About eight years ago Hyundai and Kia blossomed into two truly competitive automotive brands. By the mid 2010’s, it seemed their upward mobility had waned, and an adherence to the designs that got them recognized no longer excited the automotive press or the public. This is understandable, as pretty much all upstarts tend to mellow out once they reach mainstream success. But the latest models from Hyundai Motor Group are definitely more passionate than they’ve ever been.
The current generation Sonata is a collection of design elements Hyundai created to try and make their mid size more exiting. They clearly want their sedan to more closely resemble cars like the Ford Fusion and Mazda 6. Unfortunately, the Sonata just ends up looking like a Frankenstein creation that should have never left the laboratory.
I had some hands-on experience with a 2018 Sonata Limited 2.0T about a month and a half ago because Hyundai occasionally promotes their vehicles by offering a $40 gift card to people who test drive one of their products. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the car primarily because its handling didn’t justify how harshly the suspension reacted over bumps. Seems like Hyundai also just thought adding low profile tires would do the trick. No dice. And the car wasn’t terribly quiet at 40 MPH either. But the engine and transmission worked well together, and I liked the infotainment system, which was responsive and easy to use.
In related news, I’d like to thank Hyundai for allowing me to purchase this soldering iron kit and Demolition Man on Blu-Ray without spending any of my own money.
Over at Good Car Bad Car, Timothy Cain wrote a solid piece about the fall of the Sonata. His criticism of Hyundai’s conservative approach to the design of the latest Sonata is sound. But we all know its the crossovers that are denting Sonata sales, don’t we? I wouldn’t be surprised if the new Kona siphons some sales away from Hyundai’s car lineup. And why not? It has a fresh look and its available in bright colors. I’ve already seen several on the road and they look good.
And the Kona has the performance to back up its exciting looks. Critics have lamented the weak engines in vehicles like the Honda HR-V and entry level models of the Ford Ecosport, but Hyundai decided to buck the trend and equip its subcompact with a 1.6 liter turbo, which has an output of 175 horsepower and 195 Ibs.-ft. of torque. The 1,500 rpm peak torque rating and 7 speed dual clutch transmission seem to have won over pretty much every auto critic. And the consensus is that the Kona is also pretty fun around the corners too. Perhaps I should have test driven a Kona instead.
The Kona will also be available as a plug-in battery electric variant at some point in the future. No on sale date as of this writing, but the display did list the size of the battery, which should be 64kWh. The current generation Nissan Leaf is equipped with a 40kWh lithium-ion unit. That translates to an estimated 151 miles per charge, so expect the Kona to at least match that figure, or exceed it.
The interior of the Kona Electric largely mirrors its internal combustion counterpart. There are two big differences though: the Kona Electric boasts a much brighter interior, and it also lacks a traditional shifter. Minor differences aside, the interior of the Kona is notable for its emulation of the Mazda aesthetic, with everything from the floating screen motif to the HVAC vent design drawing inspiration from the Japanese brand. This is not the last time you will read about an automaker using Mazda’s interior design language for their own products.
Yes, this cabin is very bright. White is the new beige, and I don’t have a problem with that.
This is the “I can’t believe it’s not a Kona,” also known as the NEXO. Hyundai claims its based on a dedicated platform. I’m not sure if I should be amused or offended by that assertion.
Anyway, the NEXO is a successor to the Tuscon Fuel Cell vehicle, and it sports a range of 307 miles. It’s propulsion is based on a powertrain that uses hydrogen to create electricity, which sounds very cool. And the NEXO is not some type of concept either; it will be available at the end of 2018, in select markets.
The “totally not a Kona” NEXO has an interior that looks a lot like one. Except the floating screen and the cockpit share an exterior frame. I kind of like it.
Subcompact crossovers and electric vehicles are the hot thing to talk about right now, but full size crossovers still matter, and they’re still pulling in the big bucks for the companies that make them. Except this isn’t a full size crossover. The Artist Formerly Known As Sante Fe Sport is gone, with the 2019 model just being called Santa Fe and the current three row Santa Fe continuing as the Santa Fe XL until its successor comes out in the near future.
Overall, the new model gains some very SUV-like design cues, which isn’t really the norm in a segment that consists of vehicles like the Nissan Murano and Ford Edge. It’ll be interesting to see how the segment fares with this model, the new Chevrolet Blazer, and the upcoming Honda Passport. What decade are we in again?
