‘부스터’ 달고 컴백! 기아 쏘울 10년 변천사

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【카미디어】 뉴스팀 = 10년 전 처음 등장한 기아차 쏘울(SOUL). 그때 쏘울은 많은 이들의 자동차 구매 위시리스트 윗자리를 당당히 차지했었다. 국산차 중 디자인 하나로 그냥 모든 게 설명되는 차가 요즘처럼 흔하지 않던 때라 더욱 그랬다. 그래서였을까. 운전면허를 따고나서 기자가 제일 먼저 몰아본 차 역시 집차가 아닌, 렌터카로 빌린 2010년식 쏘울이었다.

쏘울에 관한 흔한 오해 하나. 박스카 분류를 따르는 쏘울이 이 구역 ‘원조’격인 일제 박스카를 흉내내 만든 거라는 인식이 그것이다. 이는 10년이 지난 지금도 별반 다르지 않다. 일명 ‘이효리 차’로 불리던 닛산 큐브를 필두로 일제 박스카가 한창 주목받던 타이밍에 등장한 탓이 컸다.

이같은 현실과 달리, 분명한 사실은 지금의 쏘울을 있게 한 기아차 박스카가 큐브보다 앞서 공개됐다는 거다. 정확히 말하면 쏘울이 큐브보다 앞선 건 아니다. 쏘울보다 앞서 기아차 최초의 박스카로 포지셔닝한 모델은 다름 아닌 ARV. 이 모델은 1997년 열린 서울모터쇼에서 일찍이 그 모습을 드러냈다. 미니밴과 SUV를 융합한 형태로 아쉽게 양산으로까지는 이어지지 못하고 컨셉트카에서 그치고 말았다. 이후 2006년, 쏘울 컨셉트카가 등장하며 자연스레 ARV의 바통을 이어받은 격이 됐다. 그 사이 바뀐 자동차 디자인 트렌드에 따라 좀 더 근육질로 바뀌었을 뿐, 전체적인 형태와 분위기가 비슷하다. 그래서 쏘울의 탄생이 ARV 프로젝트의 계승과 무관하지 않다는 추측은 여러모로 합리적이다.

힘겹게 태어난 쏘울이었지만, 우리나라에선 오해를 사는 것도 모자라 박스카라는 비인기 차종의 서러움을 겪어야 했다. 반대로 쏘울은 그 디자인 덕을 보기도 했다. 2009년 열린 북미국제오토쇼에서 ‘북미 올해의 차’ 최종 후보에 오른 것. 얼마 전 제네시스 G70과 현대 코나가 받은 그 상이다. 아쉽게 북미 올해의 차 타이틀은 따지 못했지만, 2009 레드닷 디자인 어워드 ‘올해의 디자인상’을 받은 데 이어 2009 워즈오토에서는 ‘올해의 혁신적 인테리어상’을 받으며 선전을 펼쳤다. 그만큼 쏘울의 디자인은 그야말로 ‘역대급’이었다. 당시 기아차는 일반형 모델 외에도 지붕을 날린 로드스터 스타일로 한껏 멋을 낸 컨셉트카 ‘쏘울스터’를 모터쇼에서 공개하기도 했다.

1세대 부분변경 모델이 출시된 2011년은 공교롭게도 현대 벨로스터(Veloster)가 출시된 해이기도 했다. 좌측 문짝을 운전석 하나만 배치한 ‘2+1’도어 구성으로 시장의 이목을 단번에 끌었다. 게다가 연말에 출시된 국내 최초의 박스형 경차 ‘레이(Ray)’까지 가세하기에 이르렀다. 이들과 선의의 경쟁을 펼쳐야 했던 쏘울의 그해 판매량은 벨로스터보다 높긴 했지만, 시장에서의 영향력은 해를 거듭하며 줄어만 갔다. 2세대로 탈바꿈하며 맞이한 2013년 역시 상황은 마찬가지. 내장재에 신경을 쓰고 내구성도 강화했지만, 날로 커져만 가는 소형 SUV 인기에 비비기엔 역부족이었다.

그래서 쏘울은 그간 우리나라에서의 부진한 판매량을 태평양 너머 미국에서 만회하는 전략을 펼쳐왔다. 아니, 이제는 만회를 넘어 완전한 베스트셀러이자 스테디셀러로 자리잡았다. 미국 출시 후 지금까지 100만 대 이상 팔려나갔다. 미국이라는 거대 자동차 시장에서 동종 박스카 영역에서는 쏘울이 깔끔하게 서열 정리를 했다고 봐도 과언이 아닐 정도다. 심지어 비교적 최신 모델인 지프 레니게이드보다도 더 많이 팔리고 있다(2017년 판매량 기준). 미국에서는 쏘울이 대학에 갓 진학한 젊은이들에게 ‘생애 첫차’로 인기몰이 중이다. 벨로스터 역시 저렴한 스포츠(스타일링)카로 인식되며 쏘울과 함께 좋은 사이를 유지한다.

지난주 기아차는 3세대 신형 쏘울을 출시했다. ‘부스터’란 명칭과 함께. 인상적인 별칭 못지 않게 외모 역시 인상적으로 다듬었다. 큼직하던 헤드램프는 현대 코나가 그러한 것처럼 얇고 길게 내뺀 형태로 다듬었다. 상징과도 같던 호랑이코 그릴은 크기를 과감히 키우면서 범퍼 하단에 배치했다. 길이, 높이, 휠베이스 모두 조금씩 늘리면서 커진 차체와 잘 어울린다. 앞에서 보면 SUV같지만 옆에서 보면 영락없는 박스카의 실루엣이다. 직각으로 선 뒷면에 붙은 테일램프도 뻔하지 않은 재미를 준다.

204마력의 최고출력 역시 기존 쏘울과 차별화되는 부분이다. 1.4톤이 채 되지 않는 몸뚱이를 1.6L 엔진에서 나오는 강한 힘이 거침없이 이끌기에 이전보다 훨씬 탈 만해졌다. 이번 가솔린 모델에 더해, 다음달엔 완전전기차 버전 쏘울 부스터도 모습을 드러낸다. 기존 쏘울 EV에서 출력과 배터리 용량을 한껏 키워낸 결과, 1회 충전시 주행거리는 386km에 이른다. 여기에 고속도로 주행 보조(HDA), 스마트 크루즈 컨트롤 등의 기능이 담길 예정이다. 10년이란 시간이 흘러 드러난 쏘울의 새로운 모습이 나쁘지 않다. 쏘울이 이번엔 제대로 ‘부스터’를 달았다.

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