Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hyundai and Kia’s Peter Schreyer says evolutionary design changes are ‘dangerous’

The head of design for Kia and Hyundai says that the big changes to the look of each brand’s cars from one generation to the next are a necessity for both, and that continuing a slow evolutionary design path like some other automotive manufacturers would be dangerous.

Speaking to CarAdvice at the New York motor show last week, Hyundai and Kia’s group head of design, Peter Schreyer, said that the big design changes from the previous-generation Kia Sportage to the new model was done to take the design to the next level.

Asked why the new Sportage’s face is so distinctly different to its predecessor, Schreyer said: “I think the old Sportage is a pretty good-looking car, so when you do the next one, somehow do you make a successful car just by renewing it by something you hardly see, or do you really improve it so you make the next step?”

“I think it was good that we made the next step, but it still looks like a Sportage, you can still recognise it as a Sportage, and that’s the good thing about it.”

The Sportage is the first significant SUV from the group (the Sorento had a platform change with minor design changes) that has seen two generations under Schreyer’s design guide and it no doubt sets the scene as to the level of design changes we should expect from other new Schryer products.

“I think our ambitions are always high,” Schreyer said in response to whether other Kia product would see similarly significant design changes.

“It always depends on the project and I think we have the freedom to do it, and it really depends on the project. Of course we have to make some steps.”

Most interesting, however, are Schreyer’s thoughts on why Kia or Hyundai won’t merely create simple evolutionary design languages that brands such as Audi and, to a lesser extent, BMW, have followed for years.

“This kind of thing would be maybe dangerous for us to do. Especially if you look at the Korean market itself, where half the cars on the market are Hyundais and the other half are Kias. If we were do such a thing, all the cars would look the same and then [after a new generation] all the cars would still look the same, so I think we need to have a stronger differentiation.

“I think the good thing really is [that] Hyundai and Kia, they are dynamic, flexible companies. And the Koreans are very quick and demanding, so this gives us a chance to make the changes – it’s actually that they are asking for it, so I think it’s good that it kind of keeps us awake,” he said.

Schreyer was the designer of the original Audi TT and worked for the German brand in designing other models such as the A3, A4 and A6 and even the Volkswagen New Beetle. He was appointed the chief designer of Kia in 2006 before taking over design of both Kia and Hyundai brands in early 2013.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Kia proves hybrids can be cool too with 50 mpg Niro crossover

Hybrid can be a dirty word these days, especially in the New York automotive market. For those willing (or foolish enough) to brave New York City traffic, the ideal car looks good and feels comfortable, but the term hybrid, at least the connotation of it, runs antithetical to both those things.

Kia is hoping to start a new chapter in the Book of Hybrid with an all-new crossover SUV that's targeting a fuel efficiency of 50 mpg. But first, they need to convince people that hybrids can be cool.

Orth Hedrick, Kia's vice president of product planning feels the Niro will do just that.

“This basically answers the question in the hybrid space of having something that looks cool, that drives cool, still gets great mileage but has utility and versatility all in one package,” Hedrick said from the floor of the New York Auto Show.

In the late aughts and early 2010s, staggering gas prices made the sloping hoods, rounded roof lines and overall lack of sexiness on hybrid sedans like the Toyota Prius widely palatable. On top of that, the cost-savings at the pump helped make up the difference between the pricier hybrids and their conventional counterparts.

Today, with gas prices at or below $2 a gallon, the desire for fuel-efficient cars has gone the way of MySpace and the Zune. Now the focus is on the SUV. Drivers want to ride high, feel comfortable and have room to transport their stuff. Environmentalism be damned.

But Kia Motors America Chief Operating Officer Michael Sprague hopes buyers won’t be so short-sighted.

“I like to remind people that this is a point in time, we’ve seen this cycle before,” Sprague said. “While gas prices are low now, gas prices will not necessarily be low two months, six months, five years from now. Five years ago gas prices were four and five dollars a gallon and people were thought we were going to have high gas prices for the rest of our lives.”

Still, the current cost of gas could put Kia in tricky situation.

In 2012, a dedicated hybrid utility vehicle would have been a game changer, but the game has changed on its own, in a way that might not be so kind to the Niro. When it hits dealerships next January, it will enter a field of compact SUVs that's more crowded now than it's ever been, mostly by vehicles that aren't tied to the hybrid moniker.

"It’s a tough sell right now because customers really look at it as a practical thing," Hedrick said of the hybrid market. "(They say) ‘I’ll buy it if I can save some money down the road.’”

Without being able to offer the same return on investment that a 50 mpg hybrid provides to drivers in places like Japan and California (both of which employ aggressive cap and trade laws to curb pollution) to drivers elsewhere in the U.S., Kia has had to get creative to make the Niro marketable.

"Hybrid solutions up to this point have always been to maximize fuel economy and the tradeoffs associated with that are you give up a lot in space and design and drive performance and the overall ownership experience just to get that mileage," Hedrick continued. "So we backed off that just a little bit, enough to get a much better solution. It's basically offering choice in the market place."

That choice is a hybrid that doesn't look like a hybrid.

The Niro is hardly hulking, but it presents a much stronger image than that of the standard 50+ mpg vehicle. Sharp headlights, broad shoulders, sporty contours along the hood make and a roof overhang on the backside turn the stereotype of nebbish hybrid on its head.

Even Kia's signature tiger-nose grille adds a hint of meanness to the Niro's front fascia.

Much like the Soul, Kia's subcompact crossover, the Niro features elevated seats and provides more space inside than one might expect. The power seats are cushy and the cabin is roomy enough for a 6'2" auto writer to stretch his legs comfortably.

Like most hybrids, the Niro does have a sloping windshield to reduce drag, but it manages to do so without dramatically altering sight lines, an issue with some smaller hybrids like the Prius and Honda Civic. On the flipside, there also appears to be considerably more cargo space than the typical sedan hybrid, as one would expect from an SUV.

Though it will be absent from the initial batch of Niros, Kia’s “Drive Wise” advanced driver assistance system will be implemented in the line in the near future, Hedrick said. This includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane-departure assistance, all of which will serve as primers for self-driving Kias, which are set to roll themselves out by 2030.

“It’s our move toward autonomous driving, this is the first step and we’re centering it around safety,” Hedrick said. “Basically, it’s all the activity that the department of transportation is pushing for and it’s the next phase of automotive development.”

What Hedrick feels will most separate the Niro from other hybrids and keep it competitive in the compact utility vehicle marketplace is its drivetrain, which features a 103-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a 43-horsepower tractive electric motor as well as a six-speed dual transmission clutch, a first in the hybrid world.

To reduce the weight of the vehicle, Kia also swapped out the traditional 12-volt battery with a lightweight 1.56-kilowatt hour Lithium Ion Polymer battery, which is placed under the back seat.

A plug-in version of the Niro will debut late next year, Hedrick said.

Kia has yet to release a starting price for the Niro but expect it to notable increase from the Sportage, Kia’s current compact SUV, which starts just under $23,000.

