Four-door, mid-sized rear- /four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle

Engines: 3.8-liter DOHC V6 (276 hp); 4.6-liter DOHC V8 (337 hp)

Transmissions: Five-speed automatic (std. on V6); six-speed automatic (std. on V8)

Market position: With the sport utility vehicle market receding, largely due to high gas prices, it could be tough sledding for the Borrego to establish a beachhead.

Points: Rugged, handsome, outdoorsy and athletic good looks; Two powerful engine choices broaden appeal; Fuel-economy rating only average; Lengthy standard features list and warranty will help lure buyers; Body-on-frame construction adds to off-road competency, towing ability; According to Kia, exceptional interior space tops that of many competitors.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag (opt.); anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

The numbers: MPG (city/hwy): 17/21 (V6, 4x2); Base price: $27,000 (including destination)

By comparison

Ford Explorer

Base price: $26,500

Once-popular SUV hampered by high fuel costs.

Mazda CX-9

Base price: $30,000

Great looks, fun to drive with lots of passenger/storage space.

Nissan Pathfinder

Base price: $26,500

A rugged performer that specializes in off-road maneuvers.

By Malcolm Gunn | Wheelbase Communications

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Kia's Sorento offers a few surprises

Has Kia become cool?

It sure looks like it.

The company has a neat looking little car coming out soon called the Soul, which already is getting good reviews as a competitor for the youthful Scion products from Toyota.

And Kia's Sorento SUV has been named one of five cars "for the next four years" by

Although it's not a trend-setter, the Sorento is a pleasant, well-built, capable SUV that embodies Kia's new slogan: "The Power To Surprise."

Our test model was a 2008 Kia Sorento EX 4x4 painted Spicy Red with a gray interior. Base price was $26,195, with standard features such as a 262-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic, full-length side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, air conditioning, cruise control, power equipment and a dual center console.

Options included alloy wheels, leather, sunroof, dual zone climate control, automatic headlamps, chrome outside door handles, a rear spoiler and full-time torque on demand four-wheel drive. That brought the final price to $30,095.

Driving an SUV isn't always a pleasurable experience for me because I usually dislike the typical high driving position, ponderous handling and slow acceleration.

But for the most part, the Sorento was free of those characteristics. It is one of the easiest to handle SUVs I've driven. It's modest in size, so parking is not a big issue. And though the Sorento has body-on-frame construction that usually makes for rattles and a feeling of looseness, none of that was an issue with this SUV.

Though I did not get a chance to test it off-road, I'm told by sources I trust that the Sorento does quite well. With the engine combination the test model had, there's a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds.

The nice thing about the interior of the Sorento is that everything is so logically laid out, with buttons and controls falling easily to hand -- no stretching or reaching needed. Dials are large and legible, too. The interior itself was even handsome, with fabrics and materials blending together nicely with no rough spots. The only demerit was a bit too much hard plastic here and there.

The Sorento seats six, so if you want more room in a Kia model your best bet will be the larger Borrego, another attractive option.

Among the few problems I had with the Sorento was that the second seat doesn't fold as flat as I would like for easy loading and unloading. A good number of the Sorento's competitors have that.

I also found that the Sorento needs more braking power in emergency situations. It was fine during normal driving, but stopping doesn't come either firmly or quickly enough when you slam on the brakes to avoid a mishap.

Fuel mileage also is likely to be a concern for many people -- it's rated at 15 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway. There are competitors that do better than that.

Safety ratings, however, are a strong point with the Sorento -- five stars for driver and passenger frontal crash ratings and five stars for front and rear seat protection in a side crash rollover tests netted a four-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Don Hammonds
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kia goes truckin' with V-8 Borrego

Another in the growing list of nameplates offering three rows of seats to hold Dad and Mom, their kids plus someone else's.

But the Kia Borrego appears at a time when truck-based SUVs powered by thirsty V-8s have lost their luster. And though gas has fallen nearly $2 a gallon since Borrego arrived in August, a hybrid crossover probably would have been more welcome.

Borrego is offered in base LX or uplevel EX trim with a choice of two- or four-wheel-drive and V-6 or V-8. We tested the EX 4WD. The V-6 is a 3.8-liter, 276-horsepower unit whose mileage is only slightly better--16 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway-- than the with V-8--15/20. With 2WD it's 17/21 V-6, 15/22 V-8.

The V-8 is quick and quiet. No trouble scooting ahead of traffic and no commotion when you kick the pedal. But the fuel needle gets up and goes just as quickly and quietly. Not as irritating at $2.39 a gallon as at $4.39 a gallon, but how long before prices take off again? And how high?

