Monday, October 17, 2011

2012 Kia Rio and Soul: Overview

Last week, I attended 2012 Kia Rio and Soul launch, held at Travaasa Resort in Austin, TX. Here I test drove the new Rio five-door and refreshed Soul, learned about Kia’s newest technologies, heard where the company was headed for in the future, and what they were presently accomplishing.

Kia says within the last three years, it has been the fastest growing car brand in the US. Their vehicle sales have risen over 50% (year to date) vs. last year, they’ve had 13 consecutive months of record sales, and have 16 years of increased US market shares—pretty impressive.

Kia also says its target market is post-grad tech-savvy customers. However, they also recognize those more distinguished in age are also looking for a snappy, stylish addition to their automotive family. I fall into the post-grad category (plus a few years) and am enamored with both vehicles.

When I remember Kia automobiles from several years ago and compare them to where they are today, I am wholeheartedly impressed. The company is experiencing solid and continual growth. It has improved its attention to detail and offers superbly stylish cars. Add to this the company’s unified brand strategy, and it all equates to an amazing transformation. Both the 2012 Rio and Soul are top contenders in their class, and should be seriously looked at for their quality, value, environmental, and technological innovation.

For 2012, the Kia Rio is $395 lower in cost, although it has $1,400 added content compared to the previous model. That’s $1,800 of added value. On top of the monetary benefits, Kia has put a number of environmentally conscious features into the Rio. For instance, the entire car is 85% recyclable, so at the end of its life there will be little that needs to be landfilled. Also, the rear tire wells are made up of recycled content and the seat foam material is made from 100% biodegradable and non-toxic plant-based castor oil. Castor oil is a renewable resource, too, therefore reducing the need for petroleum-based products.

The Rio’s fuel economy is an impressive 30 city/40 highway and it will be the first non-hybrid or luxury brand to offer the ISG (Idle Stop & Go) start/stop technology option, which reduces carbon emissions and fuel consumption while improving fuel economy. ISG works by turning off the engine when the vehicle is not in motion, and restarting the engine when the driver releases the brake pedal.

The car is powered by a 1.6-liter GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) engine making 138 hp and 123 ft./lbs. of torque. The engine is coupled to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. It should be noted that the manual transmission is only available on the entry-level LX model. (FYI, trim models are LX, EX, and top-of-the-line SX.)

In addition to its environmental and powertrain features, it has great styling; a solid, well-built interior; tons of room for storage; and many additional options. The Rio five-door will start at $13,600 for an LX with a six-speed manual transmission; an SX with a six-speed automatic will start at $17,700. All-in-all, the five-door (and its later-to-be-released five-door sedan) is one of the best “bang-for-the-buck” cars in the B-segment class.

The Kia Soul has been refreshed for 2012, and has many technology and powertrain upgrades to make this already-fabulous vehicle even more fabulous. This hip hatchback still has the previous model’s funky and stylish exterior and solid interior, but gets several upgrades for 2012.

The car’s guts contain class-leading horsepower upgrades with two efficient new engines: a 138 hp 1.8 liter with GDI, mated to six-speed manual or automatic transmission (ala the Rio); and a 164 hp 2.0-liter (non GDI) engine with the same transmission options as the smaller powerplant. Both get available ISG stop/start technology and better fuel economy than previous models. New headlamps, mirrors, taillights, wheels, front and rear bumpers, and subtle body changes round out the exterior on the ’12 Soul. Additionally, all Souls boast improved, redesigned interior changes that include reduced noise and vibration, solid and simple-to-use interior hardware, telescoping and tilt steering wheel, and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM).

The base Soul starts at $13,900 while the top-of-the-line Soul! (“exclaim”) tops out at just under $20,000. A few of the luxury items the Soul! offers are exclusive projector headlamps with LED accents, voice-activated, Microsoft-powered UVO infotainment system (expected to be available this fall), an all-new 350-watt seven-speaker Infinity audio system (also optional on Soul+), and optionals heated front seats, push button start, and leather trimmed seats. Many more options are available, and all of them meticulously designed and engineered. The Soul is available in many eye-catching colors, and Kia will continue to release Special Edition vehicles as they have previously.

Coming soon: More photos and driving impressions of both vehicles.

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