Consider that the Soul EV, which was released on the west coast earlier this year and has a range of 93 miles, costs $31,950 (before a $7,500 federal tax credit) while the regular Soul has an MSRP of $15,800. Don’t expect the increase to be that drastic, but be prepared to pay a little extra for double the gas mileage of the Sportage.


Dealing with driving anxiety

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kia Motors America And B.R.A.K.E.S. Teen Pro-Active Driving School Extend Multiyear Partnership

To accelerate the education of teen drivers and their parents on safe driving practices, Kia Motors America (KMA)today announced an expanded partnership with B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe), a non-profit organization that provides free, hands-on defensive driving workshops in cities nationwide. The multiyear partnership is expected to double the number of teens and parents that receive the life-saving training. B.R.A.K.E.S. will use an expanded fleet of vehicles provided by Kia and increase the number of classes offered.

"Kia is committed to continuing to support B.R.A.K.E.S.' efforts to reduce teen traffic fatalities through hands-on defensive driving instruction," said Tim Chaney, vice president of marketing communications, KMA. "The B.R.A.K.E.S. program provides teens and their parents with high-quality individual training to help them make better decisions behind the wheel."

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15-17 year olds1 and the first six months of driving are the most dangerous.2During the months of March and April, B.R.A.K.E.S. workshops will be held in various cities nationwide, including the San Francisco, Orlando and Seattle metropolitan areas and Southern California. Visit to view the full list of available locations and dates and register for a school.

Major studies have shown that parents play a strong role in influencing teen driver habits. Teens with parents who set driving rules and monitor their activities are half as likely to crash, 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated, and 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone when driving and less inclined to speed3. Despite these sobering statistics, only 25 percent of parents have had a serious talk with their teen about the key components of driving4. B.R.A.K.E.S. directly addresses this issue. Parents participate in many of the same exercises to ensure proper driving techniques are reinforced following the session. According to a recent study, teens who complete the B.R.A.K.E.S. program are 64 percent less likely to be involved in an accident in their first three years of driving5 and 84 percent of all B.R.A.K.E.S. graduates since 2011 had no crashes.

Did you know?

•Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash6
•On average, eight teens lose their lives every day in vehicle crashes, or approximately 3,000 teens per year7
•A quarter of teens respond to at least one text message or have multi-message text conversations while driving8 ◦As a result, drivers under the age of 20 have the largest proportion of fatal accidents involving distracted driving9

Nearly 20,000 teens nationwide have graduated from B.R.A.K.E.S.' intensive half-day training course since 2008. Instruction includes a distracted driving exercise, emergency braking using the anti-lock braking system (ABS), evasive maneuvering and skid-control practice. Kia is the Official Vehicle and presenting sponsor of the B.R.A.K.E.S. Teen Pro-Active Driving School and provides a fleet of 44 new vehicles for school use. With Kia's support, B.R.A.K.E.S. continues to increase the number of schools offered and expand into new markets.

B.R.A.K.E.S.' free safe-driving instruction provides a low three-to-one student-to-teacher ratio to ensure personal attention. The training provides teens the tools they need to respond to scenarios they may face while on the road.

"Kia's renewed commitment will help us substantially increase the number of teens and their parents that receive life-saving training," said Doug Herbert, founder of B.R.A.K.E.S. and recipient of the Peter K. O'Rourke Special Achievement Award from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). "We aim to reduce traffic accident fatalities by providing teens and their parents with the training they need to make better decisions behind the wheel."

The B.R.A.K.E.S. Training Curriculum includes the following:

•Accident Avoidance/Slalom: This forces students to make a split-second decision to execute a quick, evasive lane change when encountering an unexpected object without losing control of the vehicle. Students must navigate their vehicle around cones while focusing on weight transfer, hand positioning and eye scanning.
•Distracted Driving: The course demonstrates the danger that cell phones, text messaging, and other distractions can pose while driving.
•Drop Wheel/Off Road Recovery: The drop-wheel recovery course teaches students how to effectively recover when one or more of their wheels veers off the road surface and onto the shoulder, regaining control of the car and safely returning to the roadway.
•Panic Stop: The panic-stop course instructs students on proper braking techniques to help stop a vehicle in the shortest distance possible while maintaining control. Students and their parents experience firsthand the pulsating brake pedal effects of ABS and how to control the vehicle when ABS is engaged.
•Car Control and Recovery: A wet skid pad simulates wet-road conditions. Students learn how to recover from both oversteer (rear wheel) and understeer (front wheel) skids.
•Other learning experiences vary by school but can include an eye-opening view from the driver's seat of a big-rig truck with a discussion about safe zones and blind spots, as well as demonstrations from police and fire-rescue agencies.


Monday, March 28, 2016

2016 Kia Optima Earns IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Award

The redesigned 2016 Kia Optima joins the ranks of midsize cars that have earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick+ award. The new Optima benefits from sharing a platform with the Hyundai Sonata, which also earned top marks from the IIHS.

To earn the Top Safety Pick+ award, a vehicle not only has to earn “good” ratings in all tests, including the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests, it needs to have an available front crash protection system and earn an advanced or superior rating.

The 2015 Kia Optima didn’t offer front crash prevention, which took it out of consideration for the top award. However, the new model offers it and was able to avoid collisions at both 12 mph and 25 mph. Last year, the Optima also only earned an “acceptable” rating on the small overlap test, which further hindered its performance.

Along with the 2016 Hyundai Sonata, the 2016 Kia Optima joins a number of other midsize sedans that have earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award for 2016, including the Chrysler 200, Honda Accord, Mazda6, Nissan Altima and Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, and the Volkswagen Passat.


Kia Unveils 2017 Hybrid & Electric Vehicles | Chicago Auto Show

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Four 2017 Kia Cadenza Facts From the New York Auto Show Floor

The Kia Cadenza was always kind of a forgotten car in the South Korean automaker’s lineup. It’s not that it was a bad car – it was a Big Test winner, in fact – it’s just that it easily got lost in the shuffle between the luxurious, LeBron James-approved Kia K900 and the upscale but budget-friendly Kia Optima. With the all-new 2017 Kia Cadenza, revealed this afternoon at the New York International Auto Show, Kia hopes to rectify that with a bolder design, more upscale features, and some semi-autonomous driving tech. Here are four minor details you may have missed from the new Cadenza launch.

Seoul by way of SoCal: The Kia Cadenza may be built in South Korea, but it was designed by Kia’s crack design team in California.

Carryover Engine, but new transmission: The Cadenza’s 3.3-liter V-6 may have carried over with just a minor power bump, but the transmission is new. The 2017 Cadenza’s eight-speed automatic is the first front-wheel drive application of that transmission from Kia, and we’re likely to see it proliferate across most of the lineup in the next few years.

Contouring Seats: To be completely honest, I’m not sure if this is a first or not, but Kia says the front seat cushions in the Cadenza are capable of twisting left and right (in addition to the usual range of motion) in order to help make the driver and passenger more comfortable.

