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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: Kia

Kia Soul matures, stays funky

As of this week, the 2014 Kia Soul has arrived at West Coast ports and is making its way to dealerships across the country.
 
For the faithful — and their numbers are legion — this amounts to high drama. In its short lifespan — it was released in 2009 for the 2010 model year — the funky little hatch has become a surprise sensation. Last year, in its fourth year of production, when sales could reasonably be expected to fall off, an astonishing 115,788 Souls found new homes.
 
At the outset, Kia would have been happy with annual sales of 30,000.
 
Kia will campaign the new Soul under the banner Totally Transformed, though a casual observer will be hard pressed to see it. Mild sheet metal revisions — including a more muscular front end and unique, body-colored “floating” lift gate panel — leave the Soul’s unmistakable profile intact.  
 
Likewise, power trains carry over from last year, though they’re tweaked for improved responsiveness at low speeds and on city streets, where Soul proliferates.  
 
Inside, where hard plastics once reigned, new and attractive soft-touch surfaces prevail. Materials quality improves dramatically, reflecting Kia’s willingness to invest in its new superstar. Fit and finish are unassailable.
 
A new circular design motif underscores what Kia says is the typical Soul owner’s affinity with music. It’s the idea of the “sonic ring” — the way sound flows concentrically from its source, like ripples in a pond — Kia execs said at the car’s national press launch in Minneapolis this week.
 
It’s only when the Soul is underway that its real transformation comes into focus. A lightweight new unibody and sweeping suspension revisions give the Soul a grown-up composure absent from the first edition.
 
Road surfaces in central Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin are good enough to turn Inland Northwest drivers green with envy. Still, expansion joints and the occasional foray onto secondary roads gave the new suspension a chance to shine. 
 
The second-generation Soul shrugs off road-surface flaws that would have sent shock waves through the old car’s cabin. Body roll is well controlled during high-speed cornering, though nothing about the Soul encourages aggressive driving.
 
A new one-piece steering assembly improves steering responsiveness and feel at all speeds. On-center feel is excellent and, despite the Soul’s upright stance, crosswinds don’t upset its composure.
 
Unfortunately, the electrically assisted system refuses to communicate road-surface information to the driver.
 
To reduce cabin noise, Kia added new subframe bushings, relocated the steering box and front stabilizer bar, reconfigured the rear shocks and used a new type of foam insulation.
 
Very little road noise makes its way into the cabin, even at freeway speeds, and wind noise off the upright A pillars is noticeable only in crosswinds.
 
Two engines are offered, a 1.6-liter four that makes 130 horsepower (24 mpg city/30 mpg highway) and a 2.0-liter four rated at 160 hp (23/31). 
 
For 2014, the base, manual-transmission Soul gains $530 worth of new content and a price bump of $300 to $14,700. Automatic-transmission trims receive $705 of new gear and a $500 bump. Shipping adds $795.
 
At the launch, Kia announced plans for an electric Soul. To be released in 2014, it will be available only in limited markets.
 
With the new Soul, Kia proves what many already knew. Maturity does not extinguish the fun.
 
Contact Don Adair at don@dadair.com.

Kia Sorento turns up the heat

Determined to be a big-time player in the States, Kia continues to turn up the heat on its competitors.
 
Just three years ago, Kia replaced its compact, truck-based Sorento SUV with an all-new crossover of the same name. The new Sorento quickly began to ring up sales against such august company as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.
 
But vehicles in competitive categories can take nothing for granted. So, with the 2014 model year, Sorento gets a mid-cycle refresh so extensive other brands would pitch as a full makeover.
 
Indeed, Kia calls the updated Sorento “80 percent new.” Its chassis is new, interior materials are updated and the telematics and infotainment systems are refined. Last year’s base, four-cylinder engine goes away and a new and more powerful V-6 debuts in the premium-level slot.
 
Its optional all-wheel-drive system adds torque-vectoring, a sophisticated technology that sends power to individual wheels, improving handling in slippery conditions and fast corners. 
 
The Sorento is one of the larger compact crossovers and one of just two to offer third-row seating (the other being the recently reviewed Mitsubishi Outlander). Though its wheelbase is unchanged, this year’s chassis revisions boost rear-seat legroom. A pair of  full-size adults will find abundant leg- and headroom. 
 
As always, the vestigial third row is best left for children too young to know a better world exists just inches ahead.
 
The new chassis produces an 18 percent gain in structural rigidity, allowing the fitment of a new front suspension and a significant retuning of the rear suspension. Both measures improve ride and handling. In town, the Sorento rides smoothly over broken patches. At speed, it’s composed, with minimal body lean in fast corners.
 
Focused on helping consumers forget its cut-rate origins, Kia has replaced hard plastic cabin materials with soft-touch surfaces. Extensive sound-reduction measures cut cabin noise to impressively low levels.
 
Kia pioneered cabin tech in the lower price ranges. The new Sorento’s upper trims feature the latest version of Kia’s voiced-activated UVO eServices infotainment and telematics systems. The color touch screen grows to eight inches, the menu structure has grown more intuitive and graphics are sharper. 
 
The addition of a secondary control knob makes this one of the most user-friendly interfaces available, regardless of price (though I continue my one-man campaign against onboard touch screens).
 
Sorento engine choices include a 2.4-liter, 191-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The optional six measures 3.3 liters and makes 290 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available.
 
The weak link here is efficiency. The FWD four is rated at 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 combined. AWD cuts that to 19/24/21. The six is rated 18/25/21 and 18/24/20.
 
The four is generally regarded as a bit underpowered. The six, which on most trims represents a $1,600 upgrade, provides abundant power without a significant efficiency penalty.
 
Other significant ’14 updates include available blind-spot monitoring, front-seat cooling and a height-programmable power liftgate.
 
Whatever you want to call it — makeover or refresh — is immaterial. Fact is, the updated Sorento adds fuel to the already incendiary compact crossover battle.
 
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.
 
2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD
Vehicle base price: $24,100
Trim level base price: $36,700
As tested: $38,550
Optional equipment included third-row seating; rear air conditioning.
EPA ratings: 18 city/24 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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