At first glance, those three rows of seats packed inside would seem to put capacity ahead of comfort be the trip short or long. But the cabin is surprisingly roomy. Second row offers more than ample head and knee room. And those in Row Three--adults or kids--can wiggle melon or legs. Second-row seats slide forward for to give those in back a smidge more room.

But though room is ample, we'd never want to travel any distance there. Third-row seats are directly over the rear axle. Talk about a butt battering.

Second-row seat backs lean forward and bottoms slide against the front seats to create a small aisle to row three. It's a tight squeeze though because the rear wheel wells bulge so much.

The test vehicle came with optional running boards as part of a $1,800 premium package. Getting into Row Two or having the momentum to squeeze into three would be a trick without them.

Not much room for gear or groceries behind the third row and space under the rear cargo floor hides only small items.

But those third-row seat backs may be the quickest and easiest folding in the industry. Pull a lever on the backs and either or both fold flat like that to hold vacation luggage or the week's vittles. Second-row backs also fold flat.

Ride is relatively smooth in the two front rows. No bang or bounce. The suspension minimizes body lean in corners and keeps the radials from scrubbing the pavement in turns. The test vehicle came with on-demand 4WD that goes to work when detecting slippage. A dial to the left of the steering wheel offers high or low settings for snow or off-roading, but skip the boulders. Stability control with traction control is standard, along with side-curtain air bags.

Nice touches include easy-to-see-and-use controls, a pair of drawers in the dash above the center console to store cell phones, iPods or the like, a tray in the console to keep items from bouncing around, power plugs in the dash and under the center armrest and USB/iPod/auxiliary plugs in the console.

There also are two cup- holders in the center console, two in the second-row pull-down armrest, one on each side wall in the third row and one in each of the four doors or 10 for seven people.

The navi should be programmed for rest stops.

A gripe, other than mileage, is the voice-activated controls. Our "radio off" command made the radio switch from AM to FM. Either the radio or this scribe needs to be rewired. And the front seat headrests are so large and lean so far forward to protect from whiplash they feel as if resting your neck against a football.

With Borrego, Kia sticks to its market formula: emphasizing the same features and amenities as the big names but for less money. Still a high-mileage hybrid or diesel would attract more attention.

Borrego starts about $26,000 for a base 2WD LX with V-6 up to $30,000 for a 4WD LX with V-8. The 2WD EX V-6 starts at about $28,000, the 4WD EX V-8 we tested starts at $32,995. With options it runs about $35,000, still about $5,000 less than a comparable Toyota 4Runner.

Jim Mateja

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kia Rondo Wins Drive Car of the Year Award for "Best People Mover"

Have you driven a Kia Rondo yet? A little time behind the wheel is impresses most people. It feels like a large car, yet isn't cumbersome, and its tall ride height and large greenhouse offers excellent visibility all-round. These are just two reasons why the Rondo is appealing, an appreciation of which seems to be global.

The family hauler has just won Best People Mover in Australia's Drive Car of the Year awards, a unanimous decision by the Fairfax Media organization's judging panel. The Rondo, known in some markets as "Carens", bested candidates from Toyota and Peugeot to take away the honors, while beating its own parent company Hyundai as the only Korean company to win a Drive COTY.

"We are very pleased that the Drive Car of the Year judges have confirmed what we at Kia already knew -- the Kia Rondo was the best candidate in the people mover category," commented Mr. S.K. Lee, President & CEO of Kia Motors Australia."Drive judges recognized that Rondo's clever design, spacious interior and value for money delivered the best package for Australian families who need a vehicle with the space and practicality for everyday living."

The Drive judging panel looked to the Rondo's versatility, economy, excellent value for money and five-year unlimited kilometer warranty to support its case, after judging the car and its rivals on a weeklong evaluation covering some 20,000 km (12,500 miles). Key elements for consideration included driving dynamics, engine performance, price, quality and equipment offered, as well as comfort, practicality and safety.

"The Rondo becomes the first car from a Korean manufacturer to receive a Drive Car of the Year award because it offers the best combination of versatility, space and value for money, all key considerations for people-mover buyers," commented the Drive COTY judges in a statement.

Unlike many Car of the Year awards, the Drive COTY judges don't limit their candidates to just all-new models (completely revised or totally new vehicles that enter the market in a given 12 month period), but actually include all models offered in a given category, no matter how long they've been on the market. So when the Rondo won its class, it didn't just win because it only faced one or two all-new models, but because the judges honestly feel it is the best vehicle/value combination in its segment. Commenting on COTY awards given only to "all-new" vehicles, the judges said "consumers don't limit their choices that way."

