Ready to rock: Meet the all-new Kia Soluto

How the subcompact sedan plans to reinvigorate the Korean brand
by Jason Tulio | Feb 19, 2019

‘There’s something intrinsically Manila about the Soluto’

“With each passing day, the pain still stays the same.”

Is this something that those horridly dated hugot pages pass off as a witty quote? Or is it a line from the song ‘Evidence’ by Urbandub? It could be either, really, but the latter is actually true. The 2007 hit tells the painful story of a man who discovers his special someone is cheating on him with another guy. Cue the sorrow and harrowing mental images. If you haven’t seen the music video, we have to warn you—if Shakespearean-esque retribution makes you queasy, you might want to skip the ending.

But I think the sentiment applies just as well to Metro Manila’s traffic situation as it does to unforgivable infidelity. The gridlock in our country is only getting worse by the day, and no amount of in-car entertainment or clever scheduling can hide the fact that we’re losing literal years from our lives as we’re stuck in traffic. As each day goes on, our physical and mental fatigue remain. Social-media posts complaining about the traffic are as regular as only-somewhat-funny viral memes. It’s as if Facebook itself is comforting us by saying “tell me where it hurts now, baby” through its status box.

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The Soluto feels right at home in Manila’s epicenter. PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

It’s a sordid reality that Filipino car owners know all too well. More and more, buyers are eschewing fun and feature-packed cars in favor of appliances that simply get the job done with little fuss or added expense. Forget fancy drivetrains or impressive torque figures, we cry out—talk to us about fuel economy and PMS costs.

And carmakers are taking notice. Very recently, Subaru launched the all-new Forester without a turbo, while Toyota’s local-spec fifth-gen RAV4 doesn’t come in 4x4. Different brands, same logic: Consumers weren’t buying enough of the turbo and 4x4 variants to justify bringing them in. Most buyers prefer more fuel-efficient options.

Right now, there are few segments that cater to those demands, and many brands are eager to join the fray. Subcompact sedans are hands down some of the most popular cars in the country right now, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Kia’s Philippine comeback now seemingly rides on the back of one. There’s an undisputed ruler of that market whose name starts with a V, but that hardly deters any would-be rivals.

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It’s small in stature, but big in road presence. PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

The strategy mirrors one that was rolled out a year ago. When the Ayala Corporation reinvigorated its local Volkswagen lineup, it did so with models manufactured in China. Its centerpiece was also a subcompact sedan new to our shores: the Santana.

Yes, the Ayala Corporation. The same company that has also now taken Kia’s reins, steering it out of the rubble where it sat for what felt like an eternity. Now that the smoke has cleared, Ayala’s objective for its new acquisition is clear: It’s going after the masses, and the Chinese-made Soluto is leading the way with its P625,000 starting price.

When doing an artsy pose inside a car, flexing is optional. PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

I didn’t need any further proof of the Soluto’s mass-market leanings than an idle conversation I had at a gas station before this shoot. While I was checking the unit’s tire pressure, a taxi driver approached me with wide-eyed wonder, asking me about the Kia’s engine and transmission. He also complimented the design, saying he’d seen a photo of the car in a newspaper days before. He then said:Maganda ito. Ito ang mga magiging bagong taxi.”

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The badge might be Korean, but there’s something intrinsically Manila about the Soluto. I realize this as I drive through the narrow confines of our nation’s capital. The old city is home to what remains of our country’s colonial past, interspersed with modern brick and mortar rooted in their own bit of history.

Likewise, the Soluto’s exterior exhibits Kia’s growing history under the Peter Schreyer school of design. Up front is a slim rendition of the signature tiger-nose grille, placed between a pair of beefy halogen headlamps. Under these is black cladding for the foglight housings, along with some faux air intakes. Subtle hood strakes and character lines add dimension to the body, while simple 14-inch alloys underneath round out the classy package. It’s quintessential Kia, because the car looks a lot better than it should. In this Marcato Red shade (exclusive to the top-spec EX variants), the city sunset’s warm glow gleams perfectly on all its little details. To be is all it’s gotta be.

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At this price point, the Soluto’s cabin has a lot to offer. PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

But beneath Manila’s hints of flash and flair lies a gritty underbelly that requires quick wit and street smarts to survive. Sharing road space with jeepneys and kalesas sounds whimsical at first, until you realize you need a keen eye and a sure foot to maneuver your way around. As refined as the Soluto looks, its engineering is purposeful. At 1,700mm wide and 1,460mm tall, it’s slightly narrower and shorter than that V bestseller, making it ideal for squeezing into a narrow eskinita in a hurry. Still, cabin space is ample, meaning your muscles won’t cramp on a routine rush-hour slog.

The interior is no-nonsense, though generous in amenities. The seven-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard across the range, with steering-wheel-mounted controls to go along with it. Also standard is the reversing camera. Each variant gets a driver’s armrest, while the top-of-the-line versions come with leatherette seats.

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We didn’t hold up traffic for this shot. Promise. PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Powering the Soluto is a 1.4-liter gasoline engine with 94hp and 132Nm on offer. This, too, offers few frills. There’s enough push for city cruising and the occasional climb, but that’s about it. The motor-driven steering likewise limits any fun you might think of having: Its light turning inhibits sharp cornering, and it doesn’t return to center nearly fast enough for my liking.

Of the two transmission options, it’s the old-school stick that stands out. While the four-speed automatic is more traffic-friendly, it’s a tad sluggish and indecisive at the worst of times. The manual shifter slots in with a reasonable length of travel, while the clutch is not too springy so as to wear out your left knee. Taxi and ride-sharing drivers alike won’t tire of shifting this gearbox too easily.

Without a doubt, Kia is back on stage in the Philippines, and the Soluto is its grab-you-by-the-balls opening track. Its guitars are tuned, its vocalist doing the customary test taps on the mic. Listen now as the subcompact growls its way to a crescendo, echoing its brand’s preach to the populace: “Hangga’t ako’y humihinga, may pag-asa pa. Whoaohohoh....

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Kia’s Philippine sun has far from set. PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva
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