Semi-Autonomous Tech: Kia’s “Drive Wise” semi-autonomous self-driving tech launches with the new Cadenza. The self-driving suite includes emergency braking, radar cruise control that can function in stop-and-go traffic, and lane keep assist tech.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Multi Award Winning Kia Cerato

An all-new body, new technology, more power and a more pleasant driving experience are all what all can enjoy in the luxurious Kia Cerato.

The Kia Cerato is one of the best-selling Kia model in the world today, a great contributor to Kia being recognized as one of the fasted growing automotive brands in the world today.

The Kia Cerato has won many prestigious awards since 2006 when it first got a totally new design by Kia’s Chief Designer, Peter Schreyer when he joined Kia.

Thereafter, having worked on other Kia models, such as Picanto, Rio, Sportage, Optima, Soul and Sorento, all of which won several prestigious designs and safety awards, Peter Schreyer again used his magic hands to bring about the stylish Kia Cerato.

Kia’s all new Kia Cerato is one of the most visually appealing cars in its price bracket with a great engine, a well-sorted chassis and a quality interior and boasts premium features to keep driver and passengers delighted.

Quality interior and handsome styling are what buyers today look for at affordable prices and the Kia Cerato has it all.

Side profile looks are brilliant with the curving, coupe-like roofline, cab-forward design and sophisticated four-window layout combining for a very contemporary look.

The Kia Cerato comes with heaps of standard and optional features and new hi-tech features, all available at an affordable value for money prices.


The multi award winning Kia Cerato is available in Sedan and Hatchback from Kia Motors Fiji Showrooms.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Kia uncovers all-new 2017 Cadenza at New York auto show

I wouldn't blame you if you have a difficult time remembering the Kia Cadenza exists. Along with the K900, the Cadenza sits at the bottom of the sales charts for the Korean carmaker, which is better known for its quirky Soul and competitive Optima midsize sedan. However, Kia isn't giving up on its full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan and has just uncovered a new second-generation model at the New York auto show.

Improvements begin at the foundation with a body structure that is now constructed from more than 50 percent advanced high-strength steel, which doubles what the original Cadenza was constructed from. More structural adhesives and hot-stamped areas further reinforce the body to help increase structural rigidity by more than 35 percent to better driving character, NVH and safety.

Additional dynamic improvements come courtesy of lighter aluminum suspension components, reengineered front and rear subframes, dual-valve amplitude selective dampers and an upgraded electromechanical power steering system that now features a 32-bit control unit in place of a 16-bit processor. Stopping muscle is also up with slightly larger disc brakes in front and rear, while the entire package rides on either 18- or 19-inch aluminum wheels wrapped with available Michelin tires.

To decrease NVH levels, the new Cadenza receives more acoustic absorbing laminate in the windshield and front windows, additional sound insulation around the A-pillars and a floor pan undercover that also helps improve aerodynamics.

An updated 3.3-liter V-6 engine will provide an estimated 290-horsepower with better fuel economy according to Kia. For reference, the 2016 Cadenza carries an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city and 28 mpg on the highway. The bigger news on the drivetrain front is a new, in-house-developed eight-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the old six-speed unit.

Visually, the new Cadenza receives a new front fascia that will be offered with two different versions of the company's signature tire nose grille. Lower trim models will come with the "diamond butterfly" mesh grille insert, while the higher-end models get a vertical blade insert.

Inside, the redone cabin features higher-grade materials throughout, a wraparound dashboard and real accent stitching. To dress up the cabin even more, Nappa leather with diamond quilted seat bolsters is optional. New technology features include an available head-up display, improved surround view monitor, smart automatically opening trunk and a wireless smartphone charger. All 2017 Cadenzas will come standard with the newest iteration of Kia's UVO infotainment system featuring both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. Audiophiles will have the option of equipping their Cadenza with a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.

Safety features such smart cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning will be offered. For a Kia-first, a smart blind-spot detection system will be available that identifies unintentional drifting toward an adjacent car and helps maintain an intended course by automatically engaging the opposite side front wheel brake.

Look for the 2017 Cadenza to arrive in Kia dealers late this year. Pricing will be made available closer to the launch, but should be in the ballpark range of the current model that starts at $32,990.


Kia Sorento Receives TrueCar Pre-Owned Value Award

In conjunction with the 2016 New York International Auto Show, the Kia Sorento is among the honorees for the first-ever Pre-Owned Value Awards (POVA) from TrueCar, powered by ALG. TrueCar's POVA recognizes model-year 2014 vehicles across 27 segments selling in 2016 that are expected to retain the highest percent of their value over the next three years. Sorento took the top spot in the midsize utility segment.

"Kia is honored that the Sorento is being recognized by TrueCar for its value in the pre-owned midsize-utility segment," said Orth Hedrick, vice president, product planning KMA. "With its extensive list of features backed by an industry-leading warranty, Sorento offers world-class design, technology and quality combined with the peace of mind that comes with making a smart purchasing decision."

This new award identifies previously owned vehicles that represent excellent value for consumers based on future resale value over the next three years. Winners are determined through careful study of used vehicle performance and forecasted future value driven by brand outlook, product competitiveness and other key metrics.

"The Kia Sorento offers consumers a compelling value proposition, providing additional space with more features and functionality versus similarly priced competitors," said Jim Nguyen, TrueCar EVP and general manager of ALG. "A smooth, quiet ride, available V6 engine and features like third-row seating, rear air conditioning, HID headlamps and blind spot detection set the Sorento apart from its competition. Additionally, improved quality and reliability as well as measured incentive levels all contribute to strong resale values."


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Kia brings on the funky style

In an election year, voters often wonder why one candidate catches fire while others, seemingly just as capable and appealing, go nowhere. Something similar has been going on in the automotive market. The “funky” segment is dying out, but Kia still can barely keep up with the demand for its subcompact Soul wagon – the funkiest of them all.

Among the models that have been pulled from the market are the Honda Element, Scion xB and Nissan Cube. We’ve test-driven all three; each was likeable in its own way. But only the Soul remains – and it’s selling better than ever. With 21,033 units sold in the first two months of 2016, the new Soul is beating its predecessor model by nearly 3,000.

Our test car was a 2015 Soul! (also known as the Exclaim), presented in a striking light-green color called Alien II. The 2016 model is little changed from the 2015, other than some telematic upgrades.

The Soul is marketed to a younger crowd, with a modest price – under $16,000 for the Base model – as well as loads of personality and some colors you’ll never see in nature. But the Soul also has attributes that appeal to older folks, which may help explain why it’s breaking sales records while its major competitors languish in used-car lots. It’s highly functional, with plenty of room for four or five passengers, ample space for luggage, great crash-test scores, a reputation for reliability, an attractive warranty, and easy access and egress for people of all shapes and sizes.

This diminutive four-door wagon is powered by one of two 4-cylinder engines – 1.6 liters and 130 horsepower, or 2.0 liters and 164 horsepower. Our Soul was equipped with the latter engine, and we were pleased with its performance. There’s little difference in fuel economy between the two, so the bigger engine is more desirable. Available transmissions include a 6-speed manual gearbox – offered only with the smaller engine – and a 6-speed automatic.

