The addition of all-wheel drive could make the models more premium in the eyes of customers.
Power sent to four driven wheels isn't just for trucks and SUVs anymore. At the 2018 New York Auto Show, Kia presented its all-new 2019 K900 with a standard all-wheel drive system. Rear-wheel drive is gone as premium buyers now expect and demand power at all four corners. Kia may not be stopping there, either. While the Korean automaker revealed refreshes of the Optima midsize sedan and Sedona minivan at the show, next-gen models could get all-wheel drive. And Niro? Kia wants that with AWD, too.
For Sedona, the current platform makes adding all-wheel drive fairly prohibitive. "It's a platform tear out [for Sedona]. You'd have to completely change everything underneath the car. It'll be a next generation thing because the floor pan and the rear suspension has to be completely redesigned—it's a major tear up," said Orth Hedrick, VP of Planning and Strategy for Kia Motors America. "If it keeps the car relevant, if it makes sense to make the investment to add that feature, we'll certainly do it." It might be a tough sell, though, in Hedrick's eyes. "I think once you put all-wheel drive on a minivan, it's getting really close to a crossover."
In a shrinking midsize sedan segment, however, all-wheel drive could stem the tide for the Kia Optima. "We're actively studying it for [Sedona and Optima]. We look at everything. One of the main points of my job is to see what others are doing. If we see someone moving in that direction, we go back and start pencilling it to see if it makes sense. We look at the opportunity. We look at the buyers' interest. And if it makes sense, we'll certainly propose it as part of our cycle plans. We haven't made the decision yet, obviously," he said. Still, one model begging for AWD more than any other at Kia is the Niro, the company's electrified crossover.
"We're still studying it," Hedrick said of all-wheel drive on the Niro hybrid. "It hasn't been long since we launched the car and we're still working on it. As a matter of fact, our head of R&D was here yesterday and we reiterated our request. They're working on something. Nothing to announce. It's something we would like." The reason Niro didn't launch with all-wheel drive from the outset is two-fold, explained Kia Motors America's product boss. "I think the decision to shape the Niro the way it is was more a point of differentiation versus the Prius and everything else," Hedrick said of the chosen body style for Niro.
"We wanted to do something different. I think when we made those decisions on body style, the link between CUV and all-wheel drive wasn't quite there yet, but it changed really quick. Just like the move from sedan to CUV, it's the same thing how quickly all-wheel drive has caught on." The refreshed 2019 Optima and Sedona will go on sale later this year. Pricing for both models will be available closer to launch, though Hedrick stated the Optima will start "below $23,000."