2014 Kia Soul vs 2014 Toyota Corolla

Patrick M Hoey
2014 Toyota Corolla vs 2014 Kia Soul

The Toyota Corolla is an undisputed heavyweight among small cars. It has a seemingly permanent place on the list of the Top Ten Bestselling Nameplates. It’s reliable, fuel-efficient, and affordable, and it’s been around forever—well, 48 years, anyway. During that time, Toyota has sold nearly 40 million Corollas.

But the small-car segment is changing. New players are arriving, and they want to take a bite out of the Corolla’s sales. Enter Kia and its quirky, boxy Soul.

The Corolla and the Soul could not be more different. The Corolla is a traditional compact sedan. The Soul looks almost like a small crossover. But both cars have the same purpose, are competing for the same young and hip customers, and both were just redesigned for the 2014 model year. Why not pair them up to analyze different approaches to the small-car segment?

For our comparison, we selected a 2014 Corolla LE Plus, which cost $21,870, to face off against a very basic Soul, which cost $15,610. Though that’s a significant gap in price, $6260, it didn’t handicap the Kia. “You’re getting way more coolness than the price would indicate,” said deputy editor Joe DeMatio.

We tested the Soul and the Corolla as winter settled in around Automobile Magazine’s base in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Unlike some of our tests, which feature high-speed loops of the Nurburgring Nordschleife or exotic jaunts on the twisty roads in Southern France, we simply drove the Soul and the Corolla normally, the way typical compact car owners would use them. We did errands. We drove to work. We went shopping and out to eat. We dealt with cold and snow. It probably sounds a lot like you what you did in mid-December.

After several weeks, we reached a verdict: The Soul came out on top. We liked how it looked, and we liked how it drove. It felt newer, more innovative, and it had significantly more space. Even though the Soul was not a traditional compact sedan, that proved to be a strength, as we liked its unconventional approach.

“Being a hatchback, the Soul has much of the appeal of a crossover,” said associate web editor Jake Holmes.

These two cars paint a striking picture of the establishment (Toyota) versus the spunky up-and-comer, Kia. The Korean brand is trying to be a trendsetter, and that shows in the Soul. Conversely, the Corolla comes off as staid and boring. It’s a new car, but we felt a sense of déjà vu.

“This car could have come out ten years ago, and I wouldn’t have been surprised,” Holmes said. “It’s everything you would expect and nothing more.”

For Appearances’ Sake
Neither car had a decided edge in the looks department. In fact, we rather liked them both. The Soul’s design was only lightly updated for the 2014 model year, and it remains one of the most recognizable boxes on wheels. The Corolla is much curvier and more creased than the model it replaces. It’s a contemporary look, and like the Dodge Dart and Ford Focus, the design attempts to make the Corolla appear larger and more upscale.

Room to Roam in the Cabin
Slipping inside, we immediately felt at home in the Soul. It was taller and wider than the Corolla, and that made for more headroom, more leg room, and more interior volume. With the rear seats folded, the Soul provides 61.3 cu ft of cargo space, or 24.2 cu ft with the seats up. You could easily get a decent-sized piece of furniture back there. In fact, with the seats down, the Soul has a greater cargo volume than the Sportage, which Kia markets as a crossover.

The Corolla also had a good amount of space (its passenger volume of 97 cu ft was fairly close to the Soul’s 101 cu ft). But it felt less spacious due in part to its fat, slanted C-pillars, which hurt visibility and were a problem when parking in tight areas or merging onto the expressway. Yes, they make for a cool roofline, but it’s at the expense of rear-seat headroom. We did like the view out the front, however, as the wide windshield and low cowl afford great forward visibility. The Corolla’s trunk, which measures 13 cu ft, is also spacious. A golf bag would fit back there easily, and it could handle a week’s worth of groceries. We had no beef with the Toyota’s cargo hold, we just preferred the versatility offered by the Soul.

The Corolla’s substantially higher price tag was reflected in the materials found in the cabin. The Corolla felt like a much nicer car on the inside than the Soul. There was fashionable stitching and trim across the dashboard, a head-up display, a sporty tri-gauge cluster, and the use of color throughout the cabin was tasteful. The options, like push-button start, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, and the Entune premium audio system (all part of the $1510 driver convenience package), made the Corolla seem more upscale. It outshined the Soul, which had cloth seats, hard plastics, and required use of a key for entry. Although the Soul had few of the Corolla’s bells and whistles, we didn’t penalize it for that because it can be optioned up. (The top-trim Soul Exclaim comes with LED lights, UVO connectivity, and a rear camera, for $21,095.)

Driving Dynamics Make the Difference
Once in motion, however, the Corolla’s polish wore off. Its harsh and noisy ride dominated the driving experience, even though the Toyota’s powertrain has some positives.

“On first impression, everything looks more upscale than you'd expect, like the classy dash design, well-finished steering wheel, and nicely weighted buttons and knobs,” noted associate web editor Joey Capparella. “Once you get past this, though, there's a sense that the whole car is slightly hollowed-out; the seats are thinly padded, the ride is harsher than you'd expect. It's pretty nice on the surface, but the cheapness is still there.”

