Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kia Motors Supports Car Allowance Rebate System With 12 Eligible Models

Full Array of Kia Vehicles Qualify For NHTSA New Buyer Incentive Program

IRVINE, Calif., July 24, 2009 -- In support of the recently signed Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) by the U.S. government, Kia Motors America (KMA) today announced that consumers in need of a new vehicle will be able to choose from a total of 12 eligible Kia models (85 percent of full lineup) that qualify for up to a $4,500 rebate. Under this new buyer incentive program consumers can purchase a new, more fuel efficient Kia vehicle when they trade-in a less fuel efficient car or truck of any eligible make or model.

"Consumers have the opportunity to not only purchase a new car with a significant rebate, but also reap the benefits of modernized safety features, advanced technology as well as increased fuel economy," said Tom Loveless, vice president of sales, KMA. "There has been no other time in recent history when such an extensive national buyer incentive program has been implemented, and Kia Motors is pleased to provide consumers with a comprehensive selection of vehicles that are praised for their style, quality, value, fuel efficiency and long list of standard safety features."

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines indicate that consumers may earn $4,500 with the purchase of a new car with an increase of 10-plus miles per gallon (mpg) or may earn $3,500 with an increase of four-plus mpg when they trade in a car or SUV with less than 18 mpg combined. For SUVs, five-plus mpg may earn $4,500 and two-plus mpg may earn $3,500. New passenger cars purchased under the program must get a minimum combined fuel economy of 22 mpg while new light-duty trucks or SUVs must get at least 18 mpg combined fuel economy to qualify.

In accordance with the NHTSA, retailers that are enrolled in the program will process transactions using program guidelines and apply appropriate credits at the time of purchase. The following details the official government criteria for trade-in rebates:

* Trade-in vehicles have been manufactured less than 25 years before the date of trade-in

* Trade-in vehicles must have a federal combined city/highway fuel economy of 18 mpg or less

* Eligible vehicles must be in driveable condition and have been continuously insured and registered to the same owner for at least one year

* Vouchers are not necessary; dealers will apply a credit at the time of the purchase

Additional information is currently being developed by the National Highway Transportation Authority and will be available on its Web site as it becomes available. For more information visit www.cars.gov, the official and only Web site for the program.

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 630 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kia's Soul makes it hip to be square

What was first introduced as a concept vehicle in January 2006 at the Detroit International Auto Show, has become a production reality for the 2010 model year. The Soul is a compact five-passenger, five-door (four doors with a rear hatch) that is poised to compete with the Scion xB and Nissan's Cube.

The Soul will come in four variations: the base Soul starts at $13,300; the Soul Plus at $14,950, The Soul Sport has a window tag of $16,950; and the Soul Exclaim starts at $17,900. A fully-loaded, top-of-the-line Soul still manages to come in under the $19,000 mark.

There are two inline four-cylinder engines available - a 1.6-liter that puts out 122 horsepower along with 115 pound-feet of torque or a 2-liter that delivers 142 horses at 6,000 rpm, while generating 137 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm.

Both engines incorporate Continuously Variable Valve Timing and both mate to a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. Souls with the 2-liter engine may also be coupled to an available four-speed automatic transmission. All Soul models are front-wheel driven. The Soul is based on a version of the subcompact Kia Rio platform with bolder cues than the somewhat conservative Kia Rondo.

The Soul sports a reverse wedge greenhouse with blacked-out "A" and "B" pillars, giving the roof a floating effect. Wheel-well arches are highly pronounced in the form of fenders. Front air inlets housed below the grille take on the look and form served up by Audi, drawing its influence from former Audi designer Ian Schreyer. The interior features a floating center stack, driver-oriented gauges and a comfortable cabin ambience. There's also a dual-level glovebox and an under-floor cargo tray.

Soul offers 11 exterior colors and three interior two-tone combinations, along with more than 50 ways to personalize one's vehicle, characterizing it to suit individual tastes and requirements.

My test Soul came in Exclaim trim with the 2-liter engine and four-speed automatic, finished outside in Dune, a creamy off-white color. The interior was Sand and black. The base price was set at $17,900, with the final sticker totaling $18,995. I also was able to test the Soul Sport model with the five-speed manual gearbox. It was finished outside in Titanium metallic with a red-an-black interior, and base priced at $16,950. Adding the power sunroof and destination charge increased the sticker to $18,345.

Standard equipment and features include: ABS, ESC, remote keyless entry, power sunroof, 60/40 split folding rear seats and lots more than one would normally expect in the Soul's price range.


The 2010 Kia Soul Exclaim is a practical transportation option that is fun to drive within stylish packaging. Acceleration is not blistering but is adequate to get the job done with a little spirit thrown in. The steering isn't sports-car crisp, but seems agile enough to provide a few giggles in the twisties. The ride quality is comfortably compliant, but the boxy form offers a substantial target for 45 to 50 mph cross winds when crossing a bridge such as San Francisco's Golden Gate. The automatic transmission shifts nicely though I prefer the five-speed manual gearbox that I tested in the Sport version.

There are lots of thoughtful storage nooks and crannies, along with cool, quirky features such as the audio speakers that flash mood lighting to match the bass notes. Rear seat passengers will find sufficient space behind even tall front seat occupants.

Add the squarely good looks to the 10-year/100,000 mile limited power train warranty and five-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance program, and the Soul provides a hip, value-packed compact ride.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All-new 2010 Kia Forte meets high standards of performance, design at a low price

"It's the economy, stupid" was the unspoken theme of the 1992 presidential campaign. Then Gov. Bill Clinton got it and won. The first president Bush was retired to Texas because he didn't get it.

