Monday, May 2, 2016

Kia Sorento review: It's a top dog

MY husband calls our Great Dane She is, shall we say, challenged in the brain department. Think Scooby Doo and you get the picture.

It didn’t help, too, that her best pal was our incredibly sharp but recently deceased Springer Spaniel, which just made her look even more dopey than perhaps would have been the case.

She barks at nothing, gets herself into pickles and, when she is feeling out of sorts, sports an absolutely spot-on hang-dog expression. Did I say she only has one eye?

So when I heard her barking the other day, I thought nothing of it until I got out to the brand new Kia Sorento sitting on our driveway – and there she was, barking and looking (with one eye) in consternation at the tailgate, which was open.

And then I got it. I had accidentally pressed the key to open the boot while rushing around gathering up everything I was taking with me and had decided to attack it as it quietly swung up.

I am not sure whether this proves there is some active grey matter between her ears or means that she is even dimmer than we thought but I was impressed by the range and the function of the key.

I often stand behind my own car pressing the “open boot” button in vain. Tick that box, the Kia Sorento automatic tailgate works – and I have the Great Dane to prove it.

The large seven-seat Sorento – and its little brother, the Sportage – have done amazing things for Kia in an increasingly busy SUV marketplace. We had a previous model and we liked it a lot but the new Sorento shows just how far Kia have come.

It is big, bold and impressive, sitting on 19in wheels, with a lovely dark mesh grille surrounded by chrome, privacy glass, roof rails and a wonderful panoramic sunroof. It looks and sounds expensive – with nice soft-click doors.

Inside, the theme continues, with heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats all in leather – often the mark of a more upmarket car.

The driver’s seat had more adjustments than I cared to count but it also had the memory function with it so that, each time I got in, it slid into the correct position for me.

This is a plus because I am small and it means, when I stopped, the seat slid back and it was easy to get out. There is loads of space, nice ambient lights and the whole front deck is very well finished in high-gloss black.

This version, the all-wheel-drive KX-4, is the top of the range, so it comes with sat nav, Bluetooth with music streaming, a reversing camera and a 360-degree all-round monitor.

It drives really well and, of course, you get that nice high seating position giving you a commanding view of the road ahead. It made me feel comfortable and, if needed, I could switch into sport mode for a bit of extra performance.

If it’s the economy you want then there is Eco mode. Indeed, I was continually amazed by the instrument display and how little fuel I was going through.

I have always been a great admirer of the Sorento – it performs so well and is so reliable – and this latest model gives you an even better drive.

It is ideal for drivers in Scotland, with the panoramic roof for the summer and the all-wheel capability for the winter. And even though it has a 2.2-litre diesel engine, it is quiet and refined.

There is no doubt about it, it is definitely now an alternative choice for drivers seeking a quality SUV with looks, comfort and performance. It is a bit of a big smoothie, actually, and, unlike our Great Dane, it has the intelligence to match.


X-Men-inspired Kia KX5 – 2016 Auto China Live

Kia is displaying a one-off Kia KX5 (fourth generation Kia Sportage) inspired by X-Men at Auto China 2016 (2016 Beijing Motor Show). Created in collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox and the X-Men movie franchise, the special Kia KX5 seen in the images is inspired by X-Men character Mystique.

This is the second generation Kia X-Car. In 2014, Kia introduced the X-Men-inspired Kia Sorento and unveiled it later at the Australian Open 2015.

The X-Men-inspired Kia KX5 was first showcased under the global ‘Sportage’ branding in Melbourne, Australia before the start of the Australian Open 2016 in January. It features custom bodywork with special textured ‘tone-on-tone’ matte and gloss blue paint finish. Other modifications include racing wheels and tyres and red and yellow bodywork highlights. There’s no mention of modifications under the hood.

Needless to say, the X-Men-inspired Kia KX5 (fourth generation Kia Sportage) is just a show car. Kia hasn’t announced any plans to make it available for sale, not even in limited numbers. The show car was created to promote the X-Men: Apocalypse’s global release in cinemas in May 2016 and Kia’s sponsorship of the Australian Open 2016 tennis tournament.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dude, Kia Sportage got game!

