Sunday, May 24, 2015

2014 Kia Cadenza: I'm Lovin' It

I'm about to make a pretty bold statement: I love our long-term 2014 Kia Cadenza. Like, legitimate love. I've been driving it for more than a month now, and I'm living in a state of fear that one of the other staffers might to try to take it away from me. There is just so much to love about this car!

Loaded With Luxury

I'm a luxury girl through and through, and the Cadenza offers all the high-end features you'll ever need: dual-zone automatic climate control, a lane-departure warning system, a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats plus heated rear seats, a backup camera and an 8-inch touchscreen with Kia's UVO infotainment system and navigation. Seriously, why haven't I seen more of these cars on the road? At around $40,000 new or $27,000 used, the Cadenza is currently one of the best deals going.

Pretty Perfect

The Cadenza is a good-looking car that constantly conjures second glances from people trying to figure out what it is. Every time I walk up to it in a parking lot, I'm reminded of how attractive it is. It's like a favorite pair of shoes that make you feel prettier when you wear them (I'm looking at you, Jimmy Choo sparkly pumps). The interior is just as nice, too, with its beautiful 2-toned seats and luxurious leather finishes.

A Few Flaws

OK, the 2014 Kia Cadenza isn't perfect. There are a few names in my address book that the voice command system simply can't figure out (just an FYI, saying them louder doesn't help). Also, if I'm on the phone and get in the car, the call won't switch over to Bluetooth, which drives me crazy. But I'm more than willing to live with these flaws when the Cadenza is otherwise so good. I can't help it; I'm smitten.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Kia Koup is Coming Back!

PETER Schreyer, the former Audi designer, has done wonders for the Kia brand. He has transformed the brand into a company that just sold cars into an organisation that sells gorgeous and sensuous-looking machines that people want.
Just about any and every vehicle in its range is good looking and coupled with the brand’s philosophy of equipping their cars to the quilt, makes for an attractive proposition anywhere around the world, including in Malaysia.

When the Kia Forte was first launched in Malaysia, it not only made heads turn, it also represented a value-for-money buy. It was equipped with features that more superior class cars came with. It, of course, sold like to hot cakes.

Then Naza Kia decided to bring in the Kia Koup, a two-door version of the Forte that was fully imported and also came with its own individualistic superior features. Better still, it was not only attractive in appearance, it had a premium feel to it, a feeling one gets from a German car.

At a reasonable RM115,000, this car also sold well. It had all the right makings of a car demanded by a growing population of youngsters wanting a cool and sport car with a sensuous design and all the features available. And with attractive colours too.

With the introduction of the Kia Cerato in Malaysia, it was just a matter of time before the Koup was launched. This car was displayed at Kia’s huge roadshow at the 1Utama shopping complex recently. It was truly the star of the show.

It has not been launched to the public yet but was on display as a preview. According to Naza Kia officials, the company has projected a price tag of RM150,000. This is surely far higher than its predecessor.

We were given an opportunity to find out just why this car had to be priced higher, very briefly.

It wasn’t too different than the Cerato, except for the two doors. It comes with HID headlamps and as usual, the frameless doors.

Sitting inside, it immediately felt premium, with leather trimmings all over the interior. But it was a marked improvement over its predecessor though.

It now, in as much as feeling like a premium car, feels like a sports car. Everything is firm and tight, from the steering wheel to the gearshift. It seats feel more snug and sporty.

The seats are also perfect for our Malaysian weather as it comes with air ventilation, either hot or cold. And there’s keyless entry too. The start/stop button looks its from a sports car.

For some who just love sunroofs, this car has it. For added convenience, the Koup comes with dual zone full automatic air conditioner with cluster ioniser and the 4.2-inch TFT LCD supervision cluster.

This car was equipped with a 1.6-litre turbocharged GDI engine, which is better than a naturally-aspirated 2-litre motor. It had the torque when you needed it and the 201hp power plant is wanting in any way either. It is able to do the century in 7.4 seconds.

A 6-speed automatic transmission is mated to this engine, which works well. The shiftronic is immediate and doesn’t have a lag before switching gears.

Handling the twisty bits wasn’t an issue. It did feel a little nervous at higher speed corners but tends to behave itself in and out of it.

