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2019 Kia Niro EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it sometimes seems as if Elon Musk’s Tesla gets all the publicity, an increasing number of fine electric vehicles are rolling into the market. An intriguing new one is the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

It is an engaging small crossover sport utility vehicle that also comes as a gasoline-electric hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The EV competes against half a dozen other electrics in the sub-$40,000 category, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul and Nissan Leaf hatchbacks; the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, and the Tesla Model 3 sedan.

2019 Niro EV

Because South Korea’s Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia, the Niro EV shares its power train with the Hyundai Kona, though with slightly different tuning. Kia and Hyundai gasoline and hybrid models also share engines and transmissions but do their own designs, styling and other components.

The Niro EV uses a 356-volt electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Power makes its way directly to the front wheels because electric motors deliver maximum torque immediately so there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission.

Though Kia lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds, independent tests put it in the 6-second range. Top speed is 104 mph and the government rates the electric equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 123/102/112 mpgE.

2019 Niro EV

Among the current purely electric powered vehicles, the Kona EV delivers a respectable advertised range of 239 miles on a full charge, less than the Kona’s 258 miles. However, the Niro is heavier, five inches longer than the Kona and more expensive. Also, you are likely to get fewer miles in real-world driving.

You can enhance the range two ways: Select the Eco drive mode instead of Normal or Sport, which increases motor drag to regenerate the battery pack. You also can use the steering-wheel mounted paddles to accomplish the same thing, even in Sport mode. However, the owner’s manual does not tell you how the paddles work.

If you opt for the Niro EV, with all its virtues, make sure to invest in a Level 2 240-volt charger, which will recharge your Niro in nine hours and 35 minutes, easily overnight. If you stick with your standard 110-volt household outlet, figure on a weekend. That charging time is 59 hours. If you have access to a 100-KWh DC fast charger, you can top up your Niro’s battery to 80% in an hour. All numbers come from Kia.

2019 Niro EV

The Niro’s base price is $37,995, including the destination charge. But because it is new it qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. The credit has phased out for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, for now the Niro is available in only 12 of the 50 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

Tested for this review was the top-line Niro EV EX Premium, which had a starting price of $44,995. It includes full basic safety equipment plus forward collision avoidance, lane keeping and following assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

2019 Niro EV

In addition, the tested EX Premium came with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered front seats, navigation system, motorized sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, power driver’s seat, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the road, the Niro EV is a sprightly performer. With the electric motor’s instant torque, it gets a quick jump off the line while other automobiles and trucks are just getting revved up.

2019 Niro EV

The steering has a hefty feel, not unlike that of some European luxury cars. It validates the old adage that a small car should drive like a big car, and vice versa. Small bumps and potholes do not upset the suspension system, which easily soaks them up.

However, the Niro EV’s short wheelbase — the 8 feet 10 inches distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — results in some fore-and-aft pitching on undulating surfaces.

Overall, the handling is competent and secure, partly due to the Niro’s low center of gravity. The battery pack is housed under the floor. Front seats are well bolstered and the outboard back seats deliver space and comfort.

2019 Niro EV

Specifications    

  • Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,854 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpgE: 123/102/112.
  • Advertised range: 239 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,995.
  • Price as tested: $47,155.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Niro EV

Photos (c) Kia

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2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving the 2020 Kia Telluride along one of the most scenic roads in America, the thought occurs that vehicle manufacturers have achieved a level of perfection not dreamed of in the history of the automobile.

2020 Telluride

It has gotten to the point that reviewers are reduced to criticizing mainly at the margins, and the margins keep getting narrower. The new Kia Telluride achieves the narrowest of margins.

This is an all-new midsize crossover sport utility vehicle with three rows of seats in either an eight-passenger layout with a second-row bench seat or seven-passenger with second-row captain’s chairs.

It also comes with mid-pack pricing, ranging from $32,735 for the base LX trim level with front-wheel drive to the top-line SX with all-wheel drive at $44,535. There are four versions, each with front-drive or all-wheel drive. With options, the SX tested for this review topped out at $46,860.

2020 Telluride

Yet the tester drove as well as some luxury midsize competitors costing tens of thousands of dollars more. It is powered by a silky 291-hp V6 engine that delivers 262 lb-ft of torque. Though many manufacturers have moved to four-cylinder turbocharged engines, it’s hard to beat the effortless power delivery of a V6. Of course, there is some cost in fuel economy.