Well, in the automotive world, "it's the design, stupid." The cars and SUVs that are thriving in the U.S., for the most part, have great designs. GM for the past five years have mostly been designed by committee. Hello, bankruptcy. Chrysler has had one winning design in that same time frame, the Chrysler 300 (not counting a couple of retro designs).

On the other hand, we have distinctive designs and good sales from companies like Audi, Mazda, Ford, Hyundai and now, believe it or not, Kia. The Korean carmaker has heard the word and ditched its bland drawings. I present as proof the 2010 Kia Forte sedan.

Kia gathered media from all over the country (including me for some reason) in Seattle to introduce the sedan. I've been around large packs of automotive journalists before and after a couple of drinks you usually hear some muttering about a car's faults. It just wasn't happening with the Forte.

Executives touted the Forte's fun-to-drive factor. That may be pushing things just a bit. In the compact market, probably 90 percent of the cars are bought for practical reasons like fuel economy or cost. The Forte does well on both counts but practically nobody is going to buy this car because it's fun to drive. A real estate agent in a down market may trade in his Porsche Boxster for a Forte, but it's not because it's fun to drive.

However, the Forte will never make you regret the decision to buy one. During the test drive in Seattle, I spent time behind the wheel of the LX trim model with the 2.0-liter, 156 horsepower engine with 144 lb. ft. of torque and the SX trim model with the 2.4-liter, 174 horsepower engine that puts out 168 lb. ft. of torque. The 2.0-liter with two adults on board (one husky, one not) did emit some minor complaints under hard acceleration. The 2.4-liter handled everything thrown at it with nary a peep.

Let's not kid ourselves. Handling was not spirited by any means, but the Forte in the SX trim had nothing to be ashamed of on some moderately twisting roads. Every now and then my co-pilot and I would throw the Forte hard around a corner and while not maintaining a flat horizon, it didn't tip on two wheels either.

Kia made the claim that the Forte's noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) qualities have been improved. It's almost impossible for a writer to verify that claim without sophisticated testing equipment and comparable models. However, it did seem to be a quieter car, especially as I remember other Kias that I have driven.

There is one point worth quibbling about. The Forte's trunk is larger than its predecessor, the Spectra, but it still has an opening that is small for its size. By the way, funniest question heard at the press conference: "Why didn't Kia continue with the Spectra name?" The questioner said a lot of money had been invested in it, after all. Kudos to the Kia executive who admitted there was no brand loyalty to the Spectra name and very few people would miss it. Next time I hear a query like that I'm going to call it the Studebaker question.

What's going to make the Forte a huge winner, though, is its standard safety equipment, even on the most inexpensive models. It comes with anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution, stability control, traction control, active front headrests and six airbags. Stability control alone is worth the price of admission, especially because this is a car that is likely going to be driven by less experienced drivers.

When it comes to fuel economy, the 2.0-liter engine offers a competitive 25/34 mpg (city/highway) when mated to either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, while the 2.4-liter engine turns out 22/32 mpg when paired with the six-speed manual and 23/31 with the five-speed automatic. The optional Fuel Economy Package, available on the EX model with the 2.0-liter powerplant, includes the five-speed automatic transmission, Motor Drive Power Steering (MPDS), "smart" alternator, silica tires and aero enhancements. These improvements result in 27/36 mpg and a class-leading combined fuel economy of 30 mpg.

Available in three trims, LX, EX and SX, pricing for the all-new compact sedan will start at $13,695 for the LX trim, while the Forte EX begins at $15,795. Moving up to the SX trim, pricing begins at $17,195. While these are affordable prices, the highest praise I can give the Forte is it doesn't feel cheap at all. The interior materials are of a good quality for the price point. It's a good looking car by my subjective standards. Plus, as mentioned above, you'll never regret buying the Forte when weighed against its competitors like the Toyota Corolla or the Honda Civic.

For more information, go to the Kia website.

Keith Griffin

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kia Forte near top of compact class

Finally a car advertising slogan with more than a grain of truth to it.

I'm talking about Kia's "The Power to Surprise."

A test drive in the new 2010 Kia Forte four-door sedan -- a smart looking, quick driving compact with a wealth of value and features -- suggests the Korean company may be on to something.

I was so impressed with the performance of this car that I can think of only one compact that even comes close to it: the Mazda3.

Sure, the Honda Civic is considered the class leader, and for good reason. But it's more expensive and not as attractive as the Forte.

The Toyota Corolla? High quality, yes, but too mild-mannered and predictable, with styling that's pleasant, but nothing to write home about.

Don't take my word for it. There was a marketing study in which a Forte, Corolla, Mazda3 and Civic were shown to consumers with all identifying features concealed. The consumers ranked Forte first -- even after the brands were revealed.

"That's the first time that's ever happened to us. Usually people would say, 'Oh, it's a Kia. Not interested.' So it's the first time our numbers held up after the revealing of all the brands in the clinic," said Michael Sprague, the company's vice president of marketing.

Why does the Kia stand out from the pack? Usually, when I drive a compact, I get annoyed with steering that is overassisted, meaning a driver has to adjust the steering wheel to correct course often or the car feels as if it's going all over the place.

Not with Forte. It has just about the most perfectly balanced steering I've experienced in a compact sedan -- and for a compact, there was plenty of legroom in the front and back.

And the Forte's styling is terrific. There's a hint of a spoiler on the rear deck helping to create a nice side profile in which the lines seem to come together at the front for an arrow-like profile.

The acceleration was so strong I thought I had the optional engine under the hood. My EX, which starts at $15,795, was equipped with a 156-horsepower four-cylinder, backed by a four-speed automatic transmission.

Standard equipment on the EX included air conditioning; cruise control; power windows and door locks and mirrors. The SX, which starts at $17,195, features a 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four cylinder, with a sport tuned suspension, fog lights, telescoping steering wheel, leather steering wheel and metal trim. There also is the entry level Forte LX, which starts at $13,695 and comes with the same engine as the EX with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, disc brakes, Bluetooth and steering-wheel mounted controls.

