Kia's challenge: Keep the heart in the Soul

Kia Soul: The top-selling subcompact in America in 2012.

It's an age-old problem: how not to screw up a smash hit when you design the successor. Thus close attention will be paid to the second-generation Kia Soul at the New York auto show this week.

The Soul, the first production vehicle done under chief stylist Peter Schreyer, helped put Kia on the design map when it arrived in 2009. The boxy subcompact with the wide stance introduced the brand's "tiger nose" grille, which has appeared on every new Kia since.

Although Kia figured to sell only 40,000 Souls annually, it topped100,000 in 2011 and 2012. Similarly boxy rivals such as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube each were under 20,000 last year.

The 2014 Soul, which goes on sale this fall, will get new exterior and interior styling. Proportions change little.

The Soul has been criticized for a plasticky interior and a harsh ride on less-than-perfect surfaces. Expect those areas to be addressed. The redesigned Soul will be built on a new platform that will be the basis of compact and subcompact cars from Hyundai-Kia.

Peter Schreyer's big question: How much do you mess with success?

Did Schreyer and company take some bold chances on styling? We'll find out this week.

"Every successive Kia has been very appealingly styled and has pushed the design envelope," said Ed Kim, a former Hyundai product planner now with consulting firm AutoPacific. "I can't imagine that this is when they would get shy."

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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