Kia, on the march in Chicago

The Korean brand resumes its dogged campaign to be more like Toyota than Toyota is, with a design concept, a rakish hatchback and a superhero’s sedan.

With former Audi designer Peter Schreyer moving from strength to strength at Kia Motors, having recently been named president of the company, it is safe to expect more along the lines of the Cross GT Concept, a slippery full-size, three-row crossover vehicle unveiled on 7 February at the 2013 Chicago auto show.

This all-wheel-drive, plug-in hybrid concept is powered by a 3.8-litre V6 engine that combines with an electric motor to theoretically produce 400 total horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. The platform is the same used for the handsome Kia GT concept introduced at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, which in turn was based on the rear-drive platform developed by Hyundai, Kia’s parent, for its Genesis sedan. The Cross GT offers an evolution of Kia’s parallel-hybrid drivetrain, with the electric motor wedged in the bell housing between the gasoline engine and transmission. 

The car has a predicted electric-only driving range of 20 miles, though the specifics of the battery’s construction and chemistry were not released.

The Cross GT’s sensuous, copper-hued sheetmetal encloses a cabin featuring leather tanned with natural dyes, recycled American walnut veneers on the dashboard and natural wool felt throughout. In keeping with the GT concept of 2011, the Cross GT subscribes to the rear-hinged suicide-door school of concept-car design. The effect is fancy, if ultimately frivolous.

The large opening provided by those rear-hinged doors affords a view of the hexagonal skylights and head-restraint-mounted rear-seat video screens, which have internet access. (The kids will positively love watching those kitten videos on YouTube while you drive.)

Despite Kia’s recent bold introductions, the company is not yet ready to announce the Cross GT as a production model.

“Our customers are looking to the Kia brand to offer relevant vehicles in the premium segments that take value to new levels of sophistication,” explained Michael Sprague, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Kia Motors America, in a statement. “While it is only a concept today, it signals one possible design direction we may explore in the future.”

A design direction in Kia’s present is the four-door hatchback version of the Forte compact car introduced in sedan form at the Los Angeles auto show in November 2012. The hatchback marks the introduction of a Volkswagen GTI-baiting powertrain: a direct-injected, turbocharged 1.6-litre unit with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, available with either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.

The car’s base engine, the 2-litre direct-injection power plant seen in the Forte sedan previously, is no slouch, with 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque, but only the 6-speed automatic is available at that specification. 

An array of premium options put the pleasing hatchback in the realm of the august Volkswagen Golf, such as 18-inch aluminium wheels, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, tilt and telescoping steering column, high-intensity discharge headlights, heated rear seats, a 10-way adjustable driver’s seat and twin chrome-tipped exhaust pipes. The Forte is properly detailed to the last.

It reaches dealers in the third quarter, and pricing will be available closer to the launch date.

Of course, there are no such withheld secrets from omnipotent, all-powerful superheroes like Superman. The Man of Steel is the theme for a customised Optima hybrid introduced in Chicago to raise awareness for DC Entertainment’s We Can Be Heroes fundraising campaign for drought relief in the Horn of Africa.

The Superman-inspired Optima has flared fenders and slammed suspension that can rise at the touch of a button. The unmistakable red and blue paint scheme should attract plenty of attention as the car makes its publicity rounds, and a look inside reveals Superman’s “S” stitched into the seats, as well.

The red-tinted headlights hint to Superman’s villain-stopping heat vision: the kind of red light car enthusiasts can rally around.