- Published: Saturday, 14 June 2014 21:06
From 2008, Kia did a roaring business with its strong, new products like the Sorento, Soul, Cerato Forte (now known as the K3 Forte) and so on. This was of course in the era before high COE prices, so mainstream brands like Kia and its sister/rival Hyundai, all did pretty well thanks to mass-market offerings with good quality, decent drives, a high level of equipment and eye-catching design.
Kia’s two-door version of the Forte, the Koup (also sometimes known as the Forte Koup - the Koreans love to do name juggling) staged its own little coup in the segment as it was, at one point in time, the best-selling two-door in Singapore.
The sleekness of paring off two-doors, plus some revised suspension and handling to sharpen things up meant the Koup was a big hit, even if it wasn’t particularly fast, even the 2.4-litre variant. Now, with the Koreans moving up in technology terms, the Koup gets the same 1.6-litre, gasoline direct-injection engine that debuted on the funky four-door (two right side, one left side, one rear hatch) Hyundai Veloster.
It’s a great idea. Give a popular and stylish-looking, albeit normal performing, two-door a more powerful engine. In this case, the twin-scroll turbo boosts output to 206bhp and 275Nm of torque mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox and it even packs direct-injection tech.
1.6-litres no longer nets you a Cat A COE, because of the new power rulings, but at least you pay less when it comes to road tax. So on paper it’s all hunky-dory, and likely any previous-gen Koup owner’s dream come true. Firstly, because it already out-guns the old 2.4-litre model, which made 173bhp, and secondly because the Koup is now (partly) living up to what the concept model of 2008 promised. It, if you remember, promised forced-induction with more than 200bhp and all-wheel drive. Of course the car you see here isn't an all-paw machine, but hey, power is power right?
As it is, the new Koup will only be sold here with the 1.6-litre turbo variant - the 2.0-litre version now making little sense here because of the reasons mentioned above. Like the K3 it shares its mechanicals with, there’s a hefty 50mm more space between the wheels, which translates to good legroom all round, while the two-door is the same width and length, it’s 24mm lower than the sedan. As a result of the revised platform, Kia says the car’s stronger but lighter and with more torsional rigidity than before too.
The new car impresses immediately, even before you feel the boost. It’s a lot more together than the previous model was - while the Koup felt a tiny bit more incisive than the Cerato Forte, this Koup feels similar, but the K3 has come quite far that it’s really splitting hairs, at least in the handling stakes.
What you will notice is that the Koup rides harder and, as a result, corners flatter than the sedan, since a sporty suspension setup is expected of a two door. On the other hand, it’s not uncomfortable, but it does get busy at times, especially with movement from the rear. Likely this is a result of the limitations of a torsion beam rear suspension, but that’s only obvious because it’s where the jiggles come from.
Less inspiring is the Kia-Hyundai Flex Steer system - paired with the new-generation electric steering. While it, as Kia claims, improves fuel efficiency by up to three percent, the tactile results are less than pleasing. You have three choices of weight - Normal, Comfort and Sport - but fundamentally all three settings don’t offer much by way of feedback or enjoyment.
Still, there’s plenty of grip there to be exploited and of course there’s the fun of the forced-induction engine. Like the Subaru WRX we recently tested, it has a tendency to jerk on the initial throttle application, but from 1,750rpm onwards it’s smooth, generous boost all the way. 265Nm isn’t that far from a previous-gen, Mark VI Golf Gte (280Nm, the new one makes a huge 350Nm), although the final acceleration results are impressive, the Koup doesn’t feel (or sound) as fast as its power figures imply, probably because the six-speed gearbox, good in ‘normal’ applications in other Kias, isn’t the quickest out of the blocks here. Like the WRX again, the lazier gearbox choice hampers the fun, so a manual option, like the previous car, would have been a good, and even less expensive choice for enthusiasts.
Another niggle is the fact that the car doesn’t feel refined at high speed, even when compared to the sedan. Tyre noise starts to ramp up above 80km/h and as a result of the steering and increased noise, the Koup doesn’t feel at home at triple digit speeds. Forgivable in a normal sedan, but bizarre in a sports coupe.
Inside, the car’s hard to fault with lots of space, a big complement of equipment and generally good built quality. Like the K3, it’s got a new display screen for infotainment functions (Bluetooth, USB, iPod connectivity all featured), a sunroof and even an air-conditioned driver’s seat.
Which brings us to the biggest fault of the new Koup: The seating position. The driver’s seat is unfeasibly high, so much so that my head is barely 10cm from the roof lining, and I’m surely no Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Having one’s body, and noggin, so elevated in a coup is quite a contrary feeling (you sit higher than the passenger) and as a result, the A-pillars block more vision than they otherwise would. Perhaps that’s just a result of me and my weird long body, but we advise a test drive to see if you can live with the ergonomics, always one of the most important and personal aspects of driving.
But overall, the Koup delivers exactly what you think it should when the words ‘turbo Koup’ are uttered together. The package looks good, the engine’s strong, there’s lots of features and most importantly, it undercuts Hyundai’s less-powerful turbo Veloster by a fair price. For the price, there’s nothing else on the market that gives you this kind of boost.
Kia Koup 1.6 Turbo
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,591cc, 16V, turbocharged in-line 4
Power 204bhp from 5000 to 6000rpm
Torque 265Nm from 1750 to 4500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 222km/h
0-100kmh 7.4 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.9L/100km
Price $130,999 with COE
Also consider: Hyundai Veloster, Subaru WRX