Mention Kia and you'd typically think of cheap and cheerful small runabouts. Yes, they were stigmatized for not being Japanese, but over time, the brand eventually drew in respect. But in the past couple of years, Kia hasn't exactly been having the time of their lives here in the Philippines. A series of overpriced and under-specced models made sure of that, and Kia's sales not only dropped, but plummeted.
Ayala Corporation, the new parent company of Kia Philippines, wants to change all that. And they're pinning a lot of their hopes on a rather unassuming small sedan, the Soluto; a car that in many ways, is going back to their roots to win back customers, and it looks promising.
But first, a quick background on the Soluto. It's not an entirely Korean car. It's actually sourced from China as a rebadged Pegas, which was launched over there in 2017. Now before you get up in arms and say 'Chinese cars are no good', give it a chance, because it's got a lot to offer.
However, you won't have that sentiment when you first look at the car. Yes, it has Kia's new design language but the styling won't set the world alight. While based on the previous-generation Kia Rio, the new nose made it look more like a Picanto sedan, in my eyes at least. The side profile on the other hand has a fair amount of greenhouse thanks to its rather tall, upright look. Also, the rear is as featureless as they come with a trunk lid that has little to no design characteristics at all. At the least the tail lights break the monotony of the rear end. Perhaps the plain white paint didn't help matters either. Before you ask, this is the top-spec EX variant with an automatic transmission.
It's not exactly a car that will make you turn around when you park it in your garage for another look. Still, it's not a bad-looking car and I say it looks a bit better than its twin, the Hyundai Reina. I did have to remind myself that in the lower-end of the subcompact sedan class, value for money takes precedence over style.
Inside and it is... surprise surprise, plain jane as well. There's not much in the way of style with molded plastic, simple looking patterns and simplicity are the order of the day. Hard plastic is absolutely everywhere, which is pretty much the norm in any budget car. You're not buying a luxury sedan after all, you're looking for a sedan packed with good value and features you'd actually like and need.
You get some big car features in here. There's an information display showing range, fuel economy, and average speed, which is really handy in an economy car. In this range-topping EX version, it has faux leather seats and a driver's side arm rest that should make first-generation Honda CR-V owners feel right at home. I also like the fact that it comes with a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, not to mention Bluetooth, auxiliary input, and a USB port. The best part is, these features also come standard even in the entry-level models.
There is one peculiar quirk though: the window switches. Just about everyone who hitched a ride with me when I had the Soluto had something to say about its placement. Comments ranged from 'why is it there?' to 'can't they have just put it on the doors?'. Where are the switches you ask? They're just below the air-conditioning dials. It always threw me off every time I had to put down the windows, with muscle memory (and logic) instinctively bringing my hand towards the door. Oh, and there's no auto-up or auto-down function either.
As for space, it's decent, but could be better. It's not bad in front because you can slide the perches as far as you fancy. However, the fixed driver's seat height could see some taller folks brushing their heads against the ceiling. It's also worth pointing out that rear legroom can get pretty cozy in the Soluto. Mind you, the Soluto can accommodate four with no problem, provided that not all of them are vertically gifted. But if you have a small, young family, the Soluto should be just be fine, moreso if you drive solo most of the time.
Pop the short hood of the Soluto and you'll find a 1.4-liter engine. It makes 95 PS and 132 Nm of torque, conservative figures but just about right in the low-priced subcompact car class. It does stick to a four-speed automatic transmission, which doesn't sound promising in terms of fuel economy. Having tested a Rio in the past with similar specification, I was admittedly skeptical in getting a good fuel efficiency reading.
Now, driving a Soluto is far from a life-changing experience. It does what a city runabout does which is bringing you from point A to B with as little fuss as possible. What did impress me is the Soluto's ability to make it as painless as possible. The ride, for instance, is surprisingly good for a small car. It doesn't feel harsh to ride in unless you drive over the most severe of bumps. It's no Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it's one of the more comfortable small sedans out there today, thanks to its soft suspension.
For a budget sedan, noise is fairly suppressed, although engine noise can creep its way into the cabin, but only when overtaking long vehicles such as trucks and buses. There are no squeaks or annoying vibrations to report either. It feels fairly solid to be in, all things considered.
On the flipside, there's the handling and dynamics which aren't this Kia's fortes (pun not intended). The suspension squats at the mere suggestion of a corner. Take a bend (in a safe, closed environment, preferably) at about 35 km/h and the tires howl in protest. Also, the steering wheel is so light that it doesn't really offer much feel or feedback. All in all, it should be fine for a majority of people who will use it for its purpose: a point A to B vehicle, not a weekend autocross fighter.
But it's those 'downsides' that make the Soluto such an easy car to drive in the daily slog. That light steering makes parking effortless, as well as maneuvering in tight spots. Plus, there's a reverse camera (also standard in entry-level Solutos) and parking sensors, so there's almost no excuse to hit parking becomes a little too tight and tricky. Almost.
So it may not be a thrill behind the wheel, but the Soluto should be a delight for those looking for a fuel sipping car. Despite only having four forward gears to deal with, it still manages respectable fuel economy figures. In traffic (average speed: 18 km/h), it still managed 9.2 kilometers per liter. When congestion lightened up (average speed: 22 km/h), that figure bumped up to 10.8 kilometers per liter. The numbers are good but I reckon it can even be better with a continuously variable transmission.
Performance isn't sacrificed a great deal either. While it's no performance car by any measure, the Soluto's performance can be best described as lively. Give the throttle a quick jab and it moves down a gear, to give you a bit more shove when passing. It's not fast, but again, it's best for the daily commute.
At Php 735,000, the range-topping Soluto is a bargain for all the standard equipment and capabilities that it has. Sure, it won't stir the soul of enthusiasts, but the humble little Kia gained a lot of respect from me for being an honest to goodness, budget friendly car. It's, affordable, has a thoroughly modern infotainment system, easy on gas, seats four, and comfortable. If anything, it makes an ideal first car.
To sum up, the Soluto has almost everything you'll ever need in a car without breaking the bank. For some, that's a winning combination in itself.