Car reviews - Kia - Koup - range
Pricing, ride, predictable and sure-footed handling, steering weight, lively turbo engine
Room for improvement
Road noise, disappointing Nexen tyres, muted engine note on non-turbo Si
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17 Oct 2013
LET’S kick it off from outside. Styling cues from the outgoing model have clearly carried over to the next generation. The same high boot-line, elegant frameless windows and generous radiator grille have all been retained, though tweaked.
Some of the desirable angular lines of the first Koup have been replaced by more organic curves and softened edges, as can be seen the more bulbous front and rear lights, but the look is in keeping with the Cerato family of which the Koup is a member.
Unique 18-inch wheels (Si gets 17-inch) and a carbon-fibre effect rear diffuser shrouding dual tail-pipes set the forced-induction offering apart from the base version, while gloss black door-mirror caps, door handles and white LED running lights complete the look.
Kia resisted the temptation to celebrate its first ever Australian turbo car with a volley of turbo badges (which we would have forgiven) settling for an inconspicuous ‘T’ prefix on the boot badge.
Inside, an overall sense of prevalent quality defies the asking price.
Soft-touch materials have been used extensively, and only occasionally did the discovery of some harder plastic remind us of the Kias of yesteryear.
We particularly liked the sculpted cabon-fibre patterned and uncluttered dash, classic chrome-edged dials and leather appointed steering wheel.
Other touches such as alloy-pedals in the Turbo and an upholstered cluster shroud added to the feel of understated quality without being gaudy.
All Koup variants come with synthetic seat coverings unless the $2200 Touring pack is optioned, which adds leather seats and satellite navigation amongst other goodies.
Standard cloth-trimmed seats (imitation leather bolsters in the Turbo) are comfortable, firm and in keeping with the sporty persona of the Koup but had a tendency to allow narrower drivers (as in the case of our tester) to slip around during enthusiastic maneuvering.
Good flexibility of the driver’s seat allowed a satisfactory position to be found but height adjustability ran out early, resulting in a slightly higher-than-desirable seating position.
In manual gearbox variants the selector lever was located relatively far back creating the sensation of almost reaching behind to change gears.
A 50mm extension to the Koup’s length over the outgoing version has translated to an increase in rear legroom and the back seats are certainly a viable proposition for adults, with adequate headroom to match the extra space.
With only 115kW on tap, the previous 2.0-litre normally aspirated engine was a little breathless, so the extra 14kW of the new ‘Nu’ engine found in the Si variant is a welcome addition.
When coupled with a manual gearbox the 129kW/209Nm Si engine offers useful power at all rpm and allows spirited one-gear negotiating of winding roads.
The flat torque-curve made for effortless progress but, in a sports model such as the Koup, we would have preferred a more obvious sweet-spot in the rev-range, which would have provoked a more involving drive.
The naturally aspirated engine also had a notable lack of induction of exhaust note which further detracted form the Koup’s sporty appeal.
Let’s move to the turbo: it might only be a relatively small 1.6-litre engine but Kia’s first ever forced induction petrol in Australia is a big deal.
We are pleased to report that by incorporating up-to-the-minute technology such as a manifold-integrated twin-scroll turbine housing, variable camshaft timing on both inlet and exhaust cams and direct fuel injection, Kia’s first Aussie turbo is a gem.
The sweet spot that is so notably absent in the N/A 2.0-litre sits right between 4000 and 5000 rpm in the turbocharged engine rev-range, and is matched by an exhaust system that has been tuned to sound best at exactly that rpm.
Working to stay in the peak torque resulted in a far more involving and satisfying drive, and revving out to the redline was never necessary.
Despite the tuned exhaust, a bit more in the way of sound-track would have made the experience better but this could have arguably removed some of the cruising comfort.
When matched with the six-speed manual gearbox, the strong turbo engine could be worked hard, enabling rapid progress of winding rural roads, yet funnily enough it was the automatic version which provided the most exciting drive.
The six-speed unit with steering-wheel mounted shift-paddles clicked through the gears with impressive speed and little or no delay between input instructions from the driver.
Ratios between the first three gears were tediously wide, but once at higher speed the top gears were cosy and provided a track-car level of involvement.
In normal automatic mode the transmission shifted smoothly and intuitively but also kicked down with little provocation.
Both transmission options worked well with the forced-induction engine but, due to the lower torque output of the 2.0-litre, we found the manual gearbox provided the most satisfying drive.
As with the first generation car, the new Koup has undergone local suspension tuning to provide ride and handling characteristics specifically tailored for typical Australian conditions.
The first-gen Koup began with a very firm American set-up (unusual for a US car), which limited the options for relatively rough Australian roads. However, this time around the development team had a far greater range of options and the results really show.
Engineers favoured a combination of relatively soft springs and very stiff anti-roll bars to provide excellent shock absorbency but very little body-roll.
On uneven surfaces the Koup resisted the temptation to tram-line, maintaining the same course with confidence inspiring consistency, and even dipping a toe into gravel verges couldn’t phase the Koup’s handling.
Braking hard in to corners would cause the back end to go a little light, but the application of power would reign the rear tyres in and the feeling was never unsettling.
On the contrary, the lively behaviour added to the character and fun.
Unfortunately the fitment of Nexen tyres lets the admirable chassis down a little and all four corners would complain during fast cornering, with even some relatively mild maneuvers causing objection from the Korean-made rubber.
Generally speaking the levels of grip were good though and the Koup had to be pushed unreasonably hard to misbehave.
The switchable electric power steering was nicely weighted in Sport mode with Normal and Comfort modes being largely redundant.
Kia claims the levels of road noise have been reduced in the Koup but cruising on anything but silky-smooth surfaces still generated a notable amount of cabin noise which was exacerbated by the larger 18-inch wheels.
As a purists driving proposition, the front wheel drive Kia Koup still doesn’t quite compete with the likes of the rear-wheel drive Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ.
However, thanks to extensive and clever chassis development, the new model is every bit the baby GT that Kia intended to push the brand in to more prestigious and sporty territory, priming the stage for the imminent Pro_cee’d GT.
With commendable road manners, a spirited turbo engine, coupe looks and practically unbeatable pricing the Kia Koup offers an accessible package of both every-day practicality and weekend B-road fun.
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