The January 2019 launch of the new Kia Soluto, the Korean automaker’s entry-level model, reminded us of a defining conversation we had a few years ago with the owner of a motorcycle manufacturer who was apprehensive to lend their 100 cc single-cylinder standard motorbike for a test ride and evaluation for our sister publication, MotorCycle Magazine.
“After riding high-end super bikes and super sports bikes, we’re afraid that you may not find anything nice or interesting about our base model motorbike”, the owner fretted. “Rest assured”, we told him. “We’ll treat our test ride of your motorcycle as though it was our first. And then we will evaluate it according to its function and category. We won’t compare it to the exotic bikes that we’ve ridden before. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.” At the time, we were managing not just the owner’s expectations but ours as well.
When our good friends at Kia Philippines scheduled us for a test drive of the new 2019 Kia Soluto 1.4 EX A/T, we had the same mindset. After we test drove an exciting, take-no-prisoners, multi-million-peso exotic car, we prepared ourselves to evaluate a simple, no-frills, less-than-a-million-peso economy car. We expected nothing fancy, just a subcompact motor car that can take us around town reliably. After all, it was being marketed as the one of the most affordable 4-door sedans in the Philippine market with prices at P625,000 for the base model Soluto 1.4 LX M/T with 5-speed manual transmission; P675,000 for the 1.4 LX A/T with the 4-speed automatic; P685,000 for the 1.4 EX M/T luxury model with 5-speed stick shift; and P735,000 for the 1.4 EX A/T that we were going to test. The nice part is that we were going to drive something that Fernando Zobel de Ayala, the president of the Ayala Corporation, the mother company of AC Motors, which distributes Kia Motors in the Philippines, drove during the launch. That glitzy “driven by a celebrity” part somewhat elevated our expectations a bit.
The Power to Surprise
This is not our first rodeo. We’ve driven Kia models before. Not just the test drive units, mind you, but a couple of cars that we owned and drove for several years. We had a 2007 Kia Picanto 1.1 LX A/T for four years and a 2011 Kia Soul 1.6 LX A/T for six. That’s 10 years of ownership of a Kia and 10 years of immersion with a Korean automobile brand. Thus, even though we didn’t expect much from the Soluto in terms of luxury and performance, we expected a lot from it in terms of safety, reliability and fuel economy. And we were in for quite a surprise.
The Kia Soluto comes equpped with 14-inch 12-spoke aluminum alloy wheels shod with 175/70R14 tires. Its Clear White paint finish made our test car look longer than its 4.3-meter length, wider than its 1.7-meter width and a bit more elegant than its affordable price tag might suggest. Although the 14-inch wheel-and-tire combo worked well, they looked a bit small for the Soluto’s body, especially with that high belt line design.
If It Looks Like a Kia…
The front end of the Soluto features the signature “Tiger Nose Grille” that is prevalent in the entire Kia Motors line-up. The front bumper cover integrates the blacked-out center structure that holds the license plate and fog lights with the lower valance that acts like an air dam/front spoiler and channels cold air into the radiator and engine compartment. The blacked-out air vents at the side of the front bumper cover that looks like brake ducts to cool the front disc brakes complete the sporty front end. Again, the facade of the Soluto surprised us with its sporting character.
The back end of the Soluto was a different story, though. The tail lamps were mounted high and at the edges of the rear fenders leaving a large “white space” that was broken only by three small elements – the oval black-and-chrome Kia emblem, the trunk key hole below it, and the “Soluto” nameplate mounted on the leftmost portion. The top of the trunk lid was sculptured to look like a rear spoiler, and perhaps function like one, but it left the same impression as the “Bangle Butt” of the previous BMW 5- and 7-series cars, which were accredited to designer Chris Bangle. The rear bumper cover integrates the license plate holder in the middle and two red reflector strips at the edges, adding more “white space” under the trunk lid. This design combination made the rear of the Soluto look quite plain compared to the sporty front end.
Form Follows Function
However plain we found the rear portion of the Soluto, we can’t help but marvel at the engineering behind it. The creases of the rear bumper cover imitate the overall shape of the front “Tiger Nose Grille” and the tall rear portion of the trunk lid does look like the BMW Bangle Butt, but that’s not the whole story. The design allows the trunk to open wider and accommodate larger cargo. Opening the trunk presented us with another surprise: The carpeted compartment looks clean, cavernous and deep. It can accommodate 475 liters of luggage and it is illuminated with a standard compartment lamp. That’s quite unheard of in the subcompact car category.
The carpeted luggage compartment can swallow 475 liters and comes with a standard compartment lamp.
Underneath the carpeted trunk floor is a temporary spare tire and a set of tools.
The interior of our Soluto test unit presented us with another surprise: The seats are covered in soft two-tone leather, which we totally did not expect from an entry-level econocar. The front seats are sculptured with side bolsters and are a bit firm like those of a German car. The rear seats are sculptured and firm as well, with headrests for two occupants incorporated at the top of the seat back. Because of the Soluto’s short 2.57-meter wheelbase, the interior accommodations are a bit cozy. Simply put, front passengers can enjoy a generous amount of legroom at the expense of the rear passengers and a happy compromise can be achieved if the front passengers aren’t too tall. But overall, the interior of the Soluto is a comfortable place to be in when you’re stuck in traffic.
The final surprise we found while driving the Soluto was its impressive performance. The leather-covered steering wheel has a nice, thick tactile feel to it and its small diameter invites sporty driving. It also comes with remote control buttons for the infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen monitor, AM/FM radio, MP3 player with USB and AUX ports, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Carplay and Android Auto with Voice Control. Four door-mounted speakers and two tweeters provide a rich sound quality, that is, again, unexpected from a car in this low price range. Likewise, the gated shift quadrant of the 4-speed automatic is something we expect to find in a Mercedes-Benz, not in a Kia.
On the road, the 95-PS 1.4-liter inline 4-cylinder with dual variable valve timing (DVVT) surprised us not only with its economy, achieving an average of 12.3 kilometers per liter during our week-long drive around Metro Manila’s traffic-snarled street, but also with its peppy performance, with strong acceleration provided by 132 Newton-meters of torque. When you step on the gas with a bit more gusto, the Soluto felt more like a charging tiger than the mild-mannered pussy cat that it was supposed to be. While it will not smoke the tires ferociously, the Soluto accelerates with an authority totally unexpected of an economy car. Driven with civility, the front McPherson strut and rear V-beam suspension system work well with the tall sidewalls of the 175/70R14 Nexen NPriz AH8 tires to provide a comfortable ride that is a bit more pliant than other subcompacts we have driven before.
But then again, we were not totally surprised. After all, we had 10 years of Kia ownership experience under our belt. We got more than what we expected from our little Silver Gray Picanto and our charismatic Tomato Red Soul in terms of safety, convenience, economy and performance during our custodianship. And now, this new 4-door sedan was not only able to surpass what its is marketed to be, but it even EXceeded all our EXpectations, pardon the pun. We can definitely say that the 2019 Kia Soluto 1.4 EX A/T is an embodiment of the Kia Motors tag line “The Power to Surprise” simply because surprised us, it did.
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