Spring unofficially arrived in early March this year with warmer than usual temperatures, shrinking ice levels in all area lakes and ponds and a little red coupe that offered sufficient enticements for satisfying the usual passions of the changing seasons.
Not known for sporty little cars, Kia is well on its way to changing everyone’s impressions of what this Korean car company is really about. The next chapter in this rapidly evolving story is the Kia Koup.
Based on the front-drive Kia Forte platform, the Koup uses many of the same mechanical pieces while relying on the Audi-inspired styling that has helped propel the brand to record-setting growth despite the declining economy. Slated to do battle against the likes of the Honda Civic, Scion tC and the Volkswagen Golf, the Kia is a surprisingly competent warrior.
From the beginning, the Koup’s attractive stance makes a nice impact with the target audience. Tasteful comes to mind, as the Koup uses the usual styling treatments such as dramatic sport wheels, crisp front and rear detailing and chromed exhaust tips, yet the car never seems overwrought or too outlandish. There are no wild spoilers, no look-at-me cladding panels or expressive scoops and air dams — just a clean-sheet effort that embraces the conservative parameters of the successful players in the segment, all done with a healthy confidence.
Inside, the theme continues to be expressed competence as the dash arrangement, the operation of the switchgear, and the overall ergonomics would make a Toyota owner envious. The bucket seats hug your hide and offer more than adequate support for all-day travel, plus optional seat heaters that are very capable bun warmers. The split rear seat features release and fold pull-levers in the trunk so cargo room readily expands without you climbing around the front seats to reach the usual tabs for folding the backseats. Nice touch.
The standard stereo, a six-speaker unit with MP3 connectivity, a USB outlet, plus Sirius satellite radio reception, was a real charmer. The speakers are powerfully clear with good sound resolution through all volume settings, plus, they can emit a pulsing light glow to accompany your chosen music mode. A pull-down control panel on the left of the dash lets you activate the circular glow around the door speakers; pick rock music for a pulsing throbbing to match the bass, or, twist to the mood setting, for a rhythmic illumination that soothes. Redundant steering wheel controls — with an appropriate left side thumbwheel for volume alterations — complete the satisfying audio package.
Despite a full assortment of amenities, including a reasonably accurate trip computer, the Koup was missing an item that is also lacking in high-end Forte sedans — an outside temperature readout. Fewer and fewer new cars today come down the assembly line without such a device.
Driving the Koup proved to be as pleasing as the car’s appearance. Equipped with a 173-hp 2.4-liter in-line four and a six-speed manual transmission, the Koup provided spirited acceleration when summoned and more than acceptable fuel economy when cruising. My lowest mileage for our week together was an earnest 29.6 mpg while the top measured mileage was a frugal 33.5 mpg — exceeding the EPA highway rating of 32 mpg.
When cold, the combination of the Koup’s eager throttle tip-in, a tall first gear and a clutch requiring slightly more modulation for smooth shifts can create some jerky starts. But once warmed up, the car’s shifter and clutch work harmoniously to improve power delivery. Spin the tachometer needle beyond 4,000 rpms — right around the engine’s torque peak — and the Koup comes to life while clawing toward redline. Torque steer is never evident, while traction and stability control make sure that if it did, it would be under control.
The chassis in the Koup has been tuned for responsiveness, (read firm) with some sacrifice of overall ride damping. Broken or worn pavement can cause the sport-tuned front struts, and rear multi-links, to relay some impacts into the cabin — one of the sacrifices of low-profile sport tires along with limited wheel travel. Over smoother surfaces, the Koup demonstrated the crisp road manners and the quick agility that compact sporty car buyers are accustomed to. Nicely weighted steering feel and a tiny low-speed turning radius give each driver the confidence to enjoy the Koup’s road worthiness. Road noise, however, could be a little quieter over the same surfaces that upset the chassis.
In SX trim, the Koup comes nicely equipped. Metal-finished sport pedals, tinted glass, side airbags, Bluetooth, turn signal mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering column, fog lites, power sunroof and heated leather sport seats are among the many standard pieces, all for just $18,195 including delivery.
The Kia Koup looks good, runs nicely, and is priced attractively for springtime buyers in need of a dose of new spirit. Gotta love those new beginnings that occur this time of year.
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