New York Auto Show: 2011 Kia Lineup
By Kevin Gordon
Kia recently finished their press conference at the 2011 New York Auto Show and they had an impressive array of cars to show to the media. On stage were four models, two of them debuting to the world for the first time. Even more impressive than four new cars to show is that Kia has launched eight new models in the past year. Kia didn’t brag about having the “youngest” lineup in the segment, but they are releasing new cars so quickly I would be worried if I was a Japanese auto executive.
To start, Kia showed the 2011 Sorento SX. For some reason they launched this compact SUV at the Atlanta Auto Show, but since few media outlets cover Atlanta (yet it’s in the backyard of the Sorento’s assembly plant), this was the SX’s coming out party. The SX is essentially a sportier model of the already-attractive Sorento that has been lowered an inch, been given dual-flow damper shock absorbers, unique 18″ wheels, chrome accents, stainless steal skid plates, and French seam stitching. All of this adds to visual appeal of the Sorento without being to garish or gaudy and should improve handling while maintaining ride quality. We look forward to seeing non-SX Sorento in the Autosavant garage next week.
Next, Kia pulled the cover off of the 2011 Sportage, which was shown in Geneva, and made its US debut today. With this compact SUV, Kia has made a giant leap forward. Subjectively, it is the best-looking of the small family movers and should quickly start to eat into CR-V and RAV4 sales. To start, the Sportage will be available with Kia’s 2.4 liter inline four, which produces 176 hp and is paired to a 6-speed automatic. Kia expects to improve “significantly” on the fuel economy of the previous model. In the near future, a turbocharged engine will be available in either two or four wheel drive.
The third car shown was the 2011 Kia Forte 5 door. Other than the addition of a hatchback/wagon body style, changes include a freshly revised front bumper, push button start, and – for the first time – the option of a proper three pedal 6-speed manual.
Finally, Kia showed the 2011 Optima. This car is intended to take Kia to the “next level” from the previous model. In what appears to be the new “black” of auto design, it is longer, wider, and lower than the previous car. The styling is similar to the other recent refreshes in the Kia line, but is distinguished by a dramatic C-pillar, the now-required chromed fender vents, and red brake calipers.
The 2011 Optima rides on a new platform that adds three inches of wheelbase. It is available with a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled (ventilated) seats, dual-zone climate control, and along with the 2011 Sorento, Microsoft’s UVO system. UVO, short for your voice, is similar to the SYNC system that can be found in Fords. Ford has proven the power of SYNC to attract buyers to their brand, so this is an intelligent move for Kia. Other interior features include sport seats and paddle shifters.
The Optima will be available initially with two engines. The base lump will be a 2.4 liter direct fuel injected inline four that should make approximately 200 HP. With this engine and the 6-speed automatic, Kia expects to see 24 MPG in the city and 34 on the highway, for what they said was class leading horsepower and mileage. (I would love to see the disclaimer on this if it ever makes it to advertising, because I think I have heard that four or five times during the past two days.) Shortly after launch, a turbo will be available with 274 horsepower (not coincidentally, the same horsepower figure that Hyundai announced for the Sonata Turbo yesterday). This motor should see MPG estimates close to the naturally aspirated motor. Finally, Kia announced that a hybrid model will be available next year, but did not share any further details. All of this should be available soon for a price that Kia stated “should be surprising.”
Honda and Toyota executives may soon be questioned as to why Kia can produce cars that are visually interesting (if a little derivative) without being overly bland or unnecessarily odd. With a good-looking line of cars that are competitively priced, and generally better-equipped and warrantied than much of the competition, I would expect to see the Korean automakers, especially Kia, eating into larger amounts of market share from their competitors in the coming years. Tantalizingly, Kia executives said, “just wait to see what we have in store next.” We’re waiting with bated breath.