Like all Kias, the Forte comes with a 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.

I have heard some complaints about the manual transmission, although I did not experience them myself.

By Don Hammonds
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Total transformation: the 2010 Kia Forte

When automakers get ready to bring out a new car, they'll frequently get all the competing models from other brands together and bring in some more-or-less randomly selected members of the public to compare them. They don't tell the people who's paying for the exercise, and they don't show the brand names on the cars - at least not at first.

They have the subjects look over each of the cars, its price, and its specifications. Then they ask the subjects to rank the cars in order of preference - which would you most like to have in your driveway? It's a blind test, so the automaker gets a good sense of whether their car is desirable compared to the competition.

Then they unveil the brand badges on the cars and ask the subjects to rank them again. That tells the automaker how their brand reputation affects people's perception of their product.

Well, Kia just released their new compact sedan, and they went through this exercise. When the cars were anonymous, the new Kia Forte scored highest compared to the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, and a few others. But when they revealed the brand name, something totally new happened - people still liked the Kia best.

That's huge for any automaker struggling to overcome its roots as a bargain-basement brand, and Kia has certainly done the necessary work over the past few years to take honest pride in the achievement.

This is the process that Japanese manufacturers went through starting in the 1980s. They entered the U.S. market in the late 60s and 70s as bargain brands - no frills, no luxury, just an inexpensive grocery-getter. But every automaker moves upscale over time, and the Japanese brands had to work to overcome their initial image. As the Korean brands entered the market in the 80s, they came in as bargain brands just like their Japanese predecessors, and now face the same challenge to reposition themselves as something more than that.

So, enter the Kia Forte. This new compact sedan from Kia is the designated replacement for the outgoing Spectra model. I attended the press preview for the Forte this week in Seattle, and I have to say I'm impressed. This is the third Kia in the past year to make the kind of splash that says "throw away your old prejudices about Kia. This is a whole new thing."

First, last fall Kia brought out their mid-size Borrego SUV. Apart from unfortunate economic timing which is not their fault, I believe Kia did a great job with this SUV. Then the new funky-cool Soul came out a couple months ago, and it's doing the job for Kia with the young urban hipster market. Now comes the bread-and-butter car for any import brand - the compact sedan. This is where they take their swing at the Japanese giants and compete head to head against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda3. And after a full day and a couple hundred miles in the Forte, I'm confident in suggesting that if you're planning on a new small car this year, you simply must test-drive the Kia.

I'll lead with my own bias - the Kia gets great fuel economy. 27/36 in the 2.0-liter and 5-speed automatic "fuel economy" model. You get a little less than that, but still great mileage (22/32) in the hot rod version with the 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed manual. Most of the Forte options split the difference at 25/34.

You get that great fuel economy from your choice of a 2.0-liter DOHC engine making 156 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque, or a 2.4-liter DOHC that makes 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. To tell the truth, you won't regret buying the car with the smaller engine - it goes just fine.

You also get your choice of 5 or 6-speed manual gearboxes, or a 5-speed automatic transmission. Drop those into your choice of three trim levels, and you've got a nice product range.

Inside, the Forte is every bit as nice as the segment-leading cars. It drives and feels solid, and has the handling we've all come to expect from these sporty economical compact cars. Both the 2.0 and 2.4-liter versions pack plenty of punch.

But Kia still has a hill to climb if they want to take on Honda and Toyota, and so they've tossed a few magic arrows into their quiver. The Kia Forte has a 10 year, 100,000-mile warranty, and an attractive price point. The Forte LX starts at $13,695, the EX rolls in at $15,795, and even the luxury hot-rod edition SX comes in at $17,195.

For that money, Kia gives you all the safety gear modern cars can hold. One thing that blows my mind is when an automaker pitches a low price, then charges you extra for such basics as anti-lock brakes. But Kia gives you ABS, electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability control, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system all included in the base price. Good work!

On top of the nice drivetrain and suspension and the safety gear, you can get all the stuff you want in a modern car - hands-free phone support, nice stereo, air conditioning, MP3 and iPod support, cruise control - all of it is available in one package or another.

Kia's people are excited about the Forte, and it shows. "Total product transformation" and "built for the passionate pragmatist" are the terms they're using. The bottom line on the new Forte is just this: If you think you're the kind of person who wouldn't consider a Kia, it's time to think again and take a fresh look.

Jeffrey Zurschmeide

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First Drive: 2010 Kia Forte a compelling new compact sedan option

If there's one thing we can say about Kia, it's that it keeps making progress. In the 15 years the brand has been selling cars in the United States, South Korea's second largest auto manufacturer has increased its market share every single year. The future looks bright as well, with new vehicles like the Soul receiving rave reviews and a new billion dollar production facility set to open this year. Hoping to build on that success, Kia has launched its new 2010 Forte, replacing the Spectra that failed to stand out among cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. With a new name, a new face, upgraded powertrains and aspirations to exceed consumer expectations about the brand, can the Forte help Kia finally make its mark in the compact sedan segment? Read on to find out.

We have to admit we've never been overly excited about Kia or its cars. The brand's emphasis has always been on affordability, a bogey that generally doesn't speak to the enthusiast's adrenal glands. However, when the Forte sedan was launched at the Chicago Auto Show earlier this year, we took notice. The striking design is much more appealing than the comparatively staid Spectra, and the available 2.4-liter inline-four comes with an impressive 173 horsepower.