I’ve always chafed at the name Kia “Sportage.” Sportage sounds like something MTV’s star beach bum Pauly Shore would say. Like “After I do some sportage, I’m gonna get some foodage.” Or “Like, dude, I’m totally spent. That was some serious sportage.” Hip. Funky.

Not something you’d associate with a compact crossover appliance in the high-volume, mainstream segment. But after driving Kia’s new 2017 Sportage, maybe I was wrong.

This is no appliance. This dude is loaded with personality.

In its ambitious climb to social respectability, Kia and Korean-twin Hyundai have slavishly copied German brand wardrobes. Hyundai’s luxury Genesis has aped Audi’s big grille and taut lines, while Kia just hired VW-Audi designer Peter Schreyer himself. Schreyer wasted no time sculpting a sexier Kia. Leaner stance. Signature, “tiger-nose” grille. Personality.

For the new Sportage, Schreyer reached for exterior cues from the Alpha male of the VW family: Porsche. Stroll around the outside and Sportage has an unmistakable echo of Stuttgart’s bullet-shaped Macan. Rake, dual-eyed headlights. Rounded corners. A menacing mouth. The Porsche’s egg-crate grille screams mean while the Sportage has ... cute-age? Yes, like an enraged Pokeman. GRRRRRR.

Stomp on the Kia’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and this box goes. It’s not the tire-squirming torque steer of Korean imports of yesteryear, but the refined pep of a German machine. This isn’t a quirky Kia Soul but a serious automobile with crisp handling and tailored interior to match its styling, right down to the alphabet-soup badge on my top-of-the-line turbo: SX-GDI.

The black instrument cluster behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel (sport-age!) is highlighted by white graphics and red dials. The dash is nicely appointed with matte-black row of buttons, air ducts, and horizontal lines. It’s right out of a VW-Audi parts bin.

The Sportage follows on the same platform as the handsome, 2016 Hyundai Tucson (big brother always gets the first wardrobe makeover). Last summer I tested the base, wonderfully-affordable, $23,720 Tucson, which goes about its business in a very, um, business-like way. My all-wheel-drive Sportage tester is a different animal. Not just because it was dressed to the nines at $34,895 (its base price just $300 more than the Tucson) — but because it cuts a more athletic stance.

The Kia feels less like the Tucson and more like Hyundai’s Sante Fe Sport — a sexier version of Hyundai’s larger, mid-sized Santa Fe aimed squarely at Ford’s Edge. Confusing, I know, but that’s how these Korean twins differentiate themselves.

Befitting their badges, Sportage and Santa Fe Sport get steroid-fed engines — 181 horsepower base 2.4-liter or powerful 240-horse turbo-fours. The Tucson is stuck with a 2.0-liter, 164-horse, 2.0-liter four or a 1.6-liter turbo-4 option with 175 ponies. In a 0-60 sprint, Sportage leaves Tucson in the dust.

If they were high school classmates, you’d recognize Sportage and Sport as the jocks — Tucson the nerd.

That said, Sportage’s safety and reliability numbers are class summa cum laude. The Kia is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top safety pick and its J.D. Power reliability and dependability numbers shame even Honda and Subaru.

Brains and looks. Like Jennifer Grey’s nose job, Sportage’s new face has born a thousand opinions. I like it. The AWD model also gets less chin for more ground clearance — in case you want to take it off-road. The Sportage turbo’s prominent side gills — more Porsche inspiration — are lit up with four, luxurious “ice-cubes” each. Dude, LED-age. The flanks continue the athletic, rounded theme with the rear sporting a tasteful combination of Audi lights (ribbed LED inlays) and a horizontal, Lincoln-esque signature connecting the corners.

Kia has done its homework. So how does Sportage stand up to my favorite compact crossover, Ford Escape?