The tested Telluride gets the power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts so unobtrusively it could be mistaken for a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that has no shift points. It is rated at 21 mpg overall.

2020 Telluride

Kia chose to introduce its biggest new model on a drive between Gateway, in western Colorado, southeast to its namesake Telluride, the famed ski resort. The 206-mile round trip meanders through canyons surrounded by astonishing mountains, mesas and crumbling rock outcroppings likely more than a billion years old.

Best of all, highways 141 and 146 were bereft of traffic, offering challenging twists and curves as well as straightaways relaxing enough to enjoy the stunning scenery while driving.

2020 Telluride

The Kia Telluride, of South Korea, is built in a plant in West Point, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta. It settled into and easily handled the Colorado highways, tracked steadily on the straights, handled curves with aplomb, and its supple suspension absorbed the many road irregularities. Wind and road noise were noticeable mainly by their absence.

Kia boasts that the Telluride has more standard driver-assist safety technologies than any of its competitors, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-centering and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection with collision avoidance and rear cross-traffic alert.

Other innovative safety equipment included Kia’s safe-exit assist, which alerts left-side passengers before stepping into the road when the system detects a vehicle approaching from the rear, and rear occupant alert, which sends a message to a smart phone and blows the horn if a passenger or pet are unintentionally left behind when the driver leaves.

2020 Telluride

Besides that, the top-line SX model, with the optional premium package, was about as well-equipped as anything you would find cruising the nation’s highways, including a quiet mode, which mutes second- and third-row audio speakers to allow the front-seat passengers to listen to music without disturbing rear-seat passengers.

Also: A comprehensive head-up display, premium leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, front and rear sunroof, memory driver’s seat, Harman-Kardon surround-sound audio, memory driver’s seat, navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and SXM satellite radio.

2020 Telluride

The tester’s second-row captain’s chairs were as supportive and comfortable as the front buckets. They had enough fore-and-aft adjustment to allow knee room for adult third-row passengers, who had better be starvation-skinny to accommodate three back there.

Gateway, the unincorporated community that was the starting point for the Telluride introduction, has a permanent population of about 140. But its jewel is a luxury destination resort called Gateway Canyons, which includes a spanking new automobile museum housing the collection of John Hendricks, the founder and former chairman of the TV Discovery channel.

2020 Telluride

The museum focuses on the history of American automobiles, with 52 examples dating from the early 1900s and including the one-of-a-kind 1954 concept Oldsmobile F-88. Every car is as pristine as a china plate at the White House, though unfortunately many are unidentified.

But placing the Kia Telluride in close proximity demonstrates how stunningly far automobiles have come. None have anything near what the Telluride offers and prompts unavoidable thoughts of where personal transportation will become in the future.

2020 Telluride

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.8-liter V6; 291 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height :5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 167/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,482 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,535.
  • Price as tested: $46,860.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Telluride Cadet Leader

Photos (c) Kia

 

2020 Kia Soul: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not that anyone could have predicted it a decade ago, but the Kia Soul not only survived, it thrived. Competitors fell by the wayside. Now, as a new 2020 model, it is poised for a growth spurt.

There is nothing quite like the Soul. It is basically a box with streamlining and styling cues, something like a small cargo van with comfort, performance and handling—not to mention a funky personality.

2020 Soul X-Line

When it was introduced as a 2009 model, competitors included the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube. The Cube, with a sideways-opening rear hatch, never caught on and faded away. The xB, from Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, grew into a larger station wagon, then disappeared as well, and later even the Scion name was axed. But the Soul soldiered on and in 2018 U.S. sales totaled 104,707.

Now in its third generation, the Soul presents a new face — actually, three new faces — to a broad range of customers from across different age and income spectrums. There are seven gasoline-engine trim levels from the base LX, at $18,485, to the top-line GT-Line trim, which starts at $28,485. An all-electric model will be introduced separately.

2020 Soul GT-Line

The GT-Line is unique in the lineup. Compared to all of the other trim levels, it presents a different front-end treatment and headlight positioning, a more powerful turbocharged engine and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission. The electric model has a unique fascia as well.

At the national introduction, Kia showed the GT-Line and the $22,485 X-line. The latter, along with all the other gasoline Soul versions except the GT-Line, is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated at 27/33/30 mpg.

