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