Where the Escape and Hyundai Tucson appear separated at birth, the Kia’s dramatically different looks will stand out on Michigan highways choked with Escapes (the second-best selling small crossover). The Kia offers lots of nifty features like lane-keep assist (handy on late interstate drives back from the sticks when your eyes are getting sleepy, sleeeeeepy — BEEEEEPP! — the warning tells you you’ve crossed the line). Unlike some of its peers, the system is calibrated to detect steering wander — not every lane change — so it never feels like a nanny. Thanks, Kia.

Kia’s instruments feel more luxurious than the Ford — that Audi influence again — though I craved more personality (like the unique Chrysler Pacifica I just drove). But in certain crucial details the Ford still sets the standard. Like the kick-open rear hatch, which even Audi has copied. Lay-flat rear seats (Kia still has an annoying hump that would impede storage) assist Ford’s superior cargo room. Little things, but this segment is so competitive it comes down to the little things.

Still, for just $34K — the price of an Escape Titanium sans trimmings — a loaded Sportage matches Ford’s full moon-roof so you can stargaze while doing spoon-age with your date.

Ford’s SYNC system I found more responsive to voice commands — but in truth, no infotainment system these days (shy of Audi’s sensational 12-inch instrument display) is worth the price with superior smart phones at our finger tips. On this point, Hyundai and Kia (and Honda and GM) are a lap ahead of the competition. With Kia’s Android Auto taking over the dash, I can use my Samsung phone’s superior “Ask Google” app to navigate me to some far flung point of interest — say, “The Lingenfelter Car Collection” in Milford. Try that with your car’s nav system.

Kia’s nicely-sorted console space even provides a large cubby in front of the gearshift so your essential phone is never far away.

But where the Sportage rewards you day-in-and day-out is with its on-road charisma. This is not a boring SUV. Acceleration is rabbit quick — and the SX-GDI even offers a Sport mode for a few more revs in the twisties. In a world where (my favorite 220-horse) hot hatches are in the Sportage price point, this grunt is a welcome addition to the family ute. As is the handling. The AWD system rotates beautifully and I tore up Oakland County esses with the nicely appointed chassis. When the venom seized me Mrs. Payne reached for the door handles — which are right where they are supposed to be.

Yeah, the Sportage comes with lane-keep warning. But this little hipster will never make you drowsy.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 Kia Optima Review

Why is it that some cars fly under the radar? You think more people would know about a certain vehicle and embrace its goodness. And yet, for whatever reason, the model doesn’t catch on with the mainstream.

Such is the case with the Kia Optima. It’s more eye-catching than other family sedans, but Kia sells half as many Optimas as the safe-bet Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

A redesign for 2016 brings a new air of mainstream opulence to the Optima. It has improved ride comfort, better handling and braking, and a roomier interior. But it’s also so loaded with standard and smartly priced optional features that you feel like you got more than you paid for.

We tested a midlevel EX, which has a smooth 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, mated to a quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.

Its 8-second 0-to-60 time is about a half-second quicker than the equivalent Camry and is sprightly for freeway merging. Though the Optima’s fuel economy is a respectable 28 mpg, a few competitors do get more than 30 mpg.

And unlike many family sedans that provide a smoother ride at the expense of precise handling, the Optima strikes a fine balance between comfort and sharp cornering.

There’s a firmness to the Optima’s ride that’s evocative of higher-priced European sedans. However, tire noise becomes noticeable on coarse pavement. The brake pedal has a firm feel, and the Optima has a shorter stopping distance than many competitors have.

Understated competence reigns inside the new Optima. Its large door openings make it easy to get in and out, and the wide and supportive leather driver’s seat is tearoom plush, complete with four-way power lumbar adjustment.

The 2016 Kia Optima has a sloping, tapered roofline that mimics the shape of other trendy, modern sedans. Such a silhouette can make rear seats seem claustrophobic, but the Optima’s commodious cabin has plenty of room.

