Journalists have been known to gravitate towards cars that make lots of sense, or cars that make no sense at all. Case in point: the wagon. Considered to be largely out-of-style, and out-of-touch with what the vast majority of the motoring public wants nowadays, today’s two-box wagon flies under the radar – most of the time. Its utilitarian design and stealth factor are endearing in the hearts of journalists and gearheads everywhere. I own a station wagon and love being able to carry all sorts of stuff without paying a penalty in driving dynamics.
Enter Kia, who has been on a design kick lately. With recent successes seen in products like the Optima, and Forte, Kia saw fit to push the envelope a little bit. The Soul, designed in California, was thought up from the beginning to be a little different. Introduced in 2008, the original Soul defined the quirky formula that remains to this day. You’ll immediately notice the tall, boxy stance, with the big 18” (rolling on 235-section tires) wheels pushed right out the corners. The high sills are a by-product of today’s side-impact safety regulations, but they work in conjunction with the almost-flat, yet sloping roofline for a modern look. The “floating” red section on the rear hatch is pretty cool. I picked up the Smart Key to a Soul SX with the Luxury package, painted in a striking “Inferno Red metallic”.
The Soul certainly does a good job of garnering attention on the road. Even considering its fairly pedestrian underpinnings, people notice the Soul standing out in a sea of beige and grey. It also promotes the value-for-money quotient very well. Even the base LX model is pretty well equipped, with all the safety features you’d expect, and you don’t even have to settle for any unpainted trim. Air conditioning is an option, however. I suspect most cars on dealer lots will be of the LX AT variety, which adds a six-speed automatic transmission and air conditioning. What this also means is that if you’d prefer to shift your own gears, air conditioning is not available.
The Luxury package adds HID low-beam headlamps, LED lamp accents combined with the parking lamps, a huge panoramic sunroof, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, upgraded audio, touchscreen satellite navigation system, and even the interior lights are upgraded to bright-white LEDs. This SX Luxury makes the Soul a surprisingly well-equipped machine, with features you’d come to expect from premium brands. And even then, with something like cooled seats (These are also available on nearly all other Kia vehicles -Ed), one needs to look much higher on the market to get such a feature. It’s a seriously impressive piece of kit.
Inside, the super squared-off proportions allow for impressive headroom. With no rake in the roofline, getting in and out of the backseat is a piece of cake, and the vertical tailgate lets you load the Soul up with lots of cargo. You’ll only have to fold the rear seats down if you’re making a flat-pack furniture trip. The above-average feature-set means sitting inside the Soul is a pretty good experience. The 8” navigation screen is large and responsive, yet there are more than enough physical buttons duplicating many of the functions buried within menus. The cooled seats are great on long summer drives, and the panoramic sunroof does a great job brightening up an otherwise dark black-on-black interior. Materials and assembly quality is pretty good too – with a good helping of soft-touch plastics all over the dash and around major touch points. The utilitarian design language of the exterior largely carries over to the interior, but manages to retain some of the quirks, as seen with the funky “flying saucer” inspired speaker grilles living on the top of the dashboard.
Under the hood of my Soul SX test vehicle lives a 2.0L gasoline inline four-cylinder engine, producing 164 horsepower at 6200rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4000rpm. This engine is paired up with a six-speed automatic with manual override, sending power to the front wheels. The power from the 2.0L engine is what I would describe as adequate – it gets the job done, but you won’t be setting any land speed records. I would love to see Kia fit the 1.6L turbo out of the Forte5. The bump to 200hp with that motor would be a welcome upgrade.
Kia rates the Soul at 8.8L/100km in the city and 6.6L/100km on the highway. I spent a lot of time in slow stop-and-go traffic with the air conditioning and ventilated seats activated. I averaged a slightly below-average 9.8L/100km over about 300km. Your mileage will vary depending on the driving you do, but I attribute part of the numbers I got to having to get on the accelerator more often to get up to speed. The Soul will accept 54L of regular fuel. There is an Active ECO button on the dash – when pressed, throttle sensitivity is reduced and transmission shift points are re-programmed to keep revs down. I felt this function, like most “Eco” systems on many cars today, is more useful on the highway than in the city where you may sometimes want some quicker response.
Behind the wheel of the Soul, you can adjust the level of assist in the steering. A button on the wheel toggles through Comfort, Normal, and Sport driving modes. I left it in Sport mode most of the week, as I prefer a heavier steering action. Make no mistake, toggling through these three modes doesn’t do anything for the actual road feedback you can feel through the wheel – it only varies the assist from finger-light to moderately heavy.
My Soul SX Luxury test vehicle is priced at $27,195. At this price, you get a ton of value and high-end luxury features not normally seen in offerings at this end of the price scale. If you would prefer to omit some of the goodies, you can bring the price down to around $22,000, which strengthens the value proposition even more so. The Soul competed with the now-discontinued Nissan Cube for some time. It is a car that is arguably more polarizing, but offered even more headroom for those who demanded it. The quirky choices from Scion – the xD and xB, compete price-wise, but they cannot directly compete with the Soul once you load it up with luxury options. The Soul is a good balance of everything in this case against the immediate competition.
The Soul takes a quirky and modern external appearance, and combines it with some smart packaging to create a utilitarian do-everything kind of machine for the younger crowd. I feel it is most at home in the urban city, with its tidy footprint making for easy manoeuvers (the turning circle is surprisingly tight), and generous helpings of space for people and their stuff. Like its exterior, there are a few quirks to how the Soul goes about its business, but nothing I would consider a dealbreaker. Now if they could only get that 1.6L turbo powerplant in there….
2014 Kia Soul SX Luxury Review