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Kia engineers confirmed that a hybrid sedan will launch in the U.S. later this year. This will likely be the Kia Forte LPI Hybrid. When it launches, we estimate that Kia's hybrid will be the cheapest hybrid on the market by a significant margin, while delivering competitive gas milage to hybrids from U.S. and Japanese automakers.  (Source: Kia World)

We tested Kia's upcoming UVO system. The voice API, powered by Microsoft still isn't very good at taking commands, but hopefully will be refined by launch. The most promising features of UVO appear to be its capability to read and send text messages, it's touch screen, and it's reportedly low price.

The first Kia/Hyundai to get the UVO will be the 2011 Kia Sorento, seen here.
Hyundai Kia looks to offer an optimal mix of price, quality, and high tech capability

Hyundai Kia has gained much ground in the U.S., even while market leaders Toyota and Honda have faltered a bit.  Much of the South Korean conglomerate's gains have come thanks to a singular focus on improving the once lacking quality of its budget vehicles.  That focus has paid off with recent models earning high marks in quality and dramatically improving the images of the Hyundai and Kia brands.  DailyTech spoke with Kia employees at CES 2010 and got an inside look at both the company's upcoming UVO system, powered by Microsoft, and some tidbits on the incoming 2011 Kia hybrid.

Kia's Alex Fedorak stated to DailyTech that Kia would certainly be bringing a hybrid sedan to the market in 2010.  He said the biggest hold up has been being able to deliver the necessary quality, while maintaining a price that would resonate with budget buyers.  He said the hybrid would be a package option for one of Kia's current sedans.  Though Mr. Fedorak did not confirm this, early reports point to the Kia Forte LPI as the incoming Hybrid.  The hybrid reportedly will get at least 41 mpg and likely be the cheapest hybrid on the American market.

Overshadowing the hybrid news, perhaps, is Kia's infotainment push.  At CES 2010 in-car infotainment (powered by Microsoft Auto) is one of the hottest items.  Fiat has it (Blue & Me), Ford has it (MyFord Touch, MyLincoln Touch), and now Kia will become the latest to deploy a smart infotainment system.

According to Mr. Fedorak, the 2011 Kia Sorento, set to launch in June or July will be the first car to receive the new system.  He says it will be priced at under $20,000.  As to the exact price he says that it is unlikely to determined until the last minute.  He comments, "[Even] in June or July we will still be establishing pricing."

So what makes up the Kia's infotainment system?  One of the key components of the new system, dubbed UVO (for "your voice"), is the voice activated music system.  Kia won't let slip the exact memory, but the UVO vehicles will come with enough storage for "250 songs" -- likely about 1 GB.  You can add songs from an MP3 player (attached via USB), a Bluetooth capable phone (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.), or a CD.

Unlike MyFord Touch, Kia's UVO's voice commands are powered by a Microsoft Auto API (Ford uses a custom solution from Nuance).  We're intrigued to see how Microsoft's own solution pans out.  We're reserving judgment until we see the finished product, but currently we found it a bit disappointing.  We were only able to get one (!) voice command working out of numerous attempts.  Commands to play artist and play track did not work, but a command to switch to a radio station did eventually succeed.  We were told that the system is still in its very early stages in terms of tuning and that these issues should be mostly ironed out in the next six months (remember SYNC was a bit rough around its edges when first released).

One interesting feature that UVO has which Ford's system won't (at first) have is the ability to send custom text messages when parked.  While not designed as a full texting solution, this feature can serve as one in a pinch; when parked you will have access to a full QWERTY keyboard and have have the ability to create and send a custom message, which will replace one of the twelve canned messages.  Like MyFord Touch, the system also comes with canned messages that can be sent.  Also, like MyFord Touch, the system will have the ability to read texts you receive.  Again, all the text-driven capability relies on Bluetooth pairing to your cell phone (pairing is achieved via a button in the center stack).

The system features a 4-in. touch screen.  It will also support streaming audio from capable Bluetooth-ready phones, including the iPhone and RIM Blackberries. 

