I took the Kia Soul for a 10-mile blast around Ann Arbor. First things first, the car looks great. It’s obvious that Kia is trying to imitate Scion with the Soul’s styling, but who cares? It’s cool. Our test car’s red interior is a bit much, but it works. It’s great to see a Korean company having some fun with its designs.
That said, don’t look for MINI Cooper fun in the Soul. It’s clear that the underpinnings are from a far less exciting car. The Soul isn’t a bad car, but it isn’t sporty, despite the fact that our test car was the sport model. The large wheels and stiffer suspension just accentuate its economy car roots on bad roads. The 2.0-liter engine has decent torque and midrange punch, but don’t try to rev it to the moon as all you really get is noise. Additionally, the five-speed manual gearbox has vague feel and first gear seemingly disappeared on more than one occasion during my drive. We can only hope that there was something wrong with our test vehicle and the shifter feel we experienced is not typical.
Still, the Soul has a ton going for it. Most notably (other than the styling), it’s inexpensive. Our test car included stability control, satellite radio, USB iPod integration, and Bluetooth. The folding rear seats create a flat load floor, and there’s additional hidden storage in back as well. All this for an estimated as-tested price of around $19K. Not bad at all.
So throw the Kia Soul in with the other fun-to-look-at cars like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Scion xB, Honda Element, and the Mini. Just make sure you know that the fun is in the styling and the price point, not the driving dynamics, much like most of its competition.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
Fashion trends in junior high school tend to go like this: the rich, popular kids show up one day wearing the newest style from the Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch (I might be dating myself here). One month later, every single student, save for the nerds of course, is dressed in very similar-looking threads purchased from Wal-Mart and Target. Basically, the cheapo chain stores make large profits by satisfying all the pent-up demand created by the boutiques, who already paid for all the design and marketing. Kia’s decision makers clearly think they can use the same formula with the Soul, which should start for about $1500 less than a Scion Xb. I think they’re right.
There is definitely a distinct preproduction press-car feel to our test vehicle – the horn doesn’t work and, as Marc noted, first gear has a way of completely disappearing. Problem is, the Soul is already on sale on Korea, and it’s hard to imagine journalists have been hammering on this little thing. Let’s hope the ones that land in dealerships next spring have these issues settled. Otherwise, the Soul is exactly what I expected – not fun to drive, but not offensive either. Handling and acceleration are both perfectly adequate for a car in this segment.
The car certainly looks cute, but doesn’t really stand out – no one looked twice when I pulled into a supermarket parking lot. Then again, no one swoons over the clothes at Wal-Mart – but they still buy them.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Even in the generic silver our test car was covered in, I was able to spot the Soul from the opposite end of the parking structure. Its tall, slightly curvy box-on-wheels shape and high-mounted vertical tailights pushed to the corners distinguish it a bit from the crowd. Even, possibly, from the crowd it mimics (xB, Cube, Element).
I was glad to hear that other staffers had the same experience with the magically disappearing first gear and that it wasn’t just my own faulty shifting technique. That said, I was very disappointed in the sloppy, vague shifter feel. Even though the Soul is not powerful or necessarily sporty, a firm, precise shifter would go a long, long way in upping the fun-to-drive quotient.
Although the red seats are a bit much, the the fit and finish beat the xB hands down and in some areas equal or better those in the Honda Element. The steeply raked windshield helps to make the interior feel more open and airy than these competitors, too. This is despite the smallish, slot-like rear side-windows that get smaller as they go rearward.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
What we have here is the first Kia that people will buy for reasons other than price, although the price is mighty attractive, too. I liked this funky little box far more than I expected. First, as Ms. Misaros notes, the interior is really nicely done. I love the bright red materials. Why should a fun and funky young person’s car be lined with drab black and gray?!? Bring on the color, I say.
Second, the exterior is also really, really good looking, especially for Kia. It would be easy to attribute the Soul’s distinctive styling to Kia’s design chief, Peter Schreyer, but the fact is that he has only been on the job for a couple of years, so he could have done nothing more than minor retouching to the Soul. But the Soul is a tribute to the fact that there clearly are some talented designers within Kia, aside from Schreyer. And since Schreyer is a veteran of the Volkswagen and Audi design studios, we can expect to see even more good stuff from him and his team.
What I’m getting at here is that the Soul doesn’t look or feel cheap. It has substance and it has style, attributes sorely missing from most Kia vehicles in the past. It’s a vehicle I was happy to be seen in.
It’s true that the Soul is no sport wagon, but it will serve the needs of young urbanites and small families quite well for nightclubbing, shopping, and weekend jaunts. Yep, there was definitely a syncro problem in our test car’s five-speed manual transmission; let’s hope similar issues don’t rear their heads in production cars.
As it is, the Soul doesn’t feel anything remotely like a bargain basement ride. I was shocked as I slithered up my snowy driveway to feel stability control at work; I had never imagined that it would be available.
All in all, I come away very impressed.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I guess car companies are finally realizing that young, cool people won’t be caught dead in nerdy econoboxes – unless those nerdy econoboxes are so unabashedly nerdy that they actually become cool. I adored the first-generation Scion xB (I actually contemplated trading in my BMW 5-Series wagon for one), but the current, second-gen xB lost a lot of that charm.
And now Kia made the real sequel. The Soul fixes the original xB’s two biggest problems – the 1.5-liter Hamster wheel under the hood and those atrocious center-mounted gauges – with a 2.0-liter and some cool gauges. The shape of the gauges really reminds me of mid-1990s Opel products (not a bad thing) and even the shift knob – with it’s pull-up-to-engage-reverse-sleeve is straight Opel. Dunno where the Opel reference comes from, but I like it. Yeah, the shift linkage is slightly out of adjustment on this Soul, but that’s easily fixed, and anyone who’s driven an old VW knows how to get around that little problem.
I drove the Soul in four inches of fresh snow, so I can’t say much about its dynamics. It was ten degrees outside, so I also didn’t spend much time poking around the cargo hold. But I can say that when I first saw it, it made me grin – and let’s face it, buyers in this segment won’t care much about skidpad grip or at-the-limit handling. They’ll be looking at the Soul because it’s cute and cheap. And it does those two things really well.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor
Base Price (with destination): Estimate of $15,000
Price as tested: Estimated: $19K
Fuel Economy: Not Available (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.0 L I-4 (CVVT)
HP: 142 HP @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 137 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
Weight: Not Listed
-5-inch steel w/ full wheel cover (base)
-16-inch aluminum alloy (+)
-18-inch aluminum alloy (! and sport)
-225/45R18 (! and sport)