Most drivers, old or young, will be satisfied with the Soul’s interior accommodations. There’s plenty of room, front and rear; the telematic and climate-control systems are straightforward, and materials quality is uniformly high. We even took a shine to the multi-colored lights rimming the front speakers.

Although the Soul has been around since the 2010 model year, Kia curiously has not added all-wheel drive. And indeed, our front-wheel-drive test car had a hard time climbing our sloped driveway one February morning after a fairly light snowfall. But moving the car to a flat spot and applying the accelerator gently on the uphill stretch got the Soul up the hill.

Is all-wheel drive in the Soul’s future? Probably. Kia’s Trail’ster concept car, resembling a Jeep Renegade or MINI Countryman, was showcased at the 2015 Chicago auto show. But no formal announcement has been forthcoming … yet.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 Kia Optima vs Volkswagen Passat

The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are solid yet unadventurous picks, but for people who want something a bit different, there are other comparable yet not as popular family sedans that have a lot to offer. The 2016 Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat are two of these picks.

These two sedans seem to be forgotten cars in their segment, but they are both solid alternatives to the more mainstream picks. They are both good at different things and appeal to two very different types of buyers, but have their outsider status in common.

Starting in the Style Department

Put side by side, it’s obvious that the Kia wins in the style category. A more modern-looking sedan, the Optima’s high beltline and sculpted front end makes the car look more dramatic. In comparison, the Passat’s look is quite bland, though it is not ugly.

And that style carries over to the inside as well. The Kia’s quilted leather seats, brushed aluminum trim, and flat-bottomed, dimpled leather steering wheel really makes the interior look upscale. The Passat’s interior design, on the other hand, while luxurious and classy, gives off some old man vibes. The wood trim, analog clock, and typical VW styling really make this interior look uninspired in comparison. The Kia’s interior is more visually interesting and more youthful.

How Do the Drives Compare?

Again, this young versus old theme repeats itself in the driving dynamics of both sedans. The Optima’s steering is much more heavy and direct, where the Passat’s steering has a dead zone in the middle, so it doesn’t have a solid on-center feel and isn’t as responsive. The Optima also has selectable driving modes and aluminum pedals, two things that emphasize the focus on driving.

The Optima is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which comes online early at 1,300 rpm.

The Passat, on the other hand, is motivated by VW’s ubiquitous and award-winning turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 170 hp and 184 lb-ft or torque. If you did want to match the Optima’s numbers, you would have to upgrade to the 3.6-liter V6, which puts out 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

There is a big power disparity between the two sedans on paper, but on the road, the difference doesn’t feel that drastic. The 1.8L turbo is well-suited to the Passat, and even though it seems like such a small engine for a car this size, its performance is decent and it doesn’t feel any slower than the Kia, probably because the Passat is a couple hundred pounds lighter. The Passat is also much more fuel efficient, with the VW rated at 32.6 mpg while the Optima gets 27.6 mpg. I prefer the VW engine because performance feels comparable to the Kia’s, but is much more fuel efficient and feels more refined.

Comfort, Practicality, and Value

One of the first things you notice driving the Passat after the Optima is how much quieter the cabin is. The Passat is like a vault inside, with barely any wind, road or engine noise making its way into the cabin. It’s also much softer sprung than the Kia, so it is smoother and more comfortable when driving over rough roads. The Kia’s ride is harsher, but that also means it stays flatter in the corners.

The Kia officially has more passenger volume, and head, shoulder and leg room in the front seats. The Passat has a roomier rear seat, however, and the trunk looks bigger, but they measure out at an equal 15.9 cubic feet. Features-wise, the two are pretty well matched for the price, but the Kia has a few features the VW doesn’t come with like a 360-degree camera, ventilated seats, heated seats in the back and a huge panoramic sunroof. The VW is, however, less expensive and offers self-parking feature, but the Kia has it beat in terms of features.

The Verdict: 2016 Kia Optima vs Volkswagen Passat

The Kia Optima and the Volkswagen Passat definitely aren’t the first cars that pop into your mind when you think of mid-sized family sedans, but they both have more than a few redeeming factors that make them worth mentioning in the same breath as the top dogs in its class.

If you’re looking for a spacious, smooth and quiet car, then the Passat is perfect. It feels more mature and more geared toward an executive who wants a comfortable car, but it does blend in to the background.

But if what you want is something that stands out and has a sportier feel, the Kia is the better pick. The Optima has a better drive, a more exciting interior, and feels more youthful. You won’t get old man vibes driving the Kia, and it definitely makes a bolder statement.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

2017 Kia Rio Seen Undergoing Winter Testing

The 3rd and current generation of the Kia Rio has been doing well in Europe. However, competition is always tough in the subcompact segment, and the Korean brand now needs an all-new car to have a chance against models like the Opel Corsa, Skoda Fabia and Ford Fiesta.

Our spies stationed in Northern Sweden have caught up with a heavily camouflaged test prototype for the 2017 Kia Rio. It's cramming in a few more winter tests before making its official debut later this year, most likely at the Paris Motor Show.

Despite being covered in a black tarp and a thick layer of vinyl, we can see that the styling has changed in several ways. Kia can never be accused of making dull cars, and the Korean brand tries to reinvent all designs with each generation. Such was the case recently with the Sportage SUV and Optima mid-sized sedan.

The front end of the 2017 Rio seems to resemble that of the current Kia Forte model, although there should be several different versions of the Rio, depending on the market. The headlights will be available as projectors, and they may even have a full-LED option based on what we see in the spy video. The rear bumper seems to have a diffuser-like feature, and the taillights are very broad. Either they are cut in two by the opening of the trunk or the gate is stretched a la Opel Insignia and Audi Q5.

The general dimensions of this 5-door hatchback seem slightly bigger than before, and the wheelbase is indeed stretched. As with the Forte, the focus may be placed on offering more standard or optional features than we traditionally expect from this segment. For example, we see turn signals integrated into the mirrors and all-round parking sensors, likely linked to an autonomous parking option.

The new Rio will be available with its first 1-liter turbocharged engine. This 3-cylinder unit will feature a turbocharged intercooler and will be shared with the Carens. No word on gearbox options yet, but we'd like to see the old 4-speed being replaced by the 6-speed dual clutch unit Kia has developed.

About a month ago, the company confirmed that a hot version of the Rio was approved. It will be called the Rio GT and go on sale in 2018 with a 1.6-liter turbo delivering around 180 horsepower.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Scott Sturgis' Driver's Seat: Kia Optima EX lives up to its name

2016 Kia Optima EX versus 2016 Honda Accord V-6 Touring: Midsize duel.

This week: Kia Optima.

Price: $30,615 as tested. ($24,890 for a base EX; $21,990 for a base model). Options discussed later.

Conventional wisdom: liked the “quiet cabin; plenty of convenience and luxury features for the money; excellent blend of fuel efficiency and performance with turbocharged 1.6-liter engine” but not that the “sloping roofline makes for limited rear headroom; numb steering.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Discover the next generation Optima.” OK, so they save money on slogans.

Reality: The Optima finally lives up to its name.

