Review: 2009 Kia Soul

#Kia, #Soul

With the small car category gaining strength, more and more automakers are looking to make their pint-size offerings stand out from the masses. Based on the entry-level Rio, Kia's brand-new 2010 Soul fits this mold well, its heavy revisions allowing it to compete with the squarish likes of the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube, not to mention the less funky progenitor of the modern box cars, the Honda Element.

We recently tested a top-of-the-line Kia Soul Sport to see how it stacks up to its competition from Nissan and Scion (which we conveniently had in the office simultaneously).

The Soul's styling is definitely its most prominent aspect. Indeed, when editor-in-chief Jean Jennings tossed the Soul's keys on my desk after her morning commute in the Kia, she summed it up perfectly: "It's funky. Not very good to drive, but fun to be in."

The funkiness starts on the outside of the Soul, where its boxy profile, wraparound headlamps, and trapezoidal taillights help it garner plenty of glances from onlookers, most of whom seem to approve. (Although the fake fender vents are a turn off.) Inside, the Soul is equally unconventional, thanks mostly to its fire-engine-red dashboard, trim, and headrests, not to mention several surprising convenience items (described below). If the color has you seeing red, know that Kia reserves this bright interior treatment only for top-of-the-line Sport models. The Sport is also the only Soul trim level to merit an actual name; lesser versions, in descending order, are the "!", the "+", and finally the base car. Who thought this was a good idea?

Creature features
The Soul that we drove was filled with plenty of convenience features that usually aren't expected in an $18,000 vehicle, such as Bluetooth and steering-wheel audio controls, both of which are standard on all but the base trim level. But even that $13,995 stripper gets USB and auxiliary inputs, air-conditioning, power windows and power door locks, stability control, and tilt steering, as well as six air bags. Premium items like a sunroof, fog lights, and an upgraded stereo with a subwoofer are Soul options.

We were a bit disappointed with the hard plastics in the cabin (including the door armrests!), but the grains are very attractive, so these materials don't look as cheap as they otherwise might - although there were already a number of scratches in our test car's trim after only 2000 miles. Also, the stereo and climate-control switchgear feels quite well-made, but the controls for the turn signals and the wipers are pretty cheap.

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