In all this, the car feels firmly in control, with the car’s Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS) with Flex Steer. When it is on Sport, it is very well weighted.

The other two modes; comfort and normal, just enables easier driving in the city traffic and manoeuvring tight parking spots. This is further helped by the front and rear parking assist system.

The Kia Koup comes with 6 airbags.

All in all, the Koup has vastly improved over its predecessor. And quite frankly, when Naza Kia says they’re looking at RM150,000, they’d probably achieve a price tag far better than that.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Kia Optima Hybrid

Kia got us all worked up earlier this year when it displayed the Sportspace concept at the Geneva auto show: we car folks tend to like wagons an awful lot, and this was just the right kind of wagon, with rakish lines and looks that suggested the mechanicals underneath meant business.
That the car was revealed in Geneva, however, pretty much laid to rest our hopes that Kia would add it to its North American lineup; a New York auto show reveal of the production version of the 2016 Optima sedan more or less confirmed that there would be no Kia station wagon for those of us on this continent.

The 2016 model indicates that Kia is unwilling to take much of a risk in updating a car that’s aged well since its 2011 redesign, one that turned the Optima into one of the most handsome family cars going. With that revised 2016 version on its way, 2015 brings little of note to the Optima line; it carries on with an all-four-cylinder trio of powertrains that includes a 2.4L, a turbocharged 2.0L, and the gas-electric hybrid under the hood of my tester.

Kia is one of four automakers selling mid-priced hybrid family sedans, which pits the Optima against formidable competition in gas-electric versions of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion. Part of what makes those cars as good as they are is the seamlessness with which they blend power produced with valves versus volts, so the key to Kia’s success in the hybrid arena lies under its hood.

As it happens, that’s where you’ll find the most significant difference between the Optima Hybrid and its competitors: where those other three blend power sources with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), Kia sticks with the six-speed automatic used in gas-only Optimas. Perhaps that’s a nod to Porsche’s refusal to use un-sporty CVT tech in its performance-oriented hybrids, or maybe it was a simple cost-saving measure; either way, that six-speed is the weak link in the Optima Hybrid’s mechanical make-up.

It’s a fine transmission in gas-powered Optimas, but in the Hybrid’s electric-only mode, it’s an eerie thing to feel the gearbox moving from one ratio to the next in the absence of the gas engine’s vibration. Frankly, it weirds me out in Porsche’s hybrids too (the Cayenne and Panamera); from a seat-of-the-pants perspective, there’s a good reason why most hybrids use CVTs, and all-electric cars take advantage of their motors’ inexhaustible torque band by eliminating multiple gear ratios altogether.

The Optima Hybrid’s relative lack of sophistication shows up again in its lack of a driver-selectable EV mode. As it is, the Optima’s engine reliably shuts down when the car is stopped, but once it’s time to go again, will only stay silent if you’re particularly gentle with your right foot. After a day or two of light-footing to take advantage of whatever electric-only motion I could get, I discovered my favourite thing about this drivetrain: where CVT-based hybrids tend to let the gas engine wail in quick acceleration, the Optima relies more on electric torque for a nice kick-in-the-pants feel that mimics a light-pressure turbo engine. The downside, once more, is that transmission, which is painfully lazy about downshifting for passing power.

The Optima Hybrid’s official fuel consumption ratings are 6.1/6.7 L/100 km (city/highway), numbers that look pretty weak next to the Accord’s 4.7/5.3, Camry’s 5.5/6.0 and Fusion’s 5.4/5.8; you’d think the mechanically-similar Hyundai Sonata Hybrid’s ratings would be the same as Kia’s, but that car is rated 6.6/5.9 L/100 km. In my Optima tester, I saw a city-driving average of 7.0 L/100 km.

In the past, I’ve complained about the Optima’s mushy brake pedal feel. Hybrids themselves are often criticized for grabby brake performance caused by their regenerative braking setups, but here it actually made things better, with more bite on initial brake application, and decent modulation in harder braking.

This Hybrid’s ride was softer than I remember in a 2.4L Optima I tested in 2011, though a direct comparison is tough after four years and nearly 200 other vehicles driven. Handling is competent, but the lack of steering feel discouraged explorations of the car’s cornering envelope.