Like the Kona, the Santa Fe gets a floating screen motif. Although this time around some corners are pinched or rounded, which makes the interior a little more unique.
I wasn’t expecting the most interesting element of the Santa Fe’s interior to be the speaker grille, but here we are. Yes, those are three dimensional shapes, and the grille itself felt like a very high quality piece of trim. Hyundai’s engineers probably realized that people would rub their hands over the grille once they saw its unique shape, so they made sure it didn’t feel cheap. Smart move!
The Santa Fe’s smaller sibling also gets updated styling for the 2019 model year, although this is just a refresh, not a full redesign. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find any picture of a Tucson with this particular grille using Google, so this may be limited to a certain trim.
It’s not a bad look. And that color is nice too.
At this point you’d be more surprised if a new Hyundai didn’t offer a floating screen motif, right? In this instance the climate controls seem to bulge out a bit more than in the other Hyundai models we’ve seen. And that screen seems a bit further up too. My guess is that they didn’t completely swap out all the interior parts because of its status as a refreshed model.
Unlike the Santa Fe, the Sorento does not get a redesign for the 2019 model year. But it does get some updates that might make it more appealing to customers.
One of the more interesting changes Kia made to the Sorento lineup is the addition of third row seating as standard equipment on all trim levels. This enables Kia to sell a third row crossover at $25,990 before any incentives. There’s always a catch though: the base trim comes standard with a 185 HP 2.4 four cylinder engine. Hardly enough to move a 3,800 pound vehicle.
Equipping the Sorento with the more powerful V6 brings the price to a level right in line with the competitors that don’t offer an entry level four cylinder engine. I imagine those ads fool a lot of people into thinking they can get a comparable Sorento for far less than the American or Japanese three row models.
Our featured Sorento is an SX model, which makes a lot of optional items standard, including an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible infotainment system. The rest of the interior is good quality, although I wasn’t a fan of the HVAC controls, which contained a digital display that looked like it just came from 2002.
Peter Schreyer has certainly left his mark on Kia. His designs definitely contributed to the success of the brand over the past decade. And they’re also a window into what vehicles like the Golf could have looked like if he had stayed with VW. Case in point: the Rio.
Kudos to Kia for bringing a lower trim level to the show. Genuine wheel covers are a rarity on the floor for good reason. And this isn’t even the base model!
With the rise of cheap(er) crossovers, automakers will likely have to once again market their small cars as cheap and cheerful transportation, rather than tout their sophistication, which is what was necessary during the era of higher gas prices. Unfortunately, the floating screen motif doesn’t look terribly good on models equipped with a regular, non-touch screen interface. But not everyone wants or needs a full line infotainment system, so its nice that they’re still available.
The Toyota Prius used to be the only choice if you wanted a vehicle that could break the 50 mpg barrier. Now there are several, and the Niro is a member of that hallowed club.
Overall I’d say that the Niro looks a lot like the Rio. Certainly not a bad thing. The Niro is also notable because unlike a lot of other hybrids, it does not come with a CVT transmission. Instead, Kia opted to use a seven speed dual clutch unit. Sounds good to me. The only problem is the Niro’s 0-60 performance, which at its fastest measurement clocks in at about nine seconds. That’s slow even by hybrid standards. And the Hyundai Ioniq also has the same problem. Work on making your hybrids faster Hyundai!
Kia rolled out a Prius competitor at a time when hybrids weren’t in high demand. They seem to be playing the same game with the K900. The new model is Kia’s take on the Genesis G90, another sedan that isn’t exactly flying off dealer lots. A K900 owner is obviously someone who doesn’t care about labels, but you’ve still gotta wonder why anyone would want a vehicle that shares its exterior DNA with something less than half its price. At least Genesis owners don’t have that problem.
I actually think the Optima is more attractive than the K900. In fact, I think luxury automakers don’t have an outsize influence on design anymore.
That being said, mainstream automakers still borrow from luxury makes. Land Rover has made side badges trendy again. I assume the “turbo” on this Kia answers the question many drivers ask when seeing it: “how did this Optima just pass me?”
As buyers flock to SUV’s and crossovers, the Korean automaker has doubled down on sedans. And I mean that literally; Kia has double the amount of sedans in its lineup as Hyundai. What other mainstream automaker has six sedans in its lineup?
