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Car reviews - Kia - Koup - coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Superb design inside and out, safety, value, ease of operation, benign small-car driving behaviour, adequate dynamics
Room for improvement
No six speeds for manual gearbox, not a sports car to drive despite Kia’s claims, firmish around-town ride, big turning circle, no Bluetooth, some minor back seat omissions

4 Dec 2009

IF looks could kill then the handsome Koup is a crack assassin with a winning smile and quick draw for hire – or it would be if the Kia didn’t operate in a class of its own.

The still-warm corpse of the striking but ignored Holden Astra Coupe is a reminder as to why the cheap two-door coupe – once a mainstay of the Australian small car market – is as lost to us now as climate-change reality is to the Family First political party.

Only Ford’s fab Fiesta comes close for the cash, and the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and Volvo C30 aren’t too far away, but all lack the necessary flowing elegance in this company. And then it is a long, long way up to the Alfa GT and BMW 125i Coupe. The Hyundai Tiburon, meanwhile, is like the KLF – justified but ancient …

Speaking of which, Hyundai has hunted on this barren ground before, back in the 1990s with the Scoupe/S Coupe/Coupe, against the Toyota Paseo (please!) and Mitsubishi Lancer Coupe.

Only the latter made any meaningful sales inroads, and like the Kia it was a good-looking unit, so maybe our suave assassin has more than half a chance to lure people.

And there is plenty to persuade their peepers too since the production version of the 2008 KOUP Concept car hasn’t lost a thing in transition from show star fantasy to small-car reality.

Based on the second-generation Cerato sedan (reality doesn’t get any realer than that but at least it’s no ugly duckling either), the TD-series Koup is lighter by 20kg, lower by 60mm – 50mm from the turret and a tenner in the chassis height), 50mm shorter and 10mm narrower.

Yet while both share a 2650mm wheelbase, rear legroom is 28mm less.

The Koup’s overall stance is quite different compared to the Cerato sedan, and stunning too, so ponder the fine proportions, drink in those crisp surfaces, and be grateful that such great design is so affordable.

The bottom line, in fact, might even be the Koup’s most beautiful feature: $23,690 plus on-roads. That barely gets you out of a Corolla Ascent!

And it’s no spec airhead either, with stability and traction nannies, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and front-seat active head restraints topping off a top crash-test safety performer.

Also included are 17-inch alloys, remote central locking, power windows, climate control air-con, trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, alloy pedals, front fog lights, remote audio and cruise controls, six-speaker radio/CD audio with AUX, MP3 and iPod connectivity, split rear seat seats, and rear parking radar with an effective visual display in the blackout instrumentation pack.

Looks and generosity … we like. But, hey, we’d also love a bit of Bluetooth availability. The lack of leather and sunroof options might hinder sales a bit too.

Be grateful then that Kia has bothered to accentuate the Koup’s, well, low-riding coupeness by deleting the front door’s window frames old-school Subaru style.

Hefty and wide, they add a genuine sporty flavour, and serve as a handy differentiator between the two and four-door Cerato models.

And the good news pretty much keeps on coming inside.

The attractive dash is Cerato sedan-smart by being contemporary, cleverly presented and easy to fathom.

Plus points include effective ventilation, light and easy controls, a decent sound system, and super-clear dials, all sited within a solid plastic fascia with enough interesting stylistic flourishes to keep occupants from dying of boredom.

The (frowning faced) steering wheel also tilts and slides for added comfort, while the driver’s seat has a ratchet height adjuster. Beware, though, for persons over about 180cm might find their heads thumping the ceiling thanks to a rather stiff ride, but more on that later.

Both of the front seats are large and enveloping, nicely bolstered and attractively finished too. There’s a memory for the tilt and slide function, to aid entry and egress out back too.

We also quite like the mesh material and red stitching on the doors, seats and wheel, which includes remote audio and cruise control buttons.

In contrast Koup cabin minus points are fairly minor.

Why has Kia gone to such trouble to create a coupe with sashless doors and sexy styling, and then not fit what used to be absolutely de rigueur in every self-respecting sporty two-door of the past … more instruments?

As it stands the Cerato SLi sedan’s basic dials are the definition of clarity – backed up by a nifty scrolling LED display window for temperature, trip computer and odometer functions – but a couple of extra dials wouldn’t have gone astray. Who wants to look at a fuel gauge large enough to be seen from Space?

Actually most of our quibbles concern the rear seat area, which is set for three, with corresponding lap/sash seatbelts.

That’s fine, but of course don’t forget to Xerox yourself down to 70 per cent of your normal size before attempting to sit in the centre.

While there’s a cupholder and phone slot, where are the centre armrests, overhead grab handles, map pockets, or vent outlets? The rear quarters are not as welcoming as they could be.

