Zoomer Consumer: Kia Kicked it Up a Notch!


It’s time to take notice.

While the vast majority of automakers scrimp, slash and “restructure” to dilute the red ink they’re standing in, Kia (and their parent company Hyundai) find themselves in a period of growth and profitability. And now they’re doing it in style.

Thanks to Peter Schreyer, Kia’s chief designer who previously worked at Volkswagen and Audi (where he was behind the original Audi TT design), the Korean automaker is putting their best foot forward with fashionably priced vehicles as the company celebrates its first decade in Canada.

With Kia’s new 2010 models – the Soul and Forte – it’s easy to see Schreyer’s signature coming to the fore.

The Soul falls somewhere between a small crossover and hatchback – but don’t let its ambivalent class distinction deter you from hopping in; or it’s youthful appearance for that matter.

Kia definitely wants to corner the young, first-time car buyer with this fun, chic car. It’s cute, small boxy body, with 18-inch alloy wheels and two-tone dash, screams out to younger drivers looking for a stylish ride that won’t force them to take out the hammer and break their piggybank.

And it’s working.

While filling it up, someone at the gas station came to me and gushed, “That’s a sick ride.” His youthful vernacular communicated praise for Soul’s slick styling – but don’t let appearances mislead you, this ride spans all generations.

With backseats that fold flat, this small ride can carry an impressive haul. I luckily had the 4u Burner model (it tops off at $22,195; the base model starts at $15, 495) when I was moving across town and it handled more than 10 boxes, a handful of bags and tons of knick knacks. It stayed close to the ground around turns, has impressive visibility and sipped gas at a reasonable 9 l/100 km (although, greater fuel efficiency is always appreciated).

The somewhat archaic 4-speed automatic transmission (5-speed manual is available), which felt somewhat sluggish at times, was the only main complaint I had with the Soul. It would have been nice to have a 5-speed automatic – and really, that’s not asking too much these days.

I had the same issue with the Forte EX ($19,195; LX model starts at $15,695 and the SX with 5-speed automatic hits $22,195) – but that’s where it starts and ends.
The Forte is a very simple, but attractive vehicle that should make its competition (Honda Civic, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cobalt, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla) sweat a little.

The moment I got in the captain’s chair I felt at home. The controls, knobs, switches and dials were all in their proper place. The steering wheel (with tilt and telescoping, thank-you very much!) has a pleasant stiffness that conveys sturdiness and sure handling.

And boy, this little guy has pep. I had to get used to shooting down the street when I tapped on the gas. But once I commanded the pedal’s starting point, the joy of zipping around began – at only 6.5 l/100 km. The cabin eliminated road noise better than expected and its sportiness surprised me, although I should have expected it knowing Schreyer’s r�sum�.

Both vehicles are not only sensible, but have their own unique flair that makes driving fun. And if they’re any indication, 2010 could be a banner year for Kia.

–Travis Persaud