Vehicles like the Scion xB and Nissan Cube prove that it’s OK to be different. These rolling boxes are efficient, affordable and spacious; attributes that appeal to young, value-conscious shoppers. This is convenient because that’s who these vehicles are directly targeted at.
|1. The 2014 Kia Soul’s base engine is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder unit that delivers 130 horsepower with 118 lb-ft of torque.
2. The optional engine displaces 2.0-liters and cranks out 164 ponies and 151 units of twist.
3. Two six-speed transmissions are can be had by Soul customers, either a manual (only available with the 1.6-liter engine) or an automatic.
4. Base price for a 2014 Kia Soul is about $15,500 for a stripped-down model. Load it to the gills and plan on spending around 27 grand.
Unfortunately for those companies, there don’t seem to be very many people interested in owning a vehicle shaped like a Maytag top-load washer.
While those vehicles are floundering, Kia’s youth-oriented competitor has really found its niche. You could say the Kia Soul is quirk done right. It blends tasteful but bold design with a functional, comfortable interior and a bargain bin price tag.
The formula seems to be working. If you can believe it, the Soul is Kia’s second-best seller behind the Optima midsize sedan. And that’s the outgoing model.
It was introduced way back in 2009. Of course, the brand’s innovative advertising campaign featuring anthropomorphic rodents certainly hasn’t hurt. Kia’s hamsters have become a cultural phenomenon all their own.
Making a good thing even better, the South Korean automaker has been hard at work on the next-generation Soul. Rocker panels to roof, hood to hatch the product has been totally redesigned.
BOAR WITH A BACKPACK?
Overall, the 2014 model is incrementally lower, longer and wider than today’s version. Additionally, the wheelbase has been increased, but, again, by under an inch. The car’s overall size increase adds interior space, affords easier ingress and egress plus the lowered hip-point supposedly makes the seats more comfortable.
Thanks to the use of high- and ultra-high-strength steel, the new Soul’s body is nearly 29 percent more rigid than the outgoing model. This extra stiffness greatly improves the overall solidity of the car and helps it deliver a more pleasant on-road experience. Engineers also added a ton – not literally – of extra sound deadening and the vehicle is very quiet inside.
This second-generation Soul resembles the first model in many ways, from its blacked-out A-pillars, to its flattened rump, to its unique tail lamps. Curiously the design inspiration for the original was a boar with a backpack. Yes, a wild hog and a knapsack. The way the 2014 version’s front end is styled supposedly looks like tusks. We’re still trying to see them in this automotive Rorschach test.
The 2014 Soul is, like the original, handsome and quirky, just like mom used to make. But the improvements you notice most are actually inside.
COME ON IN
The interior is a colossal step up from the first-generation Soul, which, while attractively designed was largely constructed of hard plastic. Here the dashboard is squishy-soft to the prod; the door panels and center armrest are spongy and hospitable as well. This is a genuinely nice place to spend time.
All the buttons and switches have a premium feel and piano-black accents inject a healthy dose of sophistication into the passenger realm; just keep some pre-moistened towelettes handy to eradicate fingerprints that are sure to collect on the glossy trimmings.
Like many new vehicles today a navigation system is available in the Soul. Kia’s latest units are colorful and pretty responsive. One of their systems is based on Android while the other is built on Microsoft technology.
Other available extras include a 10-speaker Infinity audio system, again, with light-up front speakers that pulsate and change colors to the beat of whatever you’re listening to. Heated and ventilated front seats are on the menu as well.
Two engines are available underneath the Soul’s breadbox-like hood. The base unit is a rather small 1.6-liter four-cylinder that puts out 130 horsepower. That’s respectable specific output, but the torque is much less impressive with only 118 lb-ft of twist on tap. Smokey burnouts and scandalous drifts are out of the question with this base powerplant… as they are with the optional engine.
The Soul’s available 2.0-liter unit puts out a much more useful 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.
Both engines feature gasoline direct injection and variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts. These features help increase horsepower and torque without hampering fuel efficiency.
As for gearboxes, two six-speed transmissions are on the menu. The smaller engine can be had with a manual or auto-box, while the larger is only offered with the self-shifter.
Company representatives estimate that about 65 percent of buyers will opt for the 2.0-liter powerplant compared to only 35 percent for the 1.6. This decision is kind of a no-brainer. Not only is the bigger engine significantly more powerful it’s also a smarter overall choice.
When it comes to fuel economy the up-level engine is the only way to go. That 2.0-liter four-banger stickers at 23 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 31 on the highway.
The smaller 1.6-liter unit beats its big brother around town, returning an estimated 24 MPG, but it loses on the interstate, clocking in at a claimed 30. Manual or automatic the numbers are identical.
You’d think a significantly smaller engine would return considerably more impressive figures but that’s not the case. Perhaps it’s working too hard hauling the Soul around and that’s negatively impacting fuel economy.
UP THE ROAD A PIECE
While the Soul is slightly larger, it’s much more sophisticated than the outgoing model. Where today’s car feels like it’s for children, the 2014 version seems all grown up.
This level of refinement is especially evident behind the wheel. The Soul’s steering is nicely weighted with surprisingly good feel. There’s a certain heft to the car’s tiller, a chunkiness that’s unexpected for a Kia. Best of all it doesn’t feel artificial or simulated like other electrically boosted systems. This sense of solidity gives the driver a lot of confidence and makes the Soul fun to toss around on curvy roads.
The optional 2.0-liter engine provides totally adequate, if not heart-stopping acceleration. It gets the job done with more-than-respectable performance, but during our test we kept wondering if the company’s turbo-four would fit under the hood.
What we didn’t care for was the powerplant’s sound track. It was a little loud and a little boomy inside the Soul. This isn’t a deal-breaker but it was surprising given how solid and well thought out the rest of the vehicle is.
The Soul wouldn’t be a Kia if it weren’t affordable. The base model starts at $15,495, including $795 in destination and delivery fees. That gets you a 1.6-liter engine and a manual transmission. Plan on shelling out an additional two grand for an automatic.
A more popular option will probably be the Soul + (plus), the midrange version of the car. One we tested cost $24,010 out the door. At that price you get a navigation system, automatic climate control and the Primo package with more goodies than an overloaded piñata.
Kia’s top-of-the-line model is the Soul ! (exclaim). This version starts around $21,000, including shipping and handling. Check every single options box and plan on spending 27 large.
Overall, prices are up anywhere from $300 to $500 compared to today’s Soul, but this increase is offset by more standard features.
If you dig the Soul’s boxy design there’s a lot to love. With the 2014 model Kia’s designers and engineers have produced a vehicle that’s fun and functional, stylish and purposeful, refined and exuberant. That’s no easy task, especially in a product that starts at about 15 grand. Sweetening the deal, it even provides an entertaining drive.
Because of these virtues it looks like Kia will maintain its market success with the 2014 Soul. The xB and Nissan Cube don’t stand a chance.