Kia Moving Up Smartly—in Price and Quality

2011 Kia Sorento

How many of you remember the first Kia Sportage, vintage 1994-1999? It looked terrible, and it was terrible. Things broke and fell off or didn’t work. The Sephia was even worse.

People don’t forget bad cars easily. But Kia has been transforming itself for some years now, and its products are finally achieving recognition and market share. Automotive News just did a big story on the hurdles the company has faced.

The 2011 Sorento (above) is a very nice redesign of a stodgy, forgettable car, and it has gotten good reviews. Better-looking, with a better interior, the car has been transformed from a creaky, body-on-frame SUV to a lighter, faster, front-drive, unibody crossover that can now compete nicely with cars like the RAV4 and the Forester. Base engine is a 2.4-liter inline four; you can also get a 3.5-liter V6. Lots of tech goodies come standard.

With the big engine and all the options, you’re looking at a price of around $33,000. For a Kia? Yeah, but this is a full-bore Kia that will go head-to-head with cars out of its class—like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander—and probably beat them in fuel economy.

2011 SportageSome skeptics like Alex Taylor think the company may be inducing sticker shock in its potential buyers. (He drove the 2011 Sportage, right, blinged out at $29,990.) And yet, Kia just posted record quarterly profits (up 66 percent over the same 2009 quarter), and sales have risen 26 percent. Its sales in Korea were even topping Hyundai’s. That company owns 34 percent of Kia and is a fierce competitor. It, too, has its own quality story to tell, of course.

The big question is not whether Kia can push up-market, but whether it can now produce high-quality cars for the price. This the company seems to be doing. Head designer Peter Schreyer is even talking about a sports car for the future.

Don’t laugh. In the next few years, lots more of us will be driving Kias.

Are you convinced of Kia’s turnaround? Are they getting too expensive?


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