I’m not kidding either. If you’d asked me 10 years ago which car-maker I thought would be making the most waves in the near future, it would’ve been highly unlikely that I’d mentioned anything coming from S.Korea.
But ‘lo and behold, here we are in 2017 and I have to say I’m properly impressed with what Kia has been doing of late.
Can you remember what Kias were like a decade plus ago? You’d be forgiven for not, seeing as how there wasn’t really much worth remembering, and all you have to do is compare the first-generations of the models available here that are still carrying on the Kia name (i.e Rio, Optima, Sportage, Sorento) to the current crop, and you’d see for yourself, instantly, just how remarkable a turnaround the brand has had.
I’ll give you a ‘visual’ example. How do you go from this:
It all began to turnaround for the better when Peter Schreyer came on board some time ago, to resuscitate what could only be described as a dying brand insofar as its image was concerned, both from a design perspective and a mindset perspective. Kia needed a major makeover, and fast.
I can only imagine the enormity of the monumental task at hand on Mr. Schreyer’s first day, looking at what he had, what there was to work with, and what he had to do. Talk about a daunting proposition…
However, I think it’s safe to say that ‘ol Peter has not been a disappointment to Kia, nor to the rest of the world point of fact, because looking at the current crop of Kias that we had the chance to sample recently, I have to say, whatever they’re paying him, it’s worth it, and then some. Speaking of design, parent-company Hyundai announced recently that they’ve hired ex-VW designer Simon Loasby, while its Technical Centre in Irvine, California has snagged ex-BMW design chief Chris Chapman, so expect even greater things from them too.
The Day of Reckoning…
Arriving at the scene of the multi-vehicle media-drive, I could not help but be impressed with what’s been achieved by this S.Korean brand in the last decade or so. The assembled cars comprised the Rio, Optima, Sportage and Sorento, and while normally I’d shudder at the thought of a 4-vehicle test drive over the course of 24-hours, in this instance I was quite excited to find out if they would perform as good as they looked.
The Kia Rio…
First-up for the day was the new Kia Rio, the smallest car in the ensemble, which in just 4 iterations has gone from this:
This is the ‘sporty-hatch’ of the Kia stable, suitable for millenials or those seeking an affordable, easy to maintain daily-runner that’s both good on gas, as it is on the wallet. The Rio hasn’t been spared the trademark ‘Schreyer’ front-grille, and while it may look quite attractive on the outside, it’s also very well put-together on the inside.
Launched earlier this year, the Rio comes with 6 airbags, vehicle stability management, ABS, hill-start control, reverse camera, automatic climate control, an auto de-fog system for the front windscreen and a Kappa 1.4-litre DOHC, D-CVVT engine that puts out 100Ps and 133Nm mated to a 4-speed auto transmission (its only downside as far as I could tell). All yours for less than RM80k.
The thing about the Rio though, is that while it may be the second introductory-level model of the Kia range after the Picanto (more on that later), it doesn’t feel that way. Yes, it may be cheap, but in a brilliant twist of fate, which may have just been the final say on the correct type of materials for the interior, the Rio comes across as something a lot more upmarket than what it’s price-positioned to be. This is a trick that local car-maker Proton is only just catching on to. However, if you’d prefer a small SUV or Crossover rather than a hatch, well, Kia has that covered too…
The Kia Sportage…
If there’s one vehicle in this line-up that looks absolutely nothing like its predecessor – and I’m talking chalk and cheese here – it has to be the Kia Sportage, which used to look like this:
And now looks like this!
Okay, so maybe the Sportage is not my most favourite of the lot in terms of design, if only because it looks like someone pumped a Rio full of helium and caused the ‘face’ of the car to stretch, a lot. It looks like a face-lift gone terribly wrong actually. But hey, styling preferences are subjective, and by no way should that detract from one simple fact of the matter; the Sportage is a huge improvement and complete departure from what came before it, and in the best way possible.
Take for example the interior of this Sportage GT Turbo, which is where you’d be spending most of your time anyway. Again, as far as compact SUVs go, this has to be one of the nicest you’ll find in this class. But that’s not all. The ace up the wheel-arch for this compact SUV is what lies beneath the bonnet up front.
