Thursday, March 25, 2010

Automotive: Kia Forte test driven.

I must say I was very surprised by what's been brought to the table by Kia Forte for RM81,800. First impression of the car in terms of design was good. While I don't think it will leave you speechless but at least it's a lot more lookable compared to other Korean makes. It has a sharper face and overall body is proportionate with purposeful press lines. Something which I would consider very safe and palatable to most people. Meaning to say, 8 out of 10 people will consider this as stylish and relevant to today's design. The 9th and 10th are either designers themselves who beg to differ or blind. Safe as it should, I would presume this is a logical step for Kia to 'undo' all its past design mistakes and reckon the Forte to be a clean slate. From now on, the DNA shall be slowly revealed and imprinted on it. We may expect to see more and more stylish Koreans from now on ;) Like those on TV right now...

Getting into the car, I was blown away by the power-packed features available for a Korean sedan at this price range. I suppose Peter Shreyer is really making his time leading Kia's global design centre worth every penny (or won). A lot of VW's feature and functionality is now available in the Kia Forte. Some examples are: Engine start/stop button with smart key, car visor with mirror equipped with manual lights for both front passenger and driver, front reading lights, advanced data message centre which provides information on fuel consumption, reverse sensors direction, etc, electro-chromic mirror which cancels out high beams sent out by blind night cows, rear seat centre armrest with cup holders, air-conditioner with auto-climate control and an array of safety functions for the SX version. I think what was really impressive is the smart key remote device (which probably takes you some practice to smoothen out the usage) that is multi-functional. A lot of what I mentioned is available in conti cars costing RM200k and above but of course, minus the finesse. With the Kia Forte, you'll get RM80k of cake but not the butter and needless to say, forget about the icing :)

When it comes to drivability, in terms of overall comfort, Kia Forte does have a more spacious cabin compared to Toyota Vios and Honda City although cabin comfort tends to slack a little. It's 1.6 therefore provides a few more kW of power compared to the Japanese while max torque is at 156 Nm riding at 4.2rpm. After being wowed by Kia Forte's functionality, everything that should look good, looks good on paper, I was a little disappointed with the drivability. The steering is tight, pick up a little sluggish and feedback was slow. You really have to step on it to get it up to speed which probably compromises on fuel efficiency for city driving. Cornering is okay, I won't say fun but vehicles like these are not meant for constant high speed and speedy cornering anyway, so please don't try this at home. For all the fancy buzz surrounding the Kia Forte, it could have captured my heart too until I finally grasp what was missing. It has... no soul. It doesn't cruise as comfortably as the Vios nor does it run as fun as the City, it's just 4 wheels which can deliver 91.2kW of power, taking you from A to B, zero to hundred at 12s. And it will be a boring and sluggish 12s, mind you. No feedback, no thrill, no zoom zoom (to quote another Japanese). It was simply a car and me. And frankly speaking, at times I don't think 'we' know what each other is doing :/ Sigh.

All in all, to a certain extent the Kia Forte did leave me speechless. The way it strived to be the third 'Japanese' following VW's stance. Everything which needs to be there in a contemporary car with a fair price tag, is there. And this may post serious threat to the entry-level Japanese and even exit-level Nationals. But to me, the most important thing in a vehicle minus all the frill is the soul which drives it. Without it, everything becomes a matter of show and tell. Don't know about you, but to me, that simply won't do.

(Oh by the way, if you plan to buy one, skip the EX will ya? RIM CAPS ARE SO EIGHTIES!)

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