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Kia UVO: A Solid, No-Frills Infotainment System

Kia UVO: Mainstream Infotainment In The 2012 Soul
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Kia's UVO is a solid, albeit basic infotainment system. It lets you plug in a USB-based flash drive, an iPod, or a Zune (if anyone still has one) for music playback. The company isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with UVO. Rather, it focused on functions that are important to a commuting driver who wants to navigate through his MP3s using basic voice commands and what we consider to be exceptional recognition. There's a smart blend of touchscreen-based controls and more conventional physical buttons (which we actually prefer).

As you've probably surmised, UVO isn't as advanced as SYNC with MyFord Touch, but it doesn't try to be, either. We realize that not everyone wants that level of complexity behind the wheel. So, you end up with something simpler, faster, and more responsive, despite its older SoC from Freescale. The availability of UVO on most of Kia’s line-up, and on mid-level trims is a step in the right direction, too. Though, we'd like to see UVO available on all trims, including manual transmission-equipped vehicles. Surely, it'll make its way to the Sedona and Forte models over time, too.

Although SYNC with MyFord Touch has a lot of bonus features that make it great for road trips (there's the Wi-Fi hotspot, video input, HD Radio tagging, and SiriusXM time-shifting), Kia UVO covers the basics that you're more likely to use daily on your trip to and from work. At first, we were disappointed when our test vehicle arrived without the $2500 Premium Package that adds Navigation with SiriusXM traffic, push-button start, heated, leather seats, and automatic climate control. Frankly, though, we didn't miss any of those features during our week with Kia's Soul Exclaim (particularly since the navigation system overwrites UVO in favor of a bigger screen and turn-by-turn directions with completely different software).

There are some caveats to UVO that we can’t hold against Kia, such as the system's text messaging capabilities. That's an issue to bring up to your phone manufacturer. A lack of application link support over USB (for streaming audio applications) seems to be a more common oversight on newer mainstream factory infotainment systems, despite the fact that even Ford's first-generation SYNC system had it. A quick glance through Pandora’s FAQ reveals that only select BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Mini models enable smartphone-based streaming radio applications, though even they are limited to Apple's iPhone.

We enjoyed our time with UVO and the Kia Soul Exclaim. In our day-to-day driving, UVO worked great. We didn't encounter any glaring flaws in the software. It just worked. We mixed up HD Radio, SiriusXM, and USB-based music playback. Throughout it all, we received a number of phone calls, and the software handled transitions to and from each subsystem smoothly. The flexibility to control UVO through a touchscreen, voice commands, and plenty of physical buttons on the head unit itself, rounds out a user-friendly implementation. Kia manages to top it all off with a useful backup camera, novel speaker lights, and a respectable premium audio system from Infinity.

As for the 2012 Kia Soul Exclaim itself, we find it to be a good platform aimed at a younger crowd shopping for compact cars with more headroom and space than typical hatchbacks. Kia does a great job controlling noise, vibration, and harshness, making its Soul Exclaim impressively quiet. In fact, a couple of times we wondered if the car's engine was even running at idle. The mid-level Soul Plus and higher-end Exclaim include an upgrade from the base 1.6 L motor to a new-for-2012 2.0 L Hyundai Nu engine, featuring dual-continuous variable valve timing and direct injection that brings power output to 164 hp and 148 ft-lbs of torque. Not too shabby for a car that weighs in at 2800 pounds.

Kia does a great job dressing up the Soul's interior, too. The dashboard is composed of hard plastics, but the surfaces are covered in a rubbery texture that looks good and provides a higher-quality feel, though still hard to the touch. The door panels are coated as well, and have soft padded vinyl inserts where your elbow typically rests. Other niceties, such as LED running lights, turn signals, taillights, and projector headlights, are exclusive to the Exclaim trim, adding a touch of European panache to an otherwise-mundane commuter.

At the end of the day, we like UVO as a no-frills solution for customers looking for iPod, iPhone, Zune, and USB flash drive compatibility, complemented by intuitive Bluetooth hands-free functionality.

And while we appreciate what Kia has done with UVO, the company still faces an issue of fragmentation. It has two completely different systems available: one being the Microsoft-powered UVO and the other being the company's navigation-oriented solution. This is an area where Kia can learn from Ford’s approach, which includes multiple implementations of SYNC spanning all the way up to a navigation-equipped configuration. Unless you truly plan to use SiriusXM traffic regularly and are willing to pay the subscription fees, we suggest skipping the Premium Package entirely. Stick with UVO and use your smartphone for the few times you need directions.

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  • 0 Hide
    sp0nger , July 19, 2012 4:58 AM
    This seems super basic to me..

