This 2014 Kia Soul is pretty decked out with the “Whole Shebang” and “Sun and Sound” package -- heated and cooled seats, navigation, panoramic sunroof, and heated rear seats are all on the docket -- as is the great Infinity sound system. (The radio was acting a little wonky with my iPhone, though.) Oh, and a heated steering wheel! Nice.
It handled the snow and ice well. Front-wheel drive helped, as did the 164-hp four-cylinder. It coasted over most of the new potholes without making me wince. Overall, the cabin seemed pretty insulated from the road and wind noise.
I would choose this boxy vehicle over the Nissan Cube, mostly because of the regular automatic transmission. But I still think you could get nearly as much utility and more fun from one of the great hatchbacks out there at about the same price or less.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I'm surprised that the Kia Soul has only been sold here since 2010. The quirky compact seems like it's been around a lot longer than that, for better or for worse; the time was ripe for a refresh. Fortunately, the 2014 Soul keeps a lot of the car's weird factor (including the goofy trim level names), but gets cleaned up both inside and out.
If you didn't like the look of the last car, this new one probably won't do it for you either -- proportions are the same, and colors are just as polarizing. But if you do like it, you'll appreciate the small refinements like cleaner lines and upmarket features including automatic power-folding mirrors.
Oh, and that music-sensitive interior mood lighting is still there as well. I could take it or leave it, but it's a cute concept.
Fortunately, improvements run deeper than new sheetmetal and tacked-on gadgets. The Soul may not be, in the words of Kia, “totally transformed,” but it does feel like it's been thoroughly massaged from the wheels up. The suspension has been reworked, for one, and it's noticeable. The last Soul was a little bit tippy around corners and during lane changes. It was never enough to be unsettling, mind you, but enough to ring a few alarm bells.
This car is less top-heavy, better planted and generally more solid on the road. The few Soul buyers who will push their cars -- along with anyone who accidentally takes an off-ramp a little too quickly -- will appreciate the improvements, which contribute greatly to driver confidence.
I've probably said this before, but it's really easy to evaluate everything we get in our fleet as if it were a performance car. This Soul is not a performance car on paper and will definitely not be mistaken for one on the road. But styling moves sheetmetal, too, and you're not really paying a premium for a distinctive look here. Our tester was a hefty $26,195, but you won't be paying less for a comparably equipped sedan or hatch. Plus, prices for this unique five-door (if that really is the right classification for it) start at around $15,000.
If you liked the old Soul, you're going to like this one better. If you've never really contemplated the model before, it wouldn't hurt to give the 2014 flavor a whirl. It's kind of fun, I promise.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: Kia tries hard to present this as the ultimate hipster, youth-mover, as witnessed by the thumpin' audio system and the ad campaign with the trimmed-down weasels or whatever specimen of rodentia they are. But the dirty little secret of the Soul! (the ! signifies the top trim level) is that this thing is mighty practical for everyday family tasks. While Kia wants you to think Soul! buyers are hauling beautiful supermodels out for a night of clubbing, the reality is that owners are far more likely to be hauling a carpool full of tweens to middle school. It'll work well for either task. All the backpacks fit easily in the back and there's lots of room for four of them plus a driver in the seats. Flip down the seats and haul bigger items. Empty the seats and drive alone.
But alone you'll notice the somewhat loud engine and start to feel how little power it has. The 164-hp 2.0-liter four banger felt a little strained pulling around the 2837-pound Soul! With the all-new Soul (I refuse to continue typing that exclamation mark) the curb weight went up while the peak horsepower and torque went down. So despite improved handling due to suspension upgrades on the 2014 model, don't expect sportiness. But then, what high-topped five-door hatch is sporty? And who wants sportiness here, anyway?
What these buyers want is all that connectivity stuff, like: a new android-based next-gen NAV system, a suite of UVO eServices, an 8-inch capacitive touch control audio/video display and a 10-speaker premium 350-watt Infinity audio system with pulsating LED speaker rings, panoramic sun roof, xenon headlights, LED taillights, pushbutton start, a roof rack that plugs right into the roof, 10-way power driver's seat and heated and ventilated front and rear seats.
