Monday, March 2, 2015

2014 KIA Soul Review - Tech Inside

It’s been a long time since we’ve done a Tech Inside. Perhaps this is the start of the beginning of more of these to come for our PhoneDog readers and viewers. I like to drive many vehicles, regardless of the attributes of the vehicle itself. If it has two wheels or four and a company wants to let me drive it, I’m in. So when KIA asked me to drive their 2014 KIA Soul, I said, “Why the hell not?”

Every single time I think about the KIA Soul, I'm reminded of the cute little hamsters in their commercials. I think of Maroon 5 and hip-hop. It’s weird, I know. Anyway, I woke up one cold December day, looked outside on my driveway, and there it was: a bright red 2014 KIA Soul. I thought to myself, "Oh boy." It was going to be an interesting seven days.

The year 2014 was an interesting model year for the Soul because it was the redesign year for the vehicle. It gained larger tail lights, a revised front facia, and the car's body grew larger. I thought it looked good.

The KIA Soul was never really my cup of tea. I love fast driving performance vehicles, so this Soul is a little out of my comfort zone. It has a 1.5L four cylinder engine pumping out 130 horsepower. It has even less in torque figures: only 118 foot-punds. Its price tag makes up for that, though, coming in at under $20,000. You can get a Soul for around $16,500 with plenty of options to make the vehicle much more comfortable.

So then I opened the door and looked at the interior. Man, oh man is this thing loaded. In recent years, KIA has stepped up its game. It's no longer a company plagued by its past of unreliable vehicles with crap interiors. It's are known for a few things now, one being spec’d out interiors. More on the others later. The Sould I drove was running Microsoft Sync on the dash, had Bluetooth streaming, satellite radio, HD radio, the whole nine yards. It had more options standard than any BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Audi has on their lists. It even had heated seats, which were going to be my best friends on those cold December nights.

The tech inside (just used the name of our series, ha!) of the KIA Soul was amazing. I was in disbelief. Usually, cars sent for reviews are maxed out in options list. Sometimes these options make these vehicles we drive fairly expensive. However, this Soul didn't follow the same path. It had options, but they weren’t expensive!

Using the technology in the KIA Soul was a pretty standard experience. I was not "wowed" by the tech; I mean, we’ve seen this interface on previous KIAs. It’s a quick, responsive system that's easy to use. It’s primarily a touch-based system, which is both good and bad these days. If this were 2008, I would say touch is 10 times better than any of those iDrive or "Kommand" systems found on the German executive vehicles, but touchscreen inputs can prove to be a bit finicky, especially while driving. It’s best if you input everything you need before you set off.

The media options inside the KIA Soul were also very impressive. I’m a proud supporter of independent music applications such as Spotify and I require Bluetooth streaming support in any vehicle I drive. Thankfully, the KIA Soul gave me just that. Setup was a breeze and the audio quality was impressive. I had upgraded speakers in my tester and they sounded great. There was even some mood lighting around the speakers. Also included are Sirius XM radio and HD radio, if you like that sort of stuff.

Now it’s on to the driving. The little 1.5L four-banger was fine. Don’t expect blistering acceleration runs and fast slalom times; this is a front wheel drive, under-powered city hopper. The plus side to this is miles per gallon, which I got plenty in my week of driving. With my lead foot, I managed more than 25 MPG. If I gave the KIA Soul to my mother (bless her heart), she could probably swing those numbers into the high 20s or even low 30s, as advertised by KIA. The engine noise is well muted. The cabin offers plenty of luxury features for the low price of entry. There is wind noise, though, mainly from the boxy shape of the thing. It's nothing extreme, but you should know that it's there.

My seven days of driving the Soul were pretty nice. I didn’t need to fill up the whole week and I managed a little more than 400 miles to the tank. I enjoyed the tech, the comfort, and the heated seats...I loved the heated seats.

So should you buy a KIA Soul? Honestly, if you want a city-hopper that has funk and a low price, why not? It’s a funky car for sure, and while its style may not be for everyone, KIAs are so good these days. The only thing some may consider to be is "bad" is the company's name, but that's not really a true negative. KIA has a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty on Soul's power train, which is literally the best in the business. I don’t understand why people complain about KIA cars anymore. They're fine machines and the Soul is one really does have a soul.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

SPY PICS: New Kia Sportage Here This Year

Kia's redesigned mid-size crossover will be preceded by a new Sorento seven-seater as Kia builds SUV momentum in 2015

Kia's next-generation Sportage is set to arrive in Australia late this year, bringing with it expected across-the-board upgrades in technology, safety, the potential of some slick new engines and a brand-new design.

Last year the Sportage was Kia's second-best selling model in the Australian market after the Cerato small car, and in the first month of 2015 it is the top-selling model, highlighting how crucial the SUV model is for the brand.

The fourth-generation model is expected to build on the popularity of the current model, priced between $25,990 and $41,590, by delivering an contemporary new look courtesy of Kia design chief Peter Schreyer and could make a surprise appearance at a major motor show in the next six months.

Following its global premiere, it will be launched in Australia late in 2015 -- if Kia Motors Australia CEO Damien Meredith gets his way.