Kia representatives said that the Kia Soul is the next most likely target for the system after the Sonata, but that keeping an UVO-sporting Soul under $15,000 (the current car starts at under $14k) is proving challenging.

One thing's for sure with UVO, Hyundai Kia is determined not to let the infotainment system significantly impact the price of its vehicles.  States Greg Baribault, Director of Microsoft Auto Product Management and Marketing, "Kia is a value car maker.  It's critical to them to create high technical value in a car at a lower price."

While their primary focus is getting the current UVO iteration production-ready, we spoke a bit to Kia engineers about what's coming down the pipeline.  Kia's Patrick Newland and Mr. Fedorak commented that upcoming features include navigation (turn by turn) and climate control support.  They were not aware of any efforts to add a browser into UVO, add a smart phone API, or offer an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, key features which Ford will be soon offering with the competitive MyFord Touch.  Nonetheless, given Kia's aggressive pricing, UVO may be an ideal blend of value and functionality for many consumers.

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By mdogs444 on 1/7/2010 9:31:16 PM , Rating: 1
This is a good thing - bring advanced technology on the cheap to help bring down the costs of other competitors. But, lets be real matter what you think about their quality - whether its getting better, or whether its still junk - the fact is, you'd be driving a Kia and there is no way to make that look good.

RE: Good
By afkrotch on 1/7/2010 10:27:20 PM , Rating: 1
Come to Korea. Some of the Hyundai and Kias look nice. Too bad, they suck at pretty much everything. It's like mid-90s technology in late 2000 skin.

About the best Korea has to offer is the Hyundai Genesis.

RE: Good
By lucyfek on 1/8/2010 1:38:23 AM , Rating: 2
correction - if they looked nice (really?) they got to be a shameful knock-off another established brand. performance-wise, I'd agree

RE: Good
By Samus on 1/8/2010 4:13:53 AM , Rating: 2
Funny you say that, because Kia and Hyundai went from buying motors from Mazda and Mitsubishi respectively in the 80's and 90's to having direct injection before either of them.

And on paper, they also make safer cars.

But...I still wouldn't buy one, and my wife is Korean. Shhhh.

RE: Good
By Aloonatic on 1/8/2010 4:22:47 AM , Rating: 2
We just got an i30 on the scrapage deal and after looking around at other cars, there wasn't really all that much competition.

Sure, if you're a badge snob then go spend your 2 or 3 grand extra on something else that has a nice badge and probably less kit and space, but I think it looks OK personally. After looking on the us Hyundai website it seems that it looks a little different in the US than the UK though. It looks rather like a BMW 1 series over here. Better than the similarly priced new offerings from Ford at any rate.

As for technology inside, it has many things in it as standard that are pretty good too. My father bought a top of the line Mondao (he loves Ford for some reason and will always buy one no matter what. I think he enjoys arguing with the local dealers too much personally when it constantly goes wrong, especial the display screen) and the i30 has quite a few of the features that his car has, the iPod connector is better too. Of course, the trade off is the engine, but that's not so much of a big deal. The price of petrol over here (£1.13 a litre) means that sure and steady wins the day here.

In saying all that, some of the other models in the range and their older cars are god awful :o)

RE: Good
By Chaser on 1/8/2010 11:55:24 AM , Rating: 2
I have a 2010 Kia Forte. I am very pleased with it. It's quite a value and is praised by reputable car rags as a very nice car in its class.

RE: Good
By MonkeyPaw on 1/8/2010 7:40:24 AM , Rating: 2
Gee, I'm sorry that my Spectra 5 isn't cool enough for you. It gets the job done for my family, and it didn't cost a fortune either. I suppose I should trade it in for something else, just so other superficial people will look up to me. Gotta look good for that high-school reunion, you know!

RE: Good
By Reclaimer77 on 1/8/2010 1:24:51 PM , Rating: 3
Kia's are a lot better now, but you can't really come down on someone that has his opinion. The fact is for years after their release, Kia's were basically throw away cars with horrible reliability issues. For a Korean car company that was just par for the course though. Korean car's traditionally have been very cheap, poorly built, with huge warranties to spur consumer interest.