2020 Soul X-Line

However, Kia calls its transmission an IVT, for intelligent-variable automatic. CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to seamlessly multiply engine torque on its way to the wheels. They typically have no shift points. Some are criticized for a sound and feel as if they are slipping, though some manufacturers use computer software to mimic set shift points.

The Kia IVT has different innards, including a chain drive that results in what might be called a more natural feel — that is, one that is more familiar to motorists used to traditional torque-converter automatics with smooth or sometimes jerky shift points.

Whatever. The X-Line’s IVT shifts unobtrusively and presents no annoyance to customers used to their previous 1959 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. On the GT-Line, however, the transmission is a dual-clutch automatic, which essentially works like a manual gearbox except with two clutches that are poised to anticipate the driver’s next up or down shift.

2020 Soul X-Line

That happens when the manual mode is selected and the driver uses the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel. The transmission uncannily knows what the driver plans, so the twin clutches engage and disengage in milliseconds for rapid shifts.

Unfortunately, for true enthusiasts — they probably would be opting for a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Volkswagen GTI in any case —t he only manual gearbox available on the new Soul is on the base LX model. Kia makes an excellent six-speed manual gearbox available on models like the exciting Forte5, which would be welcome on the GT-Line Soul as well.

Soul GT-Line

Whatever. In its position in the marketplace, with all prices well below the $36,000 average price of a new car these days, the 2020 Soul delivers a range of satisfactory penny-pinching as well as enticing performance models.

Kia thinks that practical-minded customers, usually older, will opt for the X-Line for everyday practicality and even bumming around in moderately-challenging boondocks, even though no Soul can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

The GT-Line exists for those who want the torque of a turbo for stoplight sprints and a bit of excitement on those twisting mountain roads, although as mentioned the six-speed manual would be the choice if it were available.

Soul GT-Line

So, bottom line: The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line, with its $28,485 price tag, delivers a good handling, nice riding, tidy package — just an inch shy of 14 feet long — that has midsize sedan passenger space, with full-size car luggage space, and rewarding throttle response and long-distance cruising on supportive and comfortable front bucket seats.

If you get your juices flowing only from $200,000-plus Italian exotics, the Soul is not for your soul. But if your orientation is toward a not-as-attractive complete package for not a lot of bucks, take a look.

2020 Soul GT-Line

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,036 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/32/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,485.
  • Price as tested: $28,485.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2020 Soul GT-Line

Photos (c) Kia

Musings on the Detroit Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

The 2019 North American International Auto Show press days are in the books. Some of my colleagues are calling it “The Last Detroit Auto Show,” because in 2020, NAIAS will move to June, avoiding the Michigan winter. The move promises to open up all kinds of new possibilities for ancillary events, like rides-and-drives, demos and other outdoor activities that are just not possible in January. Organizers claim Detroit’s downtown renaissance will support the timing, and it will be a big party. Or will it?

Rescheduling to June takes NAIAS out of the traditional auto show calendar, and indeed, out of the model year cadence. Will manufacturers see the show as a venue for early introductions of next year’s models? Or will they see the move as a return to the show’s roots as a regional event for the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to market cars to local consumers?

Looking at this year’s show, it was apparent that something had to be done. All of the European luxury brands, including Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and others, were conspicuous in their absence. Only about a dozen new cars and concepts made their debuts at the show. As a journalist covering new cars, I only had to spend one day at NAIAS this year in order to catch all of the relevant press conferences and to see all of the unveilings. It wasn’t a dirge like 2009, but it was a definite down year.

Peering through the end-of-an-era cloud hanging over the Cobo Center, I saw signs of the future in the mist.

Yu-Jun-speech

The final vehicle reveal press conference of the first media day was held by GAC Motor (Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co., LTD), a Chinese company that is a subsidiary of GAC Group. GAC debuted its Entranze EV concept vehicle. The concept was the first public display of a product designed in GAC’s California-based design studio, which was established in 2018. The concept itself is fine, a futuristic minivan with sliding glass doors and 3+2+2 seating. It’s the kind of thing that will never get built, but may serve as a design inspiration.

