Kia KV7 Concept Reveals Bold Minivan Design Thinking

If you think minivans are rather “blah,” you certainly are not in the minority. These traditional family haulers are boxy, designed more to move people and their possessions than to give buyers a reason to swoon over their visage.

The utilitarian look of minivans is under assault from both without and from within. Without, the crossover segment offers much of the same room, but much more practicality and better styling than most minivans. From within, the automakers are at least attempting to put some juice in this all too predictable segment, with Honda Odyssey attempting to appeal to men more than just moms and kids.

Design Language

Until recently, Kia was never considered to be a design leader, offering mostly bland, boxy models and hiding in the shadow of its Korean brother, Hyundai. That all changed in the 2000s, when Kia’s California design studio was unleashed to design and build some of the most stylish cars on the road. A prime example of that new design language thinking can be found in the Kia Soul, its urban utility vehicle.

The Soul has shown us that Kia does, indeed, have a soul. Since the car’s debut other Kia models have received similar design freedom, becoming far nicer and modern vehicles than earlier models.

Kia KV7

At auto shows across North America beginning in 2011, Kia brings a model certain to force people to rethink what a minivan should look like. Dubbed the Kia KV7, this seven passenger minivan features a smug grille, 20-inch wheels, gull wing doors and a family activity center for rear passengers. Yes, why get stuck with a car that is boring when you can build one that is stylish even if it defies logic?

The logic defying attribute for the Kia KV7 are its gull-wing doors. Nice look, but not a practical idea. Opening these doors means invading the space of neighboring cars not by much, but by enough to make a difference. Likely, if the KV7 is built, sliding doors will be offered – I can’t imagine too many mothers being comfortable with kids riding in the back with gull-wing doors ready to pop up upon command.

Cabin Amenities

Inside, the Kia KV7 features four custom-built swiveling seats, including the driver’s seat – not practical for when you’re driving, but possible a fun thing to have when the vehicle is stopped and you’re ready to have some family time. A rear-corner “mini-lounge” with seating for three is for the remaining passengers; no word whether an optional wet bar will be available!

Other cabin features include the requisite generous storage space, wi-fi capability, sliding dashboard, navigation system and an infotainment system. Today’s cars are as much about the technological experience as they are about the look, feel and ride.

Performance Importance

Under the hood, the Kia KV7 is powered by a 2.0-liter GDI turbocharged engine, expected to produce 285 horsepower. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, this vehicle could offer a nice balance of performance and fuel economy, something minivan buyers cherish.

Will the Kia KV7 go into production? Quite possibly so, especially if it loses its gull-wing doors, a safety issue for some. In a market dominated by the Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country, the Kia KV7 certainly brings something different to the table, underscoring Kia’s desire to remain relevant in this still important vehicle segment.

Blue Hybrid Concepts Reveal Hyundai’s Direction

The 2010 Paris Motor Show has offered a number of interesting first time reveals, vehicles just now hitting the market and others planned for release over the next 3-4 years. Major auto shows are always good indicators where the market is headed and which vehicles we’ll be driving a few years out.

Korea’s Hyundai Motors is on a tear, rising from the eleventh largest automaker in the world in 2000 to the fourth largest manufacturer in 2010. The company has improved its image and has expanded its product lines, building cars which offer more content and are priced slightly less than what its competitors are offering.

Paris Motor Show

In Paris, the two vehicles creating much of the buzz for Hyundai are a pair of concepts. Concept vehicles are just that — ideas — with no firm plans to build them. Yet, Hyundai has indicated previously that several models they’ll be showing at auto shows this year and next will provide an excellent indication where the automaker is headed.

The two concepts offered at the Paris Motor Show are the ix20 Blue and ix35 hybrid models which are expected to become part of the company’s existing leading edge Blue DriveTM program. These vehicles are part of Hyundai’s effort to advance environmentally conscious technologies and assume fuel efficiency leadership worldwide.

