Cute, youthful Kia Soul impresses on all fronts
We all could use a little more Soul, and Kia is certainly doing all it can to encourage it.
Kia’s Soul is one of the cutest crossovers out there and among the most economical too, both on the pricing and fuel economy fronts. I never ceased to be impressed by this small hatch, tall wagon, or whatever you choose to call it.
First, its hip hamster commercials have helped draw attention to the slope-roofed compact, but its look also sets it apart from other boxy vehicles. Now Kia has slightly stretched its wheelbase and its power while keeping pricing modest so that the youth market the Soul targets has a fighting chance of being able to afford it, even if the minimum wage doesn’t increase.
Let’s start with the driving pluses.
By extending Soul’s wheelbase about an inch to 101.2 inches, the Kia, which already had a good ride, becomes even more manageable on today’s decrepit roadways. There is a still some jiggle on high, or deep road obstacles, but they are mostly well muted, so never a sharp jolt.
Handling is fairly quick and much livelier feeling than in most small utes, crossovers and such. Plus the turning radius is a modest 34.8 feet, so putting this into a parking space or maneuvering crowded East Side streets is a breeze. And at 2,714 lbs., the Soul feels light and agile. The tested Soul+ model also comes with 17-inch tires, one inch larger than is standard on entry-level models.
Most surprising to me was the smooth power of the direct-injected 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine coupled with a 6-speed automatic. Kia’s engine creates 164 horsepower, which gives the lightweight Soul a good power-to-weight rating and helps it scoot away from stoplights easily. Soul isn’t speedy, but it’s no laggard. Press hard on the gas pedal and you’ll bump the tranny to a lower gear and zip right up to highway speeds. Note that this creates a little more engine noise, but the Soul has enough sound insulation to keep that well in check.
Note too that you can select three driving modes that firm up, or lighten up the steering. I found the Normal mode best for most driving situations, being not too heavy or too light, but just right. So take that you hamsters, baby bear knows what he’s talking about.
The transmission has what it calls an active Eco mode too, that lets it shift into the most fuel-efficient mode for the amount of gas pedal pressure you’re applying. That can pay dividends at the pump. The EPA rates this version of the Soul, the Soul+, at 23 mpg city and 31 highway. That’s not fantastic, but a bit better than average. I got 24.4 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving, and then a solid 30.8 mpg in nearly all highway driving.
For the record, the Soul comes with four-wheel disc brakes, plus traction and stability control, keeping it well ahead of some other economy minded vehicles that still use drum brakes in back.
On to the practicality of the overall design and its excellent interior.
Soul has a wide-opening hatch in back and decent storage behind the rear seat for a family-sized load of groceries. Another plus is the plentiful compartmentalized under-floor storage beneath the hatch. As you’d expect, the rear seats also split and fold forward for a nearly flat cargo area that is big due to the crossover’s tall roofline.
What surprises me most each time I’ve driven the Soul is its quiet cabin. Kia, despite this being a value-minded vehicle, did not scrimp on sound deadening material. Soul is quiet on the highway, better than some mid-size sedans I’ve had and much better than many small sport-utes and crossovers.
This is a youthful looking interior too, and well laid out. The inferno red test car featured a gray and black interior with gray leather seats accented with yellow stitching. The dash is a gray textured plastic that looks and feels like it belongs in a pricier car, with a black hood, again with yellow stitching, over the gauges. There’s black gloss trim on the doors and on the center stack, plus brushed metal look on the door releases.
The big round speaker that sticks up from the center of the dash is unique too, as are two smaller ones that extend above the air vents on the outer edges of the dash. Again, this may appeal to the younger buyers.
I like the car’s taller ride height (5.9-inches of ground clearance) that makes it easy to get in and out of. Its tall seats also helped with that too.
Speaking of seats, these are well formed with power adjustments that help you power the driver’s seat up and down. The passenger’s seat is manual. The seats also are heated and cooled up front with heated outboard seats in back, not something you’d expect in this price range. Yet the leather and the climate controlled seats, along with a heated leather steering wheel and a monster panoramic sunroof and fog lights are all part of a $3,000 Primo option package. Again, value is high.
The sunroof, by the way, gets special note because it’s about 80% of the entire roof of the car and one button easily retracts the fabric cover. You also can open the glass sunroof for the front half of the car, if our weather would ever warm up enough to make that practical.
Other add-ons on the test car included a $1,400 audio package with Infinity audio system, fancy speaker lights and a large navigation/radio screen, plus automatic climate controls. Carpeted floor mats were $115 extra, but not as practical in our climate as rubber mats. Then there was a $500 UVO telematics package that included a rear-view camera and automatic headlights, all pluses.
All of which brings us to price, another big + for Soul. The Soul+ base price is $18,200, with a $795 delivery fee. The test car’s options pushed this one to $24,010, still modest for all the features this one was loaded with. A base Soul still starts at a modest $15,495 and features a 130-horse 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Or you can go up to the Soul!, which lists at $21,095 and comes loaded with additional standard features, including even larger, 18-inch, tires.
I like virtually everything about this small crossover, and that doesn’t happen often. It rides and drives well, plus you can get into one at a variety of attractive price points, none of which feels or looks cheap. There’s utility, comfort and yes, a little bit of soul to its styling, both inside and out.
FAST Stats: 2014 Kia Soul+
Hits: Cute crossover with good ride, handling and power. Useful hatch, attractive interior, taller ride height and seats provide easy in-out, plus heated/cooled front and heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, and a monster sunroof. Modest pricing.
Misses: Not much
Made in: South Korea
Engine: 2.0-liter GDI 4-cylinder, 164 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/Active Eco
Weight: 2,714 lbs.
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 163 in.
Cargo: 61.3 cu.ft. (rear seats down)
MPG: 23/31 (EPA)
MPG: 24.4 (tested)
Base Price: $18,200
Dealer’s Price: $18,095
Audio package (Infinity audio system, speaker lights, automatic climate control, navigation w/8-inch screen, satellite radio/traffic), $1,400
Primo package (front fog lights, panoramic sunroof/sun shade, push button start, leather seat trim, power driver’s seat, heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob, heated steering wheel, engine immobilizer), $3,000
UVO w/eServices and rear-view camera and automatic headlights, $500
Carpeted floor mats, $115
Test vehicle: $24,010
Sources: Kia, http://www.kbb.com