The latest: Kia has continued its migration toward some very good vehicles throughout the 2010s, and the Optima is the latest participant in this movement.

Redesigned for 2016, the Optima now has a bigger, stiffer chassis than previous incarnations, meaning ride and roominess are improved, according to Kia.

On the road: The handling is not bad on country roads. The Optima won’t be confused for a BMW — or even a Mazda — but the steering feels more in control than many other sedans I’ve tested.
I certainly didn’t find it anything close to “numb,” as the Edmunds folks contend. We don’t usually diverge this much.

Up to speed: Performance from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine was not stellar, but the car gets onto highways without complaint. The 185 horses make some pep. (A 2.0-liter turbo produces 245 horsepower, and a new 1.6-liter turbo offers 178.)

Shifty: The Kia Optima has one thing sportier than its twin cousin — an automatic shifter that shifts crisply when controlling the gears yourself. The Hyundai Sonata I tested felt so dull and heavy that I kept it in automatic mode (although I’ve had readers tell me their Sonata shifter works just fine).

Driver’s Seat: The command center is comfortable and roomy. I never noticed the side bolsters, as side bolsters probably should not be noticed.

Heated and ventilated front seats are part of the $3,700 EX Premium Package, which also adds a panoramic sunroof, 8-inch navigation screen and more.

Gauge pod: The Optima also has well-placed gauges, so reading the temperature and gas gauge is far easier here than in the Hyundai — and in the Accord, actually.

Friends and stuff: Legroom across the rear is comfortable in all three locations, moreso than the Accord. Outboard heated rear seats are part of the EX Premium Package, and show Kia is not afraid to take on Lexus and Infiniti in the battle of creature comforts.

As for head room, nearly six-foot Sturgis Kid 4.0 didn’t mention a problem from the back seat, and he’s usually pretty vocal about his complaints. (Tree, meet apple, and not the not-far falling distance.)
The console has two smaller compartments in front of the gearshift for phones and whatnot, while the hideaway under the armrest offers plenty of space. Trunk room is generous at 15.9 cubic feet.

Play some tunes: The sound in the Optima is not bad but doesn’t match the competition from Honda for quality and richness. And this was with the $1,200 EX Premium Audio Package, featuring Harman Kardon QLS surround sound, plus the aforementioned rear outboard seat heaters.

Night shift: The EX Premium Package also provides LED interior lighting, which provides clear lighting with beautiful ambiance.

Fuel economy: I averaged 27 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat testing of highways and suburban roads, with a little bit of city driving added in. Regular unleaded is fine.

Where it’s built: West Point, Ga.

How it’s built: The Optima retains an “average” rating from Consumer Reports, down from “above average” in 2013-14.


2018 Kia Sorento Facelift Spied, Front Fascia Inspired by Sportage and Niro

When it comes to mid-size crossover SUVs on the cheap, the Kia Sorento is one of the cheapest. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, but that doesn’t translate to spartan. It’s well equipped from the get-go and it doesn’t look half bad. The third-generation Sorento may be two years old, but Kia is already working on an ample facelift.

The thing is, the Sorento borrows the upright tiger-nose grille from the Cross GT Concept, a design study which has been left behind by the styling language of the newest Kia products. I’m referring to the Sportage compact crossover SUV and the Niro hybrid subcompact crossover SUV. As you can see in the spy photographs below, the Sorento facelift will try to mirror the design language of those two models.

Other than the laboriously redesigned front end, the 2018 Kia Sorento facelift does not share the same codename (UM) as the pre-facelift. In one of the featured pics, there’s a little card in the windshield that reads “16 Sweden Winter Test; Vehicle: QM 2.0 T-GDI / AT (CHI / 2WD).”

It’s the QM codename that made me raise an eyebrow. From my point of view, the code-name change is a tell-tale sign that the changes will be more than skin deep. What sort of changes should we expect?

I’m sorry to disappoint but I don’t have a clue because nobody except Kia knows much about the facelifted Sorento. With time, the changes will be made public, one by one and little by little. The prototype with the card in the windshield, for example, is a front-wheel-drive Sorento motivated by a 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder engine fed by gasoline which churns out 240 ponies. Regarding cog-swapping, AT refers to the 6-speed unit, not the 7-speed dual clutch transmission of the Euro-spec Kia Cee’d GT Line model.

In other words, there’s nothing new as far as the oily bits are concerned. Still, I have this sneaking suspicion Kia engineers will focus more on the fine details (such as suspension refinements and better NVH) rather than making more considerable changes. On an ending note, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed Kia will adapt the hybrid underpinnings of the Sorento-based Telluride Concept into the Sorento hybrid.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kia’s 2017 Sportage has the “Power to Surprise”

What’s Good: Highly competitive pricing plus a bevy of standard features you might not expect.

What’s Interesting: Sportage makes hill descent control standard, a highly desirable feature found mostly in high-end CUVs.

Go anywhere in Canada today and you see the rise of the crossover, which presents any automaker with a big problem – how do I make ours stand out? I don’t think anyone really realized the compact CUV is like a Cuckoo bird chick pushing its siblings out of the nest, just as CUVs are doing to small sedans and wagons.

The migration to the compact CUV has become a full-blown stampede, with basic CUVs, entry-level luxury CUVs, premium CUVs – you name it.

The Japanese had what we now consider a CUV for years, until someone at Toyota had the bright idea to bring one to North America, which resulted in the 1995 RAV4 followed swiftly by the Honda CR-V, the Subaru Forester – and you know the rest.

In Korea, Kia had been building a very basic CUV based on the Mazda Bongo from 1993-2004, followed by a second generation that went on until 2010 selling in small numbers and which was largely ignored.

But by then Kia had entered the Peter Schreyer era and a lot of things began to change very quickly.

And one of those changes was styling. Schreyer and his team’s work on the Sportage transformed it from wallflower to a belle of the ball almost overnight.

It’s hard to believe the new, 2017 is only the fourth generation Sportage, and goes back some 23 years. But Kia has never strayed far from a winning formula.

"I don’t think anyone really realized the compact CUV is like a Cuckoo bird chick pushing its siblings out of the nest, just as CUVs are doing to small sedans and wagons."

Like the previous generation, the new Sportage comes with two engines and a choice of front- or all-wheel-drive with a six-speed automatic transmission.

On the base LX and EX, the primary engine is a direct injection 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder with 181 hp and 175 lb/ft of torque. On the two, topline models, the EX Tech and SX, there is Kia’s potent 2.0-litre twin turbo four-cylinder with 237 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque in AWD form only. Both the 2.4-litre and 2.0-litre run on regular fuel and towing for each is up to 2,000 lb, when properly equipped.

A standout for the Sportage is the standard Down Hill Descent Control (engaged by a button on the centre console) which is usually found on SUV/CUVs costing double or triple the cost of a base Sportage LX.

On a steep incline, punch the button on the centre console and computers take over and allow the Sportage to go down at a steady 8 km/h without the driver touching the brake or gas pedals.