    I see what you did there kia, but as a reader of toms i would be much more interested in you inspecting the tech around more advanced systems in higher end cars
  • 2 Hide
    sp0nger , July 19, 2012 5:01 AM
    On second thought i would love to see your break down of the new GTR those systems are insane, thats worthy of a 10 page read
  • 2 Hide
    tuanies , July 19, 2012 5:11 AM
    Thanks for the input. We're working on bringing coverage of higher end vehicles and have a 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track and Audi Q5 with NVIDIA Tegra and QNX in the pipeline.
  • 1 Hide
    ivyanev , July 19, 2012 5:54 AM
    Isn't it strange that a smartphone can do all theese things(except for multichanel music maybe)
  • -1 Hide
    palladin9479 , July 19, 2012 8:40 AM
    Quote:
    Thanks for the input. We're working on bringing coverage of higher end vehicles and have a 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track and Audi Q5 with NVIDIA Tegra and QNX in the pipeline.



    Genesis Coupe's are nice.

    Come on ya'll should do a Morning or Matiz. Or heck review a tricked out Daewoo Damas, just for kicks.
  • 1 Hide
    ZakTheEvil , July 19, 2012 10:53 AM
    So the backup camera is there to compensate for the poor "style over function" body design that limits the rear view?
  • 0 Hide
    Parrdacc , July 19, 2012 12:17 PM
    Amazing that car companies like Ford and KIA and others are just now doing this. Meanwhile all us car enthusiasts have had most of these capabilities for years now. I have had hondas with head units like JVC and Alpine that do the same thing. The current JVC I got four years back is running strong with Bluetooth connection to my phone with voice, GPS, Voice navigation and recognition, usb mp3 playback, ipod connection, which I do not use as I find just plugging in a usb to the front of the player just easier than the running a cable to the ipod.

    Well, welcome to the party Ford and KIA.
  • -1 Hide
    Parrdacc , July 19, 2012 12:30 PM
    Oh, on more thing. A 4.3inch display. Really. I got a 7" display thats touchscreen and that was without any custom work done. The KIA appears to have a double din which should be more than capable of using a 7" inch touchscreen, or at least one that is larger than 4.3 inches, so why they went this route I do not know. A buddy of mine has got a Nissan with a factory radio and his display is about 6".
  • 0 Hide
    willard , July 19, 2012 12:41 PM
    Ugh, Kia. I owned a Kia once. Took $5k in engine repairs over three years to keep it on the road. Blew two head gaskets, three thermostats went out, radiator failed once. The front end CV joints are bad about going out on most of their older cars as well (I went through three), and good luck if you need to replace a wheel bearing (which also like to go out on the front end). Need a special Kia service tool to do it, which they don't sell and no mechanic has except Kia dealerships. Enjoy your $400 repairs you could have done yourself for $50 if they just used standard tools.

    Kia costs less up front, but WAY more in maintenance. Buy a Hyundai if you're looking for a quality car on the cheap. They don't fall apart on you like Kias do.
  • 1 Hide
    CaedenV , July 19, 2012 1:37 PM
    Picked up a Hyundai for my wife a few years ago and love it (well... for the price anyways... it is no VW). I am now looking for a commuter car for myself and am looking at KIA (which is the cheaper Hyundai brand). I had been wondering about their UVO system because I am thinking about a Rio5 which also has this as an option. It dosn't seem that great, but it is good to know that what is there works solid (other than the texting issues), so perhaps I will spring for it when the time comes to jump on it.

    Can you select a playlist instead of an individual song? or is it too basic for that?
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , July 19, 2012 1:37 PM
    Quote:
    So the backup camera is there to compensate for the poor "style over function" body design that limits the rear view?


    Unfortunately that's how all new cars are unless you get a convertible.

    Quote:
    Amazing that car companies like Ford and KIA and others are just now doing this. Meanwhile all us car enthusiasts have had most of these capabilities for years now. I have had hondas with head units like JVC and Alpine that do the same thing. The current JVC I got four years back is running strong with Bluetooth connection to my phone with voice, GPS, Voice navigation and recognition, usb mp3 playback, ipod connection, which I do not use as I find just plugging in a usb to the front of the player just easier than the running a cable to the ipod.

    Well, welcome to the party Ford and KIA.


    Vehicle manufacturers work on a longer development cycle. This stuff has to be planned at least 5-years before the product hits a production vehicle for QA and a lot more testing than aftermarket manufacturers.

    5-years ago I had a Pioneer AVIC F700BT, and a F500BT a year later, it did all of that but the UI was awfully slow (ran Windows CE), extremely buggy but the Parrot Bluetooth wasn't too bad. All current factory systems are a major upgrade from older after market systems.

    Quote:
    Oh, on more thing. A 4.3inch display. Really. I got a 7" display thats touchscreen and that was without any custom work done. The KIA appears to have a double din which should be more than capable of using a 7" inch touchscreen, or at least one that is larger than 4.3 inches, so why they went this route I do not know. A buddy of mine has got a Nissan with a factory radio and his display is about 6".