img_1833The memorable aspect of the GAC presentation was not the concept or the products on display; it was the culturally tone-deaf presentation by GAC. Once the assembled press — about 200 – 300 participants, I’d estimate – settled in, a GAC spokesperson introduced a lineup of company executives and VIP guests, one by one. Each person stood and acknowledged the crowd’s polite applause. Then, the spokesperson introduced an officer of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), who read a brief message from a script with the enthusiasm of a war hostage. The spokesperson then introduced Mr. Yu Jun, President of GAC Motor, who gave a transliterated speech in English that was as stilted as it was incomprehensible and self-congratulatory. Time to unveil the concept car – cue the modern dancers! A troupe of eight (four men, four women) dressed in chiffon and spandex, performed a two-minute dance to modern classical music, then whisked the silk off of the concept car to muted applause. Another executive from GAC stumbled through a speech with the details, and the press conference was mercifully concluded.

img_1846Audience members walked away with a gift bag containing a scale model of the company’s flagship SUV, the GS8, a fancy USB drive loaded with vehicle information, photos and GAC info, and two glossy brochures: one with vehicle photos, descriptions and features; and one entitled “The Road to Greatness: GAC Motor,” which is a 32-page photo essay/manifesto/propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the company. It opens with this poem:

The Road to Greatness

This is GAC Motor.

I say no to mediocracy,

and stay committed to my own path.

I never compromise of give in.

With fearless resolution,

I endeavor to make breakthroughs and strive forward,

To develop a brand that I take pride in.

GAC Motor believes greatness does not belong to the few.

Everyone has the potential to be great.

As long as you dare to dream, have courage and keep striving,

You are already on the path of greatness.

The Road to Greatness, GAC Motor.

Wow.

Now, this might have been a state-of-the-art presentation at the Shanghai Motor Show, but in Detroit in 2019, it was out of touch and a little sad. I have little doubt that Chinese vehicles will soon be sold in the United States under their own brand names, and the quality of the vehicles will rapidly improve to meet the marketplace standard. Look at how rapidly Hyundai and Kia vehicles have developed in the past decade as a model for assimilation.

img_1830Even better, look at Toyota Motor Company’s press conference this year as they revealed the 2020 Supra. No less an eminence than Akio Toyoda, TMC’s President, handled the presentation himself. In stark contrast to the GAC presentation, Toyoda was relaxed, joyous, poised and funny. His command of the English language isn’t a whole lot better than the Chinese executives, but it didn’t stand in the way of his passion and charm. Toyoda won the crowd over with his buoyant nature. It was a very American presentation, but still entirely appropriate to a Japanese product and executive.

GAC Motor can learn a lot from Toyota, Hyundai and other companies who have found the keys to conquering the United States. You don’t have to make the US bend to your will – you only have to slide into the openings that are always available, and make the most of the opportunities you find there.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson, NAIAS, GAC Motor

2019 Kia Forte EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Forte was not suffering. But Kia nevertheless injected it with juice from the Stinger — though not the venom.

That’s the opening loud note signaling the 2019 Kia Forte, which competes in the compact sedan class against such stalwarts as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Jetta.

Since its introduction nearly a decade ago, the Forte has been a success story for South Korea’s Kia. Steady annual sales peaked in 2017 at 117,596, making it the brand’s top seller. They continued strong in 2018.

2019 Forte

Not content to simply cruise, the company redesigned the Forte to resemble the Stinger, its critically acclaimed high-performance midsize fastback. They reimagined the styling, giving the new Forte a long hood, short rear deck and other design cues of the Stinger.

However, the Stinger is equipped with a practical hatchback, popular in Europe and other places, while the new Forte, at least initially, comes only as a four-door sedan with a traditional trunk, albeit of a size, 15.3 cubic feet, that would do justice to a midsize car.

The Forte itself, though marketed as a compact, perches on the cusp between compact and midsize, As defined by the federal government, size classes are determined by interior volume—a combination of passenger and cargo space.

2019 Forte

With a motorized sunroof, the new Forte has an interior of slightly less than 109 cubic feet, classified as a compact. Without the sunroof, the space is a bit over 111 cubic feet, which gives it a midsize designation. The dividing line is 110 cubic feet.

It also has an economy car orientation, although in the Korean tradition it comes well equipped even in the lower trim levels. There are four: FE, which starts at $18,585, followed by the LXS, S and EX. Only the base FE comes with a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or Kia’s new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All others get the automatic.