During the launch of the new Sportage, Kia let us go off-road near Vernon, B.C., on a rutted, soggy path, including a steep incline, in the woods with deer literally on both sides watching our progress.

Friends, I simply cannot, as much as I have tried, switch on downhill control, nose over and plunge down to a forest floor without having my foot on the gas or brake pedal. So I let someone else take over as I held my breath, closed my eyes while the deed was done with no drama whatsoever.

While the 2017 Sportage may look similar to the outgoing 2016, there are some subtle but important differences.

There are two separate nose treatments for cooling reasons, depending on engine choice. And, if you look closely, the area where front fog lamps used to be is now a duct to feed cooling air to the front brakes. Sportage features an innovative dual-level cargo floor and a widened luggage area resulting in cargo capacity behind the second row that has grown substantially from 739 litres (26.1 cu ft) to 869 litres (30.7 cu ft) by (US) SAE standards. By relocating the license plate from the bumper to the tailgate, the lift-over height has been lowered for easier loading and unloading. A Smart Power Liftgate, which automatically opens when the key fob is within three feet of the vehicle, is also available. During the press launch of the Sportage, Kia made the full model lineup available to autowriters.

One of the feature which should attracted Canadian intenders is the availability of Kia’s Magna Canada sourced Dynamax intelligent AWD system, which is available on every trim and features a 50/50 locking centre differential. The system senses, anticipates, and optimizes traction needs for all road and weather conditions.

I wish I had room to delve into the over-flowing cup of connectivity, but suffice to say the new Sportage is the first Kia to offer UVO3, featuring Android Auto, Apple CarPlay (April availability), 14 telematics services, and eight GB of music storage and all free of charge.

But that is what Kia does, isn’t it? They call it “The Power to Surprise” and I couldn’t agree more.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Eat and Drive Tampa-Style in the 2016 Kia Optima

For folks wanting to take a weekend jaunt for the spring should put Florida high on your list and make it Tampa where the food, activities and just good time is as easy. On a recent trip to Tampa my time consisted of some quality pampering as I enjoyed two very different types of spas and amazing meals each experience with its own unique impressions.

First however, consider your set of wheels while in Tampa and consider the 2016 Kia Optima. For Kia loyalists you are already going to know that the 2016 Kia Optima is a sporty option in the midsize segment, but offers plenty of hip styling as a sedan. The Optima has also been completely redesigned this year too.

This year the Optima is a bit longer and wider, but the real differences will come in the overall functionality of the 2016 offering. Holding up to five passengers, the 2016 Kia Optima offers LX, EX, SX and SXL trim levels and the SX turbocharged I drove got me 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 miles per gallon on the highway at a price tag of $33,219.

There is an excess of features, functions and add-ons for the Optima depending on the trim level so it is easy to say that there is something for everyone.

Inside the 2016 Kia Optima even if not the top of the line leather upholstery, there is still plenty of room and it feels good inside. There is a nice center stack and the armrests are quite comfortable as are the front seats overall. It feels good sitting inside either behind the wheel or as the co-captain.

In the back seat the passengers will not be as comfortable since the roofline takes some of the headroom out. There is enough legroom overall and the seats are wide. For hauling you get 15.8 cubic feet and that is about the same as the competition.

Behind the wheel of the 2016 Kia Optima there is plenty of get up and go and on the seven-speed you can really get behind the power to take the roads and curves with ease. For the turbo engine you are going to like the sportier suspension too, but overall, it is a performance induced ride that will have you enjoying your Tampa vacation as you discover the city.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Scoop: Kia Readying Sorento For A Major Facelift?

Our man with the long lens caught a couple of heavily camouflaged Kia Sorentos resting on a truck, showing the brand’s intentions for the future of their full-size SUV.

It’s been about two years since we first saw the Kia Sorento, the brand’s second model to be built at the company’s US plant in Georgia.

Instead of the regular nip and tuck, Kia could be working on a much more deep update as our man spotted a little sign card that gave away the new internal code ‘QM’ for the Sorento.

Although our info is limited at this point, we can expect Kia pushing the updated Sorento to a more upmarket territory of the segment. Rumors suggest though that we won’t see the model in its final production form until 2018.

The heavy camouflage in combination with thick layers of snow does the job of hiding the differences brilliantly. We can see though that Kia is planning to replace the usual: front grille, lights all-around and bumpers, probably to keep the Sorento in line with the rest of the range.

But the new internal code should mean than the Korean company might to present some bigger changes under the skin, including engines and suspension.


Hyundai Motor Group Expands More Models Adopting Artificial Intelligence Systems

According to industry sources on March 12, Hyundai Motor Group, the world's fifth-largest automotive group, has recently adopted Google's Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay systems, and it also plans to increase car models featuring Android Auto and CarPlay and expanding the technology application of vehicle infotainment systems in the future.

An official from Hyundai-Kia Motors said, “The company will continue to step up its efforts to provide the convenience to more drivers through Apple’s CarPlay and Google's Android Auto systems, and to expand car models with the systems in the future.”

Hyundai Motor has offered Google's Android Auto system in the 2016 Sonata model, which was released in the North American market in May last year, and both Apple’s CarPlay and Google's Android Auto systems in the 2017 Elantra, named Avante in Korea, in January this year. Apple’s CarPlay and Google's Android Auto are integrated programs that connect iPhone and Android smartphone apps to the vehicle's infotainment system, enabling drivers to easily use their major functions through Siri voice control and a touch screen. In particular, the systems make it easy to use navigation systems, stream music and make phone calls via the vehicle’s digital display so that drivers can focus on driving.

With Apple’s CarPlay, drivers can easily operate functions by activating Siri through the steering wheel's voice button and touching the screen with their fingers. Connecting with Apple maps, the system can also predict where drivers most likely want to go using addresses from their email, texts, contacts and calendars, and gives drivers a safe way to call back missed calls, send text messages, listen voice messages while driving.

Google’s Android Auto can be used after drivers connecting their smartphones to the vehicles and touching an Android Auto icon on the display. The system also can make phone calls, answer phone calls, and receive and send text messages. In addition, it can stream music, set up the destination, check phone calls and calendar events through voice command.

Globally, Apple’s CarPlay is already used or will be used in more than 100 models from 23 auto brands, including Hyundai and Kia Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen. Google’s Android Auto is available in 11 countries, such as the U.S., Germany and the U.K.

Apple’s CarPlay available is also available to owners of the 2016 Sonata, a model with Google’s Android Auto system that was released last year, when they buy an SD card with a new software update. Kia Motors has also offered Google’s Android Auto system in the 2016 All New Optima K5 and the 2016 Sportage, and it will adopt Apple’s CarPlay in its models in the future.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Kia Soul Vs. Honda Fit: Compare Cars

The Kia Soul and Honda Civic are both boxy small cars with remarkable interior space. The Soul is a style-first urban warrior whose attraction lies in its practicality and cheeky character. The smaller Fit sits at the top of the economy car segment, with a supremely flexible interior and combined EPA fuel-efficiency rating of 36 mpg.

Even small passenger cars are now giving way to miniature crossover SUVs, but which of these two practical small cars suits you best?