    I'd say its about the size of a double DIN. A 7-inch touchscreen would have probably fit but then it would take up the entire space of the area leaving no room for buttons. The 4.3-inch is perfectly adequate for your music and media playback. If it had navigation, then yes a minimum 6-inch is a must IMO.

    New 2013 Nissan Altima's are shipping with 7-inch displays with Intel Atom :) , I'm really looking forward to that!


    Quote:
    Ugh, Kia. I owned a Kia once. Took $5k in engine repairs over three years to keep it on the road. Blew two head gaskets, three thermostats went out, radiator failed once. The front end CV joints are bad about going out on most of their older cars as well (I went through three), and good luck if you need to replace a wheel bearing (which also like to go out on the front end). Need a special Kia service tool to do it, which they don't sell and no mechanic has except Kia dealerships. Enjoy your $400 repairs you could have done yourself for $50 if they just used standard tools.

    Kia costs less up front, but WAY more in maintenance. Buy a Hyundai if you're looking for a quality car on the cheap. They don't fall apart on you like Kias do.


    Not sure which Kia you had. The early Sephia's with the 1.8L are Mazda/Ford I4s. The current ones share the same powertrain as Hyundai. The 4-cylinder being used now, including the GDI Turbo is a global motor design shared with Mitsubishi and Chrysler. My uncle still has a second generation Rio that's running fine, granted he beat the crap out of it.
  • 1 Hide
    tuanies , July 19, 2012 1:50 PM
    Yes, it does work with playlists on the flash drive.

    The new Rio 5 is a decent looker. I keep seeing them around town and they look decent.

    I need to get another Kia in to do a quick test on texting. It seems that Windows Phone is the only platform that supports Bluetooth MAP so I just got a Lumia 900 from Microsoft for texting tests.
  • 0 Hide
    KidABear , July 19, 2012 2:07 PM
    Anyone else not a fan of touchscreen infotainment?

    1. It gets fingerprints
    2. It's more distracting than the alternatives

    I like the Audi/BMW approach with a scrolling wheel/touchpad near the shifter. Much easier to use while driving and very intuitive. I hate navigating through touch screens.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , July 19, 2012 2:14 PM
    Quote:
    Anyone else not a fan of touchscreen infotainment?

    1. It gets fingerprints
    2. It's more distracting than the alternatives

    I like the Audi/BMW approach with a scrolling wheel/touchpad near the shifter. Much easier to use while driving and very intuitive. I hate navigating through touch screens.


    I don't mind it. I like that manufacturers offer multiple input methods. My personal preference is towards steering wheel controls, direct source buttons, volume knobs and good voice commands for navigation input. I only touch the screen if I have to. The Audi / BMW scroll wheel / touchpad is a really good / cool idea since it places it where your hand would normally be.
  • -1 Hide
    jaquith , July 19, 2012 3:30 PM
    What are you guys now - Road & Track?!

    There are soooo many other Articles that need to be done than 'stuff' like this and/or women with size D videos are making me wonder WTH TH is thinking here?!
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , July 19, 2012 3:41 PM
    ^ hey, those D's were really nice.
  • 1 Hide
    tuanies , July 19, 2012 3:44 PM
    Quote:
    What are you guys now - Road & Track?!

    There are soooo many other Articles that need to be done than 'stuff' like this and/or women with size D videos are making me wonder WTH TH is thinking here?!


    I only cover automotive technology so it doesn't affect the hardware articles at all. Nothing is being pushed aside for automotive coverage. We still have articles in the pipeline.
  • 0 Hide
    freggo , July 19, 2012 3:55 PM
    What a costly nightmare it will be to get that repaired sometime down the road.
    I think this is a bit overboard; and distracting. Most people are barely capable of keeping a straight line in traffic as it is.

  • 0 Hide
    freggo , July 19, 2012 4:04 PM
    ZakTheEvilSo the backup camera is there to compensate for the poor "style over function" body design that limits the rear view?


    Ever had the pleasure of backing up a Ferrari?
    I did (not mine unfortunately; or fortunately...). And I never heard anyone complaining :-)

    Due to roof supports there will always be some sort of 'dead spots' in the rear. But it is not an 18 wheeler (talk about back rear view). So if backing up a tiny 4 passenger city car poses a problem I buss pass may be a better and less expensive solution :-)

  • 1 Hide
    tuanies , July 19, 2012 4:17 PM
    Quote:
    Ever had the pleasure of backing up a Ferrari?
    I did (not mine unfortunately; or fortunately...). And I never heard anyone complaining :-)

    Due to roof supports there will always be some sort of 'dead spots' in the rear. But it is not an 18 wheeler (talk about back rear view). So if backing up a tiny 4 passenger city car poses a problem I buss pass may be a better and less expensive solution :-)


    Backing up isn't the issue most of the time. Its avoiding small animals and children that like to get behind vehicles in the blind spots that are the problem and why cars have backup cameras.
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