2010 Kia Soul
Base price: $13,300 – $17,900
As tested: $18,595
MPG: 24 city/30 highway
- Attractive styling inside and out
- A nice car for the money
- Surprisingly roomy
- Needs an improved drivetrain
- Suspension needs tweaking
- Heated seats, telescoping steering and auto-dimming mirrors not available
By Jim Prueter
All-new Soul has style, room and is loaded with value
Soul, an all-new vehicle from Korean automaker Kia, joins a growing number of smaller boxy cars like the Scion xB, Honda Element and the soon-to-be- released Nissan Cube, which we tested last week. With Soul, Kia says it hopes to reach the hip Gen-Y buyers who are more interested in room for their friends than horsepower and how quickly a vehicle gets to 60 mph from a dead stop.
Soul is supposed to be cool and funky. However you describe it, we think it has the stuff for a broad appeal that spans several generations of drivers.
The boxy little Soul comes in a choice of four trim levels: base, Soul+ (Soul Plus), the Soul! (Soul Exclaim, our tester for the week), and Soul Sport (sorry, no symbol). All trim levels come standard with a five-speed manual shifter, with the option for a four-speed automatic transmission on all but the base model.
Base Soul gets a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 122 horsepower; others get a 2.0-liter 142-horsepower four-cylinder. All Soul trim levels are front-wheel drive, four-door hatchbacks with a standard five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which is among the best in the industry. One drawback: it isn’t fully transferable to subsequent owners like some other manufacturers’ warranties are.
The base Soul (priced at $13,300) gets you air conditioning, CD stereo with iPod compatibility, power windows and locks and an impressive complement of safety features, including antilock brakes and stability control. Similarly priced entry-level competitors like Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris and Chevy Aveo have crank windows, inferior audio systems and no antilock brakes or stability control.
For a small car, Soul is anything but inside, thanks to the boxy shape that allows for maximum use of space. There is ample headroom, the driver’s seat adjusts for height as well as forward and back. It feels smaller than the xB, and the floor-mounted gearshift and tray intrude on knee movement. A much needed telescoping steering wheel is unavailable across all trim levels, ditto for heated seats — a deal breaker for many drivers.
The backseat has nearly as much room as the front, though three adults will be too snug. On all but the base Soul, there’s a foam cargo tray under the rear floor to hold or hide packages, a camera or other gear. The seat backs fold forward with a single motion to form a flat-load floor easily accessible from the rear liftgate. Space behind the rear seats will hold groceries, golf clubs, small luggage or duffle bags. The rear liftgate makes loading easy.
We like the execution of the dash, with nice styling and controls that are well located, easy to use and attractively lit. Extremely attractive two-tone color combinations match the interior and exterior colors. Though we realize it’s necessary to keep costs down, we’re often critical of manufacturers who overuse hard plastics. But even with all surfaces hard to the touch, the textured finish feels nice and looks great for this price range. It doesn’t work for the center console armrest that should be padded, but isn’t.
Another automotive first is the $400 optional red-lit door-panel speakers that, when turned on, pulse to the beat of the music. If you find it too annoying, they can be switched to a constant glow or turned off completely.
Outside, we loved the looks of the Soul, even if others didn’t. The flat roof angles to the rear making the front door windows larger than the rear. All but the base Soul come standard with dark-tinted solar glass. Wheel blisters are stylish, tail lamps are mounted high on the D pillar. Base Soul gets 15-inch wheels, others get surprisingly large 18-inchers.
But as much as we like the styling inside and out, we were disappointed with the ride and drivetrain. Our 2.0-liter engine was loud and buzzy under acceleration and seemed to breathe heavy when asked to perform. Our five-speed manual shifter felt sloppy from gear to gear with reverse never engaging on the first try.
Soul uses an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar and torsion beam in the rear. It works fine on smooth pavement, but on any uneven surface our Soul rendered a ride that at best could be called forgettable.
Conversely, the Soul is a wonderful urban vehicle that’s easy to park and maneuver, with U-turns a snap even on two-lane roads. Steering is light, brakes certain. It doesn’t handle like a sports car but fast cornering felt controlled.
Standard safety gear includes dual front airbags, front-seat mounted side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags. As of this writing, the Soul has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Many small cars have not done well in crash tests and it may be worth waiting to see how Soul rates when tested.
Overall we think the Kia Soul is one of the better small cars we’ve tested, considering value, but it’s missing a few essential features and needs a better engine and transmission along with some suspension modifications.