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Kia compact coupe, hatchback go turbo

Kia revealed the Koup today at the New York auto show, prior to its fourth quarter U.S. sales debut.

NEW YORK -- Most compact cars are engineered to be a means of affordable transportation for the masses, often sacrificing fun for practicality.

With its redesigned Forte lineup, Kia seems to be doing the opposite. The Forte will be the industry's only compact car lineup that offers sporty versions with turbocharged engines in two body styles -- a coupe and a hot hatch. A 201-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from Hyundai-Kia's engine stable will power both the Forte Koup and the Forte five-door hatchback in highline SX trim.

Kia revealed the Koup today at the New York auto show, prior to its fourth quarter U.S. sales debut. The turbocharged Forte SX hatchback, revealed at the Chicago auto show, arrives in the third quarter.

The new models could draw boy-racer types looking for cheap speed to a Kia showroom for the first time. Of course, the Forte lineup includes more basic versions with naturally aspirated engines for the more economically minded that likely will account for the bulk of Forte sales. After all, you've got to have volume to make a business case for the more expensive turbo variants.

Kia has long sought to establish its brand as a more youthful, sporty yin to the practical, grownup yang of Hyundai.

Trouble is, those efforts have been somewhat undermined by Hyundai being first in line to get the Hyundai-Kia group's first rear-wheel-drive sports coupe (Genesis Coupe) and hot hatch (Veloster Turbo.) That has left Kia with a lineup that, despite the compelling designs seen since Peter Schreyer's arrival as Kia design boss in 2006, has lacked the oomph to really back up its sporty aspirations.

The turbocharged Fortes should help move Kia in the right direction.

They should also resonate with younger buyers.

Research from consultant AutoPacific Inc. shows that small, turbocharged sporty cars are among those most favored by young car buyers. The high-performance Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru WRX, for example, are the nameplates with the industry' youngest buyers, according to AutoPacific.

The median ownership age for each vehicle is 34, according to AutoPacific data.

Those are cars with serious performance bona fides that Kia's new Forte entries won't be able to touch.

But for a brand that wants to stand out as sporty and dynamic in the crowded mainstream field, Kia's decision to sell two turbo-fours in its compact car lineup could do more for the brand than only boosting sales.

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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