by Patsy Kam
FIRST impressions count. When you meet someone for the first time, what he or she wears, the smile, the handshake and the approach all go into your personal computer. And then, you decide whether or not you like this person.
For cars, first impressions probably work along the same lines.
When you have 12 journalists vying for five minutes driving time with the Kia Forte Koup in an open car park space, all you get is an impression. But I have to say this, Kia makes pretty neat cars these days.
At first glance, you wonder if someone forgot to attend English classes but obviously the mispelling of the Korean Kia Koup is an intentional play of the initials.
Sleek fluid lines, swept-back wrap-around headlamps, aggressive air intakes characterise the front body profile resulting in an aggressive sporty design. The rear has slim, wrapped tail lights, dual exhaust outlets and a rear diffuser.
Wait, are we still talking about the same car here? Yup, looks like Kia managed to stage a coup by coming up with a car that finally spells attitude in its design. Revealed at the Kia's Namyang R & D Centre in Seoul, the Forte Koup rocks as far as the looks department goes.
Market talk has it that the Koup is set to take on the Honda Civic Coupe and Scion tC. But given Kia's value for money philosophy, it could well be the next big thing in Malaysia.
The two-door Koup is slightly shorter in length and height compared with the Forte sedan. We were given two variants to try out: powered by a DOHC four-cylinder engine, the 2.0 litre model produces 156 horsepower and 195Nm of torque, while the 2.4 litre model offers 173hp and 227Nm.
The 2.4 litre engine naturally appeared more powerful, with the slightest tap on the pedal making the car fly past the 100kph mark easily.
That's not to say the 2l version, featuring the Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) and multi-port electronic fuel injection, lagged far behind as it produced a smooth yet spritely ride as well. This will probably be the CBU model brought in by Malaysian distributor Naza Kia.
Built on a front-wheel-drive unibody frame, the Koup uses the same platform as the sedan, with an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and stabiliser bar and a torsion beam rear suspension with struts and coil springs.
Hitting it off: The dashboard has metal-tone highlights and the controls are ergonomically placed.
This combination helps provide the optimal balance of handling and comfort. An engine-speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is supposed to give precise handling on varying road conditions.
The engineers also took us on a quick spin on the nearby race track and cranked up top speeds pushing past the 200kph needle. Still proved steady though we experienced slight body roll. The Koup seemed to hug the corners nicely and didn't waver in sharp turns.
Additional refinements throughout help ensure a comfortable ride with good noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) reduction qualities.
The two-litre 4-speed automatic engine is claimed to deliver 14.4km/litre on the highway and 10.6km during city driving so it would seem fuel economy is not sacrificed for sportiness. Fuel tank capacity is about 52 litres.
But it would be interesting to see how it performs in real life driving conditions.
My MPV is touted to give 14km/litre but during short distance driving battling the horrendous jams outside the office sometimes produce a dismal 6km/litre. (But then again, my car weighs a tonne.)
Interior features include sport (bucket) seats, driver's seat height adjuster, adjustable rear seat headrests, tilt steering column, centre console with dual cup holders and map lights.
The dashboard has metal-tone highlights and the controls are ergonomically placed. Unlike some of its predecessors, the Koup isn't plastic-ky at all and gives prety classy vibes.
Seating is comfortable enough for five average sized adults. Taller and longer-limbed drivers might have a slight problem with the driver's position but generally, the interior is spacious with plenty of headroom to spare.
The 2L comes with 16-inch alloy wheels outfitted with P205/55R16 tyres while the 2.4l offers an even sportier profile with 17-inch alloy wheels paired with P215/45R17-sized premium tyres.
Expect to "fly the Koop" by the end of the year or early 2010.