Call me skeptical. Go ahead; it’s a label I wear with pride. I’m a half-ass Catholic with a solid education, and though I chose to pursue the arts instead of the sciences, I evaluate the results of both disciplines with a critical eye. Blind faith is another matter entirely (unless we’re talking about the spectacular Magic Hat brew, which is a notion I can fully support). So a couple years ago, when I was a bit more naïve and a steadfast Euro devotee, I chuckled at my auto industry friends’ (and Kia’s and Hyundai’s) insistence that the Korean manufacturers were poised to take the auto landscape by storm.
Time passed. My worldview matured, though not my willingness to indulge fundamentalism. The Soul and Genesis landed, and I was intrigued. I wanted some seat time in them, and delivered upon me was the perfect excuse for a road trip: a pilgrimage to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. We’d wanted to see the place for a while, inspired by “Esquire” editor A.J. Jacobs’ fabulously funny book “The Year of Living Biblically.” Though my interest was piqued, I blame my husband and his irrational man crush on Mr. Jacobs. (If we ever get a car named after a food, we’ll probably be tailing Alton Brown.)
For those unfamiliar with this $27 million blatant disregard for scientific knowledge, it is dedicated to demonstrating that the earth is about 6000 years old, according to a literal interpretation of the Bible. If we are willing to suspend disbelief, the museum’s premise results in the revelation that dinosaurs coexisted with humans because we were all created on the same day. The museum’s backer? The fundamentalist organization, Answers in Genesis. Here I sit back as the jokes write themselves.
We got the cars together, and the drive down was tantalizing, the two of us, weaving through Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, admiring ourselves and each other. The Genesis, especially, inspired lust, greed and envy; I often found myself the subject of curious stares from onlookers. In Chicago, two sweet young things threw their Acura in reverse at a stoplight to get a better look, and at one point, I was approaching a fresh-looking bright red car from behind and thought to myself, “Damn, what’s that?” before realizing it was another Coupe Sport. As we progressed southward, the auto landscape grew sparser. We knew we were close when we piloted the only two Korean cars for miles.
The Creation Museum is beautifully designed to make its visitors feel shameful about the world we inhabit. It starts with a short film that gives the timeline of the world’s beginning according to Genesis. From there, visitors are shuttled to the opening exhibit, Natural Selection is Not Evolution, to which there’s not much more than its unwieldy title. To convince us that Science is Bad, we were treated of a diorama of two wax paleontologist figures unearthing dinosaur bones, side by side. The Creationist paleontologist found a 6000-year-old skeleton; the scientist’s dino, however, was billions of years in the hole. In this museum, shiny placards automatically and without question present a cogent argument. The moral of the story, so often quoted throughout the museum to explain the disconnects between science and faith? “Different starting points, same facts.” Not convinced; want another? “Today, linguists recognize languages fall into distinct ‘families’ of recent origin.” Sure, “recent” is a relative term to the Creationists, but that sound byte is a better explanation of why we brought the Soul Sport and Genesis Coupe together.
Relatively speaking, of course, both brands are young. To Kia, this is an advantage; its target market for the Soul has attention spans too short to remember its disastrous early attempts in the American market. Kia’s said its goal is to strengthen its identity; the Soul, a particularly charming visual standout amongst the Asian take-out boxes, is a solid step forward. Hyundai, Kia’s parent company as of 1997, has undertaken quite a task, nurturing its foster to respectability while quietly dissociating itself, hoping to challenge European luxury. Out of this ambition came what Hyundai calls its game changer, a rear-wheel-drive sport compact based on its luxury sedan of the same name (which, to be fair, was also called a game changer).
Continuing through the museum, we reached the Dinosaur Den. Despite its guffaw-inducing signage (“Biblical history is the key to understanding dinosaurs! There were probably about fifty different dinosaur kinds on the Ark!”) this exhibit is pretty but overall unimpressive to anyone who’s been to a real science museum, anywhere, ever. Though the designer of the exhibit, Buddy Davis, collected nice paychecks working for secular museums before collaborating with Answers in Genesis, the fault doesn’t like with him. Quite simply, the signage is riot-inducing. Dinosaurs were originally vegetarians? Sure. The fact that fossils prove dinos and humans did not coexist is irrelevant? Yup. And to think, according to a May 2007 Salon article, this place opened without a penny of debt thanks to private donors.
At least natural selection’s improved our transportation options, further demonstrated by the next exhibit, a model of Noah’s Ark as it might have looked under construction. We can’t even be snarky about taking the transportation comparisons this far. You’ll get a better Big Bang for your buck with both the Soul Sport and Genesis Coupe. True, they might not be financed by wealthy Christians, but our base trim Soul Sport started at $18,590; our Genesis Coupe cashed in at $26,750.
