The cars we loved.
There was a time not long ago when cars made by Kia (and its parent Hyundai) seemed destined for the automotive cut-out bin. The price was low, but so was quality and overall desirability to anyone but the most cash strapped college student. Like CD’s with minor flaws, but were still playable, no one was standing in line for them (unless you were one of those cash strapped students). Kia gradually proved its value with a string of interesting cars based on Hyundai models but often far more quirky.
Kia Move to More Expressive Design
Things have changed significantly for the Korean duo. With quality up, Kia and Hyundai has begun to concentrate on looks. After hiring former Audi designer Peter Schreyer in 2006, Kia and Hyundai’s car portfolio began to get noticed. Hyundai has received most of the attention due to standout products like the Sonata, Genesis and Veloster. Now it’s Kia’s turn. The Soul became popular thanks in part to cute ads and clever packaging, but it’s been the Optima sedan that’s really been drawing the crowds. The compact Forte sedan has been overshadowed by cars like the Optima, but its coupe version called the Koup deserves more attention.
Slim Pickin’s For Low Priced Coupes
The Kia Forte Koup or Kia Koup is it’s mostly known, fills a niche that until recently has nearly disappeared in the compact coupe market. That being the low price 2 door sporty segment with a proper trunk or hatchback masquerading as a trunk. There was a time when buyers with more style than cash could choose between Japanese, European and American low-cost rides that offered small engines and bigger aspirations towards style. Cars that fit that description like the Golf and Civic from the 80’s and 90’s have grown fat with success and gone upmarket, leaving low-cost coupe buyers with slim pickings. While other low-cost coupes like Mitsubishi’s Mirage, Dodge Neon and the Ford Escort ZX2 have bitten the dust in the American market.
The current boom in compact car sales in the States has re-ignited the small coupe market once again. Called the C-segment, the compact (coupe) market is fiercely competitive in much of the world and is about to become so in America. Kia’s Koup is the latest compact car intended to compete head on with segment leaders the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Mazda 3. The fact that the last two competitors are sedans and /or hatches makes the Koup stand out even more with its traditional coupe profile.
It’s stylish and offers modest performance and technology at a low price. Kia aimed to make the Koup as stylish and fun to drive as it was economical. All versions weigh in at well under 3000 lb. and get anywhere from a low of 28 in the city to somewhere in the low to mid 30’s on the highway. These traits are key to Kia’s role as an entry-level car company. Kia hopes to attract the budget minded as well as the tuner crowd with the Koup. Currently, not many proper two door coupes exist in the under $20,000 price bracket. A few Civic’s or Scion tC can be had in the upper end of that range, but most of the style leaders have been in the priced realm of cars like the Eclipse, Altima, Accord or Mustang .
Maybe Not Fierce But Certainly Frugal
Although the Koup is based on the Forte sedan, it shares only the hood with its parent. It’s shorter and has styling that recalls the Scion tC at some angles while it’s rear light array looks vaguely Chevrolet-like. The look pinned in America at Kia’s design center looks taunt and aggressive, especially when seen from the front. The monocoque body offers torsional rigidity, making the Koup feel and look substantial. That same attention to substance makes the wheel wells look small, even with the 17’ rims of the SX model. The large air intakes are reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Lancer or Dodge Charger, with that angry face /gaping mouth look made popular by Audi a few years ago.
The heart of the Koup comes with a choice of four-cylinder engines. The Theta derived engines, all with DOHC and variable valve timing, have been used by Chrysler and Mitsubishi in some form or another. Base EX cars come with a 2.0 liter good for 156 hp. The exteriors of EX cars are mostly identified by their 16’ wheels. The step up SX model sports a 2.4L similar to those in the Sonata, but with 173 hp. Aside from small exterior differences, SX models come with 17 in rims and fog lights. Both trim levels come with your choice of a manual (5 speed in the EX, 6 in the SX) or 5 speed automatic transmission. The sixth gear in the SX helps with mileage, but in a world where small cars are touting 40 mpg figures, the best the Koup can manage is 33 on the highway with the EX models. The SX is rated at 22/33 for the manual and 23/31 automatic. The Focus offers better mileage with similar performance.
All models of the Koup come with considerable technology for a car priced in the high teens when maxed out. A long list acronyms grace the Koup’s spec sheet. An elaborate electronic stability system (ESC) consists of components designed to make the Koup feel like a performance car. Features like the Brake Assist System (BAS), Cornering Braking Control (CBC) and Traction Control System (TCS) give the Koup some of the abilities of a limited slip differential, while costing less.
Made With Millenials In Mind
All that technology pretty well hides the fact that the Koup lacks a fully independent suspension. But like so many other compact cars today, the Koup makes due with an independent MacPherson strut with coil springs up front and a torson beam in the back. The torson beam design cost less to develop and weighs less than a traditional independent setup. In the case of the Koup, handling does not seem to suffer. In a 2010 Car and Driver test, the Koup managed a skidpad grip figure of 0.89 with all season Goodyear Eagles on a SX model. That puts the Koup’s road holding abilities high amongst its rivals. Straight line performance from 0 to 60 has not been so stellar. With the automatic, it’s ranged from 8.4 seconds at Edmons.com to a low of 7.0 seconds at Motor Trend using the six speed manual. Either way places the Koup somewhere mid pack or higher.
Although corners were not cut with the interior, once inside, the driver won’t mistake it for a BMW or Audi. Its gauges are clear and easy to read. The speedometer features a red ring that gradually illuminates, as if by mood. The effect is calming, while suggesting aggression at the same time. The fun zone on the dash is the Supervision Cluster. It features information readouts and a bar graph showing fuel consumption, trip information and average speed. All the iPod centered entertainment gadgets that would be expected are present, as is some unexpected features like a folding rear seat for up to 90.7 cubic inches of interior space. That’s more than the Civic coupe and Chevrolet Cobalt (early benchmarks). The Koup actually has more rear seat room than the much larger Honda Accord coupe.
Soon the Koup will be joined by a similar car from Hyundai when the Elantra will spawn its own coupe version. This has fueled speculation that the Kia might get a turbo version of the Theta II engine. It seems unlikely if Kia wants to continue to position the Koup and all Kia for that matter beneath Hyundai as a value brand. The Kia Koup certainly ups that ante in what is already a very competitive small car marketplace. If Kia can keep the price low and value high, than we are likely to see many more Koup’s on the road and not in the automotive cut out bins.