The array of infotainment and climate controls is well-placed and easy to use, with a businesslike arrange­ment of familiar knobs and buttons.

Not that everything is perfect. The low dash vents are more likely to freeze your elbow than cool your face. And scrolling through music is irritating on the small, 5-inch radio screen.

Safety systems aren’t well distributed across the model line. Blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the EX, but you’re forced to step up to the SX if you want forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking; even then, it’s part of a $4,800 option package.

Aside from that overpriced option array, the Optima is a great value story. At $25,860, our EX came with 17-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control and leather seats (heated up front), along with a heated steering wheel. Comparably equipped competitors cost thousands more.

Kia’s reliability record has been improving, although not to Camry levels. With the 2016 edition, the new Optima offers an enjoyable driving experience, along with considerably more substance and refinement. It may be time to switch away from the easy choice.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Kia announces its TCR customer racing programme

Kia Motors has now formally announced its TCR racing programme following an earlier social media tease of the new project, with Austrian rally driver Manfred Stohl’s STARD team tasked with developing the new Kia Cee’d GT TCR for the low-cost touring car formula.

STARD (Stohl Advanced Research And Development) has long been associated with the South Korean brand, and also works with the manufacturer on its successful China Touring Car Championship with the Cee’d close relative, the K3S.

The Cee’d TCR is currently in development, and will run with a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine with an output of 330bhp, a sequential paddle-shift gearbox and a safety package compliant with the FIA’s latest requirements.

The car will be officially launched later this year and made available to customers, the first customer programme by the Kia brand in motorsport.

“The combination between the TCR International Series and the Kia Cee´d appeared absolutely perfect from the very beginning,” said Manfred Stohl. “A huge demand among interested customers even before the official release equally demonstrates how anticipated the appearance of Kia-cars was in the motorsport world and how right the choice was with the TCR International Series. We even have requests from Australia.”

Stohl’s business partner, Michael Sakowicz, CEO of STARD, added:

“We are already in discussions with some teams that are primarily interested in international activities. To satisfy their needs in the best possible way, already during the development stage, we plan to cooperate very closely with at least one team in order to provide a customer friendly car since the beginning. The testing schedule is fixed and will be completed strictly as planned. Reliability and a perfectly functioning car are the most important factors for a successful TCR project.”


Kia Motors Q1 profit grows 4.6 %

Kia Motors Corp., South Korea's second-largest automaker, said Wednesday that its first-quarter net profit increased 4.6 percent from a year earlier, driven by strong demand for its SUVs and newly-launched models.

Net income came to 944.6 billion won (US$822.7 million) during the January-March period compared with a profit of 903.2 billion won a year earlier, the company said in a regulatory filing.

Operating income also jumped 23.8 percent on-year to 633.6 billion won and sales rose 13.2 percent to 12.65 trillion won, it said.

Its first-quarter earnings were much higher than the market consensus. Major brokerages predicted a net profit of 590.5 billion won in a poll conducted by Yonhap Infomax, the financial news arm of Yonhap News Agency.

"The won's descent against the dollar, impact from newly-launched models such as the Sportage and K7 and expanded sales of our recreational vehicles were behind the marked improvement in profit," the company said in an emailed press release.

The better-than-expected earnings pushed the shares of Kia Motors higher from a weak start. They traded at 49,850 won as of 10:13 a.m., up 0.2 percent from the previous day.

Demand slumped much in China and other emerging markets, but Kia Motors said that its relatively brisk performance in the U.S. and Europe helped offset much of the drop. Its global sales in the first quarter edged down 0.7 percent on-year.

2017 Kia Sportage
Such SUVs as the Soul, Carnival and Sportage led the sales in the U.S., while the all-new Sportage played a major role in Europe, the company said. In China, however, the automaker suffered a setback, with its first-quarter sales dropping 12.7 percent from a year earlier.

Kia Motors' domestic sales here, meanwhile, expanded 11.4 percent as its SUVs such as the Carnival and Sportage were among popular models.