"We're hoping to get the all-new Sportage in the last quarter of this year," he said.

"It's all-new, not a facelift," he clarified, stating that there would be no changes to the current Sportage until the new 2016 model arrives.

Meredith wouldn't be drawn on how the Mk4 Sportage's design will evolve, but previous spy shots and these fresh ones shot near the Arctic Circle (where Hyundai's new Tucson was spotted alongside), show it won't depart radically from the distinctive design motif that helped shape the Kia brand when it was first revealed in at the 2010 Geneva motor show.

"I haven't seen it yet but we've got the utmost confidence in our designers, engineers and R&D team and they haven't let us down in the last cycles of all vehicles.

"We're confident this will be a special SUV," he stated.

The current Sportage is offered with a pair of four-cylinder 2.0-litre engines – a 122kW/205Nm petrol and a 135kW/392Nm diesel – matched to front- and all-wheel drive systems.

European sources suggest that at least in some markets the new Sportage will bring improved 1.6-litre CRDi diesel engines and an upgraded 1.6 petrol, plus an all-new 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine and even Hyundai-Kia's 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four. At least the T-GDi engines will be matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Another feather in Kia's SUV cap for 2015 will the arrival of a brand-new Sorento here in June-July.

The Korean brand's big new seven-seat SUV will provide it with a more sophisticated product to take on sales leaders such as the Toyota Prado and Kluger, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Holden Captiva 7 and Ford Territory.

We reviewed the new vehicle during its international launch in the Spain last month and rated it highly following improvements in interior quality, practicality and overall refinement.

"We're getting an all-new Sorento half way through this year," Meredith confirmed to

"It'll get some of the tech about to debut on the new Carnival," he observed, perhaps referring to radar-based adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning systems.

"What it brings to us is a good competitor in that large SUV segment, a big segment. We believe we'll get more volume out of it. It'll be a real competitor"

Kia will also launch its new Optima in November, headlined by a new turbocharged performance hero car.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Kia's Compact SUV Firms

Small SUV from Korean car-maker will arrive "sooner rather than later"
The sub-$25,000 compact SUV segment is generating a huge amount of interest among car-makers – and buyers – but one brand that's conspicuous by its absence from the genre is Kia.

That situation is looking increasingly likely to change with more talk of an all-new city-crossover on the horizon.

Although there's still no firm timeline on when Kia will wade into the segment, which is dominated by vehicles such as the Holden Trax and Mitsubishi ASX in Australia, Kia Motors Australia CEO Damien Meredith told he expects his company's absence in the segment to be filled soon.

"I'm pretty sure there's a fair bit happening at Namyang in regards to that [compact SUV] for all markets."

He mentioned 'all markets' because Kia already sells a compact SUV, the KX3 (pictured), in China, while sister company Hyundai has the ix25 also available exclusively in China.

It has previously been stated that both Kia and Hyundai models are China-only vehicles, but Meredith implies that the KX3 and ix25 will be leveraged for mature markets such as Europe, the US and Australia.

"The group has two compact SUVs in regards to China. Whilst China is, let's call it, a segmented market, I think [those vehicles] will eventuate in other markets. So to answer your question I think, yes, it's sooner rather than later."

Kia's (and Hyundai's) German-born chief of design, Peter Schreyer, told at the 2014 New York motor show that the company needs a compact SUV, and one possibility is a production version of the Niro concept from 2013.

The influential Kia executive later expounded on his desire to produce a 'lifestyle' B-segment crossover akin to the Nissan Juke when interviewed at October's Paris motor show. But until we see a near-production concept it remains to be seen which design direction the new model will take – pragmatic or poseur.

Meredith said "I get the feeling that [KX3] will disseminate globally". But he also noted that a Cerato-sized SUV from Kia might impinge on one of its best-sellers, the larger Sportage medium SUV.

The latter starts at just $25,990 -- very close to some compact SUVs – but an all-new Sportage arriving here late in 2015 could head upmarket to accommodate a model like the KX3.

"There's been a bit of success with the competitors' [compact SUVs] so we have got to look at it seriously. But there's a lot of transactional pricing occurring where those base small SUVs are coming down in price to compete in the compact SUV market, that $25K, 26K bracket.

"We can get the volume and growth we require from Sportage at the moment but, having said that, I'd love one [compact SUV].

Kia, Hyundai and Toyota will be the most notable mainstream brand not represented in the growing compact crossover sector by the end of 2015 – a year in which it will have been joined by Renault (Captur), Honda (HR-V), Mazda (CX-3), Jeep (Renegade), Suzuki (Vitara), Fiat (500X) and Ssangyong (Tivoli).

"You always want to be in a segment that’s going to be successful," enthused Meredith.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Auto Body Shop Speaks Out About Insurance Scheme

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — 500 garages from 36 states have signed a lawsuit against top insurance companies.

Cloot’s in Westfield is one of those auto body shop’s that’s speaking out.

“Aftermarket…Aftermarket…Used…,” said Gary Cloutier from Cloot’s Auto Body.

