Competent but Boring: We Review the Kia Soul, Kia Forte, and Hyundai Genesis Coupe

By Paul Riegler on 18 March 2010
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South Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia (both owned by the same parent company) are relatively new entrants to the U.S. market and come from a country where the population values technology over performance.

While some may find the tall greenhouse awkward, the Kia Forte, created in the company’s California design studio, isn’t objectionable and it is certainly clean and uncluttered.  It is offered in three trim levels and the EX can be specified with a fuel economy package that boosts fuel economy.  Our test car was the top level Forte SX.

For a small sedan, there is plenty of headroom and legroom and the SX transports four adults in reasonable comfort.  The interior is nicely laid out; controls are more or less where one would expect, and gauges were large and easy to read.

Driving the Forte is a mixed bag.  On good roads, it has a certain amount of poise but put a few potholes in its path and it becomes jarring.  I found the six-speed manual transmission a bit awkward, especially shifting into first gear.  The long list of standard features includes Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity, electronic stability control, and electronic brake-force distribution.

The Kia Soul is a funky, box-like hatchback with a capacious interior.  Also designed in California, there’s no doubt the designers had the Scion XB in their sights.

The Soul comes in four trim levels including base, +, !, and Sport.  The Sport includes everything from the + and ! along with upgraded audio, Bluetooth, steering-wheel mounted controls, and a two-tone red and black interior.

The car’s seats are super comfortable, even for long trips.  Unfortunately, the red dash (part of the two-tone interior) is very distracting (there’s a reason most dashboards are black regardless of other interior colors).

On the tech side, I found the Soul’s Bluetooth system one of the easiest I’ve ever come across, both to set up a new mobile  and – with a compatible phone (not all are) – one of the best for placing and receiving calls with excellent speech-to-text.   IPod connectivity was decent but having the iPod cable on the center console tray where the iPod would be visible when parked meant I had to constantly unplug and hide it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to where the rubber meets the road, this Kia lacks soul.  I felt completely disconnected from the road; the steering felt equally disconnected.  While the ride quality is reasonably comfortable in town, it’s rather choppy on the highway. The Soul is one of the few cars I’ve driven recently with a five-speed (instead of a six-speed) manual transmission although it was much smoother than the Forte’s six-speed.

The Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which is not a two-door version of the Genesis sedan, is a contradiction in terms.

I found its boy-racer design a throwback to the late 1980s and the goofy wing on the trunk lid didn’t help. On the other hand, it has excellent seats with good support (although the rear seats are decorative at best), super acceleration, and mostly good use of technology.  The Bluetooth telephone support is decent although it lacks a “recent call” list and only one number per contact transferred to the car, making for a guessing game when placing calls.  To complicate matters, the Genesis has some of the worst steering wheel controls I’ve encountered in two decades and I desperately wanted to put a piece of black tape over the torque and mpg gauges that competed (with the road) for my attention.

The Genesis Coupe comes in six levels ranging from a 2.0T to a 3.8 Grand Touring and 3.8 Track.  The base 2.0T is very well equipped, including 18” alloy wheels, keyless entry, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.  Moving all the way up to the 3.8 Grand Touring and Track adds rear parking sensors, a sunroof, heated front seats, and xenon headlights,

Most interior materials are of high quality but the center stack’s plastic is cheap looking.  The upgraded audio system is mediocre and the design of the rear passenger windows results in poor visibility and an expanded blindspot.


2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track Kia Forte SX Kia Soul
Base price/price-as-tested $32,000/$32,925 $17,196/19,490 16,950/18,345
Drivetrain Rear-wheel drive Front-wheel drive
Engine 3.8 liter V-6 2.4 liter inline 4 2.0 liter inline 4
Horsepower/Torque 306/266 173/168
Transmission 6-speed automatic 6-speed manual 5-speed manual
Curb weight (pounds) 3397 2868 2800
Wheelbase 111 104.3 100.4
Length x width x height 182.3 x 73.4 x 54.5 178.3 x 69.9 x 57.5 161.6 x 70.3 x 63.4
0-60 mph (seconds) 6 7.5 8.8
EPA city/highway fuel economy (mpg) 17/27 23/31 24/30

-Paul Riegler is a contributing editor at Executive Road Warrior.

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