Aided by strong sales of high-margin vehicles coupled with favorable currency market conditions, Kia Motors saw its operating profit ratio rise to 5 percent in the first quarter, up 0.4 percentage points from a year earlier.

Kia Motors still remained cautious in its projection of market outlooks down the road, citing fierce competition and volatile market situations.

The overall profitability, however, will likely improve further as the Sportage SUV will be launched in more foreign countries while such new models as the K7 and the Niro hybrid SUV will result in a hike in demand.

Kia Motors also hopes that its auto plant in Mexico to be launched next month will strengthen its foothold in Central and South American countries.

"Kia Motors will continue efforts to raise its brand recognition with products with competitive edge and quality, while at the same time focusing on improving profitability through stable management," the company said.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Kia Motors Returns To Mom 2.0 Summit For Second Straight Year

Fast-Growing Automaker to Share World-Class Products and Discuss Trends at the Sold-Out Professional Conference for Influencers Who Create Content Online and On-Air

- Over 700 leading bloggers, entrepreneurs and marketers can test-drive and create unique content with five of Kia's award-winning vehicles

- Kia's Kimberley Gardiner will share insights regarding content creation and social media partnerships in a panel discussion titled "A Candid Conversation about Collaborative Campaign Development"

Kia Motors America (KMA) returns this week as Presenting Sponsor and Official Transportation Sponsor of the Mom 2.0 Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif., a forum intended for sharing ideas, developing creative digital content and highlighting unique programs and platforms that engage audiences, online and beyond. As a Southern California-based company, KMA looks to foster an open dialogue and build relationships with digital influencers while providing content creation opportunities featuring the brand's world-class vehicles – many of which were designed in Orange County – and several national and local philanthropic partnerships representing Kia's expanding corporate social responsibility efforts.

While at the summit, Mom 2.0 attendees can get behind the wheel of several Kia models, including the all-new 2017 Sportage CUV, the completely redesigned Optima midsize sedan, the award-winning Sedona minivan and Sorento CUV as well as the Soul Electric Vehicle.

"Mom 2.0 is truly unique in that it allows influencers and brands to talk openly about what's next for content creators online and in the marketplace," said Kimberley Gardiner, director of marketing communications, KMA. "As a company that never stops thinking about the future, the summit's focus on family, social responsibility and digital engagement is a natural fit for Kia and we look forward to comparing notes and sharing ideas."

In addition to test-drives, Kia has enlisted one of its local philanthropic partners – The Ecology Center, a non-profit eco-educational center – to provide information and insights on a variety of important topics including sustainability and developing environmental solutions at home, the workplace and the community. Joining The Ecology Center in the Kia suite at Mom 2.0 will be the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Girls Inc. of Orange County and B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) Teen Pro-Active Driving School.

Mom 2.0 co-founder Carrie Pacini is excited to continue the strong partnership between the two brands. "Kia's return as one of Mom 2.0's premier sponsors speaks volumes about the growth of the parent media industry as well as Kia's continued brand evolution and smart engagement of the influencers and tastemakers," Pacini stated. "The participants who attend the Mom 2.0 Summit are creating vibrant, sustainable media businesses built around a narrative of parenting and family. The fact that Kia continues to engage this highly influential community shows their commitment to today's families, and how forward-thinking they are as a brand. We're honored to have Kia back with us this year as our Official Transportation Sponsor."


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Test Drive: Rockin' the Road Across Florida in the 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo

Brand unity is something that the folks at Kia Motors USA have really nailed over the past few years. Whether you're driving an entry-level model, or a fully-loaded luxury vehicle, the experience is distinctly Kia, and there's a comfort level in that feeling that's hard to surpass - no matter if you're in a car, crossover or minivan. When I last found myself behind the wheel of their best-selling nameplate, the Kia Optima, it was the 2014 Hybrid model. While we enjoyed that car, the 2016 Optima has been redesigned, and I recently had the opportunity to do a little roadtripping in Florida at the helm of the SX Turbo Edition - the perfect family ride for rockin' the road.