Park a pair of butts in front seats that not everyone finds entirely comfortable (my wife liked the Optima’s chairs better than I) and you’ll face what is, to me, the nicest dashboard in the family sedan category. The quality look and feel found in this car and some of its others has done a lot to elevate Kia’s status in recent years.

Eventually, an automaker will get around the packaging compromises that come with putting a hybrid drive system in a sedan, but it wasn’t Kia’s turn to find that solution. Just like everyone else, they put the battery pack behind the rear seat, where it eats about a third of the trunk’s volume and eliminates a folding seatback.

Our EX Premium test car included nice stuff like navigation, blind spot warning, intelligent keyless entry, and rear parking sensors, but left out advanced safety kit like adaptive cruise, frontal collision warning/avoidance and lane departure warning. We could excuse that if the Optima Hybrid was less expensive than all its competitors, but it isn’t: an Accord Hybrid with lane departure and forward collision warning systems is a grand cheaper than the Kia, giving up only ventilated front seats in the process.

It’s not often a Kia doesn’t sit atop the value-for-money column in any comparison, but that’s the case here. We could excuse that if the Optima Hybrid included more features or drove better than its competitors, but neither is true, which leaves us cool on a car that we’ve otherwise come to like very much since Kia showed us that affordable pricing and upscale looks didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

That’s in contrast to the well-sorted Kia Soul EV, an impressively-packaged and smooth-driving all-electric that proves this company could be a serious player in the alt-fuel segment. Unfortunately, Kia’s strong EV effort leaves its hybrid sedan looking, well, sub-optimal.

Pricing: 2015 Kia Optima Hybrid EX
Base Price: $33,695
Options: $3,200 (EX Premium package, $3,000; Ultra Silver paint, $200)
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,535
Price as Tested: $38,530

Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015 Kia Soul Named One Of The 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000 By Kelley Blue Book's

Kia Motors America (KMA) popular urban hatchback, the 2015 Soul, is one of the 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000 in 2015, according to Kelley Blue Book's This year marks the fourth consecutive time Soul has been recognized by the editors at, and similar to last year, Kia's fun-and-funky urban runabout ranked among the top three on the annual list, which highlights the hippest and most affordable cars on the market.  Editors at Kelley Blue Book once again included the Soul for its stylish looks and tech-savvy content.  With a base price of $15,1901, the Soul offers flexible interior configurations and a unique exterior design with a wide array of available features at a great value.

"Since first coming onto the scene in 2009, the Soul has been an out-of-the-park homerun for Kia, and the second generation retains its iconic design while including modern cues and premium features to enhance our brand's value proposition," said Tim Chaney, vice president of marketing communications, KMA. "It's these refinements, along with its funky persona, roomy cabin and ample cargo space, that have upped the Soul's allure, making it even more popular with consumers."

New for 2015 on the Exclaim model is an available interior Umber Color Package, which is available with either the Fathom Blue or Cloud White exterior colors. Included with the option package is premium Nappa leather seating surfaces and door armrest accents. Outside, Gloss Black wheel inserts further set the Umber Color Package apart.

"Some cool vehicles aren't very versatile, but the Kia Soul made our list of the 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000 just because it is so versatile," said Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's "On the road the Soul's funky, squared-off shape won't be mistaken for anything else, and standing out is cool. At the same time, its collection of useful features and its interior versatility at a very affordable price add significantly to its overall cool quotient."

The 2015 Soul is offered in three trim levels: Base, Plus and Exclaim. Motivation for the Base Soul is delivered by a gasoline direct injection (GDI) 130-horsepower (at 6,300 rpm) 1.6-liter all-aluminum DOHC four-cylinder engine. The GAMMA engine produces 118 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,850 rpm. The Plus and Exclaim models enjoy the more powerful 2.0-liter NU power plant with GDI technology.  Power is rated at 164 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 151 lb.-ft. of torque at a 4,000 rpm. The 1.6-liter engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic. The Plus and Exclaim models are available exclusively with the six-speed automatic gearbox.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review

Korean automaker Kia approaches the fringes of the luxury market with the ★★★ 2016 Sorento SXL, a midsize SUV priced and equipped to compete with vehicles ranging from the Chevrolet Equinox to the Lincoln MKX.

The refinement of some of the Sorento's features doesn't match the leading competitors – even non-luxury models like the Nissan Murano and Ford Edge – but the striking SUV compensates for that with a long list of features.

