Set against a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and surrounded by hip-hop dancers and the giant hamsters featured in its TV commercials in the US, Kia used its New York soapbox to show the latest iteration of its Soul wagon, in addition to several freshened models.

Introduced in 2009, the Soul was the Korean automaker’s quirky response to the boxy Scion xB and Nissan Cube. While the Soul has received periodic styling and content updates over time, the 2014 model year marks the first total overhaul to the Soul’s powertrain and running gear.

According to Michael Sprague, executive vice president of marketing and communications, the Soul was responsible for starting Kia’s “design-led transformation.” The language is not surprising; the brand’s president is Peter Schreyer, who also happens to be its chief designer. The Soul, marginally longer and wider than the one it replaces, retains the funky, rectilinear styling of its predecessor, but makes use of a sharper and more refined design language.

The second-generation Soul rides on a stiffer chassis, and is powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 130 horsepower, or a 2-litre engine good for 164hp. Both engines feature direct-injection technology, and are available with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

As part of a trickle-down approach and a mission, in Sprague’s words, to “remake the compact segment”, the Soul will offer upmarket goodies to enhance driver comfort, including heated and ventilated seats and the latest updates to Kia’s Uvo infotainment system.

Kia also took occasion to unveil updates to its Optima sedan and introduce the Forte Koup, which will round out the manufacturer’s lineup of small cars.

For 2014, the Optima will receive primarily cosmetic upgrades, focused on an exterior freshening – highlighted by new taillights and a longer rear deck – and a revised cockpit.  The current-generation Optima debuted three model years ago.

The Forte Koup completes a three-model Forte lineup that also includes sedan and hatchback variants. In its second generation, the Koup makes the Forte’s most powerful engine standard equipment – a 2-liter, 173-horsepower, four-cylinder unit. But in preparation for what is expected to be a more powerful Scion tC, to be shown on 28 March, Kia will offer an optional turbocharged, 1.6-litre 201-horsepower engine.

With the introduction of the Soul and the revised economy cars fitted with premium features, Kia’s momentum remains one of the feel-good stories of the industry, one it hopes to prolong.