The Drive COTY awards are annually selected by a judging panel from Fairfax Media newspapers, which include two of Australia's oldest and most prestigious dailies, The Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney and The Age in Melbourne, as well as the company's online automotive website, which oversees the Drive COTY awards program.

Strengthening the Drive COTY award's decision, Kia's Rondo also won the 'Car of Choice' award in the Car of the Year program. is Australia's leading auto site for women.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

2009 Kia Borrego 4x4 Review - First Drive

Kia Joins The Fullsize SUV Class. Will Car Buyers Notice?

It wouldn't seem like a propitious moment for any auto manufacturer to be launching a brand-new V-8 SUV, and truth to tell, it isn't. But unlike pessimists like us, the folks at Kia Motors see opportunities aplenty for their new Borrego seven-seater sport-ute. And in a way, we can see their point-with GM pulling the plug on the TrailBlazer/Envoy next year (sob, sniffle), and Ford more or less abandoning the Explorer until a 2011 relaunch, there's definitely room in this segment for a newcomer such as Kia to pick up some new customers, and company reps informed us that they plan to market and advertise this vehicle aggressively in the coming months. So, keep an eye on your TV screens or your dealer showroom-chances are you'll be catching a glimpse of the Borrego in the next few weeks.

Powering the Borrego is either the base 3.8L V-6 that's good for 276 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, or the optional 4.6L V-8 sourced from the Hyundai Genesis sedan that puts out 337 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque. (The motor cranks out 375 hp in the car, but Kia engineers detuned it for improved low-end torque.) If we were checking options, we'd take the V-8 since you get better power to weight, as well as the outstanding ZF six-speed automatic behind it (the V-6 gets a ZF five-speed which is decent, if somewhat unpredictable under load).

Saints be praised, the Borrego is not-repeat, not-some overgrown crossover but an honest-to-goodness four-wheel drive that comes with a Borg-Warner Torque-On-Demand two-speed transfer case with a 2.48:1 low-range. Suspension is independent double-wishbone with coil springs up front, and a multilink/coilover setup in the rear. Minimum ground clearance is 8.5 inches, and approach angle is a not-bad-for-this-class-anymore 27 degrees. Towing capacity for the V-8 is 7,500 pounds (yep, it's a body on frame, not a monocoque), and an integrated Class 3 hitch is standard issue. Estimated mileage is 16/21 with the V-6 and 15/20 with the V-8. No off-road-centric options are currently offered, though Kia reps informed us that some dealer-installed options, such as skidplates and rocker guards, should be available within the next few months.

In our brief time behind the wheel, we were impressed with the overall build quality and comfort level of the Borrego; our preproduction unit was very tight, with no noticeable rattles or squeaks, and road noise was minimal for a vehicle of this class. We recalled our first test drives of the first-gen Sportage 10 years ago-noisy, underpowered, and flat-out uncomfortable-and we were reminded of how far this company has progressed in addressing the demands of American consumers in only a decade. The interior of the top-line Borrego XL may not be quite as luxurious as, say, an Eddie Bauer Explorer, but it isn't very far off the mark, and it's still a solid debut effort from a manufacturer that continues to improve its product line with each new iteration. We'll have a Borrego in our field at our 2009 Four Wheeler of the Year test, appearing in our February '09 issue.

What's Hot:
Excellent ZF six-speed; overall fit and finish; competitive pricing.

What's Not:
Slightly spongy suspension tuning; bad time to be launching a V-8 SUV.

Our Take:
A solid first-time effort that should bring some new customers into the Kia fold.

Quick Specs
Vehicle/model: 2009 Kia Borrego
Base price: $30,995 (4x4)
Engine (tested): 4.6L DOHC 32-valve V-8
Max hp & torque (lb-ft): 337/323
Transmission(s): ZF six-speed automatic OD
Transfer case(s): Borg-Warner part-time two-speed
Low-range ratio: 2.48:1
Frame type: Boxed steel
Suspension, f/r: Upper, lower A-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar/Solid axle, multilink, coilover shocks
Ring and pinion: 3.36:1
Max crawl ratio: 34.75:1
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 12.9-inch vented disc/12.8-inch solid disc
Wheels (tested): 17x7 alloy
Tires (tested): P245/70R17 Hankook RA23
Wheelbase (in): 114.0
Length (in): 192.3
Height (in): 71.3
Base curb weight (lb): 4,621 (V-8)
Max approach/departure angles (deg): 27/23
Minimum ground clearance (in): 7.5
GVWR (lb): N/A
Max cargo volume (cu ft): 156.8 (rear seats folded)
Max towing capacity (lb): 7,500 (V-8)
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 15/20 (4x4 V-8)
Fuel capacity (gal): 20.6

Douglas McColloch