And that brings us to the Cadenza, the car my dad keeps mistakenly calling the “Credenza.” Since its introduction, the full size Kia has never sold more than 10,000 units annually. There is no reason for this car to exist in America. I guess the Hyundai Motor Group just wants to compete with Lexus any way they can? And they think they can do it by building high end Kia models to compete with the ES and GS sedans, while Genesis fights the Germans. That’s all I’ve got. It’s not a terribly rational business plan.
I’m pretty sure its possible to ignore the Cadenza, Kia. Your target demographic can’t even pronounce its name correctly!
On the opposite end of the desirability spectrum lies the redesigned 2019 Forte. This is where the “impossible to ignore” tag line more appropriately fits. While the current Forte is decent looking, its exterior is a bit bland and derivative. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.
Kia claims the new Forte was designed with elements borrowed from the Stinger. Is that true? Not really. The only similarity between the two vehicles is the connected tail light set up. Otherwise they don’t really look alike. But they both look very attractive.
At the auto show, colors matter, and that definitely applies to the Forte. The 2019 model still looks great in white, but in this reddish example, it almost morphs into a completely different car.
The Forte will be equipped with Hyundai Motor Group’s first CVT, which they’re calling an “Intelligent Variant Transmission (IVT).” Kia developed the IVT to simulate a torque converter transmission and took some steps to minimize the droning noise that a lot of CVT vehicles exhibit. Honda has done a commendable job with its CVT in the Accord, so I have no doubt that other automakers can follow suit with their powertrains.
Inside, the Forte pretty much becomes a Mazda. But the Kia’s standard infotainment system rests closer to the driver. And its lack of a prominent bezel around the edge of the 8 inch screen makes it look more premium than the one in the 3. Overall, I’d say the 2019 Forte is a highly appealing compact that will likely be able to hold on to about 100k annual sales if its driving dynamics are as good as its exterior design.
Since I saved the best vehicle for last, the Kia swag makes an appearance here, not at the end of this post.
Here are two Kia Stingers I can actually afford!
Although afford is a relative term here, because if the Stinger models in the swag display case were the Minikraft die-casts, their retail price exceeds three hundred dollars. Pretty insane, right? They do seem like very high quality items though. At that price they better be.
A substantial portion of the enthusiast community cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced when General Motors cancelled the Chevy SS. If the mainstream, rear wheel drive performance sedan segment were to go extinct it wouldn’t be the end of civilization, which is contrary to what a lot of car guys believe. That being said, the world is a better place with vehicles like the Kia Stinger in it.
Chevy managed to move just under 13,000 Chevy SS models from 2013-2018. Kia has sold just over 7,000 Stingers in 2018 alone. Why will the Kia probably outsell the SS? For starters, its exterior is more exiting than the Chevy. It’s also cheaper, with a starting price of about $32,000. And it can be equipped with all wheel drive. The Stinger also doesn’t give up much in terms of performance. Car And Driver achieved a 4.4 0-60 time with the Stinger GT2 rear wheel drive model and 4.6 with the all wheel drive variant. The SS clocked in at 4.5 seconds.
The Stinger also manages to be well packaged. If you thought the car looked big, like I did, your eyes deceived you: with a 190.2 inch length and 73.6 width, the Stinger is about an inch shorter than an Optima and only .4 inches wider, which puts it firmly inside the mainstream mid size sedan segment.
And with the rear hatch you’ve got some decent cargo utility. Perhaps we need a new name for a vehicle that has a hatch but looks more like a sedan. Sedatch? Hatchdan? Any way you slice it, the Stinger seems like an incredibly cool car. Hopefully its sticks with us for a while.
The only underwhelming aspect of the Stinger is the interior. It just doesn’t look or feel like an interior for a car that starts at $32,000. Definitely not a deal breaking drawback, but its worth an evaluation if you’re seriously thinking about owning one.
This is really the first car of its type that I could see myself owning. Especially an example with the Micro Blue Pearl paint job.
There’s also the Stinger Atlantica, which is a special edition equipped with a unique color and some options not available on the other models, like wireless charging and heated rear seats. If I had the money, I’d probably still opt for a less exclusive model, but the idea of owning a limited production Stinger is alluring, and if I win the lotto I’d make it happen, along with a Lexus LC 500 in Structural Blue.
Kia also brought some examples of the Stinger equipped with body kits, lowered ride heights, and larger rims. Personally, I think the Stinger looks better in stock form.
And with that I leave you with one more picture of the Stinger in what I think is its most appealing color. Huzzah for exciting vehicles!
Stay tuned for Part 6!