This little SUV is powered by a stonking 2.0-litre CRDi turbo-diesel engine, producing a total output of 185Ps and 400Nm of torque. Let that sink in a while. Power is sent to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Dynamax AWD offers a higher level of safety by intelligently distributing traction forces.
To say the Sportage GT Turbo is nippy would be an understatement. Given the beans this SUV is almost terrifyingly quick, and in terms of safety, it features 6 airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), vehicle stability control (VSC) and hill-start assist control (HAC), all encompassed in an Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) body structure. Priced at RM159,888 (on-the-road with insurance inclusive 6% GST) it’s by no means cheap, and never comes across that way either.
The Kia Sorento…
Right, so we get to the only Kia that looked quite ‘decent’ when it first appeared back in 2002, and was definitely a step-up from the (then) Sportage in terms of design. In fact, it did pretty well here, when it was launched and looked like this:
Now fast-forward 15-years and thanks to Mr. Schreyer again, this is what you get today:
Pretty damn decent for a large SUV wouldn’t you say? But wait, it was an SUV back in 2002, but it seats 7 now so is it an MPV? Nevermind. I’ll cut to the chase for this one because I think it’s just brilliant that Naza Kia chose to equip this MPV/SUV with a turbo-diesel engine, a R 2.2-litre CRDi in fact, which produces 200PS and a sublime 440Nm of torque. If only Ford had done this for their Escape. (Sidetrack: I did tell them long ago to stick a Ranger 2.5 turbo-diesel engine into the Escape but did they listen, no. Where’s the Escape now? Dead.)
The Sorento MPSUV (my classification) is an amazing drive really, and thanks to that wonderful 2.2-litre turbo-diesel under the hood, it’s blisteringly quick as well. It comes with a number of advanced on-board technologies to improve convenience, including a Multimedia Infotainment System, 7-inch TFT LCD screen on the ‘supervision’ cluster, a smart power tailgate, 10-way power assisted driver seat, seat variations for the 7-seat configuration, Smart Parking Assist System, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), electronic parking brake and drive mode select system, allowing the driver to choose from Normal, Eco or Sport. The Sorento HS Turbo Diesel 2.2L CRDI is priced at RM191,888 (on-the-road with Insurance inclusive 6% GST).
I’ve saved the best for last and if you’re still with me, this one is going to perk you right up…
The Kia Optima GT…
FORGET everything you know, think you know or have heard about the old Kia Optima, because this one has just re-written the book on anything even remotely sporty coming from S.Korea. It boasts 242bhp and 350Nm of torque, mated to a torque-converter 6-speed auto with paddle shifts, and will do the century sprint in 7.4sec. Powered by a Theta II 2.0-litre T-GDI turbocharged petrol engine, the Optima GT which was launched here in May this year, has taken the term sporty-family-sedan to the next level for anything coming from this side of the globe.
This is by far one of the most impressive cars I’ve tested this year, if only because Kia seems to have pulled-out all the stops when it comes to boasting about what it is exactly. It’s a very honest car too, and makes no effort whatsoever to hide the fact that it has 242bhp lying in wait to be unleashed.
In fact, in Sport mode, the engine acoustics are altered from a silent purring 4-pot to what sounds like a dastardly burbling V8 hell-bent on totally obliterating what’s left of the ozone layer and killing some dolphins along the way. I kid you not. The interior also makes no excuses for what kind of car this is, coming-off exceedingly sporty. I absolutely love the fact that the Optima GT is so ‘in-you-face’ about everything it was created to be. Priced at RM179,888 on-the-road with insurance, it goes head-to head with very established company (read: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Teana), but you wanna know something? I’d have this over any of those, any day of the week.
So there you have them folks, 4 new vehicles from Kia, tested over the course of 24-hours. There’s one for every stage of life and every requirement, barring a truck. And for those just starting out in adult life and wanting something even smaller and more affordable than the Rio, we were given a sneak-peek of what’s coming very soon:
Yes, the Picanto is coming back, and yes, it’s going to be in GT Line form as well. First-impressions (static display only) are very favourable; it’s very much like its larger siblings insofar as build-quality and fit-and-finish are concerned, and knowing Kia, it’s going to be priced very competitively too, so stay tuned.
Kia GT Line Media Drive Photo Galley…