The Sorento is one of the biggest midsize crossover SUVs, big enough that some models offer an option of three rows of seats for up to seven passengers.

The Sorento's primary competitors are five-seat SUVs like the Acura RDX, Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Jeep Cherokee, Lexus RX, MKX and Nissan Murano.

That's a wide range of vehicles, but the Sorento has an exceptionally broad model line. In addition to either five or seven seats, it comes with front- or all-wheel-drive and a choice of two four-cylinder engines or a V6. All Sorentos have a six-speed automatic transmission.

Sorento prices start at $24,900 for a front-drive model with a 185-hp 2.4L four-cylinder engine. All-wheel-drive models start at $26,800 with the same engine. A powerful 2.0L turbo generates 240 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque from prices starting at $31,100 with front-drive and $32,900 with AWD. A 290-hp 3.3L V6 tops the lineup and starts at $31,700 for FWD and $33,500 with AWD.

I tested an AWD SXL with the 2.0L turbo that was very close to the top of the model line. It had two rows of seats, a large sunroof, Bluetooth audio and phone compatibility, voice recognition, navigation, adaptive cruise control, Nappa leather upholstery, lane departure warning and much more.

It stickered at $44,200. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Sorento's prices are generally at the low end of its competitive set, but it's among the largest midsize SUVs inside and out.

The front seat is roomy and has plenty of storage cubbies. The gauges are big and easy to read. A big touch screen and plenty of conventional buttons and dials make it easy to control audio and climate. The voice recognition system's understanding of contact names and navigation instructions is not as fast or accurate as the best competitors. The audio system crashed my USB-connected iPod Classic, a problem I've consistently had with Kia's UVO system. It worked fine streaming audio from my iPhone 6, however.

The interior of my vehicle was trimmed in appealing materials. The dash and doors were soft to the touch. Brushed chrome and black glossy plastic completed the package.

The rear seat is comfortable and roomy. The cargo compartment is bigger than all the competitors except the new Journey, RX, and the new 2015 models of the Edge and Murano.

The Sorento's exterior design is handsome, with a snub nose, sleek roofline and flared fenders.

The 2.0L turbo is powerful and fuel efficient. The transmission doesn't always shift fast enough to maximize the engine's potential, but its broad torque curve and high output make the Sorento a capable cruiser.

The Sorento rated 19 mpg city, 25 highway and 22 combined in EPA tests. The key combined figure trails only the 2015 Edge's 2.0L turbo among four-cylinder engines and the V6 Cherokee and Murano, both of which benefit from advanced transmissions. The Sorento's turbo-four also runs fine on regular gasoline, giving it an edge in affordability over the RDX, which scored the same combined mpg but uses premium.

The Sorento's ride is very comfortable. The suspension absorbs bumps from rough road surfaces with aplomb. The steering is very light and numb, providing very little feedback to the driver. That's the only drawback in an otherwise competent chassis.

Midsize SUVs buyers are increasingly driven by styling and features. The Sorento combines those virtues with a very competitive price to present an appealing package.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Kia Sportage 2015 Review

Kia Sportage Si Premium
Road Test

Due for replacement later this year, Kia's Sportage continues to sell well for the Australian importer, despite falling behind in some areas compared to newer medium SUV rivals. That's partly because it continues to blend the familiar feel of a family hatch with the space and practicality of a larger SUV. A good case in point is the latest Si Premium variant which offers extra value along with a zippy and economical petrol engine for its $30,000 price tag. 

It's not hard to understand why Kia's mid-sized SUV is currently the company's second biggest seller Down Under, behind the Cerato small car. Among its many attributes are attractive styling, user-friendly cabin, pleasing on-road manners, competitive pricing, and class-leading after-sales support (read: seven-year warranty).

Like many of its rivals, which include the top-selling Mazda CX-5 and Nissan X-TRAIL, it has a broad offering to cater to most family types, with two and all-wheel drive configurations, small capacity petrol and diesel engines, manual and auto transmissions, and prices ranging from $25,990 to $41,590 (plus on-road costs).

