THE SOUL GOES TO SCHOOL
An all new Kia Soul for 2014
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Dec 23, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Sean Spear
By the time that Kia entered the Econobox Wars in 2010 with the Soul, its rivals like the Scion xB were already eyeing their second-gen versions of the anti-style youth cars. But where the competitors assumed that young people liked butt-ugly with a funky color and a kickin’ sound system, Kia offered the latter two elements with a look that said, “I can be fun AND not hard on the eyes.” Throw in some hip-hop hamsters in a thumping TV commercial, and you got a formula that Kia has ridden all the way to the bank.
Fast forward a couple of years and those wars are essentially over, with Kia rolling over the dead carcasses of its competitors to the top of the sales mountain. Gone is the Honda Element, the Nissan Cube at the end of the year, and nobody is buying xB’s. So what is a victorious combat veteran to do? Well, for the second-gen Soul it was get the G.I. Bill treatment: go to school and come out looking for new challenges.
In & Out
At first glance, it is hard to see the differences between the first and second-gen wagons. The 2014 retains nearly all of the original design elements like the gradually pinching window greenhouse, the upright rear lighting, and of course the wheels pushed out to the corners of the vehicle. But a closer look reveals that all of these elements have just been, well, refined. The greenhouse is smaller in keeping with recent design trends; the lighting is LED-infused, and the wheels are larger and more proportional. Going further, each of these elements seems more coherent and balanced while still implying a youthful appearance. Gone are the hard panel-separating lines and creases, replaced with sculpted forms that blend into each other masterfully. Black, silver, or charcoal paint would be wasted on this body since a bright color so clearly accentuates this wagon’s shape.
While the exterior goes for subtle improvement, the interior yells ‘pay attention’ on a couple levels. Interior materials are clearly upgraded; and even though plastic still rules the roost here, it is of the piano black and simulated brushed chrome variety. Controls are well placed on the center stack for easy reach. Audio speakers are featured instead of hidden, with the tweeters sitting on top of pods on the dash, and the door’s mid-range speakers accented by surround mood lighting that pulses to your music. Who needs to hit the club?
The base Soul’s features are nothing to sneeze at, with modern amenities like Bluetooth, a USB port with iPod Integration, cruise, XM Radio, and power mirrors all standard. At 24.2 cu.ft., rear hatch space is on the small side, but expandable to 61.3 cu.ft. with the rear seats folded down. Upgrading to the ‘+’ (Plus) or ‘!’ (Exclaim) trim levels (yes, those are what they are called) gives you access to a boatload of additional options usually found on near-luxury vehicles. Options like heated & cooled perforated leather seats (including heated rear seats), push button start, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, Infinity audio system, a full panoramic retracting sunroof and a back-up camera can be had for what seems like chump-change.
We were provided with a ‘!’ (Exclaim) model for the chance to really see what this post-graduate could do over several days of normal driving. While the 2.0L 4-cylinder (carried over from the previous generation wagon) is very responsive, high revs will quickly cost you cabin quietness and fuel mileage. The transmission drops down a gear or two at the slightest added pressure to the accelerator. Lack of low-end torque is often times to blame for this behavior (this engine delivers only 151 lb/ft of torque), but I wonder if a simple transmission adjustment by Kia could net a less twitchy response. Rated at just 23 city and 31 highway, our wagon averaged an equally less-than-stellar 25 mpg over the week. This is comparable to other cars in this class currently, but small engine efficiency has come far enough recently that Kia may soon find itself left behind on this.
Driving comfort and handling, on the other hand, were well-above average. The six-way adjustable seats don’t offer much side-bolstering to help keep you planted in turns, but they’re comfortable and easy to get in and out of. The seating position is spot-on for tall and short drivers alike, with good visibility all around. The steering wheel is fully adjustable (tilt and telescoping), and offers all the buttons you could ask for. Cruise control, audio, phone, trip info, and voice commands can all be managed without taking your hands off the wheel. This makes the wheel busy, but everything is logically placed and you can get use to it. More complex operations require usage of the 8-inch touchscreen and a few of the buttons below it. Kia’s UVO telematics system is fairly intuitive and easy to use. Though the home-screen is a little cluttered, moving from one system to another is quick and painless. The voice-recognizing navigation system with real-time traffic is actually fun to use.
‘Control Freak’ Heaven
Though a crossover, this wagon doesn’t even try to pretend that it is any more ‘off-road’ capable than Kim Kardashian. Nevertheless, this urban runabout does handle the ‘asphalt stuff’ pretty well. Riding on 18” wheels, potholes are not jarring and high-speed turns can be taken at prudent limits nicely. Best of all for an urbanite, the turning circle is a tight 34.8 feet. Steering is responsive, with the option to electronically adjust it based upon driving style. Lastly, the full array of driving safety tech is available including traction control, stability control, ABS, tire pressure monitoring, and even hill-start assist.
Kia’s approach in the U.S. Market is to offer the most bang for the buck by loading up on the convenience tech in its cars. This has taken them from “It’s a what?” status to “Yea, I would look at a Kia.” With the Econobox Wars in the rearview, the Soul is venturing into new territory. The Big City awaits.
For more information about Kia products, go to kia.com
Name of vehicle:
2014 Kia Soul
$18,995 + trim
$21,095 ! trim (as tested)
EPA mileage estimates:
23 city/31 highway mpg
Engine type: 2.0-liter four-cylinder Horsepower: 164 @ 6200 rpm Torque: 151 pound-feet at 4000 rpm Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual sequential shift mode Suspension MacPherson strut front independent suspension with stabilizer bar Torsion beam rear suspension with stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: 18 x 7.5 inch alloy wheels and 235/45R18 all-season tires, plus tire repair kit Dimensions Overall length: 163 inches Overall width: 70.9 inches Overall height: 63inches Curb weight (lbs.): 2714 pounds