The transmission, which Kia calls an IVT, for Intelligent Variable Transmission, varies the power with a belt and pulleys so there are no shift points. It is the company’s first of its type built in-house and it was engineered to subdue common complaints about CVTs — that they are noisy and feel as if the transmission is slipping.

2019 Forte

Kia’s IVT uses a chain-type belt and special sound deadening materials around the transmission housing. It also can be switched to a different mode that mimics the shift points of a conventional automatic transmission.

But the IVT goes about its business so unobtrusively, getting the power to the front wheels efficiently, a driver is unlikely to give it a second thought. The Forte is powered by a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 lb-ft of torque.

The combination is more than adequate for most driving conditions in urban settings or on freeways. But as noted earlier it does not have much venom. On long upgrades, it feels as if it is straining to maintain speed.

It is likely that Kia will eventually offer more powerful versions of the Forte, perhaps similar to the current 2018 Forte5, a four-door hatchback of conventional design that comes with a 201-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

2019 Forte

Even with the modest power on the 2019 sedans, the Forte presents itself as a well-executed value package that could easily satisfy many younger families.

At the introduction, most of the test cars were the top-line EX equipped with a $3,210 Launch Edition package of options that included forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision warning, adaptive cruise control, UVO infotainment with voice-activated navigation, 17-inch alloy wheels, motorized sunroof, LED headlights and interior lights, and a premium Harman-Kardon audio system.

The EX is priced at $22,885. With the Launch Edition package, the sticker comes to $26,095, which means that a customer could buy two Forte EX Launch Editions for about the same price as the top-line Kia Stinger GT with all-wheel drive. With the family resemblance, you could maybe tack on a Stinger badge and fool your friends.

Even better from a savings standpoint would be to order the S trim level with the $1,200 Premium package, which includes the sunroof and LED projection headlights with high-beam assist. It does not include navigation or pushbutton starting but it has quality cloth upholstery instead of the Sofino leather-like trim of the EX. The price is $22,285.

2019 Forte

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Kia Forte EX four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 147 hp, 132 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,903 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/40/34 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,885.
  • Price as tested (Launch Edition): $26,095.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Forte

Photos (c) Kia

2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sometimes, as with the 2019 Kia Sorento SXL, it’s good to resist too much change. It remains essentially as it was in 2016: a midsize crossover sport utility vehicle that is handsome, quiet, safe, comfortable and competent.

The few additions and modifications, though they make all versions more expensive than their predecessors, mostly enhance the South Korean’s appeal. A third row of seats now is standard across the lineup and the tested SXL with all-wheel drive comes with driver alertness monitoring, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

2019 Sorento

Overall, the top-of-the-line SXL comes equipped as well as some luxury cars and crossovers. Features included a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, SXM satellite radio, 19-inch polished alloy wheels and a surround-view rear camera.

A large panoramic sunroof opens wide at the front and features one-touch controls for the motorized section and the opaque sun shade.

The tested SXL AWD had a starting sticker price of $47,480. With a few options, it topped out at $48,020, right up there with competitors that include the somewhat larger Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse.

2019 Sorento

Like the Mazda CX-9 and the downsized GMC Acadia, the Sorento is a bit of a tight fit for a three-row crossover. Its third-row seat can accommodate, with their knees at belly-button level, a couple of average-sized adults as long as the second-row passengers move their seats forward to provide knee room. Crawling back there takes athletic ability more common to teen agers than empty nesters.

The plush front seats are supportive and comfortable with modest bolstering. Outboard back seats are nearly as cozy. However, though there’s enough head and knee room for the center-rear passenger, the poor soul must perch on a hard cushion.

Mechanically, the new Sorento carries over two engines but drops the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the lineup. Lower trim levels are powered by a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. The tested SXL AWD came with the carryover 292-hp, 3.3-liter V6 engine that develops 252 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Sorento

There are six trim levels, starting with the $26,980 front-drive L version. It and the LX use the 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Upper trim levels — LX V6, EX, SX and the tested SXL — are powered by the 3.3-liter V6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with the shift lever, though there are no paddles on the steering wheel.

The base L  model comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional at $1,800 on all of the other models. But the Sorento obviously is not intended for serious off-road adventures; the all-wheel drive delivers increased driver confidence in snow and other foul weather conditions.

The tested Sorento had four driving modes that adjust transmission shift points and other vehicle parameters: Comfort, Eco, Smart and Sport. They can be selected manually or will automatically adjust to the driver’s style and habits.

