Kia Koup

A few members of the Malaysian media got to drive the Kia Koup today. Yes, the production model that was just unveiled less than a month ago – I believe our congregation is the first in the world to get to try Kia’s latest 2-door coupe out.

I believe the Kia Forte marks a significant milestone in the history of Kia models. For the first time (at least for me) in a long time a Kia model looks bloody good enough for a thought to spark in my head that it would be nice to see one parked in my garage, something appealing for me to look at when I step out of the house every morning, and not just something that I tell myself I bought because it was merely cheaper.

The Koup in particular is also Kia’s first two-door coupe, while its Korean sibling Hyundai has gone down that road many times even a long time ago with the Scoupe.

Kia Koup

The Forte and Forte Koup’s design and details are pleasant to look at, without anything garish or shocking, with the only thing that stands out being the rather aggressive front bumpers. In fact at first glance the Forte Koup looks pretty much like just a 2-door Forte but the Koup actually only shares the engine bay hood with the Forte, with every other panel unique, for example the front fenders may look the same but the Koup’s are actually more aggressive and seem to bulge out more to cover the front wheels.

In the US, it goes head to head against the Honda Civic Coupe (which it looks kinda similiar to), the Scion tC, the Chevy Cobalt Coupe and the aging Ford Focus Coupe. The chassis uses MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the back.

Kia Koup

We had two units of the Kia Forte Koup to try out, both automatic models, one with a 2.0 litre engine and the other with a 2.4 litre engine. The 2.0 litre engine produces 156 horsepower and 195Nm of torque mated to a 4-speed auto transmission while the 2.4 litre model puts out 173 horses and 227Nm of torque, mated to a 5-speed auto. Both models had pre-production interior panels without any texture but the dash looked finished.

The Kia Forte Koup has a decent seating position with the driver’s chair able to go far back enough for a comfortable driving position for me, however with my seat pushed far back rear legroom was compromised, but that was better when a shorter Korean engineer took the driver’s helm with me sitting at the back. The steering has both rake and reach adjustability which means I was able to adjust the steering wheel to be close enough to me for an optimum driving position, which means the base of my hand was able to rest on the top of the steering wheel.

Kia Koup

And off we go. Our test drive was not on public road but in Kia’s Namyang R&D center, where there was a very long and wide multi-lane straight where we could drive down, do some low and high speed lane change maneuvers, and U turn at the end in whatever fashion you’d like, whether a regular smooth turn or a crazy one if you can make yourself do so in front of the Kia Motors engineer in the car.

First up was the 2.0 litre. It is from the Theta II engine family but with CVVT only on the intake, unlike the new Optima facelift’s dual CVVT on the intake and exhaust. 156 horses felt quite spritely, which was expected really as it felt decent in the Optima so it should do better in the lighter Forte, and do better it did. Gearshifts are smooth and response to kickdown was quick and satisfactory, and so was the manual shifting with the gear lever. There is no Sport or S mode on the gearbox, you can either go into D or into manual mode. Push forward for upshift and pull back for downshift – I would have preferred it the other way around really as it feels more natural.

Kia Koup

The 2.4 litre was pretty powerful though like the 2.0 it didn’t sound particularly exciting, which is something every inline-4 engine faces. In stock form it just buzzes all the way to the redline without any rumble or grunt like a V6 or V8, and not even silky smooth like an inline-6. 173 horses and 227Nm of torque is nearly as much as the MINI Cooper S actually, so flooring it from gear 1 on the automatic did cause some protest from the tyres, though the engine is either 1) not powerful enough to cause any kind of torque steer or 2) Kia managed to sort out the driveshaft length and front suspension right.

Our cars were equipped with Kia’s MDPS or Motor-Driven Power Steering. This is an EPS system much like in the Civic, which uses an electric motor to drive the steering instead of it being directly hydraulically driven. This allows variable steering assistance – heavy at high speeds but lighter at low speeds to assist with parking. But I found that Kia hasn’t really got the speed, angle and assistance levels mapped out perfectly yet – it does not feel very smooth and natural and sometimes it switches from heavy to light when you don’t feel like it should.

Kia Koup

At low speeds, some maneuvers that did not require much of steering angle still resulted in a heavy steering – it’s only when you turn more that assistance increases. But other than that it felt like a proper hydraulic system with nicely weighted self-centering and etc, which is okay for a first time attempt at EPS but a second generation improved version should be worked on immediately! We may not get the EPS at all of course, because Kia engineers say a traditional hydraulic power steering is also an option with the car so it depends what the Malaysian distributor orders.

The Forte Koup has a slightly firmer suspension than the Forte sedan, with reduced ride height too. A sharp turn produced in no awkward reaction from the chassis, there was some body roll in protest to the sudden maneuver but there was no awkward bouncyness or etc so that’s decent.

So yeah, it’s quite a nice 2-door coupe actually and from what I hear our local Kia distributors are looking into bringing both the Forte sedan and Forte Koup in, with 1.6 from the sedan and 2.0 for the coupe. I reckon the 2-door coupe as a CBU unit could be priced at around the Honda Civic or Hyundai Coupe’s level, matching the two cars as a 2.0 litre automatic C-segment vehicle but I think Naza Kia would have to load up the car with nice specs such as a sunroof to get around the badge snobbery.

Kia Koup

Rear legroom especially the seat behind the driver’s seat varies depending on how far the driver’s seat is pushed back, but headroom is sufficient for someone 183cm tall like me, as there was still a 2 to 3 finger gap or so between my head and the ceiling, so its perfectly capable of being a 4 or 5 seater, though 5 may be abit of a squeeze especially since the rear floor is not flat.

Other things nice to have but absent on the Koup are a slightly thicker steering wheel rim for a nicer grip and paddle shifts for the automatic.

I can’t wait to get the Koup down on some real roads to see how it really drives like because it looks good (looks are subjective of course, how many of you agree with me?) but as a coupe that looks like it has some pretty sporty intentions, how fun the drive is will be very important to maybe half the customer base out there, with the other half likely to buy it purely based on its looks. From initial findings it definitely drives better than the rather softly setup Hyundai Elantra which it shares a chassis and alot of parts with, except the engine where the Kia uses a newer, better and more modern family.