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Kia Koup scoop: We drive it in Korea

30 September 2013, 14:09 Janine-Lee Gordon

Seoul, South Korea - A world launch with a contingency of more than 70 journalists from Africa and the Middle East does indeed require stringent control; sadly, this came with immense restrictions of getting a real feel for Kia’s latest offerings.

Kimchi – Korea’s national dish of pickled/sweet-sour vegetables, Hyundai and Kia cars everywhere you look, politeness and a way of life that is almost militant, is the norm in Seoul. Throw a bunch of motoring journalists in the mix and orchestrated chaos is the order of the day.

Kia Cerato Koup image gallery

We travelled for two days to one of the largest cities in the world to drive the Korean automaker's new models and if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Kia and Hyundai's design guru Peter Schreyer is on a roll when it comes to pushing out sexy-looking cars. The automaker says it has scooped 34 design awards in five years thanks to 25 new models being produced from 2008 to 2012.

I've also learned that Seoul, despite Kia's funky Hamster ad of its new Soul - the compact MPV seems to be a hit in the local market there- the city lacks serious personality, or so it seems. But, once you get to spend some time there and try to understand the people, you realise it’s a country that takes so much pride in its work, it's no wonder the cars from the local automakers there are bang on the money and keep improving with every new car being developed.

Kia's VP of overseas marketing, Soon-Nam Lee, said: "The three-model Cerato family has become our brand’s biggest-selling export so the introduction of the exciting third-generation Koup is hugely significant for Kia. We are raising our product standards to the next level with the all-new Koup, which adds emotional appeal to its established core values of design, quality and value.

“This model will boost our competitiveness in the compact sporty coupe segment, one of the world’s most important and most competitive markets.”


Kia took its entire group of media on a tour of its Research and Development centre in Namyang, about two hours out of Seoul. The centre has 10 000 developers, 700 designers and a wind-tunnel with an investment of $45-million, so it’s no wonder Kia’s products have drastically improved in the last 10 years.

We also paid a visit to the company's plant in Hwasung where there are three production-line buildings. The area is huge but it was rather evident that machines have taken over the role of building cars, despite some crucial human touches are still being fulfilled at several stations.

And there's no stopping the Koreans. The company's 2016 vision is to increase its global sales to 3.5-million and increase its current brand value of the equivalent of KES 410-billion to about KES 600-billion.

But let’s get to the real reason why we were there, to drive the new Koup and Optima.

Kia's new Cerato hatchback was also available to drive at the launch, even though its international launch took place in January 2013 - we suspect some bad planning in the numbers game to have enough of both models for the media contingent. The new Cerato hatchback is set to launch in South Africa in the next couple of weeks. Wheels24's LES STEPHENSON attended the world media launch of the new Cerato at the start of 2013 while SERGIO DAVIDS drove the car at the local launch in May this year.


The Cerato Koup third generation model has quite a few substantial changes – naturally for the better. The front is completely new with a re-designed bumper, rounded fog lights replacing rectangular ones, new LED headlights and the grille has been replaced with the updated, narrower, tiger's eyes one. Kia said it also moved the badge from the grille to the panel in front of the shortened bonnet.

While the new car looks much better, the previous model looked a lot more assertive – especially the rear with its edgy design. Now, the rear is more curved and a rounded 'figure' with new diode tail lights, a redesigned bumper and two chromed exhausts.

The external mirrors are now black instead of colour-coded and the silhouette has a smoother flow. It's 50mm longer, 15mm wider, 20mm higher and the wheelbase is also 50mm wider. I'm not one of the tallest people around but even I didn't have too much headroom in the previous model and this has improved a tad in the rear seats.

Other features include frameless doors, soft materials on the door trim and armrests, bucket-type sports seats, paddle gear-shifters, three driving mode options - comfort, normal or sport - and 18" alloy rims.

Other niceties include a smart welcome lighting system with puddle and pocket lights, front and rear parking lights, reversing camera and an 11cm touch-screen. Safety goodies include six air bags, an emergency stop system, hill-start assistance, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.

What does the Koup go up against? It's a bit of a tough call. In terms then of performance and price, that means it will go against Toyota's 86 and VW 's Scirocco 1.4 TSI.


While Kia's cars look so much hotter and more refined, power has never been a strong point; it looks like things are changing. Thanks to some rather lovely roads in Seoul towards Kwongland, about 250km away, the Koup felt like Thomas the Tank Engine is finally ready to take on the world.

It feels a bit punchier than the previous model and so it should since it has a power/torque increase of more than 30kW/100Nm.

The Koup is available as either a four-cylinder 1.6 GDI turbo (152kW at 6000rpm / 264Nm from 1750-4500rpm) or with a two-litre engine. As the units are available elsewhere, Kia's head honchos said Africa won't see the latter because they are servicing only the left-hand drive market. It might sound a bit lame but there could be an issue when trying to put the said set-up in a right-hand-drive car.

Behind the wheel the car is pleasant to drive. It's comfy, has good-quality cabin finishes and is easy on the eye inside and out. It's great through the curves and while gear-changes felt smooth the auto gearbox, despite being modern, was a bit disappointing. I couldn't quite put a finger on it but it felt as if something was holding it back and not letting the car deliver its full potential.

It's a pity the manual model was not available to sample at the launch.

It's a good coupe, but its going to be very interesting to see what it's pricing will be when it arrives in Africa.

- Wheels24


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