The Soul is the triceratops of our pair, sturdy, reliable and pleasingly angular. Though the interior’s ripe with aesthetic pleasures, it’s cluttered and perhaps a bit gimmicky, with a lot of gadgetry occupying a small cabin. One of the more charming aspects of the Soul was its traditional key, requiring an actual turn to start the ignition. A surprise, given the expectations of Kia’s desired market for the car, but altogether welcome. The tactile experience of key in hand immediately brings a more intimate relationship with the car, a feeling that lingered throughout the trip. The cabin’s small though not cramped; the $700 power sunroof opened things up nicely. The backseat’s almost, but not quite, a better place to be than the front. It’s reasonably spacious; you want your friends to pile in. It’s supremely comfortable; it seems justified to lounge around for lounging’s sake. Sloth, we love it.
Our tester was Shadow Metallic, a barely black finish that sacrifices a lot of the exterior detail. On a dull and isolated stretch of highway, I found myself behind an Alien Green example, which brought to my attention exterior textures and contours, like the subtly rounded squares comprising the rear hatch, that had previously escaped notice. Upon comparison, I noticed the Sport’s subtle front and rear fascias and more aggressive side sills, which nicely complemented the 18″ 5-spoke wheels. Airbags, ESP and a tire pressure monitoring system rounded out the options and features.
While peppy and perky, the Soul Sport is not what a reasonable person would consider fast. The 2.0 inline-four puts out 142 hp, which resists harsh input but can be sweet-talked, to an extent. Once we achieved 80 mph, it held with ease on the flat Indiana highways, but attempts to coax a little more speed were met with cheerful resistance and a rapidly dwindling fuel readout (which bothered me until I noted the scant 12-gallon tank). No matter; we were still coasting by the roadworthy farm implements with aplomb. The five-speed manual transmission is easy and forgiving if somewhat sloppy; second gear was already well worn and prone to grind with less than 10,000 miles. The clutch, notably light with a wide range of release, made for a comfortable if slightly unsettling drive; it was difficult to sense the right point to ease off and I constantly expected some kind of admonishment, but the car kept bubbling forth.
In our little game, then, the Genesis Coupe would be some other “dinosaur kind”: athletic, agile, though not altogether frightening. Our tester was a touch more subtle than we expected, the glimmery Nordschleife Gray finish raking over 19″ alloys. The HID headlamps evoked a watchfulness that was feline, or perhaps avian, but in this corner of Kentucky there’s no way in hell dinos were descended from birds. Approach the car and it unlocks, and the push button start gets things underway. The 2.0 turbo four-banger is quick to accelerate; sexy, sexy Brembo brakes stop on command. The optional Track package provides the brakes as well as stiffer suspension and a limited slip differential. It was, on occasion, difficult to shift the Genesis into reverse. The gear was hard to find and the lever occasionally hit the gate. We loved the solidity of the shift collar, though. The turbo engine revs pretty high, constantly demanding the driver’s attention. Cruise control’s at your disposal, but that’s no fun. Driver and passengers are well protected with ESP and traction control, antilock brakes, and front, side and side curtain airbags.
Yet there are all manner of distractions in the cabin, good and bad. This car embraces its driver with excellent tactile quality. The dash is soft to the touch, fingers nestle gently in the leather-wrapped wheel, and to my delight, the end of the turn signal stalk felt like a piece of Pez candy along the edge of my fingertip. The high-bolstered seats feel like being caressed from behind; in nearly five straight hours of driving, they didn’t pinch, numb, or cause me to slouch. Power locks and windows are complemented by a power sunroof; the black and red color scheme is accented by metalgrain trim and aluminum pedals. The Infinity premium AM/FM/CD/satellite setup was perfectly serviceable but somehow lacking panache. If the interior’s got a considerable downfall, it’s a lack of easily accessible storage or cubby space; my phone, when plugged into the iPod adapter cord, was prone to sliding around.
We couldn’t help but feel if the first generation Tiburon had achieved even a sliverof the Genesis’ spiritual presence, Hyundai’s upward climb may have been a bit easier.
And here we reach the cultural portion of our program, the Walk Through Biblical History. It’s the most comprehensive part of the museum and explains how we arrived at the world’s current state, ensures we realize how horrible we are for existing in and contributing to the world’s current state, and tells us how it’s all going to end. This isn’t for the faint of heart.
