Kia's umbilical connection with Audi continues at the Geneva motor show. Just as the Korean car maker once poached Audi's head of design (Peter Schreyer, who kicked off a styling revolution at both Kia and sister company Hyundai) so today Kia is in lockstep with the German premium brand, and is showing off only fully electric or hybrid models.
The ‘Imagine By Kia’ concept is its most interesting new model, a concept car that packs some intriguing styling elements above an all-new battery car architecture that’s built around the idea of wireless induction charging.
It is a bit bulkier than we were expecting though. Early teaser photos seemed to suggest that the Imagine would be a low-slung four-door coupe, but the actual finished article is a taller, chunkier, SUV-coupe. If you could knock the bottom six inches off it, it would look sleek…
Still, there’s a new Kia ‘face’ on this car, one designed to take advantage of the fact that electric cars don’t need big radiators grilles, and so the Imagine gets a big loop of LED lights that form an updated version of the familiar Kia ‘Tiger Face’ look.
Gregory Guillaume, vice president of design for Kia Motors Europe said that: "It hints at something familiar, but is something entirely new. I think of it as a category-buster, and a disruptor – it's familiar and understood but at the same time progressive and new."
The windscreen and roof of the Imagine are made from one huge sheet of glass, while the huge 22-inch wheels have sections made of acrylic glass, which reflect and refract light as the move in the manner of a diamond. It’s not all silly motor show stuff, though — the Imagine’s shape has been carefully aerodynamically crafted to allow it to slip through the air more easily, causing less strain on the battery.
Kia isn’t saying how big that battery is, nor what sort of range one might expect from a production version of the Imagine, but then that’s not really the point. From the diamond-effect wheels to the astonishing interior, which uses 21 separate, but interleaved, touchscreens to create the effect of a book being opened (apparently it’s also a bit of a Kia in-joke about how too many car makers are spending too much time trying to out-do each other with bigger screens) this is pure concept car illusion and allusion. Mind you, there’s also serious intent — the Imagine will kick off a new lineup of electric models from Kia, designed to lean more towards high-performance and premium quality than the company’s more traditional, affordable offerings.
On a more realistic note, the new Kia Soul EV makes its European debut at the Geneva show, and will be available only with electric power on this side of the Atlantic. Like the existing eNiro electric car, it gets a choice of big (64kWh) or small (39kWh) battery packs, and has a maximum one-charge range of 500km. Kia claims that it’s 30 per cent more efficient than “Europe’s best-selling electric vehicle” — a clear dig at Nissan’s Leaf. It’s designed to be a more funky and more stylish adjunct to the eNiro and will go on sale here towards the end of 2019.
Speaking of the Niro, Kia is also giving its hybrid and plugin hybrid crossover a small update, bringing its styling into line with that of the eNiro electric version, and giving the cabin a bit of a quality and tech boost, with a new internet connected infotainment system.
Kia might be making its electric cars a little more stylish, but Honda arguably still takes the cake when it comes to the best-looking EV. In 2017, we saw the unbearably cute Urban EV concept, and now at Geneva Honda is taking the wraps off the almost-but-not-quite production ready version of its first all-electric car, now called the E-Prototype.
It looks, thankfully, very much the same as the concept, even though the rear-hinged doors have been binned in favour of conventional front-hinged items, and there are now four doors (with the rear doors being artfully disguised as much as possible). The handles for those doors are hidden away until needed, and there are compact, aero-friendly rear-view cameras instead of door mirrors (which are proving very divisive amongst drivers of the new Audi e-Tron on which the cameras are optional).
Inside, there’s a Mercedes-like full-width digital dash, which includes the screens for those door-mounted cameras, and lots of the love-it-or-hate-it fake wood from the current CR-V SUV. The E-Prototype’s single electric motor is rear-mounted, so this is a rear-wheel drive car, but the overall range is a little disappointing — 200km compared to the 300km boasted by the rival Peugeot e208.
Honda’s gorgeous concept
Still, on the upside Honda has said that the car's ultra-flexible battery-packed chassis means that more and more models can be spun off from the common set of components, and word at the show is that the gorgeous coupe concept, shown last year and based on the same component set, could be back on as a production possibility. Honda didn't, however, comment on reports in the UK press that its decision to shutter its British factory was made on such short notice that ships carrying electric and hybrid car factory fittings actually had to turn around half-way through their voyage and head back to Japan.
Also pushing for an all-electric future is Volvo. Volvo isn't actually at the show, but its all-electric Polestar spinoff brand is, showing off its Polestar 2 — a four-door fastback rival to the Tesla Model 3. Boasting a 78kWh battery and a 500km range, the 2 also steals a lot of its style from Volvo's forthcoming new V40 and S40 compact models.
Not for the Irish
That’s probably the most significant aspect of it for Irish buyers for now — we’re not on the list of initial market launches for Polestar, so don’t expect to see any here for some time to come. Not least because, with a projected German market price of €49,000, this compact hatchback would be the same price as a mid-spec BMW 5 Series in our market.
Also not coming our way in Ireland is the long-promised Care By Volvo subscription service that was meant to offer a single monthly price for models like the XC40, which was meant to include insurance cover, motor tax and all servicing and maintenance costs into one monthly fee. While the service was promised to be introduced in Ireland by the end of 2018 - and is on offer in several markets including the UK - a spokeswoman says it will now by 2020 at the earliest.