Are car enthusiasts ready for sportier Kias?
Fresh from its debut at this month’s Geneva show, Kia officials are already hinting that a hot hatch version of the Korean automaker’s new 2012 Rio subcompact, seen left, is being seriously considered.
Kia marketing and product planning chief Benny Oeyen told the U.K’s Autocar that “a helpful car for us would be a hot hatch, cabrio or a coupe” as a way to help Kia build its brand image in Europe. In the supermini mad Euro market, the Rio is a good place to start. Just don’t expect Kia to stop with just one car. If you don’t think the "European" brand of Hyundai-Kia Motors is priming us for the idea of a sportier sub-brand—like a BMW M, Mercedes AMG or Audi S/RS—you haven’t been paying attention.
In an interview at Kia’s headquarters in Seoul last year with Kia’s director of overseas marketing, Soon-Nam Lee told me that once Kia’s range has been replaced by 2012, “we need image cars.” You also have to think that Kia didn’t hire away former VW/Audi pen Peter Schreyer to design nice looking Fortes and Optimas only.
More surprisingly, when Kia does go the car enthusiast route, don’t expect the usual approach to performance. As it’s doing with its styling, Kia covets current import brand buyers who spend loads of cash on niche perforamcne models.Imagine a Kia rival to a Subaru WRX STi, Mitsu Evo or VW Golf R—say, a turbo-diesel, AWD, Kia Forte5 RS—but with a sticker price of around $35,000—or about $10 less than the abovementioned.
But will car enthusiasts choose a Kia over one of these more established import brand sports compacts?
Or has Kia gained enough of your trust to take the next step as an alternative to VWs and Audis?