The Si Premium variant tested here was added to the line-up last year. Sitting above the entry-level petrol Si and paired exclusively with six-speed auto and 2WD undercarriage, it comes with all the basics you'd expect on a $29,990 soft-roader including rear parking sensors, foglights, anti-lock brakes, stability control, six airbags, cruise control, Bluetooth audio/phone streaming, manual air conditioning, keyless entry and an alarm.

For the additional $1800 over the standard Si, the Si Premium also delivers LED daytime running lights, auto headlights, a rear-view camera, artificial leather trim, bigger 17-inch alloy wheels and roof-rails.

Those coming from a sedan or hatchback will feel immediately at home in the Sportage, with its relatively low-set (for an SUV) driving position. There's only 167mm ground clearance, which makes it easier to load younger kids but less ideal for heading off the bitumen. The narrow windows and sloping windscreen undoubtedly enhance aerodynamic efficiency and looks, but offer less of the all-desirable, commanding view you find in other, boxier SUVs.

As one of the older models in its segment, the Sportage also shows its age in other areas, such as the lack of a touchscreen display. As a result the rear-view camera display is squeezed into one half of the rear view mirror, making it harder to read than some of its rivals' dash-mounted screens.

The front seats are reasonably comfortable over the long haul, and the vinyl/cloth trim and cabin materials appear durable if uninspiring in presentation.

On the plus side, the minimalist, infotainment cluster couldn't be more user-friendly, and it took seconds to pair the phone via Bluetooth. While lending the cabin a romantic glow at night, we hope Kia's trademark red glow instruments aren't carried over to the next model, as they're often difficult to read in bright sunlight.

One of the advantages of being a metre shorter than its seven seat Sorento sibling, is the Sportage's better manoeuvrability in traffic and when parking.

While lacking a third-row there's plenty of space for a family of four, and their luggage in the rear cargo space. We say four because while the outboard rear seats are spacious, at least for children, the raised middle seat (with fold-down armrest and drink holders) is an uncomfortable position for anyone.

The basic air-con system means there are no vents in the rear, or 12-volt sockets (these are located up front and in the rear loadspace). Door pockets, front and rear, are decent sized, as are other storage options throughout the cabin. There's also a full size spare located in a tub under the rear load area with extra storage spots.

Just as importantly, the petrol Sportage zips through traffic with refined and responsive ease. While offering about half the torque of the turbo-diesel engine, and at a much higher 4000rpm, the petrol donk is mostly quieter and smoother in operation. With the whole family on-board and in combination with an inconspicuous six-speed auto it rarely feels underdone whisking through traffic or out on the highway.

Nor does it ever get raucous, despite its high revving tendencies. There's certainly enough grunt to chirp the front tyres if you're over-zealous on take-off.

Transmission shifts are smooth and the engine ticks along just above 2000rpm on the freeway, with wind and engine noise largely absent. Unfortunately we can't say the same about tyre noise, with the steady 'drum' from the 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Hankook Optimo 225/60-series rubber over a variety of surfaces, somewhat spoiling the ambience.

While delivering a slight increase in torque from the recent upgrade to direct-injection for the 2.0-litre petrol engine, it also seems to have brought fuel economy benefits. After a week of commuting with some country driving mixed in, the trip computer displayed an impressive 8.1L/100km average.
That's lower than the official, combined figure quoted by Kia!

More high-riding hatchback than bulky SUV, the Sportage also acquits itself well in corners, with little body roll and decent grip at least in the dry. The locally-fettled ride/handling compromise is commendable, though there's a slight bias towards directional changes, so it can feel a little firm at times over rougher bitumen.

Like the rest of the dynamic package, the brakes and steering are up to the job, although we'd welcome a bit more feel under-foot (and under fingers).
The Sportage is due to be replaced later this year, no doubt by a fancier version with fresh styling, updated materials, and more technology including electronic driver aids.

In the meantime, the current version continues to make a strong case as a no-fuss, practical, and dare I say enjoyable family runabout. Potential buyers should keep an eye out for the inevitable run-out deals…

2015 Kia Sportage Si Premium pricing and specifications:
Price: $29,900 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Output: 122kW/205Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 8.4L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 200g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five stars

What we liked:                                    
  • Smooth engine                                      
  • Ride/handling balance                          
  • Passenger car feel 
Not so much:    
  • No touchscreen
  • Tyre noise
  • Red glow dial