I’ll admit this Kia has grown on me. When it first debuted I dismissed it as a generic version of Japanese box cars, namely the Nissan Cube. That’s still true — the Soul won’t turn heads or make the statement that Nissan’s rolling washing machine does – but it also happens to be a better car. This holds particularly true inside. The Soul has its share of cute/annoying gimmicks, including houndstooth seats (cute) and mood lighting (annoying), but it also makes a genuine effort to accommodate the driver with interesting textures on the dash, comfortable chairs, and better fit and finish overall than I recall on the Nissan. It’s quite a testament to the maturity of this Korean automaker.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
It’s amazing how quickly Kia has gone from a cheap brand to a value brand. Instead of just getting a very inexpensive car with good warranty, Kia owners now get a very competitive vehicle with desirable features standard and a price that’s attractive. The Kia Soul is a perfect example of this transformation.
With a base price below $18,600, Kia manages to build a vehicle that offers a lot of interior space, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity (which actually works well), stability control, an automatic transmission, and a sunroof. Both inside and out, the surfaces are interesting to look at, and there are a variety of good colors to inject a little life in the dashboard where so many economy cars look dreadfully boring.
A base Kia Soul starts under $14,000 and still gives you the funky styling and versatile interior. It’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the market for an urban runabout that stands out from the crowd a bit.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I know a lot of people (usually folks fifty and over) who hate the “bread-box” look of cars like the Kia Soul, the Scion xB, the Honda Element, and the Nissan Cube. Personally, though, I like these vehicles quite a bit simply because their squarish shapes naturally pack a lot of space into their small footprint. I can attest that twenty-somethings with little kids need all the space they can get for not much money.
This particular Soul is more or less fully loaded but still costs not much money–$18,595. Strangely, Kia offers two top-end trim levels for the same exact price: the Soul ! and the Soul Sport both start at $17,890. The clumsily named “!” model gets a sunroof, while the Sport is instead fitted with a “sport suspension,” spoilers, and body-kit stuff. I wouldn’t mind test-driving the Sport, but I think the “+” trim level, for $2000 less, is an even more enticing choice. It doesn’t have eighteen-inch wheels or the fancy sound system with backlit speakers and mood lighting, but I could do without those items.
I was disappointed to learn that this car had an automatic transmission, but once I got behind the wheel, I was impressed with how peppy the Soul still felt. The engine sounds pretty coarse at high revs, though. Ride and handling are perfectly acceptable, particularly for a vehicle that’s based on a simple subcompact (the Rio). But as I mentioned in my review in March 2009, the Soul is less about how it drives and more about style. And this car has a lot. In this color scheme (“alien” exterior paint, which is actually a soft lime green, and cool houndstooth upholstery), it looks fairly mature but still funky, unlike the last Soul that I drove, which had overdone bright-red dash plastics and red–sorry, “molten”–paint.
The Soul might very well be the best box car to drive, from an enthusiast’s standpoint. But in this class, looks matter a lot, and I think that the Nissan Cube remains the coolest-looking of the bunch.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The Kia Soul is a testament to the fact that a vehicle doesn’t have to have a giant footprint to be a useful cargo hauler. Sure, the Soul won’t swallow as much junk as a Chevy Suburban, but I managed to fit in two upholstered easy chairs and a bunch of other assorted objects that I purchased during a spur-of-the-moment trip to Ikea. When the warehouse workers first wheeled the chairs out of the storeroom and I saw how large the boxes were, I had doubts that they’d fit in the Soul. However, with the back seats folded down, the bulky boxes fit — with room to spare.
I find the Soul’s design particularly charming, with its rising beltline tempering the box-on-wheels theme that is becoming increasingly popular among Asian carmakers. The interior is also nicely put together – not lavish, but definitely not downmarket considering the Soul’s sub-$20,000 price tag. I was pleasantly surprised by the four-cylinder engine paired with a four-speed automatic transmission – it certainly doesn’t make the Soul a racehorse, but at only 2820 pounds, the Soul doesn’t need a lot of power to help it move right along. I was able to quickly bring the Soul up to highway speeds while merging onto I-94, and it happily cruised with traffic at 80 mph.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Sorry, folks — I think I’m more of a Cubist than a Soul Man. That’s nothing to do with the styling — admittedly, I like the Soul’s roller-skate shape more than I do the Cube’s form — but dynamically, this car does nothing for me. As others have noted, the body control is surprisingly good, but the suspension is subsequently rather stiff (perhaps exacerbated by the 18-inch wheels). This isn’t a huge issue on smooth pavement, but in pothole-ridden Ann Arbor, it made me pine for the relaxed, smooth(er) nature of the Cube.
Still, I do like how Kia is working to inject design into its value-priced lineup. I’m not the biggest fan of houndstooth cloth, but draping the tops of the seatbacks in the fabric in something other than a ’69 Camaro is rather brave. If that’s not your taste, Kia has other ways you can add a splash of color to an interior that would otherwise be rather bland.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
In my eye, the Soul is a standout thanks to original styling – something that’s a true first for Kia. The Korean automaker has been on an upswing with design lately, but even the attractive Forte compact looks rather derivative. The Soul, on the other hand, looks like nothing else. Sure, you could say its square edges were inspired by the Nissan Cube or the Scion xB, but the Soul has a unique stance and shape that delivers fresh style with more traditional proportions.
The Soul is a genuine value with a pleasant driving demeanor, great equipment, and an excellent price. I’d say the only thing truly holding it back is a great advertising campaign. Oh, and at 24/30 mpg, it seems there is another mile per gallon or two in the highway fuel economy with a five-speed transmission.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2010 Kia Soul ! A/T
Base price (with destination): $18,595
Price as tested: $18,595
2.0L 16V DOHC 4-cylinder engine
18-in alloy wheels
Electronic stability control
AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with 6 speakers & subwoofer
Power sunroof with tilt
Leather wrapped steering wheel
Options on this vehicle:
Key options not on vehicle:
Auto-dimming mirror with compass — $180
24 / 30 / 27 mpg
Size: 2.0L 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 142 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 137 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
Weight: 2820 lb
18-in aluminum wheels
225/45R18 Hankook Optimo H426 all-season tires