• ROAD TRIPPING, ISLAND PREENING

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    Soul crossover

    Soul crossover

    KIA is one of the few carmakers on the planet (Audi and Volkswagen come to mind) that presently boasts a lineup of coherently and attractively styled models—no Kia these days looks bad.

    Credit here largely goes to a guy named Peter Schreyer who, incidentally, had a design stint at Audi. Which belongs to the VW group. But that’s not really the point here. Rather, it’s that when a chance to drive most Kia models presents itself, you don’t turn it down. Designer dudes be damned.

    Except that this may not be the case at all. Yes, you may want to jump at the chance to drive Kias. But equally appealing, if not more, is the proposition that you can stare at a line of Kias from behind the wheel of one.

    Which is exactly what the distributor of Kia in the Philippines, Columbian Autocar Corp., had made possible in a recent road trip on the island of Palawan. Over a 540-or-so-kilometer loop from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back, a collection of Kias made for a comfy, speedy drive across a part of the island. More than that though, it adorned the place. Which is not an easy thing at all considering Palawan, as anyone who has been there can attest to, is quite pretty.

    The Kias in the drive—Carens, Sorento, Soul, Sportage and Rio—are, too.

    Looking the part
    The Carens makes seven-seat MPVs look less like they belong to parents whose lives revolve around shuttling kids to and from school, to something stylish. And that’s even as it retains its capacity for school runs. How a long two-box silhouette can manage to look graceful, guess only top-notch design dudes know.

    The Sorento sport-ute, which can come with three-row seating, throws together sharp edges and arcing lines and, at times, plain weird contours. But instead of making a mess out of the mix, the Sorento emerges as distinctive without being loud. Brash but subtle.

    If there is one Kia model that led Schreyer’s charge at “mainstream-ness” it was the Sportage. And it makes sense as the thing belongs to the revenue-rich compact sport-ute crossover segment. In the Sportage, a Tonka Toy vibe fuses with edgy styling that’s young yet sophisticated. The model’s available LED jewelry helps it scale premium-car heights, too.

    The Rio isn’t much different, especially in hatchback cut. Where econoboxes of its ilk are pudgy, the Rio comes across as muscular, thanks to a hunkered-down stance and perfect proportions. Where the others can’t deny their econobox identities, the Rio transcends its class.

    Meanwhile, the Soul cannot be called anything other than funky. All right, “odd” works well, too. The original model was one of Schreyer’s first jobs at Kia (although it was penned before his arrival), and it may have well been a design study that somehow slipped into production. Now on its second generation, the car has been freshened up with modern details. Its basic, unmistakable lines and elements (there is no other car sporting a similar greenhouse) remain, though, so the Soul, thankfully, is still quirky.

    Now string these Kias together in a caravan, one that snaked through Palawan’s mostly deserted roads, and what came out was a sight that rivals any picturesque landscape.

    Drive ‘em
    Then there was the drive itself. The road trip was designed so that all the Kias brought over to Palawan can be steered across the place. And just like how the cars wear similar styling but manage to be distinct from another—even Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille is reinterpreted across the range—each of them also drives a little differently.

    Surprisingly, with the Carens it’s sporty. Not sporty in a speedy way but at how the car can corner and switch directions. Its suspension is taut and seems there isn’t much travel—the car can feel twitchy on tight bends taken at speed—but the ride is still comfy.

    The Sorento takes the comfy level up a notch or two. Obviously, there’s more space inside, so that helps. Its taller stance lets it soak the nasty bits on the road better, too. Which, when you move next to the Rio hatch, is really noticeable. Because the Rio could well be the polar opposite of the Sorento. It’s compact, for sure, and it hugs the road rather than waft over it. But, interestingly, on the gravelly sections of the route the Rio was World Rally fun to fling around.

    The Sportage tries to factor all these traits together. It wants the comfort, dynamics and space of its siblings. It gets some of these, but that means it lacks a truly identifiable driving trait. What it could be then is a sampler for the Kia stable.

    The same holds true for the Soul. But in this case, the car—specifically in new-gen form—is quite entertaining to drive. It corners well enough, soaks up road imperfections nicely and even provides adequate room for people and cargo. So it does a pretty good job of fusing the nice stuff each model from among the Kia bunch dishes out. And then there’s styling to tie them all together.

    On a road trip, they’re an awesome sight.

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