Available in three variants, the Forte ranges from the base LX (starting at $13,695), which features a 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 putting out 156 horsepower, to the top-of-the-line SX ($17,195) that benefits from the aforementioned 2.4-liter engine. The mid-range EX ($15,795, shown above) comes standard with the Convenience Package (air-conditioning, folding rear seat, rear center arm rest and adjustable headrests), with the option of Premium (power sunroof and 16-inch wheels and tires) and Leather Packages. Kia has ensured that even the base model comes with standard items like four-wheel disc brakes incorporating anti-lock, stability and traction control systems, as well as full-length side curtain airbags. With the exception of air conditioning on the LX model, buyers won't have to worry about having to pay extra for the essentials.

What first attracted us to the Forte, and what ought to initially help draw potential buyers into the showroom, is its striking design. Our hats are off to the team at Kia's recently-formed California design studios who penned the sedan, and we are happy to hear that much of model's styling DNA will be passed on to future products. The bold stance owes much to the width of the body -- at 69.9 inches, the Forte is wider than the offerings from Honda, Toyota, or Mazda -- as well as to the slanted belt line and swept back headlights. With the optional 17-inch wheels on the SX model, we would even dare to say the Forte looks...cool!

The interior can often be sore subject for cars built on a budget, but the Forte doesn't disappoint. While there are some hard plastics on the dash and door, most of the materials used are fairly nice to the touch and look attractive. Interior space is abundant at 96.8 cubic feet, and the trunk is simply cavernous for a compact sedan. Kia has made it a priority to provide as many interior features as possible -- even in the base LX model -- and every Forte gets a six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering column, Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel controls, Sirius satellite radio (with a three month subscription), and USB and auxiliary input jacks. In our time with the Forte, we didn't find much to complain about inside, but the optional leather seats that are available in the EX and SX models we sampled proved to be somewhat stiff and lacking in support. If it were our money, we would stick with the cloth buckets.

On paper, the Forte is a class-leader in the powertrain department. With 156 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque on tap in the 2.0-liter engine, the Forte offers more standard horsepower than any of its competitors. It's also easy on the wallet, with an EPA rating of 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. We drove the EX model with the optional four-speed automatic (a five-speed manual comes standard), and came away pleasantly satisfied with the acceleration and smoothness of the combination. Interestingly, a so-called Fuel Economy Package ($600) is also available on the EX model that upgrades the car to a five-speed automatic transmission, Motor Drive Power Steering, a "smart" alternator, silica tires, and aero enhancements. Rated at 27/36 mpg, Kia says this package makes the Forte the most fuel efficient car in its class that's not a hybrid or diesel.

While the base engine was up to snuff, we came away disappointed with the 2.4-liter inline-4 found in the SX model. With 173 horsepower and 168 lb-ft torque, the Forte SX looked like it would be able to outpace a Mazda3. Unfortunately, those numbers didn't translate to the real world. The 2.4-liter powerplant was sluggish to respond to throttle input, and it wheezed and gasped at anything above 3,500 rpm. Surprisingly, the six-speed manual transmission didn't earn our affection either. Shifting feel was vague at best, and we had problems with smoothly modulating the clutch due to a relatively low engagement point combined with a hesitant throttle. An aftermarket shift kit could go a long way toward alleviating our reservations here. The good news is that the Forte SX still manages to get fantastic fuel economy even with the extra engine displacement. Cars equipped with the six-speed manual are rated at 22/32 mpg, and those with five-speed automatics get 23/31.

While we wouldn't go as far as describing the Forte's handling as sporty, we found it to be more than capable of providing a smooth and comfortable ride. Kia utilizes an independent suspension up front and a stabilizer bar and torsion beam with struts and coil springs at the rear that both do their job, but nothing really more than that. The hydraulic-assisted rack and pinion steering provides a decent amount of feedback, but those looking for some more fun in the twisties might find the Mazda3 or Honda Civic a better fit.

When it comes down to it, the Forte ought to do for Kia what the brand has been doing the last 15 years: make progress. With great looks, plenty of standard features, better (but not great) powertrains, and excellent fuel mileage, the Forte is a much more compelling option in the compact sedan segment than Kia has ever had. Add to that its excellent pricing and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and we have no doubt that the 2010 Kia Forte will find its fair share of customers.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kia Forte is compact in style

Kia Motors is on a roll. It's going faster than a hamster in a running wheel. And that's not a bad thing.

Earlier this year, the South Korean carmaker introduced the Kia Soul -- an urban compact van that has grabbed the imagination of younger buyers. It's sharp, stylish and affordable.

Now it's rolling out something for these young buyers' parents: The 2010 Kia Forte.

Smartly outfitted and well-priced, the Forte may create a conundrum for typical compact consumers. The Forte LX starts at a mere $13,695, not including shipping. The mid-range model, the Forte EX, stays under the $16,000 and a nicely loaded SX model starts at $17,195. Crazy Eddie should do the commercials for Kia because these prices are "Innnnn-Saannnnee!"

Seriously, they're super low. Just look at what you get standard on the middle trim model EX for $15,795:

First, the technical side: There's the 156-horsepower 2-liter engine with multiport fuel injection mated to a five-speed manual transmission that will get you 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. Then there's the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, anti-lock brakes, traction control and tire pressure monitoring. All of this will give you a well-mannered car that feels a little underpowered and struggles on big hills but is otherwise a good ride. Personally, I prefer the manual transmission over the automatic, especially when driving small four-bangers, but most of America disagrees and will opt for the auto.

Driving the Forte around Seattle, I found it comfortable and agreeable on all types of roads. On the highway, it was quiet and handled the road well. On back twisty roads through Washington's steep mountains, it felt sure-footed and balanced. A well-tuned suspension provides taut handling on the top-of-the-line SX model, and the EX and LX still have responsive handling. Few commuter compacts have the word fun associated with them, but the Forte was fun. It's no Mazda 3 when it comes to performance, but it never was designed for that kind of driving. This is the car that can carry you through the daily grind, the working man's commuter.

