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Kia K2500 Karga 4x2: A smart solution for your transport needs

It even has some features found on passenger cars

The author was pleasantly surprised at his unusual demo unit. PHOTO BY RED SANTIAGO

My family operates a small printing business. We currently use a 25-year-old Mitsubishi L300 to get supplies and deliver stuff to our clients. But given its age and reputation for emitting sooty smoke, our workhorse is getting more challenging to maintain. And if you’re lucky, you’ll end up getting pulled over by your friendly Anti-Smoke Belching Unit team. So, for quite some time now, I have been on the lookout for a suitable replacement for our old van.

At least the cab isn't too slab-sided like most trucks. PHOTOS BY RED SANTIAGO

Unexpectedly, I was notified by our editorial team that I would be receiving a rather unconventional test unit. After months of driving comfortable and flashy passenger cars, I was assigned to a vehicle that I never thought I’d appreciate: the Kia K2500 Karga 4×2. When the Karga was delivered to me, I kept asking myself where I could use this thing, and whether I would ever get to fully stretch its legs and maximize its capacity.

Of all the light commercial vehicles available on the market right now, the K2500 has the most modern design (if you could call it that). It looks weird, but it’s unmistakably Kia. That’s because it has the carmaker’s signature “tiger nose” grille. The cab-over design is meant to maximize space, while the rear panoramic body is as simple and straightforward as it could be. The 15-inch wheels are fitted with 195mm-wide tires, but the unique bolt pattern makes looking for aftermarket rims challenging.

Those doing highway runs will be thankful for having a sixth gear ratio. PHOTOS BY RED SANTIAGO

For someone with a porky frame like me, getting in the K2500 isn’t exactly easy. With a ground clearance of 200mm, the seats are quite high. In fact, when I first hopped in, I thought I was riding a much bigger truck. But it also means that the Karga is perfect for our pothole-riddled roads. The interior feels very modern. Switches and levers are well within easy reach. The instrument panel has big and legible dials. The seats are wrapped in durable vinyl. What’s baffling is the presence of auxiliary and USB ports as the unit didn’t come with a radio.

The air-conditioning system is powerful enough to keep the cabin chilly. Sadly, those who easily get cold may end up frantically searching for a temperature dial—only to find out that it doesn’t exist. Fiddling with the vents can fix this issue, thankfully. You just need to be patient and creative. It also has a number of car-like features like central locking, power windows, a headlamp height adjuster, and a rear fog lamp.

It takes a bit of effort getting seated in the high cab. PHOTOS BY RED SANTIAGO

The ride, as expected, is on the uncomfortable side. But that’s okay because the Karga is a delivery van after all. Load it up with cargo and the ride quality drastically improves. The rear benches can seat up to 16 people. Stow them and you have tons of room for all the stuff you can haul. On a trip to get supplies for our business, the rear body gobbled up a 10.5ft tarpaulin roll with room to spare. We went back and forth to an event in Makati without any fuss. I even got to use the vehicle on a weekend drive with my family to Rizal.

If you can't stand the super-cold air-conditioning, wear a jacket. PHOTOS BY RED SANTIAGO

Despite the harsh ride, the K2500 Karga is strangely a joy to drive. The 2.5-liter common-rail turbodiesel has 128hp and 255Nm. The ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox might be short, but they are tuned to stay within the power band of the rev-happy mill. While the engines of some competitors feel labored when you accelerate past 2,500rpm, the Karga encourages you to hit the redline. I tackled steep gradients with confidence knowing that this Kia had plenty of muscle. It is fuel-efficient as well. The 60L tank yielded almost 600km before needing a top-up.

It is the versatility of this vehicle that truly matters. PHOTOS BY RED SANTIAGO

I never really thought that I’d enjoy driving the K2500 Karga as much as I did during the lend-out period. It speaks volumes about Kia’s expertise in commercial vehicles. At P1,165,000, you’d be hard-pressed trying to find a light truck that’s as good as this. And with that, it looks like the search for our new service vehicle is now over.

KIA K2500 KARGA 4x2

Engine2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission6-speed manual
Power128hp @ 3,800rpm
Torque255Nm @ 1,500-3,500rpm
Dimensions4,825mm x 1,740mm x 1,995mm (cab and chassis)
Drive layoutRWD
UpsideThe engine is peppy, and the little convenience features make driving less tiring.
DownsideThe ride is quite jarring, and a temperature-control dial would have been nice.

Red Santiago

A jack of all trades, Red is passionate about cars, motorcycles and audio. He sometimes drives for a ride-hailing app company—just because he really loves driving.