2014 Kia Soul
Base price: $14,900
As tested, including destination charge: $23,895
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder
Mileage: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
The worst new car that I ever drove was the 2000 Kia Rio. The Kias that followed were better, but not by much.
That changed with the arrival of the 2010 Kia Soul, an outrageously funky box that proudly proclaimed Kia’s arrival on the world stage and maturation into a distinctive brand that stands apart from its Asian competitors. Yes, the Soul was different, an image reinforced by its marketing, which featured rap-loving hamsters.
The Soul was indeed the design soul of Kia’s lineup, and every vehicle that has followed in its wake employs some aspect of its aesthetic.
So you can understand why the redesigned 2014 Kia Soul doesn’t stray far from the corporate Habitrail. The front end is a bit tidier. There’s less fussiness in the headlamp shape, and the front grille has been simplified, although cleaning and drying the lower grille is sure to drive you crazy. The car’s profile looks unchanged, save for simplified side sculpting over the front wheels. The biggest change comes in the rear, where a rounded circle floats in a sea of black, part of which is door trim, part of which is window. From a distance, you can’t discern which is which. It’s a unique design, one that’s instantly identifiable and masterfully modern.
You can be forgiven if you think that, hatch design aside, not much has changed, because the Soul’s size is close to that of the outgoing model’s. It’s 0.6 inches wider, 0.4 inches lower, but no longer. So you’ll find that interior space is the same as before: decent up front, a bit tighter in the back and a cargo hold that, while it can hold 24.2 cubic feet of stuff, has a fairly high floor, limiting how much can be stored under the cargo cover.
The interior itself seems to have a slightly better grade of materials, although it may have as much to do with design as anything else. Kia designers used the circle as design inspiration, and it’s evident throughout the interior.
The Soul is impressively equipped with an 8-inch touch screen that controls the updated Android-based navigation system, 10-speaker 350-watt Infinity sound system, and Kia’s UVO concierge service. Pandora is preloaded into the car and can be controlled through voice commands. And yes, the audio system speakers are still framed by LED lighting that pulses to the beat of the music.
Beyond the electronics, there was a boatload of comfort and convenience items that pleased my hedonistic soul, such as a push-button starter, panoramic sunroof, 10-way power driver’s seat, leather seat trim, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
Even if you don’t want your Soul fully loaded, which trim level you opt for makes a difference. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower powers base Souls. If you can, choose the Soul Plus or Soul Exclaim, which have the 2.0-liter four that generates an extra 34 horses. Either engine can be had with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
You’ll find that the Soul is a bit pokey off the line, although midrange power is good. Choosing the manual transmission will unlock this powerplant’s full potential, although the automatic is fairly well-mannered and can be shifted manually if desired. This feature came in handy during a recent snowfall, and shifts were actuated in a timely manner. That said, you will notice a lot of engine vibration at idle.
Perhaps the nicest surprise was the 2014 Soul’s newfound manners. A new suspension setup, revised steering and a longer wheelbase give this car a needed dose of refinement. Impact harshness over bumps is greatly reduced, and ride motions are virtually nonexistent.
But buyers choose the Soul for its look and low price, not performance. Drag racing isn’t in the equation. Getting as much attention as Justin Bieber in a Lamborghini is. That’s why Kia offers three new colors this year: Solar Yellow, Kale Green and Inferno Red. Trust me, the Solar Yellow does draw the eye of fellow motorists.
But if you’re young, or young at heart, and prefer Target over Wal-Mart for its design acumen, then you’ll like the 2014 Kia Soul for the same reason.
As an affordable cute ute, it functions as it’s supposed to. As a design statement, it smartly stands apart at a price that won’t break the bank. It’s not for everyone, but that’s the point.
Cue the hamsters.