When the crew from DriveShop Miami delivered the brilliantly-colored Remington Red Optima to us at the Walt Disney World All-Star Movies Resort, that feeling of comfort that I mentioned was immediate. We'd flown down with our car seats from Illinois so The Rock Daughters™ would feel right at home, but the feeling was mutual for my wife and I - even though I was piloting a vehicle that I'd never driven before, all while navigating unfamiliar roads in central Florida. Familiar, yet completely new.

Aside from comfort, the styling was also immediately striking - a Disney employee walking over to sneak a peek as well after my initial walkthrough. While the bulk of my daily driving at home is running errands and doing drop-offs and pick-ups at school and activities, I want a stylish ride - and the Optima delivers on that note.

Our days at Disney World were fun (stories for another time), but the real reason for our Florida adventure was my brother-in-law's wedding over in St. Pete. With our daughters set to be Flower Girls, a road trip that I wish was longer found us clipping across the state after a late morning stop at Disney Springs for some shopping and lunch.

With the optional Panoramic Sunroof (a feature I loved on the Sorento) opened wide, we were off and rolling, music from the Harmon/Kardon QLS Premium Sound System providing the soundtrack. The 2.0L Turbo engine felt bigger than a 4-cylinder, with the 6-speed automatic transmission quietly and effortlessly running underneath. A little off-route sightseeing was also in order, aided by Kia's outstanding UVO Infotainment and Connectivity Platform - the benchmark for my wife when it comes to navigation and entertainment. Out of all the vehicles we drive, she finds the ease-of-use and overall display of the UVO system to be top-notch, and I can't disagree.

Our stay in St. Pete was short, but having the Optima on-hand was a great thing come Friday night. The travel of the week had taken its toll on the family, and that was none-more-apparent than with our oldest, who came down with a fever and a case of "swimmer's ear," prompting me to leave the reception with her early. By 3:30am, I was cruising St. Pete Beach on a supply run, needing some medicine for the little one, who was having a real tough go of things. But the following morning, we took a family walk and it all ended well...

As a kid I played with Hot Wheels (still do), and as an adult I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a lot of time playing with a host of full-sized rides, and while we haven't pulled the trigger just yet, when it comes time for our next vehicle purchase, the possibility of officially becoming a #KiaDad is pretty high up on the list.


2018 Kia GT Spied in Production Form & It Looks Glorious

Remember the Kia GT Concept from 2011? The South Korean automaker is actively working to get that car ready for its debut in 2016 for the 2018 model year.

Even though it isn’t as wildly stylized as the concept, the production model packs a visual punch. The exclusive photograph published by shows how ambitious Kia is in its quest to deliver a coupe-like four-door sedan, one to compete with the likes of the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A5.

Despite the camouflage, the GT looks the part, doesn’t it? The Kammback-type rear end, the intricate shape of the C-pillar, the quad exhaust tips protruding out of the rear valance, everything is blending together quite nicely. The chrome finish gills located where the front fenders meet the front doors aren’t bad either.

On the oily bits front, the platform of the 2018 Kia GT will be shared with the 2018 Genesis G70 compact executive sedan, itself previewed by a concept. To put it bluntly, you’re looking at a rear-wheel-drive chassis that may be propelled by a 3.3-liter turbocharged V6 with 389 horsepower and 394 lb-ft (534 Nm) of torque. Selecting ratios will be the duty of an eight-speed automatic transmission as used by the 2017 Kia Cadenza full-size sedan and 2017 Genesis G90 full-size sedan.

Rumor has it a hybrid could also be offered, combining a 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor. The rumor mill also points out that the 2016 Paris Motor Show is where the Kia GT will make its first public outing. Production is due in early 2017, which means that America will get the GT for the 2018 model year.

This being Kia, the most important question to pose about the GT four-door coupe is whether it will undercut its German rivals from BMW and Audi regarding pricing. Common sense inclines me to reply yes, that assumption is spot on.