The Corolla’s 138-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine was peppy enough, and paired with the continuously variable transmission produces an impressive 38 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg in the city (32 mpg combined). Those figures easily eclipsed the Soul’s disappointing 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in the city (26 mpg combined).

Fuel economy is an undeniably important component in a small-car purchase. But it’s not the only one. “I can absolutely understand why someone would buy the Corolla,” said Holmes, “but I cannot say I enjoyed my time behind the wheel.”

The Soul, even in its basic spec, was the better car to drive, although a little rough around the edges. The base Soul’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 130 hp wasn’t particularly inspiring, but we enjoyed wringing the most out of it with the six-speed manual transmission.

We found the Soul to be surprisingly quiet for the segment, even when cruising along Interstate 94 at 70 mph. The four-cylinder is a bit raspy, as most are, but it wasn’t offensive. The inputs—throttle, brakes, and steering—were responsive, and we felt connected to the road. “This is the first Kia I’ve driven that has good steering weight and overall dynamics,” associate editor David Zenlea said.

The suspension, which uses MacPherson struts in front and a beam axle in back, is taut, but not harsh. It’s a big step forward from the first generation. Though the ride could still be a little rough over Michigan’s pockmarked roads, it was not nearly as severe as in the Corolla. It took much more to ruffle the Soul, which felt planted and solid.

Plus, the Soul offers a solid value (and warranty), for which Kia has become known. For less than $16,000, you get Bluetooth, cruise control, three months of Sirius/XM satellite radio and a USB port. “You really do get a ton of car with the base Soul,” Capparella said.

The Verdict
In the end, we weren’t fooled by the Corolla’s niceties. It’s an average car with some above-average features. But the Soul is more of a total package. It does have flaws, yet it still won us over with its funky styling, solid driving character, spacious cargo hold, and its competitive pricing structure. The Soul gives you a lot of car for not a lot of coin. It might sound trite, but the Soul did indeed have a soul. That’s something the Corolla lacked, and that’s why Kia won the day in this test.

2014 Toyota Corolla
Price as Tested: $21,870
Engine: 1.8L I-4, 132 hp, 128 lb-ft
Transmission: Continuously Variable
Drive: Front-wheel
Fuel economy: 29/38/32 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Cargo Space: 13 cubic feet

2014 Kia Soul
Price as Tested: $15,610
Engine: 1.6L I-4, 130 hp, 118 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel
Fuel Economy: 24/30/26 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Cargo Space: 24.2/61.3 cubic feet (seats up/down)