Now in its second generation, the Soul's boxy profile is distinctive and appealing. The design has a blunt front end, with a roof that "floats" over a blacked-out greenhouse. The rear end is dominated by tall tail lamps, with bug-eye headlights up front. Somehow it all works, and the Soul capitalizes on the silhouette by offering a lot of space for people and cargo. It's less funky inside, with grown-up soft-touch materials, as well as some extras like ambient lighting.

The Fit is a more conventional small, tall five-door car with body creases and other design tricks to hide its boxy, almost wagon-like shape. But it somehow comes across as cheerful, almost perky, unlike more sedate small cars that attempt to ape larger models. Its interior is more stylized than that of the new Civic, and mostly composed of gray and black plastics. A large circular molding around the speedometer in the instrument cluster is unusual, and the central display or touchscreen is slightly canted toward the driver.

Soul vs. Fit: performance

The Kia Soul comes with a choice of two engines, but we recommend against the base 1.6-liter four, with an output of just 130 horsepower, unless you’re getting the 6-speed manual gearbox. A 6-speed automatic is optional. A more powerful 164-hp 2.0-liter, direct-injection four comes only with the automatic. Unusually, the larger engine gets better EPA fuel efficiency ratings: 1.6 models are rated at 24 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined, while the 2.0 versions come in at 24 mpg city, 31 highway, and 27 combined. The Soul isn't particularly sporty, but it's quick enough with the larger engine—although tall gearing means frequent downshifts on the highway, and the transmission can hunt on long grades.

The Honda Fit has only a single engine, a 130-hp 1.5-liter four with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard. Most Fit buyers order the continuously-variable transmission (CVT) that does far better on fuel efficiency, at 33 mpg city, 41 highway, and 36 combined. That puts the Honda at the head of its class in EPA ratings. It's done a decent job of making the CVT tolerable, and the Fit suppresses most exterior noise fairly well even at speeds well above any U.S. speed limit. Ride is well-controlled, but the body leans on cornering.

The Honda Fit has a more refined ride than it did in the past, and it's agile, with responsive steering and handling. Still, the driving experience isn't quite as fun as in earlier generations, or competitors like the Ford Fiesta. That may be just fine for buyers interested in maximum versatility and fuel economy at a reasonable cost.

Soul vs Fit: comfort and quality

The Kia Soul offers a tall and spacious cabin in a small footprint. The front seats are comfortable, with usefully long seat cushions, and head and leg room in back is impressive for two riders, though the subcompact width precludes a third passenger. All seats are higher than those of an economy car, making it easy to get into or out of. Interior materials are simple, blending style and practicality. The only flaw is engine noise, which is loud on acceleration but often noticeable even while cruising.

Despite its small size, the Fit holds four adults. The front seats are particularly comfortable, but the aptly-named "Magic Seat" is the big win. The rear seats fold and flip to create a cargo area from the floor to the roof, while the front seats recline to create an upholstered interior platform. The littlest Honda wins hands-down for interior adaptability. Among small and affordable hatchbacks, the new Fit suppresses most exterior noise fairly well.

Soul vs Fit: safety and features

The Soul gets five stars overall from the NHTSA, including five-star scores in every category except rollover resistance, where it gets four stars. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. You can opt for forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning systems on high-end models, but they don't include automatic emergency braking.

The NHTSA gives the Fit an overall rating of five stars, with five stars on all tests save for four in rollover resistance. The IIHS rates the Fit as "Good" on most tests, with "Acceptable" (one notch lower) on the new small-overlap crash test. Those IIHS scores are strong enough to merit a Top Safety Pick award. A rearview camera is standard, and a right-side-view camera is optional on higher trim levels, but conventional blind-spot monitors aren't available.

The base 2016 Soul starts just under $16,000, with standard alloy wheels. You can add a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and cooled/ventilated front seats for a four-figure premium. Connectivity and infotainment hardware—and the optional navigation system—are fully up to snuff with the systems available in pricier premium vehicles.

The 2016 Honda Fit starts at the same $16,000 level, though the CVT adds $900 to the manual-equipped base car. All Fits include power windows and locks; air conditioning; keyless entry; cruise control; an AM/FM audio system with a USB port and Bluetooth with audio streaming. Options include a sunroof; heated front seats; leather upholstery; and a navigation system.

In our reviews, the Kia Soul outscores the Honda Fit by 8.6 to 8.2, beating the Fit on design, and interior comfort and quality. If you prioritize fuel economy, on the other hand, the Fit is higher. Either one is a good choice for buyers looking for a small car with big space inside, but the Soul is a slightly better choice for the money.


Don Adair: Made-over Kia Optima is confident in own skin

Though you won’t notice it at a glance, Kia’s midsize Optima sedan is fully redesigned this year.

Like most cars undergoing generational change, the Optima ($22,840, including destination) is a little larger this year. Its cabin is roomier, quieter and more luxurious. Its cabin-tech array grows richer.

The Optima’s platform is lighter, stiffer and stronger. Myriad suspension tweaks — including a longer wheelbase — bring a new sense of refinement. A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine expands the powertrain lineup to three.

These are big changes; yet, aside from a nip here and a tuck there, there’s little to visually distinguish this car from its predecessor. Nothing screams “I’m new! Pick me!”.

The Optima has shed its previous bargain-basement aura and, with it, any need to prove itself. It’s not yet the equal of the segment’s best, but it holds its own in a very good field.

As always, Kia raises the bar with abundant standard features and the availability of so-called “class-up” options.

Every Optima includes full power accessories, cruise control, A/C, a six-way power driver seat (including power lumbar), a rearview camera, alloy wheels, a 5-inch central display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a fully equipped six-speaker sound system.

Available driver-assist technologies include adaptive cruise, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking assist, front collision-warning, lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking.

Also available: road-searing bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights with automatic high beams and adaptive bending lamps.

The Optima is also the first Kia to offer Harman Kardon's Quantum Logic surround sound. The 10-speaker, 630-watt system employs H/K’s Clarifi, a technology that reconstructs audio signals lost during digital compression.

A trio of four-cylinder engines brings the power. There’s a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four that makes 185 horsepower; a 245-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four; and a new 1.6-liter four, also turbocharged, that makes 178-hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. The first pair are mated with a six-speed automatic, the third with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

Optima press materials nod to “athletic” and “sporty” but, though it’s composed and serene, the Optima lacks a sporty dynamic. Body control during cornering is very good and the suspension adjustments improve composure on rough surfaces. But, whether the drive mode is set to Sport or Normal, the Optima’s responses are measured. Its power-assisted steering system provides scant feedback, and turn-in is vague.

With its turbocharged, 245-hp mill, sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch alloys, my SX Turbo tester ($30,640) — the sportiest Optima — never provoked me into anything like road-play. Optima feels engineered to convey a sense of luxury-by-isolation, the kind of feel Lexus rode to popularity.

Accordingly, interior design is clean, simple and elegant. Simple design updates — a horizontal dashboard layout, wider console — lend a spacious, open feel. Controls are simplified, encouraging less reliance on the touchscreen and more on hard buttons, and ergonomics improved.

