January 28, 2013 @ 4:12pm | Lary Coppola ~ KPBJ Publisher
In spite of new engines and tweaked styling received in 2012, it’s still an inexpensive box-shaped runabout with Gen Y firmly in its crosshairs. But it’s surprisingly suitable for anyone — no matter what their age — who appreciates youthful styling, fuel economy, daily practicality, coupled with useful standard features like Bluetooth, iPod, and USB connectivity, and the best warranty on the planet.
While the Soul attempts to stand out in a sea of sameness — in spite of its basic shape —there are plenty of options and accessories to seriously personalize it. Kia makes no bones about what the Soul is — and is not: It’s a car — not a cute-ute, or “compact utility” as that segment is labeled, and certainly not an SUV, crossover, or minivan surrogate. Mechanically, it’s your basic small sedan, with no all-wheel or four-wheel drive offered.
Model Lineup: The 2013 Kia Soul comes in three models: Soul, Soul+ (Soul plus), and Soul! (Soul exclaim).
The Soul ($14,400) features an inline, 138-horse, 4-cylinder, 1.6-liter engine and comes with air conditioning, power windows and door locks, 15-inch steel wheels, black trim, body-color door handles and mirrors, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 stereo, USB and auxiliary inputs, Bluetooth with steering-wheel controls, 6-way manual drivers seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, remote keyless entry, and variable intermittent wipers. The base Soul comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, but a 6-speed automatic is available ($16,200).
Options include alloy wheels and an ECO package that includes idle-stop-and-go start-stop system, power mirrors, alloy wheels, luggage under-floor tray, illuminated visor mirrors with extensions, and low rolling resistance tires. Accessories include illuminated sill plates, cabin lighting, auto-dimming mirror, floor mats, cargo net and rear spoiler.
The Soul+ ($16,700) upgrades to the 2.0-liter engine, and adds 16-inch alloy wheels, stereo tweeters, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Soul logo inserts on the upholstery, and metal-finish trim. The 6-speed manual is standard, but it’s available with the 6-speed automatic ($17,700). Options available only on automatic versions include a power sunroof and fog lights ($800), 350-watt Infinity/UVO by Microsoft entertainment system with rear camera and HD radio, and the ECO package.
The top of the line Soul! ($19,900) offers only the 2-liter and 6-speed automatic, and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, body-color trim, LED running lights, projector headlights, sand and black interior with houndstooth upholstery inserts, standard UVO, and more. The main option is the premium package that includes navigation, XM traffic, leather seating trim, heated front seats, climate control, and push-button start/Smart Key.
Safety equipment on all models includes six airbags, active front headrests, LATCH seating system, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, and a tire pressure monitor.
Walkaround: With rear windows that are narrower than those in front, it appears there’s a rear downward slope to the roof, but it’s a clever optical illusion because of the rising beltline below the windows. There’s also a black, horizontal, ding strip on the doors that’s both functional, and adds to the strong straight-line design.
The corners on the Soul are nicely rounded, taking away some of the hard edge of its box-like shape, with help from strong, chiseled wheel wells. The smile-like grille is small, and no bigger than necessary to suck in fresh air for the engine. The stylish front lighting elements are new, and include LED running lights and projector headlamps.
Big vertical LED taillamps outline the rear pillars, and complete the wraparound look. The rear window and liftgate are clean and smooth, with an indented handle and a stylish chrome Soul badge.
The 16- and 18-inch alloy wheels are larger than what’s often available in this market segment.
Interior: Everything inside the Soul is simple, clean, functional, and ergonomically positioned. The front bucket seats are more comfortable than I thought they’d be — especially after a couple of long jaunts. They offer plenty of legroom, and enough headroom for six-plus-footers.
Rear seat legroom is tight, but fine for kids or adults of average height, and the 60/40 rear seats easily fold flat. There’s a handy compartment under the trunk floor, and below that a space-saver spare tire. There’s 19 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, about four under the floor, totaling 53.4 with the back seats folded down.
The interior vinyl and cloth trim is above average, and there are bottle holders in the front door pockets, plus cupholders in the console, which also offers a deep storage compartment. There’s a surprisingly large dual-level glovebox, map nets on the front seatbacks, and grab handles over every door. There are auxiliary audio, iPod, and USB port connections, and two 12-volt outlets.
The steering wheel boasts the usual standard controls, while the three-ring instrumentation is clean, with an eave over the gauges so they’re readable in the sun. The modest center stack features business-like knobs and buttons that accommodate the revised shifter and UVO/Microsoft entertainment system, which includes a rear camera.
There’s throbbing-to-the-beat rims of changing colored lights surrounding the front door speakers. This can be turned on and off, and you can program the way it reacts to sound — a quick way to amuse yourself while stuck in traffic.
Under The Hood: The 2.0-liter inline-four (which our test model was equipped with) got a much-needed upgrade during the 2012 model year refresh. Power was increased by 16 horses to 164, and torque by 11 pound-feet to 148. The base powerplant is a 138-horse, 1.6-liter (up from 122).
Kia upgraded the transmissions as well last year. The six-speed automatic is smoother, even when shifting down a couple of gears for acceleration and highway passing, with mileage improved by 1-4 mpg whether automatic or manual, to 27/35 mpg for the 1.6-liter and 26/34 mpg for the 2.0-liter.
Behind The Wheel: I found the Soul nimble, and fun to drive. There’s sufficient power available, although the transmission will run a gear up all the way up to redline before shifting under heavy acceleration. If that’s your driving style, you’ll pay for it with lots of engine noise. Road noise is also a factor, but no worse than any other vehicle this size, and this low to the ground.
Handling and braking are more than adequate for this class of vehicle, and there is that level of utility that makes this a surprisingly adaptable daily driver.
Whines: Having an upright windshield and large greenhouse make for great for visibility, but wind noise is harsh.
Bottom Line: The Kia Soul offers simplicity, four-door upright hatchback versatility, great gas mileage, and styling with personality. It’s easy to drive in urban settings because of its nimble size, and with a price of $25,555 for the top-of-the-line Exclaim with every single option available — not to mention Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty — this car is an enormous value.