With a growing segment of America's younger car buyers snatching up Korean cars, Kia used the 2013 New York Auto Show to show off a trio of new and refreshed vehicles aimed at continuing the trend.
The biggest news was the world debut of the all-new Kia Soul, the funky hatchback utility-thing that's gained popularity — or at least notoriety — for its ads featuring dancing hamsters.
The Soul has been a big hit for the South Korean automaker, ranking as the third most popular model Kia sells. Since it first came out in 2009, the Soul has sold more than 316,000 units, far outpacing rivals from Scion and Nissan.
Photos: Kia at the 2013 N.Y. Auto Show
“Everyone at Kia believed we had a hit on our hands, but we didn’t realize how big that hit was going to be,” said Michael Sprague, executive vice president of marketing and communications at Kia.
Kia clearly didn't want to mess with this success, as the second-generation Soul that debuted Wednesday makes incremental updates and changes to the formula its predecessor set.
Power is in fact down slightly on the base Soul. That model will still have a 1.6-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine, now making 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. That's a decrease of eight and five, respectively. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is optional.
The more upmarket Plus and Exclaim models will have a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that makes 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Those figures are about the same as before, but this engine now benefits from direct-injection like its smaller cousin. The Plus comes with either the automatic or manual transmission, while the Exclaim is automatic only.
The Soul is marginally larger both inside and out, and the exterior gets just enough of a tweak to differentiate it from the older Soul without alienating its fans. Kia said it used more high-strength steel in this version, giving it a stiffer, more nimble chassis. The Soul's suspension has been re-tuned for greater comfort, according to the automaker.
The cabin is also quieter, thanks to additional sound deadening. The interior has been redesigned to have a more upmarket feel, with more use of soft-touch fabrics. Kia says an eight-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system will be optional. Kia says the system fully integrated iPhones and Android phones, and Pandora is preloaded into the system.
Pricing on the all-new Soul hadn't been announced; it will go on sale in late summer.
Also seeking to lure in younger buyers at the New York Auto Show is Kia's Forte Koup. This compact front-wheel-drive car is the third iteration of the Forte, a car that competes with the likes of the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cruze, and Ford Focus.
The first version of the redesigned 2014 Forte to debut was the sedan, which bowed at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show last fall. In February, Kia debuted the five-door Forte hatchback at the Chicago Auto Show.
The coupe announced Wednesday picks up where the hatchback left off, offering buyers one of two four-cylinder engines. The EX will come with a 2.0-liter, direct-injected engine making 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is the only one available.
The SX kicks things up a notch. It comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that makes 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The SX comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, while a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters will be optional. The SX also adds 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips, LED taillights, larger front brakes
Finally, Kia used its Wednesday news conference to announce a minor refresh for its midsize Optima sedan. For the 2014 model year, Kia has made minor tweaks to the car that debuted at the N.Y. Auto Show in 2010.
Updates include redesigned rear LED taillights, LED fog lights, and a standard 4.3-inch LCD screen in the instrument panel. Notably, Kia says the seats in the Optima are all-new, fixing one of the few problems Highway 1 had with the car when we tested it in 2010.
The powertrain on the Optima remains unchanged from the previous version. Buyers can choose between the direct-injected, 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower, the 274-horsepower turbocharged four, or the Optima Hybrid.
All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment.
No word on whether dancing hamsters will be sold separately.