Be free with the Kia Soluto

Googling the word, “Soluto” reveals that it comes from the Latin, “solutus,” which translates to “be free.” Targeted at first time car buyers, the Kia Soluto then becomes so aptly named. After all, there’s no better way to escape Manila’s inept public transportation than being in the comfort and security of a brand-new car. Of course, there’s still the subject of navigating through hellish traffic, but doing it in the luxury of your very own personal space sounds like a welcome respite for a lot of wary workers.

It’s common knowledge that automakers tend of think less of the typical sub-B segment car buyer. After all, coming from a life of driving a second-hand car or taking the public transportation, they think that by offering something with four wheels, an engine, and zero kilometers on the odometer, they’ve done enough to satisfy this lot. As a result, you get cars that are extremely unrefined, terrible to drive, and worse to own; in short, they make some people regret getting a brand-new car in the first place.

Well, not with Kia. Understanding that this segment, the first-time car buyer, is what makes or breaks a brand experience, they’ve put careful thought into what buyers would want in a car, and what would elicit proud ownership moments. Thus, here comes the Kia Soluto—a car that’s a sub-B segment car only in price, but a class-above in everything else.

Understanding that aesthetics plays a key role, the Soluto, at the very least, looks good; offering a sense of gravitas unmatched by any other in its price range. Admittedly, the front end does look a bit fussy, but at least Kia’s attempts to create a visual impact have worked out handsomely here. The use of high-gloss black plastics and dollops of chrome make it escape the quintessential “med rep look” so common in this class. Other great detailing includes the blacked-out B-pillar (again, a rarity in this class), and on the EX model, 14-inch alloy wheels. Oh, and it has the complete set of electrical bits too from the front and rear fog lamps to mirror-mounted signal indicators.

Moving on, the fit and finish is pretty impressive. Not only do all the panels match perfectly, but the panel gaps are consistent, and the finishing level is quite superb, especially in this shade of Marcato Red, the Soluto’s image color. Then, pull the door handles and there’s some surprising heft here. There’s none of the tinny-sounding doors so prevalent in this vehicle class.

Like its exterior, the Soluto’s interior manages to exude a class-above feel. There’s not an ounce of soft-touch plastics in here (and that’s to be expected), but at least almost everything’s been put together well. The seats, too are covered not in leather or even in fabric, but in leatherette. This makes for an easier upkeep, but because they’re not breathable, it can make every ride a potentially sweaty one.

Still, at least the interior is well put together and arranged in a way that it doesn’t feel cheap. The overall design is clean and straightforward, reminiscent of other Kia models. The controls are laid out in a horizontal manner with the gauges and infotainment system at the upper, and the climate controls on the lower tier. The instrument cluster itself is highly legible with clear numerals and, amazingly enough, a multi-function trip computer is nestled between the tach- and speedometers. Without a doubt, the coup de grâce is the seven-inch infotainment system. It does tend of wash out in direct sunlight, but at least it’s full-featured, even having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Oh, and the tunes get pumped through a six-speaker system, too.

With no center console of speak of, the Soluto’s front seat cushions are pretty wide, accommodating a wide range of body types. There’s an armrest for the driver too. Even more surprising is that the rear occupants here are treated just as well as those in front. The seat cushion itself is long and supportive, reaching almost to the end of the hips. They’re also molded in a way that they feel like individual buckets. The headrests may not look particularly cushy in photos, but they’re actually of the right height and size. Sadly, they passed on the chance of providing a middle headrest even if there are three-point seatbelts for all at the back.

Fitted with a six-way manual adjustable driver’s seat and a tilt-adjustable steering column, finding a comfy driving position is fairly easy. However, it must be said though that the best one in the Soluto is with the seatback more laid down and the seat cushion set more forward than usual. This, along with the power window switches located below the air conditioning controls, are two things that take getting used to.

On to the driving experience, the Soluto avoids the small car trope. It’s refined with impressive levels of NVH. With its generous wheelbase, it glides through potholes well, absorbing even the bigger ones with ease. It’s softly sprung, so it does tend to easily tip during provocative maneuvers, but at least it feels danceable through city streets. The steering is light too, making one-finger three-pointed turns possible. And with the generous greenhouse and stubby nose, positioning it through traffic and tight confines are easy.

With a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the 95hp Soluto is quick on its feet. Power delivery feels immediate and compared to what others offer in this price segment, is more than enough to pass muster. However, the five-speed manual does have short gearing and that means rowing through the gearbox repeatedly even at city speeds. Aside from the clutch’s high engagement, the pedal effort is light and the shifter action is precise. There’s even a gear shift indicator in the multifunction display, telling drivers the most economical way to drive.

After all’s said and done, it’s obvious that Kia’s done their homework with the Soluto. While it’s not perfect, it more than lives up to its name since it’s unbound of what expects in a sub-P700,000 passenger car. Not only are its foundations grounded on solid mechanicals, but it’s also well-finished and well-equipped as well. With that, it makes for a convincing case of what a first new car should be. One that doesn’t just offer the freedom of mobility for its owner, but pride as well.

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