Creating differentiation among vehicles built on the same basic platform has become engineering and styling art forms. Although Kia's Rio econocar and Soul small crossover are derivatives of the small car platform also used by the Hyundai Accent, all three have been independently successful.
The 2012 model year already has brought a new version of the Accent, introduced four months ago, and now Kia has the redesigned Rio, along with a measurably refreshed version of the Soul small crossover. One aspect of the econocars is the same: the 40 mpg highway number for both the Rio and Accent (30 mpg city), and a credible 27/35 mpg for the Soul 1.6-L four-cylinder, 26/34 mpg for the Soul 2.0-L four.
Distinctive styling is a key reason the Hyundai and Kia car lines developed separately in the U.S. market. Both the “fluidic sculpture” of the Hyundai brand and the European-inspired look of much of the Kia line have found customer bases in sufficient volume.
The first 2012 Rio is a five-door hatchback, but a four-door sedan will be out shortly. The Soul may be Kia’s surprise success story, with sales close to the 90,000 mark, making it the No. 2 seller (after the Sorento crossover).
Rio, Soul, and Accent all get the same 1.6-L direct-injection engine rated at 138 hp (103 kW) and 123 lb·ft (167 N·m). A modified version of the company’s 2.0-L four is rated at 164 hp (122 kW), and 148 lb·ft (201 N·m) is an option in the Soul. The new corporate six-speed automatic is the transmission option in both Kia models.
Although Rio and Accent share a platform, there are technical differences. Kia is the first mainstream-priced car line in the U.S. (BMW and Porsche the higher-end exceptions) to offer an idle stop-start system on a 12-V car, making it available as a $400 option on the Rio ordered with a “convenience package.”
Idle stop-start is available in two different option packages on the Soul. One is priced at $500 with the 2.0-L four (also includes low-rolling-resistance tires), the other at $1000 with the 1.6-L four in a large package that also adds alloy wheels and upsized low-rolling-resistance tires, power outside mirrors, sound system upgrade, and extra luggage storage.
Auto industry engineers have found that today’s five-cycle emissions tests include too few stops of sufficient duration to affect U.S. window sticker fuel economy, just “real world” economy if the motorist does enough stop-and-go driving. Kia’s numbers for the Soul show an increase, but that is because low-rolling-resistance tires are installed on the Soul only with an idle stop-start feature package. The Soul’s 1.6-L engine goes from 27/35 to 29/36 city/highway mpg and the 2.0-L from 26/34 to 27/35 city/highway mpg. There is no increase on Rio with idle stop-start because the low-rolling-resistance tires are standard equipment on all models.
The Rio/Soul system has a conventional-type but super-heavy-duty starter rated for 350,000 cycles (vs. 30,000 to 50,000 for an ordinary starter), a 56-A·h AGM (absorbent glass mat) battery, and a higher-output charging system at 130 A, vs. the standard 110 A. When the engine is warmed up, and with ambient temperatures below 90°F (32°C), the engine comes to a stop at idle (illuminating the letter “A” for automatic stop on the speedometer face). This threshold compares with 85°F (29°C) for BMW.
Although high-voltage hybrids have electric-drive compressors to maintain cooling during the idle stop, 12-V systems do not, instead restarting the engine if the cabin temperature rises beyond a predetermined level based on the ambient temperature. The normal engine restart occurs as soon as the driver lifts his/her foot off the brake pedal. The system performed flawlessly in an AEI road test.
The idle stop-start option ECO Package is totally independent of (and not to be confused with) what is called Active ECO mode on Rio and Soul. Active ECO is a standard inclusion with the six-speed automatic, and is primarily a specific torque-request-at-given-throttle map, plus a change in shift schedule. Active ECO improves fuel economy about 7%, Kia said.
There are suspension component differences (shocks, springs, and bushings) because the Accent has 14-in and 16-in wheels, whereas the Rio has 15-in and 17-in versions. Specific throttle maps also are required as a result. The 17-in optional wheel gets a larger front disc, and the difference in wheel sizes also requires a different final drive ratio than the Accent.
At this time, the Rio is built in a different plant than the Accent, and there are some differences in the body-in-white and the overall assembly sequence primarily because of the specific exterior and interior panels. There also are some Rio features not used on the Accent, such as projector headlamps and LED tail lamps (on Rio SX). Of course, the body differences call for specific, albeit similar, NVH packages.
Kia’s UVO (for “your voice”), an optional infotainment system designed with Microsoft, is a defining difference for Rio and Soul vs. the Accent. UVO is based on the Microsoft Wireless Embedded Automotive Platform. It is much like Ford's Sync, but with Microsoft’s own voice recognition, a 4.3-in touch screen, and a rear-view camera. As with Sync, it appeals to a younger audience.
At this juncture, UVO comes with HD digital radio and a “jukebox” that holds up to 700 MB of the owner’s music. A Harmon Infinity sound system with a 350-W amplifier and 10 speakers is optionally packaged with the Soul UVO. When a SiriusXM-Traffic with a 7.0-in touch screen navigation system is installed, it replaces UVO on Rio and Soul, but the Infinity system remains on the Soul.
Hyundai’s Blue Link, a menu system with subscription fees based on level of services, is in the middle of its rollout and is not yet offered on Accent.