Kia's Soul -- the funky box-on-wheels that hamsters love to drive -- was one of the Korean automaker's first manifestations of its new design philosophy, spearheaded by its Southern California design studio. Consider its KV7 Concept for the 2011 Detroit show a riff on the Soul aesthetic, with more room and the usual array of concept-style touches thrown into the mix.
The KV7 is adorned with cues similar to that of the 2007 Soul auto show concept, applied to a vehicle slightly smaller than a Ford Flex. It features an elongated version of the two-box Soul design and a new take on Kia's familial face.
"From the outset, we felt the [van] category was in need of an honest reassessment due to the fact that everyone seems so desperate to attach the word 'sporty' to their minivan, even though vans, at their very core, are simply a box," said Tom Kearns, chief designer at Kia Motors America. "Rather than reject the box, we chose to celebrate it, just like we did with the Soul, and the result is a straightforward, yet sophisticated vehicle that retains the functionality vans are known for and meets the changing and diverse needs of today's consumers."
Like the Soul concept before it, the KV7 features a rounded hood and flared fenders, but the flares flow all the way across the front fascia. The grille and headlights are similar in scope to modern Kias and look as if they were pulled from a 2011 Optima. Kia's designers shortened the grille and hid the headlights, coloring both black but surrounding the cluster with an aluminum accent.
The windshield doesn't wrap around, but the lines from the windshield to the side windows appear to flow across the A-pillar and the side windows and feature the same tapered styling. The doors are the most interesting design element, as they appear to be the same suicide style as the Soul Concept, but with an added twist: the rear passenger door is a gullwing variety.
Inside, Kia's SoCal design crew aimed to create a comfortable, lounge-style feel. There are four rotating captain's chairs and a three-seat mini-lounge in the rear, allowing all occupants including the driver (as long he or she isn't actually piloting the vehicle) to face each other as in what Kia calls an "inviting social space ideal for a gathering of friends." Part of that inviting social space includes the ability to connect devices to an integrated Wi-Fi hotspot or use the available onboard computers. There are two in the vehicle -- one accessed through the rear tabletop-video display and the other through the dashboard infotainment system.
Additional interior appointments include the moveable dashboard, which retracts six inches to allow for more passenger space, and integrated storage compartments in the rear mini-lounge. The KV7 also features green LED accent lighting built into the floor, dash, and rear-video display.
Although it's officially a concept, the KV7 has a completely realistic powertrain under the hood -- a departure from the future tech vaporware many modern concepts employ. It's powered by Kia's new turbocharged, direct-injected, 2.0-liter I-4 as found in the Kia Optima SX. It reportedly produces 285 horsepower -- 11 more than in the Optima -- and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. According to Kia, this combination is good for more than 30 mpg highway.
Will we see a version of the KV7 on U.S. streets sometime soon? It's certainly possible, given the Soul's quick move from concept to production, its real-world powertrain, and the fact that both the Borrego and Rondo have been jettisoned from the Kia lineup. Just don't bet on that gullwing door making the production line.