Now I mentioned it feeling underpowered. This seemed to happen for two reasons. First, the automatic transmission is tuned to make the Forte as fuel frugal as possible. This may be good for your pocketbook, but it can sap the car's torque quicker than kimchi through a goose. Additionally, one of the vehicles I tested included Kia's optional fuel economy package. This will make the 2-liter engine stingier and includes a few other features such as motor drive power steering, silica tires and additional aerodynamic improvements. The end result is a combined 30 mpg or 27 mpg city and 36 mpg on the highway.

Remarkably quiet
Some other notables for the Forte include a remarkably quiet ride for a compact and a lot of gizmos inside.

The same EX will come with air conditioning (something many smaller cars offer as options), satellite radio, USB and auxiliary jack to connect your personal music device, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls (this is even standard on the LX), cruise control, dual 12 volt outlets and a host of other creature comfort features. Take on Kia's 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty and you've got quite a package.

This has to be one of the most loaded small cars on the planet.

Maybe Kia is trying a little too hard to impress customers. There's good reason for this: The Kia Spectra, the car that the Forte will replace. While I typically think it's better to keep the name of a vehicle and just make it better, I can see why the Spectra name was shelved next to so many left-over Spectra parts. It wasn't a good car.

So the Forte becomes the newest and most welcome member to the Kia family.

Like many popular compacts, the Forte tries to look stylish in a way that doesn't offend. It's well-defined but lacks any risk-taking in its overall look. The front end is simple and the sides have the most pronounced lines. There's more definition on the Forte than the Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra, but don't expect any of them to enter America's Next Top Model.

Spacious and functional
Where the Forte breaks loose from the pack is inside the cabin, which is well-executed, functional and spacious. The steering wheel controls for the phone and stereo work flawlessly and it's very easy to get accustomed to all of these features. The front row is spacious with 40 inches of head room and 43.3 inches of legroom. The second row offers 37.8 inches of head room and 35 inches of legroom. It can easily carry five adults, though I wonder how the engine might respond to a 50 percent weight increase.

The trunk provides 14.7 cubic feet of space, which is enough room to put more than four golf bags back there. On one stop, I climbed into the trunk and estimated that I could fit at least two more of me -- I'm 6 feet tall -- back there.

Lots of compact cars have the excitement of a washing machine. They need to work every time the driver turns the key. They need to provide good gas mileage and stay on the road year after year. Some drivers don't have a passion for their ride; they simply need it to get on with more interesting parts of their lives. The Kia Forte could change some of their minds.

This compact is more than just a piece of transportation. It will take you from point A to B in comfort and style. When you arrive, you'll even have a little money left over to spend on something fun.

Scott Burgess
Detroit News

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kia's Sedan Delivers Serious Quality and Value

To understand the future of the automobile industry, you must understand the success of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail organization.

It is an achievement based on common sense. Wal-Mart consistently offers excellent quality at prices lower than those charged by the competition.

It is an attractive business model that draws consumers from all walks of life, especially in tough economic times. It matters not that Wal-Mart is a nonunion company with a blue-collar persona. Nor does it matter that you are a professional, or a worker holding a union card. If you want the best for less, you shop there.

So here's the deal: The car company that best follows the Wal-Mart example is the one that will own the future of the automobile industry.

Don't be surprised if that company comes from South Korea.

Take a look at this week's subject car, the 2010 Kia Forte family sedan, sold at base prices of $13,695 to $18,195. Those prices cover compact, front-wheel-drive automobiles built as well as anything from Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan or Toyota. South Korean automobile manufacturer Hyundai owns Kia. So Hyundai is included.

The kicker is that the Forte is priced lower -- in many cases much lower -- than the competition.

To say the least, I and my evaluation crew -- my wife, Mary Anne, and my Washington Post assistant for vehicle evaluations, Ria Manglapus -- were shocked. In our minds, we had equated "cheap" with, well, cheap. But after putting nearly 500 miles on the Forte EX, which sits in the middle of the Forte line, we changed our stereotypical understanding of "cheap" to a more appropriate "inexpensive." In this instance, that meant remarkable value.

Fit and finish on our Forte EX was excellent. Interior ergonomics -- ease of sight and ease of use of gauges and controls -- were better than those found in many rival cars. That's "better" as in "better" as opposed to "better for the money."

Some examples: Audio, heat and ventilation controls are clearly positioned and labeled, a welcome relief from cars in which the positioning and use of those controls have been turned into a dark science.

Also there's this: In a driving emergency, such as a sudden stoppage of traffic, the caution signal button, indicated by a small red triangle within a larger red triangle, becomes the most important button on the instrument panel. You want to quickly push that button to alert motorists behind you that you are slowing down or stopping because of trouble ahead.

Too many car companies seem to go out of their way to conceal the caution signal button. Their stylists render the button practically invisible and less useful by shrinking its size and blending it within overall instrument panel.

Kia has taken the opposite approach in its Forte line. The caution signal button is the largest single control; and it sits at the top of the instrument panel. It is hard to miss and easy to reach and use. Thus Kia gives the caution signal button the supreme importance it has always deserved.

We disagreed on the feel of the Forte EX's ride. Ria thought it was too hard, making it a tad uncomfortable for a family sedan. Mary Anne and I demurred. We thought the Forte EX's stiffer-than-usual-ride for a compact sedan (probably because of its optional low-rolling resistance tires) contributed to the car's better-than-usual handling for a compact family sedan.

We all marveled over the car's zippy acceleration, delivered via the Forte EX's 2-liter, 156-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine. But we were more impressed with its fuel economy: 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 miles per gallon on the highway running on regular unleaded gasoline.

The Forte's standard safety features, including four-wheel disc brakes and full-length head-curtain airbags, match those found in substantially more expensive cars. The same is true of the Forte's optionally available amenities, such as iPod, BlueTooth phone and MP3 player connectivity.

By Warren Brown
Washington Post

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

2010 Kia Forte - First Drive Review

Kia winds up and delivers a fine little sedan.

If the world of compact cars were a baseball lineup, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic would be the meat of the order, the third and fourth batsmen. They boast home-run sales numbers, long lists of features, and nearly peerless reliability. In short, they are the compact superstars. How does the all-new 2010 Kia Forte stack up? Will it join them at the top of the order or will it be relegated to hitting ninth like its predecessor, the Spectra?

It doesn't hurt that Kia has endowed the Forte with style, power, and technology, items all conspicuous by their absence in the afterthought-ish Spectra. Designed in the company's California studio, the Forte is now the best-looking car in its class, especially standing out when viewed in person. The styling doesn't make you want to tear your clothes off or anything, but subtle details like the upswept side-window line (which also is good for front-side visibility) and the tasteful new corporate grille help the Forte stand out against competition that looks either weird (Civic, Sentra) or coma-inducing (Focus, Corolla).

A Good Assortment of Powertrain Options, Standard Equipment

There are two four-cylinder engines available in the Forte. LX and EX models are powered by a 156-hp, 2.0-liter, while the top-spec SX uses a 2.4-liter that makes 173 hp. Four transmissions are on offer, depending on trim and option package. Standard across the board are five- (LX and EX) or six-speed manuals (SX). The LX and EX automatic has four forward ratios, unless you opt for the EX Fuel-Economy package, which nets the same five-speed automatic offered on the SX. Kia says the 2.0-liter will be good for 0­–60 jaunts in the eights and that the 2.4-liter will be in the sevens, but that it will leave the final measurements up to us. We'll let you know how accurate Kia's broad-stroke estimates are just as soon as we get a chance to strap test gear to the Forte.

The 2.0-liter motor returns 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway with the five-speed auto in the Fuel-Economy package and 25/34 when paired with either of the other two transmissions. The larger 2.4-liter four achieves 22/32 with the six-speed manual and 23/31 with the five-speed auto. These numbers basically fall in line with those of the Corolla and Civic, although the Forte achieves its fuel-economy figures while using more powerful engines. For example, the 22/30-mpg Corolla XRS uses a 2.4-liter four like the Kia, but it has only two more hp than the base Kia engine. Workaday (nonhybrid, non-Si) Civics use a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Kia if it didn't offer value. A Forte LX starts at just $14,390, whereas the base Civic and Corolla both ring it at just over 16 grand. Besides $1700 or $1800 in their pockets, those that opt for the Kia will find Bluetooth phone connectivity with steering-wheel controls, Sirius satellite radio, USB and auxiliary input jacks, four-wheel disc brakes, and stability control among the standard features. These items are extra-cost options or require jumping to a higher trim on most competitors, if they're available at all. For example, stability control is standard only on the top-spec Corolla, and the Civic requires you to get navigation to order satellite radio.

The Forte EX begins at $16,490, and the SX at $17,890. Kia sees the EX as the volume model, and its standard features list includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; steering-wheel audio controls; two tweeters for the stereo; more stylish exterior mirrors; and the world's largest fuel gauge. The SX gets larger front brakes, 17-inch wheels, fog lamps, and adds telescoping to the standard tilting steering wheel. The roughly $600 EX Fuel-Economy package adds electric steering (all others use hydraulic assist), a "smart" alternator, low-rolling-resistance tires, the five-speed auto, and aero enhancements. Other optional packages for the various models include things like bigger wheels, a moonroof, and leather seat trim.

Equipment is Nice, but How Does it Drive?

Numbers and equipment-wise, the Kia is very strong, but for enthusiastic driving it's . . . not. Our first experience was in an SX equipped with the six-speed manual. Beyond the larger engine and the equipment mentioned above, the SX adds firmer springs, bigger front brakes, retuned shocks, and a larger front anti-roll bar. It felt somewhat tighter than an EX we drove later, but the sum of all that equipment wasn't something we'd really call sporty. Turn-in was fairly aggressive, which was nice, but the tires and suspension seemed to give up by mid-corner, where the car would just begin to plow like it was the start of planting season. The numb steering required too much correction to maintain a line in corners and to stay in a lane on the freeway. The six-speed manual wasn't particularly fun, either, with a vague clutch and notchy shifter.

Believe it or not, we actually were more satisfied with an EX with a four-speed automatic. This segment isn't about barn-burning; it's about inexpensive, comfortable, roomy, inoffensive, and—increasingly—stylish cars, and those are precisely the Forte's strengths. With the smaller engine and automatic gearbox, the Forte didn't invite aggressive driving, but that's all the better to enjoy the spacious and well-appointed interior and airy greenhouse. The ride is relatively supple, and the car welcomes simply sliding it into drive and cruising.

The sedan is the only body style for now, but Kia will soon introduce the poorly spelled Forte Koup two-door. The company also hinted that a five-door Forte hatchback could happen, which we would welcome for the increased utility, but we have to say that the sedan's 14.7 cubic-foot trunk is plenty big. It's roomier, in fact, than that of the BMW 750Li.

The Forte won't be displacing the Honda and Toyota sluggers from the heart of the batting lineup, but we'd be happy to have it hit second, the place for solid and trustworthy—if not spectacular—players. (The Mazda 3, we think, would hit leadoff, where speedy agility and consistency are most prized.) This new Forte is a worthy contender and offers tremendous value; it should help Kia snag market share in this crucial segment. It's too bad the Forte isn't more fun to drive; a car that's a solid triple could have been a home run.

