Kia gives an unexpected first look at the next generation of its popular box compact, the Soul, this morning at the New York International Auto Show.

The '14 Soul, due in the third quarter, is based on the Track'ster concept from the 2012 Chicago auto show. It rides on an all-new platform that is longer, lower and wider, as well as stiffer, than before, with a 28.7% increase in torsional rigidity.

There's more passenger and cargo space than in the outgoing model, and noise, vibration and harshness levels have been reduced.

Adding for the first time front subframe bushings will lessen ride harshness, and the movement of the steering box forward should improve balance for better handling and on-center feel, Kia says.

Both engines, a 1.6L direct-injected 130-hp 4-cyl. in the base model, and a 2.0L DI 4-cyl. making 164 hp in the middle and upper grades, are tuned for more low-end torque. The 1.6L is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, while the 2.0L in the middle grade can be paired with either the 6MT or a 6-speed automatic. Upper grades get the 6AT as standard.

"The all-new Soul was boiled down to three focus areas: Maintaining the iconic design while adding modern cues; providing premium features and content; and improving driving dynamics,” Kia says in a statement.

The Soul has been a surprise hit for the auto maker from the moment the first generation went on sale in spring 2009. Driven by the popularity of a quirky ad campaign featuring dancing hamsters, the Soul went on to become Kia's second model to top 100,000 sales in a calendar year.

WardsAuto data shows Soul sales last year rose 13.2%, to 115,778 units.

Tom Kearns, chief designer at Kia’s Irvine, CA, studio, calls refreshing the Soul "daunting," as the auto maker wanted to maintain what people love about the current model while incorporating elements of the Track'ster.

Kia designers kept the Soul's signature upright stance, squared shoulders and fender flares, but it now wears the Track'ster's large trapezoidal lower air intake and low, to-the-edge fog lights.

The Soul also has the Track'ster's grille, and a body-color panel inset that gives the appearance of floating is added to the liftgate.

The liftgate opening is widened, Kia says, for easier loading and unloading of items from the '14 Soul's cargo area.

An upgraded interior is featured in the new Soul, Kia says, with more soft-touch material on the instrument panel, center console and door panels, and piano-black trim pieces on the center console and dash.

The auto maker ratchets up the circular theme in the Soul, inspired by the Track'ster's interior. Circles found in the '14 model's interior include those on the triple-instrument cluster, along door panels and on the center console's round gearshift knob and push-button start, the latter in a location unique for Kia.

Circular speaker grates ringed with available light-emitting-diode red string lights remain as a key design cue.

Comfort is enhanced as the Soul's seats get better lateral and thigh support, and the center-stack touchscreen is enlarged to make for easier access to the suite of technologies available in Kia's second-generation cloud-based UVO telematics system.

With the launch of the new Soul, UVO is compatible for the first time with Android as well as Apple iPhone smartphones.

Another first to be offered in the system is Pandora Internet radio, available not via phone connectivity but through the compact's head unit.

The Soul also introduces what Kia is calling an industry first: the use of onscreen instructional videos or "quick guide" tutorials on how to use UVO.

The '14 Soul maintains three grades: Base, Plus and Exclaim.

Base models get standard power windows and door locks, as well as heated exterior mirrors. Soul Plus grades add larger wheels, a floor console storage box and UVO eServices. The top-grade Exclaim nets buyers bigger wheels still, plus fog lights, front LED positioning and rear LED halo lights, the piano-black interior trim, and 10-way power driver's seat.

Navigation is optional on Plus and Exclaim models, as is leather seating with ventilated front seats and heated outboard seats.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com