Creation was first, of course. We heard about the six days of creation and seventh of rest; as we gazed at a life-sized Adam in the garden, a narrator told us how he lent his rib for Eve. We had to chuckle, though, at a scene of Adam surrounded by a lamb, some jungle cats, and a penguin, with a placard explaining, “Adam named fewer than two hundred animals. Naming all these animals would require only a few hours, at most.” How the hell do they know how long it would take, we ask? But, being Speed:Sport:Lifers, we were more concerned about the cars. Kia and Hyundai, it seems, grew more proficient at the naming game as time passed.
Lots of floor space was dedicated to Corruption, illustrating the temptation and subsequent moral collapse of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were famously, shamelessly, fabulously nude before the ingestion of that awful fruit, and were commanded to don clothing as part of their punishment. I suppose it’s irony, in the Alanis Morissette kind of way, that the Genesis afforded me one of the most redeeming moments of our trip, a rare bit of bare-skinned freedom. Our drive from Chicago passed with virtually no discomfort, much to my surprise and pleasure. Just a few miles from our hotel, though, my left heel started to tingle, pinched by the back of my beat-up sneaker. I steadied the wheel with my right hand, reached down with my left, and slipped off my shoe and sock. This was an act of desperation and a bit of faith; driving a manual without shoes has always caused unbearable discomfort. The Genesis, though? The clutch was tender and responsive though a bit jumpy, and driving barefoot was a revelation. Thanks, Hyundai, for not punishing me for Adam’s sin.
The Catastrophe segment told us about the flood, in excruciating hypothetical detail. We so truly hate to skip over a feature the museum thinks is crucial, but we didn’t find out if either car floats and we know they can hold only a few of your closest friends, not a menagerie. We are happy to report, however, the Soul and Genesis are both watertight.
We were led through Confusion down a dim hall with illustrations depicting the spread of humankind and its impact on society; in the Museum’s words, “Scripture abandoned in the culture leads to relative morality, hopelessness and meaninglessness.” We beg to differ: the beauty of many languages and our ability to spread out across the world, nearly anywhere we’d like to go, is a punishment? And obviously, dim red light is symbolic of complete and utter reprehensibility, so the Soul’s screwed. We love its Mood lighting feature, red LEDS that can be set to pulse regularly or breathe to the beat of the music. The Soul’s stereo is awesome and provides our modern distractions through an AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite/USB/aux-in buffet delivered through six speakers. Bring on the aural gluttony, we say. If pop culture results in the downfall of humanity, the Soul must shoulder some of that blame. (And if we needed any more evidence that the Soul is a rolling den of urban sin, we’ve spotted quite a few doing taxi duty in Chicago. How often do those drivers bask in red lights?)
Though crucial to Christian history, the Christ and Cross displays had little to do with our mission. We moved right through to Consummation, which was an interesting exhibit because it’s yet to happen. Even the Creation Museum can’t convincingly pretend they know the effect of the curse being removed, and we’ll give them a bit of credit for acknowledging such. Likewise, we give ourselves tons of credit for admitting we don’t know the yet-to-come achievements of these cars.
For all the attention lavished on Genesis, how disappointed we were that the human soul warranted not a single mention in the museum. I’d so hoped for a throwaway reference to bring our whole weekend together – our modern world of lost souls, who will save your soul, Fossil Soup for the Soul. Alas, it was not to be, as the Creation Museum is thoroughly unconcerned with other elements of biblical doctrine. (Interesting aside: I was pondering this very subject while rereading “The Year of Living Biblically,” and stumbled upon a passage describing Jacobs’ quest to fulfill an obscure commandment, the sacrifice of a red cow. His research led him to a Mississippi minister and cattle breeder hoping to produce the perfect red bovine specimen, who also happened to be a Kia salesman. I resisted the urge to contact him for comment; he allegedly talked Jacobs’ ear off.)
Here we return to our mission statement: different starting points, same facts. An Asian lunchbox much like those that came before it, and yet another Asian luxury chaser. Both are standouts in their classes, and both are true to their creators’ intentions. Kia sees its sales steadily increasing thanks to more appealing new offerings and higher ratings (to say nothing of the dedication of one Southern cattle farmer). Meanwhile, Hyundai is prepping to debut another ambitious model. Next year’s Equus, a full-size designed to take on the Mercedes S-Class, shoulders great expectations, but its path’s been paved by the Genesis in both coupe and sedan forms.
So, what did the Creation Museum teach us? Merely, that transportation’s evolved. From the cars, we learned that the Genesis is everything, and the Soul has less relevance to faith than we’d thought. And, though we walked out believing in both, we’ll stick with science.
Kia Soul Gallery from Zerin’s Review: