Monday, October 19, 2009

Kia Soul: A little Asian flair

It was clear that something different was happening when the video opened with a trio of hamsters bouncing to hip hop music as the scrawl stated "This is how we roll." What's up with the hip-hop hamsters?

To begin with, they were bouncing in a set of wheels dubbed the Kia Soul, the latest and, perhaps, liveliest edition to the box-shaped compact SUV class pioneered by the Toyota Scion and popularized by the Honda Fit and Nissan Cube.

But where those three Japanese vehicles are variations on a theme the Koreans - who have added blacks, Hispanics, and blond-haired California surfers to their design teams - have thrown away the base, box style book and come up with something different.

Stylistically, the Soul isn't so much a car that was drawn outside the box - they just opened up the box.

The front of the roof was raised, as if pried by a can opener, giving the impression of a cap arrogantly pushed back on the head.

The front has a thin, stretched grill and flat hood flanked by wrap-around head lights.

The overall impression is somewhere between a smirk and a smile as the Soul rolls by.

Under that flat hood is a 2.0-liter, four cylinders, fuel injected engine cranking out just 142 horsepower and 137 pound/feet of torque. But that is more than enough to provide a lot of power to such a lightweight vehicle.

The Soul, with its five-speed manual transmission, is surprisingly peppy for a compact box, and, if you feel like flirting with serious traffic tickets, can easily bounce into triple digits and traffic court.

Inside, the Soul offers a lot for an $18,000 car.

The decor is two toned and brash. The test car was charcoal and red, the bright red dash broken by the gray instrument clusters.

That red theme extends to the huge sub woofers on the doors, which bounce with bright red lights timed to the beat of the music pouring out of the car's eight large speakers.

There is a choice of noise-makers for the 300-watt sound system, which is strong enough to serve as the sound system for a block party. The Soul has a single, in-dash CD player, as well as iPod, MP3, and USB-port connections.

There also is AM/FM and Sirius satellite radio. The entertainment network is accessible via fingertip controls on the steering wheel, along with a Bluetooth system that is easy to set up and use.

All that is missing is a navigation system, though that would be unusual in this price category.

As a small SUV, the Soul has more room than one could ever get in a typical sub-compact car.

And the powered sunroof adds to the Soul's feel of ambiance.

When the rear seats are folded flat, the Soul can easily haul a washer or dryer, and its sport-tuned suspension will get the machine to its destination in one working piece. The seats are cloth and manually operated - which is to be expected in this price range - but they are easily adjusted, wide, thickly padded and would not cast a pall over a cross-country trip.

All things considered, the hip-hop hamsters are likely to make an impact rolling through the small SUV market.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kia is on a roll with 2010 Soul

An all-new Soul debuts for Kia for the 2010 model year. Call it a wagon, a mini-ute, a compact crossover or whatever you like, but its somewhat edgy styling, angled window line and wide stance give it a look that brings folks in for a closer look.

Soul's marketing campaign is also intriguing. Have you seen the television commercial (with the hamsters)? My kids love it. Kia also has a catchy tagline for the Soul, "A new way to roll."

I like it.

Clearly the boxy new Soul has the Scion xB in its sights, but the Soul features more rounded lines and a unique rear sloping roof line.

Soul's fun exterior styling, pleasant ride, outstanding warranty, long list of standard safety features and entry price of just $13,300 make it worth a serious look.

Soul comes in four trim levels: the base model Soul, Soul+, Soul! and Soul Sport. The base model features an economical 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (making 122 horsepower) mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

All other trim levels feature a peppier 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 142 horsepower. The 2.0 can be teamed to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Soul's power goes to the front wheels. I'd like to see an available all-wheel drive model. Soul is fairly fuel efficient with the base model being rated at 26/31 and the other trims rated at 24/30.

The 2.0-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission in my Soul+ tester was a nice combination. Power is adequate for this segment and the shifts are smooth. Noise level is low at boulevard speeds; however, road noise easily permeates the cabin while cruising on the highway. Overall, though, the ride is OK and the noise level is not bad enough to scare buyers off.

Soul's exterior styling will obviously bring traffic into Kia's showroom. Soul comes in eight colors including hues like Alien, Molten, Shadow, Java and Dune. Slip inside the new Soul and you'll be greeted by a surprisingly spacious interior.

I found plenty of leg and headroom up front. Room for rear seat passengers is good. And Soul is quite versatile.

To wit: My 20-year old son called me and said, "Dad, I need your help. I'm over at Wal-Mart. I bought a new refrigerator for my room and it's too big for my ['97 Nissan Maxima] trunk. Could you bring the minivan?"

"I'll be right over," I said. But he had no idea I'd be rolling up in the new 2010 Kia Soul that I was testing.

When I tooted the horn to catch his attention he looked surprised and said, "You've got to be kidding. There's no way the fridge will fit in that." Boy was he wrong. I folded the rear seatbacks down and my Soul tester's tall cargo area easily gobbled up the fridge.

I said, "Look, there's still plenty of room for more stuff. Do you need anything else while I'm here?"

After unloading the fridge, my son asked if I could take him for a ride in the Soul. He usually only asks for rides when I've got a sports car or an ultra-luxurious model. But he was quite enamored with the Soul.

He wanted to check out the lighted speakers. They're part of the upgraded audio package and you can turn them off if you find them distracting. He thought they were awesome.

The 315-watt audio system with lighted speakers and nifty Bluetooth connection might help you forget about things like the rest of the cabin being plain or the seats being a bit firm and uncomfortable.

I do like the large bilevel glove box, but it needs a light more than the speakers do.

When it comes to safety features, the Soul comes standard with antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control and full-length side-curtain airbags.

Take a close look; you might be Soul(d).

2010 KIA SOUL+

ENGINE: 142-horsepower 2.0-liter I-4

TRANSMISSION: four-speed automatic

DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive

FUEL ECONOMY: 24 city/30 highway

BASE PRICE: $15,900

AS TESTED: $17,890 (includes $695 for destination)


Chicago Sun-Times

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This poor economy is poor timing to introduce an all-new, three-row, seven-passenger SUV to compete with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy TrailBlazer and Ford Explorer. Kia, however, has to play the hand it's been dealt as it muscles into the big boy market with its 2009 Borrego.

As buyers run from trucks toward fuel-efficient cars, Borrego's light is shining under a bush. And it's a shame because the Borrego is a strong contender against the long established brands. The silver lining in all this is for the confident consumer who can leverage the overall disadvantaged auto industry to buy low.

For the first time ever, Kia is using a V-8 engine. The Borrego is featured with a V-6, as well as the optional 32-valve 4.6-liter V-8. This was the powerplant in my tester. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 generates 337 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The engine's torque rating is exemplary. It produces 323 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm.

In my V-8 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 bring up from its behind 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 V-6. This engine is coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission and has a horsepower rating of 276 at 6,000 rpm and torque rating of 267 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm. The V-6 towing capacity is capped at 5,000 pounds. EPA estimates on this powerplant come in at 21 mpg highway on both the 4x2 and 4x4 versions.

The Borrego is a true truck and competes with not only Ford, Chevy and Jeep, but also the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner. 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 on the 2009 Borrego. It includes electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, and six airbags. The V-8 model has seven airbags with a driver's knee airbag.

Since it went on sale in July, Kia has sold only 1,233 Borrego units through September. But just like any portfolio, diversification is critical. Fortunately for Kia its small car sales are doing well in this economy with year-to-date sales on the Spectra alone at 58,915 through to the third quarter.

By Connie Keane
Motor Matters

Monday, October 12, 2009

'10 Kia Soul rated groovy and cool

It is a great confidence booster when a small, affordable car starts getting awards, especially when it's a new entry to the marketplace. The 2010 Kia Soul has been named by two prestigious automotive authorities for outstanding product characteristics.

This news is not only good for Kia -- which has needed desperately to hit a homerun in the U.S. marketplace -- but it's also good news for small-car buyers, who more than anything else want to feel confident in the small product they're buying.

Ward's AutoWorld named the Kia Soul to its "Interior of the Year" list as having the "Grooviest Interior." That alone speaks volumes. Small cars notoriously get overlooked in the finishings department in manufacturers' efforts to keep costs down. But Kia pays attention to the small-car interior of the Soul, the living space of the car.

