What better way to underscore a new, more hopeful era for an auto brand than to release a nameplate new to the local market?
After Kia Philippines had a veritable reboot under new management, the Ayala conglomerate lost no time to formalize and loudly trumpet forthcoming changes in a big way last January with a grand event at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The marque had obviously seen better days in its 15-year presence here, peaking in unit sales in 2015, and market share (4.1 percent) in 2012. In 2018, it hit rock bottom in both categories.
This year is expected to be much different.
At the aforementioned launch, the company showed off its updated portfolio and, for its finale, rolled out the Soluto, a subcompact sedan obviously targeting budget-conscious and first-time owners.Starting at an affordable P625,000, the Soluto (which, apparently, is Italian for “solute” or a substance dissolved in a solution). The moniker doesn’t make much sense, until you realize it sounds like a derivative of “soul,” which is, ta-dah, the name of another Kia vehicle. So is the Soluto a smaller version of the Soul? I digress. That might get us nowhere; we should just review the vehicle at hand, okay?
The 1.4 EX MT version I tested for several days was in pretty Marcato Red, an exterior color only available for the EX versions. This variant costs P685,000 – a truly surprising figure for the myriad of stuff you actually get. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We start with a cabin that’s decent in the space department for both front and rear occupants in terms of wiggle room for your extremities and trunk. Speaking of the trunk, the Soluto’s is 475 liters large – which is truly a generous capacity.
The two-tone seats are a welcome, visually dynamic sight, although the cushioning is a bit too firm for my taste. A luxury at this price point is a driver’s armrest which can be rotated out of the way if you don’t feel like it. The hard plastic dashboard is a giveaway to the Soluto’s affordability, but there are plenty of toys and features which allow the car punch above its price tag.
Electrically adjusted side mirrors, chrome exterior door handles, projector foglamps, headlamp leveler, and sidemirror-mounted turn lamps are just some of the goodies. Most notable though is the seven-inch touch screen display which is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready so you don’t have to worry about compatibility. The audio jack, USB port, and 12-volt socket (with cover) are very ideally located down in the center console. The touch screen also serves as the reversing camera screen with guidelines.
The instrument panel is cleanly laid out and, to be honest, a little spartan. Still, it features everything you need to know. A 2.8-inch LCD cluster delivers the numbers, temperature, and fuel amount. Another pricing-defying feature is the complement of audio controls on the steering wheel, which are elegantly installed on a piano-black surface. Meanwhile, it will take some time to get used to the power window controls on the center console.
Powering the Soluto is a 1.4-liter dual CVVT gas engine good for 95ps and 132Nm. Automatic-transmission versions have four speeds, manuals have five. The EX I drove proved sufficiently peppy when you get to its sweet spot above 2,000rpm. Unfortunately, that’s also the rev rate when the computer starts suggesting you upshift – in the name of fuel economy, of course. Speaking of which, despite the monstrous, stop-and-go traffic I encountered when I had the car, the Soluto mustered at least 10 kilometers per liter. The clutch was very compliant, and the short-throw gearshift was a nice touch.
The ride could get a little bumpy, and it gives you a sense of how light the chassis is, but that’s what you should expect at this price point. At the end of the day, the Soluto definitely deserves a look if you’re considering a first car for yourself or even your graduating son or daughter. Kia is also doubling down on the niceties by offering a five-year or 160,000-kilometer warranty.
As Kia Philippines continues its determined push, the company promises at least two more new vehicles before 2019 is through. President Manny Aligada revealed to me that a third might still be in the works if market reception is warm enough.
For sure though, the Kia Soluto is truly worthy to serve as the brand’s opening salvo. Kia is most definitely back.