News and Reviews

Kia’s Evolution To Revolution

August, 2014

There once was a time when many Australians would have scoffed at the idea of buying a Kia. If back in the day someone had asked you what you thought of the ’93 Sportage 4×4 or Mentor sedan, Early-90s You might have shrugged your shoulders and replied, ‘I have no idea what I think…because I don’t really think about Kias at all.’

Towards the end of the 20th century this might have been the norm. Kia vehicles were some of the most underappreciated runabouts on our roads because they had attractive price points and satisfactory quality. Put accurately, we used and abused them, and I don’t think they minded.

Now though, 20 years later, the South Korean automaker has come a long way in the Land of Oz, and car buyers would be foolish not to consider a Kia when searching for great build and value, let alone eye-catching design.

Let’s take a quick look at how Kia turned things around.

Kia GT4

Kia GT4 concept. Image source: Kia Motors Australia

For those who hadn’t considered Kia prior to the new millennium, things changed in 2002 when they replaced Ford as the primary sponsor of the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam. Initially, it was strange to see the net on Centre Court bear a Kia badge instead of one from our hometown hero, but it familiarised sport-crazed Australians with the brand on a whole new level.

The manufacturer continued to break down barriers in small car markets by expanding its offerings throughout the 2000s, and in 2006 began a total aesthetic refresh when it took on Peter Schreyer as Chief Design Officer.

Schreyer, who would eventually go on to become one of three Kia Motors Presidents and Chief Design Officer of both Kia and Hyundai, had previously worked on the iconic Audi TT, new Beetle, A3, A4 and A6. It was his task to make sure Kia would get the facelift it so desperately needed.

One of the first missions Schreyer set for himself was to make the cars immediately identifiable on the road. Quoted as saying that the brand was previously “very neutral”, with people not knowing if it was Japanese or Korean, the designer thought it was “important that you are able to recognise a Kia at first sight.”

The solution to the brand’s identity crisis was found in a new corporate grille known as the ‘Tiger Nose’. Described as a “powerful visual signal, a seal, an identifier,” the Tiger Nose was first debuted on the 2007 Kee concept vehicle and was so well received that it can now be found across models such as the Cerato, Rio, Sportage and Soul.

Kia Kee

Kia Kee concept. Image source: Kia Motors

Following this new design direction and continued sales awareness, the last thing to fall into place for Kia was a general increase in quality. A focus on simplicity and limiting driver confusion helped put the maker 10 points ahead of the industry average according to the 2014 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. All that, push button start, alloy wheels and a door that goes ‘thunk’ when you close it. What more could we possibly expect from Kia? And will their evolution become a revolution?

It’s definitely plausible.

Just take a look at the GT4 Stinger, which we briefly profiled in May. The company’s concept rear-wheel-drive sports coupe is set to take on Toyota’s incredibly popular 86, Subaru’s BRZ and Mazda’s MX-5, yet with looks that far outweigh others in the class. Flanking its Tiger Nose are LED headlights that summon an inner Audi R8, whereas the overall chassis looks like a true global fusion between American, Asian and European design.

Under the hood is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a short-ratio six speed automatic, all sitting atop 20-inch carbon fiber inserted wheels. The anticipated car already has a following online and a slated production date rumoured to be later this year.

With Kia moving so quickly into the future, it seems almost unrecognizable when compared to its daggy past. Chief Operating Officer Tony Barlow commented on the company’s vision and the concept car saying, “It is certainly shaping the way Kia is looking to the future.” And if the GT4 is anything to go by, the revolution has just begun.

Kia GT4

Kia GT4 concept. Image source: Kia Motors Australia

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