LOS ANGELES -- Kia will unveil a redesigned version of its brisk-selling Soul at the New York auto show this week, ahead of the vehicle's U.S. sales debut this fall.
The 2014 Soul will get new exterior and interior styling. Its proportions will stick close to those of the current version.
Kia's challenge is to maintain the Soul's momentum. Sales of the boxy subcompact with the wide stance exceeded 100,000 in 2011 and 2012. Kia's goal was 40,000 units annually when the Soul debuted in 2009.
Meanwhile, similarly boxy rivals such as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube have faltered, each posting fewer than 20,000 sales last year.
"I think it speaks to the notion that a distinctive, fun car that's also very practical can have a lot of legs in it," said Ed Kim, a former Hyundai product planner who is now an analyst at consulting firm AutoPacific.
Despite its success, the Soul has been criticized for a plasticky interior and a ride that can become harsh and unsettled on less-than-perfect surfaces. Expect the redesign to address these areas.
The redesigned Soul is derived from a new subcompact platform used for the Kia Rio.
The Soul helped put Kia on the design map. It was Kia's first production vehicle designed under chief stylist Peter Schreyer, the ex-Audi designer who joined the company in 2006. Schreyer, who was named a president of Kia Motors Corp., now oversees the global design operations for Kia and affiliate Hyundai.
The Soul introduced the brand's signature "tiger nose" grille, which has appeared on every new Kia vehicle since the Soul.
"Every successive Kia has been very appealingly styled and has pushed the design envelope," Kim said. "I can't imagine that this is when they would get shy." c