2019 Sorento

In any drive mode, the Sorento is as silent runner as can be found in its class. Plenty of insulation and acoustic glass in the windshield and front windows contribute to a hushed environment. Muted sounds make their way into the cabin, but they mostly come from the pockmarked urban streets that have become the default U.S. standard. Road noise, as well as mechanical and wind sounds, are practically nonexistent on smooth asphalt.

The Sorento’s V6 engine and eight-speed transmission deliver plenty of power for freeway merging, two-lane highway passing and fatigue-free all-day Interstate cruising. Handling is secure on curves without excess body lean and few steering corrections are needed in straight-line driving. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 19/24/21 miles per each gallon of regular-grade gasoline.

2019 Sorento

American made in West Point, GA, the Sorento sports handsome crossover styling with Kia’s trademark “tiger nose” grille. The company’s design chief, Peter Schreyer, who formerly worked for BMW and Audi, has said he believes it has the same staying  power as BMW’s dual-kidney grille design.

On the sales charts, the Sorento has been the best-selling Kia crossover SUV. In 2017, sales totaled 99,684 and in 2018 it has been on a pace to escalate into six figures.

2019 Sorento

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, 290 hp, 252 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 143/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,622 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,480.
  • Price as tested: $48,020.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Sorento

Photos (c) Kia

2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

It is rare, but occasionally something like the 2018 Kia Stinger appears and rides through a process of imprinting itself on the public consciousness — first with insiders and enthusiasts, and eventually with everyone else.

Think Chevrolet Corvette in 1954. Ford Mustang in 1964. BMW 1600 in 1967. Volkswagen Beetle and British Mini in mid-20th century. Honda Accord in 1976.  Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. And now the upstart Kia Stinger.

The examples will prompt arguments. You could add the Tucker Torpedo of 1948, but it died in infancy. Or even the Acura Legend in 1986. But we’re talking here mostly about affordable cars that became highly prized and survived for a long time.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD & 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Usually it starts with surprise, morphs into appreciation and desire, and settles into a long-term relationship analogous to the St. Patrick’s Day stereotype, when everybody is either Irish or wants to be.

The word is not yet widespread about the Kia Stinger, and most observers are surprised that it was conceived by the South Korean company, originally known for sometimes shoddy economy cars. But it will achieve status because the company has finessed its way to the top on quality, styling, durability and performance with a full line of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan. There’s not a bad apple in the barrel.

The Stinger shines as a multi-purpose car: High performance across seven versions with style and luxury-car features, two engine choices, family practicality and prices that are doable for middle-income Americans.

Full disclosure: The Stinger is a hatchback. But it is nowhere near what U.S. buyers rejected for many years and now are tentatively embracing. No, it is more accurate to compare it to German high-performance luxury cars, and particularly the new Audi A7 and Audi A5 Sportbacks, both stunners with hatchbacks, high content and price tags to match.        The first impression is that the Stinger mimics the A7: low-down and sexy. But depending on the model, it matches up against both the nearly $70,000 A7 and the $52,000 A5.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD
2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Closest to the A7 — here we’re comparing to the 2017 model, not the recently announced 2018 — is the most exalted Stinger, the GT2, which carried a $52,300 sticker as tested for this review. The tester had the optional all-wheel drive (available for $2,200 on all Stingers), while the A7 comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive.

Side by side, the A7 is seven inches longer than the Stinger, yet they have similar interior space: passenger/cargo volume of 94/25 cubic feet in the A7; 94/23 in the Stinger. The Audi, at 4,234 pounds, is lighter than the Stinger’s 4,515 pounds, but the Stinger has more power: 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 376 pound-feet of torque versus the A7’s 340-horsepower, supercharged V6 with 325 pound feet of torque.

The Stinger GT2’s extra power is canceled out by the A7’s lighter weight so the acceleration of each car to 60 miles an hour is rated by its manufacturer at 4.7 seconds. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.

At the other end of the comparison is the $32,800 rear-wheel drive Stinger 2.0T, which contains a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 260 pound-feet of torque. It matches up with the new $52,100 Audi A5 Quattro, which is four inches shorter and smaller inside by four cubic feet. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 252-horspower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

2018 Kia Stinger Blue - GT2 AWD

The Stinger 2.0T uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the A5 is equipped with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the 3,650-pound Stinger but has a slight edge in acceleration: 5.3 seconds against 5.9 for the Stinger.