The infotainment system now includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The made-over Optima improves in all the ways it needs to; just don’t expect to see it all at a glance.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

First Drive: Chasing a 350 Foot Serpent in the 2017 Kia Sportage

The twisty mountain roads of the Colorado Desert seem like the absolute worst to place on earth to test a benign little family crossover, but here we are behind the wheel of a 2017 Kia Sportage. These high desert roads deep in San Diego County seem built for the Porsche 911, the Shelby GT350, or the BMW M3, not the Kia. And yet, it’s surprisingly lively, almost… fun. Surely the hairpins and drops will show all the shortcomings in its chassis, cross-up its six-speed automatic transmission, make its tires beg for mercy – but no, it handles it, all of it. From the brand “least likely” to a few years ago comes a smart, stylish, well-built crossover that actually knows how to have a good time.

It’s difficult not to begin a piece on Kia or its sister brand Hyundai and not mention their astonishing growth over the past decade and a half. But even Kia gets in on the game, framing the new Sportage as its next logical step on its journey from bargain-basement also-ran to equal of Honda and Toyota. “Rock and roll history is filled with countless stories of innovation and reinvention,” a rep says at the Sportage launch, returning to the music theme the brand has used in its advertising since the Soul was introduced in 2009. Kia wants the Sportage to “stand out in a sea of beigeness,” to connect with the ‘urban pioneer,’” to have its “Euro-centric” design resonate with a generation that seems more interested in good infotainment systems and having enough room for a big Costco run than an emotional connection with their car. So will it work? We happen to think it will.

For starters, the Sportage is a popular nameplate for an increasingly popular brand. Kia sold over 625,000 cars in the U.S. 2015, and over 50,000 of those were Sportages – a 25% increase over 2014 sales. And despite being a lame-duck model, sales are up for ‘16 models too. By the time you read this, the ’17s will be on their way to dealerships around the country, and the number of improvements to the model won’t just overshadow the current crossover, they could bump the Sportage to the top of the compact crossover heap – no small feat considering it’s competing for market share against the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4.

The 2017 Sportage is improved inside and out in a ways that should be catnip for crossover buyers. The new UV03 infotainment system is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but also takes its cues from the phones by utilizing a “pinch to zoom” feature and allowing users to swipe between screens, which should make it one of the most user-friendly infotainment systems on the market.

Inside, it has more soft-touch materials in the cabin than most of its competitors, giving its interior quality that punches well above its weight. It’s the widest crossover in its class (73 inches), and it’s grown 1.6 inches overall, which helps account for the 18% increase in cargo room to 31 cubic feet. And to access the rear hatch, you don’t need to pull any handles or wiggle your foot under the bumper; there’s a proximity sensor that will detect the key fob and open it for you, making the grocery store run easier than ever.

Under the skin, Kia has used a structural adhesive that bonds panels to the frame and greatly reduces squeak and rattle. Its monocoque chassis is made of 51% advanced high-strength steel, making the new model 39% more rigid and 55 pounds lighter than the outgoing Sportage, which makes it feel sturdier and more confident in the corners.

Deeper still, a new front and rear subframe design makes the ride smoother and quieter, bigger brakes shorten stopping distance by 12%, and the drive-by-wire steering system has been revised for better road feel and quicker inputs, thanks to a faster processor. Engines are carried over from the current model, with the 2.4 liter four coming standard, and producing 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0 liter turbo, which produces 240 horsepower/260 pound-feet is available on EX and SX models. Mated to a revised six-speed automatic, they both return 1-2 miles per gallon better fuel economy (depending on front- or all-wheel-drive) than the outgoing model.

The Sportage also benefits from an all-new Dynamax all-wheel drive system developed by Magna, as in Magna-Steyr, builders of the Mercedes G-Wagen and other models. Using predictive software and ECUs mounted fore and aft, the system transfers power between the front and rear wheels in real time, adapting and outperforming most current all-wheel drive competitors. With AWD sales taking off in Northern states, Dynamax-equipped Sportages – with their revised front fascia and steeper departure angle – could become a common sight fairly soon.

Which brings us to the drive. We had the opportunity to put a front- and all-wheel drive 2.0 liter TDI SX (the top of the line, starting at $32,500, base LX models start at $23,885) through their paces, and both proved well up to the task. Fit and finish is very good, and in Burnished Copper (the color of our FWD tester) it really looks striking. It has plenty of good and bad angles, but it’s all of a piece, and certainly one of the bolder crossovers in the segment. Designed between Munich and Seoul under styling chief Peter Schreyer, it’s the anti-CR-V or RAV4 in the sense that you probably won’t lose yours in the Target parking lot anytime soon. For that alone, we’d probably take one over either Japanese stalwart.

Inside, the leather seats wouldn’t be out of place in a Toyota or Lexus. Nothing feels cheap, and the UV03 is clean, quick, and as simple to use as advertised. The optional panoramic sunroof is perfect for taking in the sweeping desert vistas, and thinner A-pillars help to make it that rare crossover that doesn’t feel like you’re driving a rolling gun bunker.

Switching back and forth between pavement, gravel, sand, and the occasional farm field, both front- and all-wheel models performed nobly, with nary a misstep. If you don’t plan on doing any soft-roading or dealing with snow, we’d recommend the front-wheel model. The Dynamax system is seamless and impressive (Kia recommended we do a hard launch with the front wheels on pavement and the rear on dirt or gravel to show how quickly it worked), but after driving the front-wheel version first, the AWD model is a bit slower on the throttle.

And that 2.0 liter TDI is a gem. It makes excellent use of its power at the low end, is peppy and responsive, and sounds far better than we expected it would. The six-speed auto does its job quietly and without getting in the way, and while the different drive modes were nice to have, the handling was crisp and engaging enough that sport mode seemed to make little difference. But then, if the Sportage can handle mountain twisties with ease, it’ll probably inject a little fun into your daily commute too.

At the end of Kia’s designated circuit in the tiny town of Borrego Springs, the gathered auto press had lunch then turned around to head back to San Diego. But Borrego Springs is home to Galleta Meadows Sculptures, where artist Ricardo Breceda has built over 130 massive steel sculptures on the desert floor, wild horses, to dinosaurs, to a massive 350 foot long giant serpent that looks like it’s slithering beneath the barren highway. We barreled South looking for it, past the steel cowboys, eagles, and camels, but couldn’t see a 350-foot anything – and from our vantage point we could see for miles.

Turning around and heading north, it slowly began to loom above the horizon, rippling in 90-plus degree heat. Well outside of town, and well away from everything else, there it was, furious and inanimate, silently oxidizing in the desert air, a massive scaled beast that looked like it slithered out of a Japanese woodblock print. It all seemed like an apt metaphor for Kia (outside a place that lent its name to one, no less): After a long, punishing journey, it caught up to the towering figure it was chasing all along. The 2017 Sportage is as good as anything to come from its older, more established competitors. Get used to mentioning Kia, Honda, and Toyota in the same breath – we expect a number of new crossover buyers will.