Car and Driver

Monday, July 6, 2009

2010 Kia Soul deserves to be breakout hit for brand

Greeting the Kia Soul with low expectations didn't make sense. Perhaps the details of the funkwagon's story seemed overly familiar at first blush - Kia wants, nay, needs to be more than just the bargain-basement Hyundai store. Differentiating product lines with the help of bold design has been tried before, and the results have been disastrous more often than they've been wildly successful. Finding out that the Soul's styling inspiration was a wild boar sent the cynical mind of this autowriter reeling, preparing to suffer with a bore of a swine-inspired car. But Kia's been on a roll lately with aggressively priced product that's well equipped and imbued with performance that's often more inspired than the sum of its parts. If any brand stands a chance of melding its design studio's hit parade with tuning that lives up to the looks, it's Kia... right?

The Boar thing - snicker if you like - but what Mike Torpey and the team of designers in Korea have wrought is earning accolades the world over. That porcine inspiration delivered a Red Dot design award for Kia, the first for any Korean car and a punctuation mark on the widely held opinion that the Soul is one fine-looking automobile. The critical success of the Soul's design is directly attributable to a nature documentary that designer Torpey took in while working on the car in Korea. The show was about a wild boar that is apparently common to the region, and something about the animal spoke to designer Torpey. The Soul's cheeky, brash stance is great looking in a non-conformist way, regardless of what got the idea going.

Boxy yet not slabby, the Soul's exterior has been deftly drawn with careful detailing. Windows and taillight clusters are set off by bevels, and a continuous line is an Easter Egg for anyone who cares to trace it from its origin outlining the glass, around the roof, down the back and across the bottom, finishing off in front. The raked and tapered sideglass furthers the Soul's ready-for-action stance. Every vent, character line, bulge and curve has been placed cleanly and with purpose, and the end result is that the Soul's styling is clever without being cloying. Drawing an automotive extrovert with just the right touch of restraint is no mean feat, and the longer you gaze at the Soul, the better it gets as you discover all the fun that the design team molded into its flanks.

No shrinking violet in any shade, the radioactive green on our test car was dubbed "Alien." The verdant hue is just the thing for springtime, and the Soul may represent a shift as big as the change of seasons in Kia's fortunes. Young buyers ought to be attracted to the Soul for its ability to tackle every request, as well as its low price and standard equipment list that includes plenty of desirable features that are optional elsewhere. Starting under $14,000, the base Soul has the bases well covered.

Down in the shadows, the mechanical details add up to a car with unexpected verve. Standard four wheel disc brakes impart a sure feeling to the brake pedal and stability control is also fitted across the board. Basic Souls are motivated by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder sending 122 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed manual transaxle, but those are expected to represent but a sliver of the model's total volume. Opting for an automatic transmission, ($950 extra in all trims), yields an immediate upgrade to the 2.0-liter four and its 142 hp and 137 ft-lb capabilities. Both engines employ dual overhead camshafts with variable valve timing, and the 2.0-liter we sampled delivered 29.9 miles per gallon with the four-speed autobox and zero babying. The automatic is mostly unobtrusive, though it occasionally it dodders a bit before delivering a kickdown. Throaty, the engine can get harsh sounding when twisting the tachometer needle hard, but keep your inner Rat Fink at bay and the Soul's braying fades into the background.

The Soul's steering is sporty where others in this price range can be numb. There's a life to the rack-and-pinion setup that says the Soul has been tuned by folks who know what a proper front-wheel drive car should feel like. Despite any "box it came in" commentary from onlookers, the Soul is more than a mere wheeled appliance. A taut, nearly athletic feel has been part of Kia's brief across its entire vehicle range for at least a couple years and that philosophy benefits the Soul, too. A strut front end and torsion beam rear axle are certainly not revolutionary, and in the wrong hands such a suspension setup can feel woefully dated. Instead, the Soul feels great from behind the wheel. A front anti-roll bar and gas-charged dampers all around add up to a lively, well behaved experience. Simply put, the Soul is fun to drive with its standard setup, and the Sport trim level carries a retuned suspension and larger 18-inch alloy wheels, so it promises to be more entertaining still.

"Fun" will be on your lips often when discussing the Kia Soul, especially when talk turns to the interior. Just as much attention has been paid to making the experience inside the Soul live up to the exterior styling. There are four trim levels - Soul, Soul +, Soul !, and Soul Sport - mostly differentiated by what Kia fills each model with. The standard Soul has plain black upholstery, yet it doesn't skimp on equipment. The standard audio system has auxiliary and USB jacks and there are two steps of entertainment upgrades, with the top-level system kicking out 315 watts. There are even red lights in the speakers housings that can pulse soothingly or twiddle in time with the music. A gimmick, sure, but gewgaws are allowed when the basics are good. Despite the affordable pricing, the Soul's interior is not cheap. The stalks and HVAC controls feel as good as some we've sampled in near-luxury cars. Air conditioning and power windows and locks are standard, and optional Bluetooth capability is a welcome nicety.

Despite trim dimensions, there's a blessing of storage and passenger space inside the Soul. Tidy of dimension, the area behind the second row seats is useful but not huge, although dropping the 60/40 rear seats opens it right up. Rear leg- and foot-room is surprisingly generous inside the Soul, too. In the dash, there's a storage compartment at front and center, as well as a dual-level glovebox that seemingly extends all the way to the firewall. Opening either cubbie for the first time garnered a grin as we found Kia had chosen bright red as the color for inside. Doors have storage compartments and bottle holders, and more storage was found in the armrest of our car, which easily concealed a digital SLR camera. Both the steering wheel and front seats are adjustable for height, but only the chairs slide fore-and-aft - a telescoping column would've been a nice touch.