Gas and Diesel

Some of Hyundai’s new models will utilize Hyundai’s all-new 1.0-liter Kappa gas and 1.7-liter U2 diesel engines. Likely not in the U.S., in Europe, Asia and wherever else small gas engines and diesels are likely to be embraced. However, that may soon change as far as the United States and Canada are concerned.

Each engine features several environmental enhancements including the use of high-performance, low-friction engine oil to improve combustion efficiency, optimize the gear ratio and increase engine efficiency.

Stop and Go

Also revealed at the Paris Motor Show is Hyundai’s new Idle Stop & Go (ISG) system. This particular engineering innovation turns off the engine when the car is at a standstill and the gearbox disengaged, such as at a traffic light. When power is needed, the engine instantly restarts the moment the clutch pedal is depressed. Hyundai claims that this technology is especially effective at reducing emissions and fuel usage in city traffic.

Along with ISG, Hyundai is including an alternator management system to maximize energy regeneration while braking in a bid to provide good acceleration performance by decreasing the alternator workload.

Other Changes

Hyundai is also making good use of underbody panels on at least one model, the i30 Blue, in an effort to cover the drag-inducing areas found on vehicles which adversely impact fuel economy. Some Hyundai models offer reductions on brake pad drag on the discs in addition to wheels fitted with low rolling resistance tires, which are inflated to a higher pressure.

Yes, Hyundai is continuing its relentless push upward. Though they are far from having the sales numbers enjoyed by the current Big 3 — Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen — the company has its eyes set on being number one, a possibility that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Cadillac Sixteen: Concept or Production Vehicle?

This past month I was finally able to get a first hand view of a fabulous looking concept car called the Cadillac Sixteen at the North Carolina International Automobile Show. As concepts go, the Sixteen is truly a radical looking, but thoroughly luxurious sedan that serves as a reminder of Cadillac’s past glory while incorporating a forward-looking 21st century style. Will the car be built? That is hard to say, especially considering GM’s current financial condition. However, let’s take a closer look at the dream car and what a Sixteen could do for the Cadillac brand.

It is a given: Cadillac has made tremendous strides over the past decade despite the ongoing problems with parent GM. No longer solely the builder of posh luxo-cruisers for the elderly, the current Cadillac line up is exciting, invigorating, and competitive. Whereas in times past comparisons with BMW and Mercedes would not have been made, today’s models frequently are compared to their elite German rivals. Sales are up and profits are up; still, there is room for improvement and the Sixteen could be the model behind the continued upswing in Cadillac fortunes.

So, why is the Sixteen still receiving raves three years after making its debut at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show? Well, let me paint a picture of this car for you: imagine a sedan with an extra long hood which seamlessly flows up to a rakish windshield. To the top of the car and down to its trunk, the Sixteen looks as if it is in motion while standing still. GM used no less than 30 coats of paint to bring out the deep, rich midnight silver color in the finish which gives the car an almost surreal look. Add in bountiful 24 inch tires and the car is truly commanding. Strikingly, the hood is center hinged like cars of old: while it was on display, one section of the hood was lifted up to reveal half of its sixteen cylinders. That’s right, the car isn’t called “Sixteen” for no reason.

The inside of the Sixteen is simply opulent. Because the car was sectioned off by roping, it was hard to get an eagle eye look. Nevertheless, I was able to see that the Sixteen incorporates advanced interior lighting, deep wood trim, and brushed leather almost everywhere.

After leaving the show I did some investigating and have learned that GM won’t be producing the Sixteen as shown. Supposedly, the 1000 horsepower output and 1000 lbs of torque is a bit much for a production vehicle and even with displacement on demand technology in use, 16 cylinders is a bit of a stretch in this day of elevated fuel prices.

What I have learned is that is several upcoming Cadillac models will adopt some of the Sixteen’s styling cues when they are updated over the next few years. Talk of adding a V12 engine to one model continues to persist, but most of the speculation involves styling.

Yes, Cadillac is no longer just the exclusive realm of blue haired grannies; instead, the brand is as exciting and as stimulating as just about any make today.