The numbers are important, of course, though the proof is in the driving experience. Truth is, any of these four cars — Audi A7 and A5, and Stinger GT2 and 2.0T — would stir the soul of any driving enthusiast. They deliver exciting, right-now acceleration, fuss-free flat cornering and handling at speed, outstanding braking, comfortable and supportive seats, room for four adults (five in an emergency), and generous cargo space that can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks.

The big difference is the Kia’s more tolerable prices and one of the best warranties anywhere. For some, the Audi’s reputation and prestige trump every other consideration. But it’s worth noting that Consumer Reports now ranks Kia No. 3 in reliability, based on owner reports. Audi is No. 4.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,032 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,100.
  • Price as tested: $52,300.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD
2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Photos (c) Kia Motors America.

2018 Kia Rio EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Translated from Spanish, the 2018 Kia Rio means “Kia River.” A better name would be Kia Alegre, which translates into frisky, merry or joyful.

It even could qualify as a Kia Perrito, or puppy. That’s the sense you get chasing around in this new compact car, which comes as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. It is entertaining and eager to please, though with a few faults like any puppy.

As South Korea’s Kia has evolved into a full-line manufacturer of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan, the Rio hasn’t received much attention. But it is the company’s top seller world-wide, owing to its low price, tidy dimensions and good fuel economy.

2018 Rio

In the U.S., the Rio competes against an array of subcompact and compact economy cars: Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and iA, Nissan Versa, Fiat 500, Mitsubishi Mirage and Mini Cooper.

The fourth generation Rio presents new styling, a carryover but improved 130-hp engine with 119 lb-ft of torque, new suspension system tuning and a choice of a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts who might want the stick shift, it only is available on the base LX trim level. Though the LX is hardly a hair-shirt proposition, it lacks some desirable features like cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, alloy wheels, split folding rear seatback, power windows, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and lighted vanity mirrors. Then again, it has a sticker price of just $14,795.

2018 Rio

In a rarity deserving of a standing ovation, all Rio trim levels come standard with SXM satellite radio. Economy cars from other manufacturers require the buyer to buy a more expensive version simply to get SXM. There’s no navigation system but you can run one through your smart phone with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

At the national introduction in Baltimore, MD, Kia offered only the fully-equipped top-line EX four-door hatchback with the six-speed automatic transmission. There was no opportunity to test the notchback sedan, manual gearbox version or other trim levels.

With a base price of $19,595 and a special launch edition price of $20,095, which included two-tone black and red leather upholstery, the Rio EX hatchback was uncommonly well equipped for a compact economy car. That’s a smart move because there are any number of buyers out there who want a small car for its fuel economy, maneuverability and ease of parking, but don’t want to stint on the amenities.

2018 Rio

The Rio EX has plenty of those. Though its standard upholstery is a handsome embossed cloth — preferred by many, including this reviewer — a leather package is optional. Also part of the EX package: full safety equipment with autonomous emergency braking, seven-inch center screen with infotainment functions and a rear camera, 15-inch alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering column, leather-wrapped steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring and power windows with one-touch up and down on the driver’s side.

In urban traffic, the Rio EX has a frisky personality, quick moves and, with its strong power train, a capability to easily pop through gaps in traffic. With four-wheel antilock disc brakes, it also stops with authority. The LX and S trim levels have front disc brakes and drum brakes on the rear wheels.

2018 Rio

Driving at high speeds on freeways is another matter. Though the tested Rio had no trouble merging from ramps and keeping up with traffic, the steering had a loose feel with a tendency to wander, requiring frequent steering corrections. That could become tiring on a long trip.

However, the Rio hatchback had little difficulty tracking on curving roads. It obviously is no sports car but its steering and suspension system combine to hold a decent line around corners as long as you don’t move too fast. At the same time, the ride is not punishing except on very rough roads.

Inside, there’s decent comfort for four people, though there are seatbelts for five. The front seats deliver long-distance support and the back seats offer ample headroom, though knee room is in short supply. As with most cars, the center-rear seat is an unyielding, uncomfortable cushion.

Kia has plenty of decent cars for the masses. Abetting the Rio, there’s the best-selling Soul, now with a turbocharged model (unfortunately only with an automatic transmission), and the superb Forte5 turbo hatchback, which also offers both a stick and an automatic, and is one of the better performance machines around.