Tom Walsh
It's absolutley AMAZING how Toyota buyers are dillusional. It was only a year and a half ago that Toyota had the biggest recall, lied about the reasons why their accelerator pedals got stuck and killed people, why their brakes wouldn't work and why their steering systems failed. Couldn't brake, move or steer..... good lawn ornament! The US Government even sued them becuase of the way they handles the recalls. Now they are recalling another 3 million vehicles total becuase of seat issus, traction control malfunctions and so on.......
Morton Motors
Great little #car ! We give it a thumbs up at Morton Motors :)
Doms Vijay
amazing car
Alex McDonough
I would love to see a 10 year test to see which is really better rather than superficially better.  10 year old Kia/Hyundai vs 10 year old Corolla.  Not even close.  Kia/Hyundai are complete junk inside and out vs Corolla which are like new. 
amazinggordo
"The Corolla and the Soul could not be more different." So, the basis for this comparo is, what?
Ginis
Rented a Kia Soul in Portland, ME last fall and found it very bouncy to drive. Our Prius takes the road bumps much better. For a compact our most economical/versatile/comfortable rental has been a Cruze.
kgmB767
Corolla rides harshly and noisily? Just another car Toyota has ruined with their kidney-crushing suspensions. First the Camry, then the Avalon, and now the Corolla. Never thought crappy-riding Nissan/Infiniti products would ride better than those from Toyota/Lexus. Keep up the moronic work, Toyota! Thanks for eliminating the Avalon and ES350 from my list of cars to consider.
Tim Lucas
Yes!!
Tim Lucas
These are both gross. I'm thinking either a Fiesta or a Mini.
Jeff Christopherson
Howdy, Don Winterhalter. I think you're right. The Xd is a good car, but not greatly executed. I had an '08, and while it hit great gas mileage, the manual transmission was absolute garbage.
bigcjm
Come on. I saw this coming. How do you take vehicles that are catered for two different types of buyers and compare them? The box{soul,xb, cube] cars have good visability, alot of space, and average fuel economy. Folks buying corolla[fusion, forte] like cars are picking fuel econonmy over space period.Yes they are close in price but that about it. Most toyota buyers dont consider kia anyway based on the perception of longterm qaulity and reliability.On one hand the kia has a huge powertrain warranty, but on the other hand the corolla is far less likely to visit the dealer over a warranty issue anyway. Then you factor in which car hold its value, and cost of ownership and the gap between the two gets bigger.I like kia products alot but if you ask most people which car they'd buy with 80-100k miles on it you can guess the anwser.
Collin Oskahpee
If the corolla had a hatchback it would sell a lot more than it already does I bet.
Randall Owen
Corolla is very nice
Don Winterhalter
Wouldn't the Scion xD be more comparable to the Kia Soul?
Deric Teh
Kia
Elias Rodriguez
Corolla just for the reliability alone! Mazda 3 people? Please! Might as well get you a focus and have transmission problems after 6 months! Never again.
Travis Wootten
Idx us a whole different type of piece of crap. Still better than these two. But only one element to it
Vincent Limpo
corolla
Mel Gowin
My wife and I own a 2012 Kia Soul + and we love it. Not once has it ever gave us any trouble.
Samuel O Lee
Moot point. The new Mazda 3 Sport is in a completely different class for similar money. If Nissan/Datsun grabs some brain cells, however, and builds the IDx... I won't be looking at anything else on the market. Period.
Nicolaus Le Compte
Wow, umm Soul, more useful car.
Jeff Gilleran
Like them both for different reasons. More fuel economy in the Corolla, more versatility in the Soul.
Sanwar Vyas
Nice car kha s utahle
Dean Cassano
neither...
Robert May
Bryan Meyers: I happily drive a 12 year old Civic Si. It's in perfect condition and is very reliable. It's better than these two ugly appliances.
Alan Johnstone
The Corolla
Wolf47
Couldn't agree more.  Toyotas are reliable.  That is it.  Uninspiring and boring to drive.  My 90 year old Mother bought the earlier Corolla.  It is suitable for people who don't drive much and don't go fast.  the Kia Soul is a fun car to see and it inspires a sense of youthfulness.  It is also very functional as a carrier of stuff.   I don't think these cars really compete with each other.  They a very different cars that appeal to difference buyers. 
Steven Matthew Myers
Neither, really. I'd rather a Golf for a hatch, and yes, a Dart for a sedan. Drove one. Loved it.
Andrew Stachurski
The world's best selling car. The Corolla wins.
Tom Champion
soul
Bob Powell
Corolla
Bill Northcut
Neither, & the new corrola is still a gutless slow piece of crap. I'd take a new Mazda 3, if I was looking for a small car.
Lee Bacalles
Kia
Robert May
Neither
Joseph Turner
cars are sure getting ugly,looks like a toaster and a shoe horn.
William Snow
Kia
VeeDub4LF
Who on earth would buy a new Corrola?  Worse crash rating than the Soul, Mazda3, Civic all with the driving dynamic...of a Corrola.  This new one is the automotive equivalent of a coma... all for more money than the rest.
Michael Anderson
Id never consider either but the soul is outright hideous so corolla
Mike Dunlap
Never a corolla. Ugh. As much as I despise gm, I would get a cruze before a corolla. Why choose either when there's the Mazda3?
Lee Klein
Uh, neither?
Dong Truong
Corolla
Aaron Fremuth
Target demographic: "Either, so long as it has Bluetooth, a touchscreen and gets good empeegees."
Madison(X)
This is stupid. Which Corolla did they drive? Because the ones passing around today definitely do not feel cheap and hallow. I can't think of any car today except for maybe the Nissan Versa that feels cheap and "hallow". Especially not the Corolla. They are quite literally mini Camrys. Bland to drive but are build with quality in mind. Even with very little style the Corolla still looks better than the Soul which looks like a boot. It's also more efficient and has a much better interior. Yeah yeah KIAs offer a lot of luxury features in their economy cars that Toyota - simply put - just doesn't offer. But remember that the more electronics you have the more likely things will FAIL in the long run. Toyota succeeds because they don't just think about the first time buyers. They think about the second and third owners as well. Build a car that will LAST. This article was a joke. These cars barely compete. Still, I'd take the Corolla over the Soul any day.
Jon Kithcart
A CPO GTI!
Matt Tierney
Soul. Kia > Toyota across the board for me...
Rigo Orozco
This is really dumb.  Why would you compare a base model Kia with a fully loaded corolla?  Did MotorTrend not have the money to buy a comparably priced Kia Soul?  Maybe they just had these 2 cars laying around and decided to compare them.  Cheap article.
Chris And Kiwa
@Alex McDonough  dont be so sure, my 9 year old sonata looks/drives as good as it did when i drove it off the lot, knock on wood not one thing has gone wrong, no broken trim or ripped seats. hyundai has done their homework, they dont build junk anymore :-)
candlou
@Madison93x   Who has the most recalls.  Not KIA !
VeeDub4LF
@Madison93x  
From IIHS
"StructureThe driver's space was seriously compromised by intruding structure. Lower interior intrusion measured as much as 32 cm at the lower hinge pillar. Upper interior intrusion measured as much as 20 cm at the instrument panel."
Thats why you don't pick Corolla.
NJae
@Rigo Orozco  Automobile and other car magazines only purchase vehicles when they're doing a four season test, otherwise they use vehicles supplied from the various manufacturer's test fleets. That the Kia came out on top should have alerted you to the fact that price/trim level asn't a major issue to the reviewers.

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