Uncooked Truth: Kia, The Best Kept Automotive Secret

 

In this week’s Uncooked Truth, Josh wants you to learn what he has over the last few years about Kia; especially why he used to dislike them, but now can’t get enough of them.

As many of you know I used to sell cars a few years back. Wait, no, actually five years ago this August. Holy God, has it been that long? Now that I’m feeling older by the minute, I should tell you that I sold Mazda and Kia as brand new cars. Lots of them used, too. Unfortunately, the Kia brand were one I didn’t enjoy selling.

I felt as though the Rio was only good enough to drive for fun, more than likely as a stunt vehicle. The Optima was the pensioner’s car. If you were living off your Social Security money, old -bad hips not withstanding- and on Medicaid, you were buying an Optima. Yipee! to be young and free again. The Sportage and Sorento… well, I don’t even know what to say about them from that era. The same with the Spectra. The only good vehicle I remember selling was the Sedona. A little long in the tooth these days, but not a bad alternative for the price.

But Kia got smart, as they hired well known VW/Audi designer Peter Schreyer to head up their new design language and team. Under Schreyer Kia have become a brand that can build a larger global presence, especially with the new Tiger Nose front end. However, before I knew any of this, I was skeptical of anything Kia.

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All that being said, I got en e-mail in late 2010 from one of the companies that sends me cars saying they were sending me a 2011 Kia Sportage. “Oh God,” I thought, “What am I going to do?” I’d only gotten 2 press cars before that, and I didn’t want to say no to finally being able to review cars, even if I didn’t like the car company.

I was sure I was going to get banned from Kia for life! That is, until the Sportage EX AWD was dropped off in my driveway during a snow and ice storm that hits North Carolina every 2-3 years. Just seeing the beautiful LED beads light up each time I hit the lock or unlock button was a sexy welcome to a car that had been so boring before. I remembered saying in my review that you no longer had to sacrifice style or the attention of the opposite sex just because you bought a small SUV.

Then came the Kia Sportage, which was another shocker, because it was actually quite good. Not as attractive as the Sportage, but more useful for a larger family, and more power to be had. I hauled my nieces and nephews in this and they all raved about the comfortable third row seat. Like the Sportage, it had all-wheel drive and a locking differential.

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The Kia Forte (a Kia Cerato in Australia), the Spectra’s replacement, was so much better than the car it replaced, just like the other two. It’s almost as if Kia were blind to what they were selling, but then they were donated a pair of eyes that they can finally see with. Sporty and amazingly attractive, the Forte is a breath of fresh air for small car lovers, like myself. Granted, it didn’t drive as well as I’d hoped or expected, but I’ve talked to numerous readers who’ve bought a Forte who absolutely love the way it drives. So, driving really is in the hands of the beholder.

The best car that I’ve tested by far has been the new Optima EX that I had. My God was it good. Like I said earlier, the old Optima was for those who would advertise the sale of a car with, “Mostly driven to Church on Sundays.” So when I saw the Jaguar-esque styling, the 40.2 mpg average for a car with good straight line performance, and heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, all for the price of less than 30,000 dollars, I thought, sign me up…

I signed up a couple of friends, including my never age appropriate grandfather, who loved the SX Turbo model so much that he bought one. As he put it, “I may look old, I may feel it at times, but I wanna run with the young crowd.” I still believe the Optima is the best sedan for under 50,000 dollars in America.

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The most recent Kia I’ve had was the 2012 Rio SX 5-Door (the Kia Reborn in Australia). Now I haven’t finished my review yet, but I’ll just tell you that if you want a sublime driving little hatch for your high school or college bound kid(s), the size of the Rio is deceiving, because it’s very roomy and spacious and great on gas.

But honestly, here in America we see Kias everywhere. In June of this year Kia sold a little more than 51,000 cars. Let’s take some place like Australia where Kia don’t sell as many cars, but is one of the more important growth markets for them around the world. They’ll always sell well here in America and Europe, because they’ve been around long enough for people to know that they’re an inexpensive brand. Although that’s not just what they’re about these days. Instead Kia are building towards a global sales force that is in the top 5 of every major market they sell cars in. And rightfully so, that’s where the money is for future development. In June of 2012 Kia unloaded 3400 cars; well below what they do here.

But it’s not about how  many cars they sell, it’s how well their cars do in the market. For instance, in the sub-$55,000 AUD car market, the Kia Carnival (Sedona over here) controlled 33% of the minivan market in Australia.

Kia Australia’s COO Tony Barlow told PR Web,

“Again we are very pleased with our performance in a market that is surprisingly active. While it was an all-time record for Kia in Australia and right up with our business plan, the overall market performance was quite surprising.”

What’s so surprising is the 100+% increase in sales for the Kia Cerato, our Forte here in the states. But they shouldn’t be surprised. No, they make a damn good car and should expect to see the current stats they’re seeing. The year-to-date for Kia Australia in 2012 has made 2011 look dim, with a 23.2% improvement in sales. You can’t make up success like this.

So for as important as the American car market is for Kia, I believe Australia may be more important, and other smaller countries. Australia’s car market will probably hit 1 million+ sales for 2012. In America our year-to-date for small cars is just shy of 1.4 million sales in 2012 alone… Kia will always run in the middle of the sales pack here. In Australia, if they meet their goal of around 55,000 annual sales, they could be in the top 3 car makers if Ford (currently holding the 3rd spot as of 2011) still average around 45,000 sales annually.

So my hat’s off to Kia. I love their cars, the company’s prowess, and their current success in racing. Kia have taken racing seriously this year, especially with the Kia Optima SX GTS racer in the Pirelli World Challenge Championship, even scoring back-to-back wins last month, and quite a few podium finishes. I just wish we could get the Optima SX with a manual transmission, then I’d buy one for myself.

Ed’s note: Please pardon the pictures of all the Kias I’ve tested. I wasn’t very good at photographing cars at the time -not that I’m the greatest now. But I do actually try a lot harder now to edit them well, and I’m using a far superior Canon 60D versus my old Canon Rebel XSi.

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I'm a car, music, and Howard Stern aficionado. I also love planes, trains, anything to do with science and engineering, as well as politics. I'm working on my screenplays, TV shows, and a book or two. Stay tuned to when I'm really famous and even more awesome.

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