2018 Rio
2018 Rio

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Rio EX four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 6-liter four-cylinder; 130 hp, 119 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall Length: 13 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,714 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $19,595.
  • Price as tested: $20,095.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Rio

Photos (c) Kia.

 

2017 Kia Soul Exclaim: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

Always a good and faithful servant, the 2017 Kia Soul gets some fire in the belly.

It comes in the guise of a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 195 pound-feet of torque. It is the most power ever in the Soul’s brief history as a mainstay of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup of sedans, hatchbacks, crossover sport utility vehicles and the Sedona minivan.

2017 Soul Turbo

But it’s going about its new role in a covert way. It is not a separate Soul. Rather, it is one of a trinity of trims. The $16,950 base version comes with a 130-horsepower, naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The midlevel $20,650 Plus has a 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter four.

To get the turbo engine, you must order the top-line Exclaim, which Kia identifies simply with an exclamation point (!). In an expression of modesty—or perhaps cachet for the cognoscenti—the Exclaim carries no turbo identification badges. So it could surprise some lead foots in stoplight sprints.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts with limited bucks, the Exclaim does not offer a manual gearbox. The easy-shifting six-speed stick comes only on the base Soul. A six-speed automatic transmission costs an extra $1,600 on the base model and is standard on the Plus.

2017 Soul Turbo
2017 Soul Turbo

Order the turbo Exclaim and the only transmission is a performance-oriented seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which delivers snappy shifts and a manual mode to shift for yourself, though there are no steering-wheel shift paddles. If you must have a manual gearbox, Kia will happily direct you to its Forte 5 hatchback, offered with the six-speed stick or seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.

Kia likes to refer to the Soul as a crossover SUV. Strictly speaking, however, it doesn’t fit the definition because it has front-wheel drive and does not offer all-wheel drive. In that respect, it is similar to the new Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro, both of which are front-drive only.

2017 Soul Turbo

But the Soul does qualify as unique in the marketplace, though it used to have competition from the Nissan Cube and now-defunct Scion xB, both of which were squared-off hatchbacks.

Since its introduction in 2009, the Soul has been an unqualified success for Kia. When 2017 closes out, it will be on the threshold of a million sales in the United States. The new Exclaim turbo likely will contribute substantially to that milestone.

Likely nobody buys a Soul for sport. Its essence, or soul if you will, is that of a roomy, comfortable and economical car with up-high seating and tidy exterior dimensions that make it easy to maneuver and park. The bonus is its interior volume of 125 cubic feet, which the government classifies as a large car.

2017 Soul Turbo

Twenty-four of those cubes await behind the second row seatback, which is about double what you get in a typical compact sedan. Fold the seatbacks, the space jumps to 61 cubic feet and the Soul becomes a small cargo truck with seats up front for two soul-mates.

That’s true of all Soul models, of course. What the Exclaim adds, though not without extra cost, is a sporting personality. With the snap-shifting twin-clutch automatic, it gets a solid leap off the line and nails 60 mph in a smidgen more than seven seconds, according to an instrumented test by Car and Driver Magazine. Top speed is 125 mph.

2017 Soul Turbo

The performance ingredient continues with handling and braking. Though the Soul would not be much of a challenge on twisting roads to some sports sedans and two-seaters, it hustles around curves confidently with little body lean.

Moreover, the Exclaim qualifies as frugal by modern standards. City/highway/combined EPA-certified fuel consumption works out to 26/31/28 mpg on regular gasoline. Its $23,500 base price is about 10 grand less than the average price of a new car these days. The tester was so well equipped that the only option in its $23,620 delivered price was $120 for carpeted floor mats.

2017 Soul Turbo

At that price, the Exclaim is uncommonly well equipped with features that cost extra even on some luxury cars, including: 18-inch alloy wheels, flat-bottom sport steering wheel, automatic climate control, stability management, hill-start assist, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, push-button starting with smart key, and power windows, locks and outside mirrors.

The fastest growing vehicles now are small crossover SUVs. Though they offer all-wheel drive, many are sold with front-drive. If that’s the choice, the Soul is a fine alternative.

2017 Soul Turbo

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,250 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,500.
  • Price as tested: $23,620.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2017 Soul Turbo

Photos (c) Kia.

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