Gary says this has been an issue for years. Auto insurers pushing cheap and dangerous repairs on shops.

“We’re being forced to use inferior parts which in turn is causing inferior repairs. Putting our customers vehicles in poor condition,” said Cloutier.

The aftermarket parts can pose serious safety issues. He showed us pictures of parts that auto insurers told him to put on. They don’t fit.

“When you take 10, 15, 18 parts collectively. Basically, the whole front of the vehicle. You try to put all that together. Now, you got the front of the nose on the vehicle that nothing matches off right,” said Cloutier.

He says insurance companies are making him use similar components rather than the actual one.

“Now you’re taking the potential of that airbag system, not triggering at the right moment. So, if it goes a hundredth of a second sooner than it should have. That’s the difference of a person getting injured or killed…or not.”

“Most if not all have preferred repair programs in place with local reputable auto body shops to protect the consumer from these types of practices. The insurance companies based here in ma can’t risk their reputations on delivering inferior repair parts to consumers,” said Stephen M. Brochu from AAA Pioneer Valley.

Calls out to other insurance companies in the area weren’t immediately returned.

Gary hopes the lawsuit will make sure insurance companies won’t have as much control over the repair process as they do now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kia Rio S Premium New Car Review

Cheap petrol prices may have shifted buyers attention away from small cars in recent months, but it hasn't halted a raft of new models arriving in the city car segment lately, led by the all-new Mazda2.

To keep pace with the competition, Kia has recently freshened its Rio family with updated styling – both inside and out – and a revised range of models.

What do you get?

The Rio slots right into the thick of the small car action with the entry-level three-door S starting at $15,990 plus on-road costs, and tops out at the moment with the Si at $21,490 plus on-roads. Higher grade Sport and SLi versions will be added later this year

In the middle is the new S premium we're testing here, which is only available in the five-door body style and costs $17,690 (plus on-roads) with a five-speed manual. The four-speed automatic version in our test vehicle adds another $2000.

All of the updated Rio models gain a new front and rear bumper design and a fresh grille, while the cabin features an upgraded centre console and audio system with higher-quality metal-look finishes throughout.

In basic trim, the Rio comes standard with cloth interior trim, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, six airbags and a full-sized spare wheel.

For the additional $1500, the S Premium brings extra goodies such as 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, electric folding wing mirrors, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter and a six-speaker sound system. But it misses out on features such as a reverse camera, sat nav and parking sensors that are available in rival models that cost less.

None can match Kia's ownership credentials, however, with the Rio covered by a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a capped price servicing scheme over the same period with 12 month / 15,000km intervals.

What's inside?

Even though the Rio misses out on some high-tech toys, the cabin presents itself with a degree of quality that's up there with the best in the class.

While the overall design is simple, the updated cockpit looks classy with its new centre console finished in piano black and highlighted by well-finished metal surrounds. Similarly, the audio system is pretty basic but its functions are easy to use, the Bluetooth connection is quick and intuitive and the new toggle switches for the air conditioning controls add a sense of youthful flair without being over-styled.

The rest of the cabin is more geared towards function rather than form, with plenty of storage holes in the centre console, twin 12V chargers as well as AUX and USB inputs and decent-sized door bins.

The front seats are comfortable, the instruments are clear and easy to read and there's good vision all around. In the back, there's adequate space for adults to travel without too much impediment, but they do miss out on rear air vents which is par for the course in this class. And while the 288L boot isn't the biggest in the class, it can easily cope with weekly family duties.

Under the bonnet

While the S Premium's 1.4-litre four cylinder produces numbers that match its rivals – generating 79kW of power and 135Nm of torque – it isn't as spritely as the slightly-larger engines in the Mazda2 and Honda Jazz.

That's largely because it only has a four-speed automatic – rather than six ratios in the Mazda or a seamless CVT in the Jazz – which makes it feel lethargic around town and needs to be worked hard to accelerate away from the lights, where it becomes a bit raucous at high revs. It also doesn't help at highway speeds, where the gearbox constantly hunts between third and top gear on inclines.

Nor does it aid its fuel consumption. While Kia claims the Rio S Premium has an average economy rating of 5.9L/100km – which is on par with most city car rivals but well behind the Mazda2's claimed 4.9L figure – we recorded 8.6L/100km during our mix of city and freeway driving.

On the road

As it does in its overall presentation, the Rio has a driving character that is greater than the sum of its parts.

There is nothing tricky about its mechanical set-up, but Kia Australia's investment in tuning its products to suit Australian tastes and conditions has resulted in a well-sorted small car that, while not setting any particular dynamic benchmarks, has no obvious shortcomings.

The electric power steering is well-weighted and has a more natural feel than some of competitors with good on-centre feel and decent response.

The suspension, too, offers a good balance between everyday comfort and predictable front-drive handling, and it is reasonably quiet at highway speeds with good isolation from wind and road noise.


The Rio isn't the freshest, most efficient or zippiest city car in its segment, and nor is it the cheapest and best equipped, but it stacks up well with the class leaders in terms of overall refinement and driving abilities.

On the strength of its comprehensive ownership credentials, it's the pragmatic choice for small car shoppers.