Kia heading in right direction with each new car
Last month, I drove to the Geneva motor show. The focus of the journey was on the quirky Morgan 3 Wheeler – a deliciously impractical vehicle in which to drive from the United Kingdom to Switzerland, but that’s what made it an appealing exercise.
But never mind that now. With minimal storage in the 3 Wheeler, we needed a practical load-lugger as the support car – something that would carry clothes, camera equipment and the like, and be frugal on fuel.
We ended up with a Kia – a C’eed Sportswagon, which in Europe competes against the likes of the Ford Focus estate. It had been some time since I’d been in a European-model Kia, as in the Middle East most of the models are geared more towards the American market.
Kias are unlikely to blip large on the average petrolhead’s automotive radar. The Korean manufacturer has its roots in cars that serve a purpose, but do nothing to raise the pulse. In the past, to be fair, the company hasn’t tried to inject any adrenaline anywhere, but in recent years it has been working hard on its image.
The turning point came in 2006, when Kia appointed the former Audi design chief Peter Schreyer to the team. The man who penned the Audi TT set to work improving the look of the Kia range, starting with facelifts and then working on all-new models from the start of development. The Kia portfolio went from a nondescript bunch of white-goods transport solutions to some genuinely interesting machines.
Well, visually anyway. To drive, they were still a bit… meh. The engines were gutless, the transmissions sluggish, the ride soggy and the steering almost completely devoid of feel. But with each new vehicle, the interior quality got better, the options list was impressive and the price was attractive. For the everyday motorist, a good-looking car for good money was a decent choice.
I hadn’t driven a C’eed since it first launched in 2006, but in those nine years it has improved considerably. The looks follow the Kia family face – that is, sleek and handsome – but to drive, it’s much sharper and tighter. It had comfortable ride and road holding, and much better steering feel than any of the Kias I’d driven in the UAE.
Speaking with people from Kia at the Geneva show – right next to the fine-looking Sportspace Concept, its latest eye-catching concept car – revealed that the company is now starting to ramp up its quality. It knows its cars now look good, and the focus going forward is to drag up the technical quality in areas such as handling and power train. New appointments have been made to turn that vision into a reality.
Within the next year, Kia is set to unveil a new type of car for the brand. The details haven’t been released, but look at some of the recent concept vehicles to get the gist – it’ll be rear-wheel drive, with a new, potent engine and a focus on driving pleasure.
It might be too much to expect Kia to produce a superb driver’s car at the first attempt, but it’s reassuring to know what its aims are. Look at the output from its sister company Hyundai to see how progress can be made. The Hyundai Coupe? Pretty darn fun.
Kia’s key issue in the longer term won’t be just improving the quality of its machinery, but in balancing its appeal. Even if it starts to produce cars of the quality of Ford, Nissan and so on, will the public pay Ford money for a Kia?
It takes a long time for a company’s image to change in the eyes of the wider public – just ask Skoda. But if Kia can nail down handling like it has tackled design and keeps the results at a price we like, then we could be getting a whole lot of value-for-money fun heading our way.
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Updated: March 26, 2015 04:00 AM