So the Kia Soul is less about what we traditionally thought of as the driving experience – handling, performance, feedback - and more about what you experience, or are entertained by, while driving. Whatever your opinion on that, it seems to be the way of the future, as Kia is selling over 100,000 of these.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR, WEST COAST BLAKE Z. RONG Squircles. Squircles everywhere. Remember those lil' buggers? Rounded-off squares or rectangles, square circles—a cute little word for such a cute little car. The Kia Soul! -- its actual name, and let's go into that in a minute -- is full of 'em. Can you engineer charm? Kia certainly thinks so. And the good news? Kia was successful in doing just that.
The 2014 Soul starts off looking purposely awkward and hopelessly square, shaped and proportioned like Winston Churchill's bulldog—squat, aggressive, but in an oh-so-cute way that's ultimately harmless. It's like the doughy fourth cousin of a military vehicle. Climb inside: the austerely square doors are what give off the Soul's pseudo-utility vibe. Everything inside is rounded, soft, and a size too small for human drivers. If Fisher-Price designed a car, it'd still end up looking like a Dodge Charger compared to this.
Charming to look at, but also charming to drive. Despite sitting high and upright, the Soul is comfortable to drive exuberantly: it feels light and agile, something to be expected as it weighs a scant 2,837 lbs (in our trim). The added lightness means you can have some fun with this car. It will take onramps with eagerness and corners with minimal tire squeal. Steering is accurate, and even has some feel to it (a common gripe with Hyundai/Kia cars). The steering resistance is switchable—Normal is pretty good, Sport is a bit heavier, but Comfort is flimsy enough to remind former Buick LeSabre owners of familiarity. Its six-speed automatic shifts so quickly I had to check to see if it wasn't a programmed CVT or budget-priced dual-clutch frippery. 164 horsepower is definitely enough for this car, but there's some eco-minded lag in throttle response.
I like UVO a lot—it's clear that Kia has spent a lot of time paying attention to common shortcomings of in-car multimedia systems. The screen is high-res, the map moves and scrolls quickly, and the graphics are handsome—the font Kia uses for the Soul looks like it came from computers in a sci-fi movie. Two bugs, however: satellite radio takes an achingly long time to load, and UVO always defaults to the first MP3 track instead of audio from other smartphone apps. What if I want to listen to a podcast, or a Youtube video? It's a surprisingly annoying gripe -- after wrestling with it for a good five minutes, I was ready to punch a hamster.
The pushbutton start really should be located next to the steering column instead of by the shifter—there's plenty of room for it. And our Sun & Sound Package included speaker lights, which are supposed to provide a bass-thumping techno-lightshow but really flicker intermittently when squares like me listen to NPR.
And Kia's gone all crazy with naming schemes: potential shoppers can get the base Soul, ingeniously named "Soul Base." (Soup Base? Saul Bass?) Or, they can step it up to an array of symbols guaranteed to annoy the computers at the DMV. In the middle is the Soul+. Our car, at the top of the range, was the Soul! The exclamation mark is included! Tom Wolfe must have named this car! Yes!
Ahem. Our Soul! (that's going to get old after a while) also came with The Whole Shebang Package, where Shebang seems to mean "for frost-bitten Northeastern residents." Heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats are lavish for our $26,195 as-tested price. Your friends will be impressed.
It's not known whether the goofy trim names add to the charm or feel a bit forced, like those pink fluffy mustaches on cars before Lyft adopted them. But it could be worse. In Europe, you can buy a "cee'd", or a "pro_cee'd" if you're a professional cee'd driver, apparently, who likes underscores. Apostrophes are standard equipment. But the Soul is a great little car even without the adventures in punctuation—or those damned hamsters, which at this point dive headfirst deep into the uncanny valley.
2014 Kia Soul
Base Price: $21,095
As-Tested Price: $26,195
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter I4; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 164 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,837 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 23/31/26 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 24.7 mpg
Options: “Sun and Sound” package including automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, navigation with 8-inch screen & Sirius/XM traffic, Infinity audio system, speaker lights ($2,600); “Whole Shebang” package including HID low-beam headlights, push button start w/ smart key, leather seat trim, heated & ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, heated steering wheel, supervision meter cluster with 4.3-inch color LCD, engine immobilizer ($2,500).
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