NAMYUNG, SOUTH KOREA—As part of the Korean automaker’s aggressive move up market, Kia will have replaced every vehicle in its showroom by 2012. So to give Canadian media a “taste” of things to come, Kia officials bused a dozen of us to its expansive research and design facilities it shares with sister brand Hyundai near rural Namyung, an hour and a half drive from the automaker’s headquarters in Seoul.
Unfortunately for a brand that is touting its latest products as “driver’s cars,” our “test drive” of the new 2011 Sportage compact crossover, 2012 Optima mid-size sedan and 2012 Cadenza full-size luxury sedan was limited to a blast up-and-down a 1 km runway-style tarmac at Hyundai-Kia Motors’ expansive 70 sq. km proving grounds.
Not nearly enough seat time to properly evaluate any car, but enough to give you a “taste” of what to expect from the next Kias coming to Canada:
2011 Kia Sportage
Better known for its “yee-hawing” Cajun television ads and bottom-of-the-barrel pricing since its arrival in 1993, Kia’s compact crossover Sportage has always rated poorly when it came to power, refinement, features or styling.
However, like every new Kia coming out of Seoul these days, the new front- or all-wheel-drive 2011 Sportage looks ready to jump closer to the head of its class, a segment chock-a-block with the likes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan.
First seen at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, the new third-generation 2011 Sportage will be the first of this trio of new Kias to go on sale in Canada, available in August starting at $21,995.
In the rain at the proving grounds, the Kia crossover’s robust dimensions certainly filled out its new clothes. Kia product manager, Ken Hong, said the 2011 Sportage has the longest wheelbase and widest body in its segment.
Inside the preproduction 2011 Sportage prototypes at our disposal, it was obvious Kia has ramped up the Sportage’s interior room, quality of materials, fit and finish and ergonomics.
And Kia is claiming the new Sportage will have best-in-class numbers in both power and fuel economy.
While other markets get an optional turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder rated at 260 hp and 238 lb.-ft. of torque, initially in Canada the lone Sportage mill will be a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre four-cylinder rated at 176 hp and 168 lb.-ft. of torque.
It’s expected to get around 10.23 city, 7.84 L hwy. L/100 km (27/36 mpg), with either six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
With plenty of airbags, ABS, electronic stability, hill assist, and downhill brake controls – plus “Roll Over Prevention” (a passive system that helps prevent rollover accidents related to speed) – Kia says the new Sportage will now match the leading Tiguan and Forester for across-the-board safety ratings.
2012 Kia Optima
The best thing you could say about the Optima’s predecessor, the Magentis, was that it didn’t cost very much.
“We admit (the Magentis) was leveraged by its cheap price,” admits Hong.
But in a segment crammed with popular family sedans like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion, price alone couldn’t keep the Kia sedan from ranking near the bottom of both critics’ and new car buyers’ lists. That should change when the 2012 Optima arrives about a year from now
While the first two generations of Kia’s Magentis family sedan were little more than de-contented Sonatas, as part of the brand’s aspirations to set itself apart from sister Hyundai, Kia’s goal with the new front-drive 2012 Optima is to offer “value, style, class-leading performance and a driver-oriented cockpit.”
Part of that equation is distinctive styling and trim, inside and out.
Like the new 2011 Sonata, the Optima has a longer wheelbase with shorter overhangs and a roomier interior than the soon-to-depart Magentis. The preproduction Optima we briefly sat in sported upscale features like nicely stitched heated and ventilated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and a large, panorama sunroof.
And like the new Sonata, the Optima offers a lot more power than some of its rivals, but not at the expense of fuel economy.
Against other four-cylinder rivals such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Nissan Altima, the Kia’s direct-injected 200 hp 2.4-litre four-banger (matched to a six-speed autobox) has more power – yet is rated at 9.8 city, 6.72 L hwy. L/100 km (28/42 mpg) – while its turbocharged 2.0-litre four boasts 274 hp; more than V6 models of the Accord or Altima.
And like its Hyundai platform mate, a gas-electric 2012 Optima hybrid will arrive in Canadian dealerships next spring.
2012 Kia Cadenza
Using Hyundai-Kia Motors’ new Type N mid-to-large sedan platform, the front-drive Cadenza will replace the woeful rear-drive Amanti as Kia’s full-size luxury sedan sometime in 2011.
Shorter, lower, but with a longer wheelbase than the outgoing Amanti, the Cadenza is essentially identical to the 2009 Kia KND-5 concept, arriving with the automaker’s new design language. The overall effect is much more upscale and mainstream than the Amanti’s Mercedes-Benz-imitating looks.
The Cadenza’s interior is a similar leap up from the Amanti. If not up to German automaker standards, the cockpit of the preproduction model we sat in briefly is right up there with the best from Toyota and Ford.
Although its new 3.5-litre V6 is smaller than the Amanti’s 3.8 unit (and loses 11 lb.-ft. of torque, down to 249), the Cadenza’s new V6 gains 21 hp, up to 285.
With a six-speed autobox, Kia claims 0-to-100 km/h takes just 7.2 seconds – two seconds quicker than the Amanti. While fuel economy improves 14 per cent, with a combined 9.36 L/100 km (30 mpg) compared to the Amanti’s 10.9 L (26 mpg), according to Kia’s figures.
In addition to a long list of standard kit (dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, etc.), Kia currently sells the Cadenza in other markets with upscale goodies like 12-speaker audio systems, large LCD dash displays, rear back-up video cameras and trim packages that include “piano black” high gloss trim contrasted with white suede interior trim.
The Cadenza will never be a volume seller in Canada for Kia. But it is a big statement about the once-quaint Korean automaker’s up-market aspirations.
Travel was provided freelance auto reviewer John LeBlanc by the automaker.
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