Personalization is key to the Soul. There are more than 50 ways to personalize color and interior choices and lighting -- as well as the exterior parts, too, with body kits and roof racks.

One of the big standout interior elements on my Soul tester was the audio package, which included a ring of lights on the door-mounted speaker system. The light settings could be set to pulse to the beat of the music or just create a mood. The Soul's center console floats from the dashboard, giving the driver quick access to climate and sound controls.

Kelley Blue Book named the new Kia Soul to its "Coolest New Cars" under $18,000, citing all the techie gadgets that are offered such as Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration, as well as its fuel economy and safety factors.

The front-wheel-drive Kia Soul starts well below $18,000, with an entry price of $13,300. This base model employs a 16-valve, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that will generate 122 horsepower and 115 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. It rides on 15-inch tires. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 31 miles per gallon highway and 26 mpg city.

All other versions -- the Soul+, Soul! and Soul Sport -- are equipped with the 2.0-liter inline-four with 142 horsepower and 137 lb.-ft. of torque coupled to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed manual transmission. Prices for these trims range from $14,950 to $17,900. The Soul+ is shod with 16-inch tires while the Soul! and Soul Sport get 18-inchers. Fuel mileage estimates on the 2.0-liter are 24/30 mpg for both transmission types.

The Soul zips around town breezily with its 34-foot curb-to-curb turning circle. In fact, Kia labels this five-door compact an "urban" vehicle. Others might call it a hatchback because of its easy lift access to a tidy cargo area, but I gotta agree with the automaker on this -- the Soul is a decent city car. It parks easily in tight spaces, maneuvers well and has a successful look going for it, just as many of its aspirational young buyers would want.

The compact Kia Soul comes with a good list of safety equipment. Models include full-length side curtain airbags, seat-mounted (front only) side-impact airbags, dual front airbags and active head restraints. Buyer confidence is further inspired by other important safety features, including Electronic Stability Control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes.

We all know the rational side of the small-car buyer chooses affordability, safety and fuel economy as primary reasons for the purchase. Kia understands the emotional side of buying a car, which involves design and passion. The Soul has it.

By Connie Keane

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kia Motors Named One of the Five Most Connected Brands by Consumer Guide® Automotive

Well-Known Automotive Resource Site Honors Kia Brand for Impressive Standard Vehicle Connectivity Features

# Kia recognized for offering vehicles with standard technology that helps consumers stay connected

# User-friendly features including Bluetooth® and USB and auxiliary input jacks puts brand at the top of the pack

IRVINE, Calif., September 1 2009 – Kia Motors America (KMA) today announced it was named to the "Five Most Connected Auto Brands" list by Consumer Guide Automotive ( The automotive resource site compiled a list of automotive manufacturers at the forefront of vehicle technology, recognizing Kia Motors for being ahead of the curve by offering standard audio and mobile phone interface features on new vehicles.

"In today's high-tech world, mobile phones and portable music devices are quickly becoming the norm," said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing of Kia Motors America (KMA). "We recognize the value of incorporating features such as Bluetooth and USB and auxiliary input jacks as standard equipment in our vehicles, thereby giving our drivers the freedom to stay connected safely and easily while on the road."

Brands included on the list were recognized for offering advanced yet user-friendly connectivity technology that enables today's consumer to easily connect with multiple devices while in their vehicle, including computers, mobile phones and MP3 players.

"Kia deserves this recognition for bringing MP3, digital music player and cell phone connectivity to the masses," said Ed Piotrowski of Consumer Guide Automotive. "Products such as the Forte and Soul demonstrate easy-to-use MP3 and cell phone integration that Kia has made available on nearly every iteration of these affordable cars."

Kia vehicles, including the Soul urban passenger vehicle, Forte compact sedan and Forte Koup two-door, offer an impressive array of standard technology features for tech-savvy drivers and passengers. With a standard AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system outfitted with SIRIUS Satellite Radio capabilities and three months complimentary service1 , standard USB and auxiliary input jacks in the center console with full iPod® and MP3 controllability via the audio head unit and steering wheel controls (achieved with an optional accessory iPod cable), and standard Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel-mounted controls enabling hands-free operation for all compatible cell phones, both drivers and passengers are sure to stay well-connected and suitably entertained.

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."