It’s also not quite as hushed out the back, with a fair amount of road noise infiltrating ears.

Rear legroom is just OK, as is headroom if you are under about 175cm tall, but at least the actual backrest and cushion are sufficiently comfortable.

Quickly moving on (nobody buys a coupe for five-star rear quarter accommodation, after all), the 358-litre boot is surprisingly large (although down 53 litres from the sedan), and benefits from two remote pull handles for the split-fold backrests, which of course drop so you can load in something like a bicycle or an easel (but beware of that smallish bulkhead aperture).

Hey, but this isn’t a hatch or wagon either so let’s get to the way the Koup drives … begs the $23,690 question … does it drive as lovely as it looks?

First, some facts that might explain why the Kia is so inexpensive: Being a TD Cerato means that the Koup shares its modular front-wheel-drive platform with a variety of others, some of which we don’t see in Oz like the Kia Ceed (front bit), as well as the Soul and Hyundai i30/Elantra. Big volumes then for lower unit costs.

Secondly, the Koup keeps clear of the i30’s multi-link rear suspension for the cheaper and more compact torsion beam arrangement, so on paper there isn’t quite as much sophisticated handling, roadholding and ride qualities on offer.

To Kia’s credit the Koup uses a thicker front anti-roll bar and different coil springs and dampers to the sedan, while the suspension tune has been altered slightly for Australia after some pre-release local-road evaluation.

So is this yet another case of a sexy body writing cheques that the chassis can’t cash?

Well, the Koup drives better than its Cerato breeding might have you expect but not as well as the sporty styling would have you hope.

We have experienced some pretty flaccid low-cost coupes over the years so overall we came away quietly surprised and delighted with the Koup’s overall dynamic compromises.

Quick, responsive steering is a strong starting point, which translates to keen handling and plenty of agility most of the time. With plenty of body control, the Koup is easy and fun to zip through open turns, and forgiving if you need to make a quick correction or two.

But throw the Kia into a tight corner at speed with verve and it begins to progressively turn-in wide, and so turns ragged, particularly if the road is wet (when it really starts to understeer).

Hit a bump or an uneven surface and the lack of suspension compliance might upset the car’s chosen line as well, while the occupants feel the firmness of the ride set-up down below. It isn’t harsh or uncomfortable, though.

Its turning circle is unwieldy too.

So let’s put this in perspective: you will love driving the Koup if you’re jumping into it from most light cars as well as mediocre smallies like the Cerato sedan, Nissan Tiida, Honda Civic and Hyundai’s i30 and Elantra, but a Peugeot 308, Holden Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3, or VW Golf are all nicer dynamically.

Kia says it has not changed anything mechanically compared with the Cerato sedan, but we found the Koup’s 115kW/194Nm 2.0-litre twin-cam Theta II unit a fairly frisky and flexible unit right from take-off.

More facts for you to keep in mind: the 0-to-100kmh sprint-time is a fairly pedestrian 9.3 seconds while fuel consumption is 7.8L/100km. We reckon the Koup prefers to live life faster and harder, since it feels livelier and likes to drink quite a bit more than that – 10.3L/100km is all we could muster in our inner-urban cycle (this car’s natural habitat) – and that’s actually 0.4L less than Kia’s ‘extra urban’ cycle result.

Giving it some wellie will reveal some unpleasant resonance at certain revs, but this petrol engine is a strong and lusty performer. Can’t wait for the turbos (diesel and petrol) to arrive, though …

The word on the street is that the four-speed auto is a bit underwhelming so sticking with the stick and saving a couple of grand might be the prudent course of action.

We qualify that statement with the fact that the Koup’s five-speed manual gearbox’s shift quality is probably the best we’ve yet experienced in a Korean car. Short, slick and decisive, it’s a world away from the rubbery old rubbish we’ve been served up in the past.

However, a gear ratio anomaly seems to have surfaced. Changing from second to what appears to be a high-ratio third gear often resulted in an unexpected gap whereby the engine struggled to ride the torque wave, and so momentum fell away dramatically.

It’s a problem we have encountered in manual Hyundais too, and the only solution is to drive ‘around’ it by hanging on to second gear longer than you might be used to.

Overall though, most people will struggle to find criticism with the Koup’s drivetrain – except perhaps for the desire of some extra oomph to match the racy looks. After all, the Kia looks like it could fly.

The Koup shapes up as one of the more impressive and likeable value packages of the year, with few real flaws and plenty to keep owners happy. Like its Soul brother, it hits the intended demographic target with precision and aplomb.

And as we reckon car-makers have for too long ignored the coupe market, kudos to an on-form Kia then for offering such a cool and cost-effective alternative to the regular run-of-the-mill small-car dross.

The Koup deserves to make a killing on the Australian small-car scene for Kia.

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