WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: First off, I have to join the chorus praising Peter Schreyer's design. This 2014 Kia Forte Koup SX is better-looking than the Honda Civic and anything else in the class, especially when it was all nice and shiny at drop-off. Course, how many coupes are in this class? The Civic, Chevy Sonic and Scion tC -- is that even a class? The rake of the windshield and the way the cab leans way forward looks like the Civic Coupe, which I think also looks cool. Inside Kia Koup ain't bad, either. A lot of plastic but what do you want in a $20K econothrasher? A suede headliner? And no CD player? I must be in the old geezer demographic to even notice that.
This was the SX trim level of the Koup, which means it gets the 200-hp 1.6-liter GDI turbo. Imagine, getting gasoline direct injection in an economy car. A miracle! With a curb weight, or kurb weight as Kia would say, of 3,064 pounds, you'd think it'd be quick. And you'd be right. Taking just one launch, I got 0-60 mpg in 6.9 seconds, which is pretty quick for such an inexpensive car. However, the engine sounded like it was going to detonate at that level of performance. It was loud and thrashy. It sounded cheap. I wish I hadn't loaned my dB meter to road test editor Wong so I could measure the noise in this sucker. At high freeway speeds it was very loud. I drove down to San Diego and back and not only was it loud, but the six-speed automatic kept hunting for gears. Peak power comes high up on the tach, at 6,000 rpm, and it seemed to be hunting for that sweet, loud spot. It seemed to make more noise than forward progress when passing. Then, when leaving the driveway on a cold morning, the idle speed was way high then it would go into gear, and a fight for alpha male dominance would ensue between the engine and the transmission. The brakes had to be called in to settle things. The brakes always won.
The front strut, rear torsion beam suspension was sprung too stiffly for the high-speed freeway running I was doing. The car felt almost bouncy -- almost but not really. It just felt too stiff for 80-plus mph, which you shouldn't be driving anyway. At lower speeds it felt like, I'm not kidding, a Toyota Prius. It was flat enough around the corners, but it did not inspire great driving on good roads. I've experienced better electronic power steering units, too.
All in all, I think I'd take the Civic coupe. Maybe Honda could hire Schreyer away from Kia and we'd be set.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: After I spent a week gushing over how charming the Kia Soul was, driving the Kia Forte Koup SX was like switching from Charmin four-ply to store-brand toilet paper. The Forte Koup was uncharismatic and unresponsive; a dull knife in a world where we expect our knives to at least cut a ham sandwich.
The Forte Koup is handsome enough, but it must be said that its distinguishing lower bumper makes it look like a mouth agape. Our Forte came with the 200-hp four-cylinder with all the fancy bits: direct-injection, turbocharging, variable valve timing, dual-overhead cams. And yet, something's sapping all the power from this car: maybe it's the unresponsive eco-minded throttle that needs a firm prodding from a standstill (but launches the car forward in spurts, once the power is on) or the six-speed automatic transmission that “felt like it was engineered in 1972,” according to Mark Vaughn. Or maybe it's that the 200 horses have to shove around 3,064 pounds -- 1,500 of which are seemingly concentrated in each door. That's 200 more than the Soul, by the way, which had 40 less hp but felt like a lithe and delicate butterfly compared to this.
It's the little things about this car that get to you. For one, the satellite radio. Its reception is terrible. If you miss the heady nostalgia of CD skipping, this car will reenact that every five minutes with “ACQUIRING SIGNAL,” the “PC Load Letter” of the automotive world. Every UVO system has a warning message of impending doom and disaster that you must press (the button tucked away along the bottom edge, in a corner) to accept. (The Soul has this, too, if we're being fair.) The warnings in most new cars goes away after a while, or only come into play during navigation duties, but Kia's impenetrable message upon start-up brings to mind the early days of in-car touchscreens.
When extracting rear passengers of sufficiently short stature, the front seats don't lock in place when moved: an annoyance if the seat moves backwards on a hill and an even bigger annoyance every time the driver has to reset his ideal seating position. Thick C-pillars not only cut down on rear visibility, but add huge visual bulk from the outside. The interior is filled with dark textures and dark scalloping.
Competition is good and well, and a plethora of options -- though dizzying -- is better than not. That said, the only other compact coupes that comes to mind are the Hyundai Elantra and the Honda Civic, and I'd have to give the nod to the latter. These compact coupes are a dying breed -- no more two-door Nissan Sentra, no more Chevy Cobalt, and there haven't been two-door Volkswagen Jettas and Toyota Corollas since the '80s. We can't imagine why. The sales pitch seems to be: enjoy half the practicality and the same dull driving dynamics as the sedan! Then, there's a giant arrow pointing to the other side of the Kia showroom, where a Soul sits.
Did I mention that I liked the Kia Soul?
2014 Kia Forte Koup SX
Base Price: $21,400
As-Tested Price: $26,285
Drivetrain: 1.6-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 200 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,064 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 22/29/25 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 26.9 mpg
Options: SX premium package including sunroof, leather seats, heated front seats and steering wheel, ventilated driver's seat, auto-dimming mirror ($1,800); SX technology package including xenon headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, HD and satellite radio, supervision meter cluster ($1,800); six-speed automatic transmission ($1,000); floor mats ($115); rear bumper appliqué ($75); cargo mat ($95)
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