Stepping up the trim-level ladder adds more whimsy to the interior in the form of fabrics and colors. Soul + models get inserts on the seats with a repeating Soul logo, while Soul ! buyers will find houndstooth check on the seats and an interior scheme that puts sand-colored accents on the dashboard and door panels. Soul Sports ratchet the interior up to its max, with metal-look accents and pedals, and a red and black interior theme that extends to the sport seats. Door panels not graced with contrasting colors might betray a feeling of creeping cheapness, but the Soul's interior punches above its weight for sure.

Corporate sibling Hyundai seems to have cribbed the Soul's recipe of a vehicle full of equipment, fun and safety gear for the Elantra Touring, but the Soul's styling puts the Kia on top. Among rival brands, this car is going to lose a flat-out performance challenge to the Honda Fit, but it is supremely well equipped, comes with a faintly ridiculous 10 year/100,000 mile warranty - and tops out below $20,000. Standard front, side and curtain airbags along with stability control covers the safety gear comprehensively, and there's no denying the handy nature of a hatchback.

Young buyers these days seem to care less about cut-rate performance cars and just want a vehicle that will fit their lifestyle of doing stuff while being entertaining to drive and look at. The Kia Soul seems like a shoe-in under those criteria. Its styling is all but universally praised, its price of entry is eminently reasonable, and its driving demeanor exceeds expectations. All-in, we look for the Soul to be Kia's breakout hit that wins comparo crowns, sips fuel, hauls stuff and has a great time doing it all. While we may have approached the Soul steeled for disappointment, we walk away impressed and now think of Kia's backpack-wearing wild boar as one of the segment's standard-bearers.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kia's Forte is affordability

Kia's all-new Forte compact sedan goes on sale in July, giving the South Korean automaker a strong entry into a market segment dominated by the venerable Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

With a starting price of $13,695 (plus freight), the 2010 Forte joins the compact Spectra in the Kia lineup and offers a long list of standard safety and convenience features,

"On the heels of several successful vehicle debuts and introductions, Forte finds itself in good company and follows in the stylish steps of Borrego and Soul," said Michael Sprague, vice president for marketing at Kia Motors America.

"With a heavy emphasis on design, Forte sedan is poised to help consumers make that emotional connection with their vehicle by offering the entire package of style, safety features and value," he said.

Kia believes the car will have strong curb appeal in a segment riddled with plain, boring vehicles. Design cues include swept-back headlights and a wide stance that gives the car a muscular look and helps improve road handling.

Three trim levels are offered: base LX, midlevel EX ($15,795) and sporty, top-of-the-line SX ($17,195).

The Forte is 178.3 inches long, 69.9 inches wide and 57.5 inches high, which compares with 177.3 inches long, 69 inches wide and 56.5 inches high for the Civic (which also costs more -- starting at $15,305 and running as high as $25,190 for the 2009 models).

It's slightly shorter than the Corolla, which is 178.7 inches long, but here again, the Forte costs less. Corolla prices for 2010 range from $15,350 to $20,050.

Keeping the Forte bargain-priced is part of Kia's strategy to compete against Japanese models that U.S. consumers generally consider to have better quality.

Hyundai, Kia's parent company, uses the same pricing strategy for most of its vehicles -- not because it believes its cars are worth less, but because consumers generally don't seem willing to pay as much as they would for a Toyota, Honda or Nissan product. Besides, price is a strong motivator when trying to pry consumers away from tried and trusted brands such as Civic and Corolla.

Kia says the SX model has a more athletic profile, aided by 17-inch alloy wheels and premium P215/45R17 tires.

The Forte has more standard content than its key competitors, as well, which helps add to the value.

The automaker says the Forte's specially engineered body has high torsional stiffness that enhances the car's handling and ride quality, giving it "greater refinement than its competitors."

Featuring front-wheel drive, the Forte LX and EX models are powered by a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which has 144 foot-pounds of torque. This compares with 132 horsepower for the base and midlevel Corolla models and 158 horsepower for the optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in the Corolla. The base engine in the Civic has 140 horsepower.

The Forte SX comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 173 horsepower, which is more than that of the competing Mazda3 as well.

LX and EX models come with a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. The SX has a six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic with manual-shift feature.

With the 2.0-liter engine, EPA mileage ratings are 25 mpg city/34 highway with either transmission. The 2.4-liter engine has ratings of 22/32 with the manual and 23/31 with the automatic.

A special "Fuel Economy Package" is offered on the EX model with the 2.0-liter engine. It includes the five-speed automatic gearbox and brings EPA ratings of 27 city/36 highway.

Among features that help boost this model's mileage are electric power steering, a "smart" alternator, silica tires and aerodynamic body enhancements.

The SX model comes with a sport-tuned suspension and larger front brakes.

Inside, the Forte has 96.8 cubic feet of passenger space, including ample rear knee room. The trunk is the largest in the class with 14.7 cubic feet of space -- more than some popular midsize sedans.

There is room for five, although the middle position in the rear is not full-size and is suitable only for kids.

Standard are cloth seats, three-gauge instrument cluster with red lighting, six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering wheel, rear defroster and dual 12-volt power outlets.

EX and SX models come with air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, map lights, cruise control (with steering-wheel controls for this and the radio), front and rear cup holders, and floor mats.

The EX Premium Package adds a power moon roof and 16-inch alloy wheels, and the EX Leather Package brings leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, and metal interior trim.

With the SX model comes a unique black interior that has sport cloth fabric with red stitching, a telescopic steering column, special gauge cluster, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and metal-finish trim and pedals.

Optional on the SX are the power moon roof and leather seats with front seat warmers.

The standard audio system has AM/FM/compact disc/MP3 playback, four speakers and Sirius satellite radio with three months of free service; an auxiliary jack that allows for connection of an iPod or other music player; and Bluetooth connectivity.

Safety features include front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, electronic stability control with traction control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

G. Chambers Williams III
San Antonio Express-News