Consumers prejudice products and have long memories. If you release crap early, you will be branded a crap product for a long time. As the saying goes " it takes a thousand atta-boys to make up for a single f#$@ up ". Kia is better now, so is Hyundai for that matter, but you can't really fault people for having an opinion that they aren't. Nobody FORCED Kia to roll out with super cheap crap products at first.

RE: Good
By bhieb on 1/8/2010 3:59:15 PM , Rating: 3
but you can't really come down on someone that has his opinion.

You can when that someone states it as fact not opinion
- the fact is, you'd be driving a Kia and there is no way to make that look good.

Maybe you should take a look at what "the fact is" actually means as you use it often and most times to state opinion.

Arguably this is correct, but again if it can be argued then it is not fact is it :)

The fact is for years after their release, Kia's were basically throw away cars with horrible reliability issues.

RE: Good
By bhieb on 1/8/2010 4:14:37 PM , Rating: 2
On a side note I totally agree with you, the sooner the low end market gets in the game, the quicker the adoption rate will be across the board.

Speaking to the Hyundia issue. I owned a XG300 for 5 years, and loved it. Looked at Honda and Toyota, but for the same price as a mid range Honda, I got a fully loaded car. It was the first car I owned that did not have some plastic punch out where an option I could not afford should have been. If I had not wrecked it I may still be driving it.

On to greener pastures now (CTS-V), but I am still fond of that car, and the Genesis would be on my short list if I were in that type of market again.

But for now I feel the need for speed :)

RE: Good
By inperfectdarkness on 1/11/2010 8:58:39 AM , Rating: 2
they don't look like kia's. they look like saab's.

By AnnihilatorX on 1/7/2010 7:19:25 PM , Rating: 6
Petition to mandate DailyTech to use reasonably high resolution enlargeable thumbnails on all photos containing attractive women under all circumstances.

RE: Petition
By bakaneko16 on 1/7/2010 7:22:33 PM , Rating: 2
yea what gives man, you can enlarge the pic of the center console but not that first one?

RE: Petition
By Rogie on 1/7/2010 7:57:53 PM , Rating: 5
RE: Petition
By KING1986 on 1/8/10, Rating: -1
RE: Petition
By Silverel on 1/8/2010 11:14:11 AM , Rating: 2
I dunno, they look pretty hot in the low-res shots. The site linked has some kinda funky lookin asian girls. Not as much fun. =/

RE: Petition
By callmeroy on 1/11/2010 3:43:37 PM , Rating: 2
Funny you post that...when I first saw the pictures the only thought that came to mind was the heck with the car, but I wouldn't mind logging some time "driving" the models standing next to the car....especially the one with the long hair....

ok ok that was a useless and sexist post....I got it out of my system now...commence the down rating.... :)

Subject matter?
By siuol11 on 1/7/2010 8:43:58 PM , Rating: 5
This is a tech website and you ignore the hybrid tech to tell us about yet another boring infotainment system? Why don't you go work at Engaget and leave the serious journalism to the adults?

RE: Subject matter?
By Runiteshark on 1/8/2010 1:28:32 AM , Rating: 2
Normally I wouldn't say anything, because I'm used to Jason being a total idiot, but I must say, spot on, siuol, spot on.

RE: Subject matter?
By Chaser on 1/8/2010 12:27:55 PM , Rating: 2
No kidding. The article had words in it like Microsoft, Bluetooth, bit streaming, navigation, QWERTY.


RE: Subject matter?
By KIRBY1986 on 1/9/10, Rating: -1
I'm not sold on the car, but...
By IvanAndreevich on 1/7/2010 8:42:01 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sold on the girls. How much?

RE: I'm not sold on the car, but...
By Chiisuchianu on 1/7/2010 10:21:01 PM , Rating: 1
That's a very bigoted, homophobic, sexist, closed minded, and old fashioned thing to say!

By afkrotch on 1/7/2010 10:34:04 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure how his statement is homophobic. Bigoted, sexist, close minded, and old fashion, sure. Homophobic, no.

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