2014 Kia Soul review
By Doug Newcomb of MSN Autos
The Kia Soul has done something other compact "box" cars haven't: become a consistently strong seller. By comparison, the Honda Element kicked off the boxy car genre but sales quickly declined after its introduction in 2001. The Scion xB followed a similar path and sales stalled with its redesign in 2008, while the Nissan cube never quite gained market traction.
The Kia Soul was a hit right out the gate when it debuted in 2009, and went on to become the company's second-highest volume leader, behind the Sorrento. And while the Soul's square, offbeat style may be polarizing, it appeals to budget-car shoppers looking for something more than a cookie-cutter compact. Add to this the Soul's practical utility due to its size and low price, sweeten the deal with its generous in-cabin technology, and it's easy to understand why the Soul has staying power.
The original Kia Soul is a tough act to follow; but the redesigned 2014 Soul avoids the sophomore slump. Improvements in ride quality and interior refinement will likely make this budget-priced crossover continue to stand out from the crowd in both looks and in sales.
The Soul Plus that starts at $18,200 adds standard 17-inch alloy wheels, outside mirror turn-signal indicators and a gloss-black front upper grille with a chrome bezel to separate it from the look of the base trim. Available options include a rear display camera, navigation, a 350-watt Infinity audio system with "mood lighting," front-door speakers and a panoramic sunroof. Kia notes that the Plus offers the only ventilated front driver and passenger seats available as an option in this segment, as well as front and rear heated seats and a heated steering wheel.
The top-of-the-line Exclaim starts at $20,300 and comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, projector head lights, front LED positioning lights, rear LED "halo" lights, power folding outside mirrors and a backup camera. Buyers can add many of the same options available on the Plus — navigation, Infinity audio, panoramic sunroof, driver and front passenger ventilated seats and heated seats all around — as well as an instrument cluster TFT LCD screen, HID headlights, push-button start and a cooled glove box.
Under the hood
Estimated fuel economy for the Base Soul with the 1.6-liter engine is 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway with both the manual and automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter engine that powers the Plus and Exclaim gets an estimated fuel economy of 24/31 mpg.
The new Soul is a bit longer (by 0.8 inches) and wider (by 0.6 inches) than the previous version, allowing Kia to squeeze a bit more passenger space from the interior. Driver and front passenger legroom is increased by 0.8 inches, while rear legroom is up 0.2 inches and front seat shoulder room is up 0.3 inches. And even with a slightly reduced overall height (by 0.4 inches), front headroom gained 0.2 inches. Overall cargo capacity has also grown by a half cubic foot.
Though you'd would never mistake the interior of the Soul for a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or even the new CLA budget-Benz, it is a cut above others in this segment, especially in terms of infotainment. Driving an Exclaim trim level on our test drive, we were immediately struck by the massive size of the 8-inch touch screen in the center of the dash. The Soul's touch screen looks — and operates — better than infotainment controller and display combos in many luxury cars, including Mercedes-Benz and its clunky Command system. Equally impressive for this segment is the optional TFT LCD instrument cluster screen that displays turn-by-turn directions from the navigation system, audio information, fuel economy and more.
On the road
Handling is noticeably better, which Kia attributes to the 2014 Soul's all-new chassis being about 30 percent stiffer than the previous model, and that the vehicle features a completely revised front and rear suspension. The new Soul is also noticeably quieter than its predecessor due to what Kia calls "liberal use" of expansion foam (instead of previously used block foam) to fill body cavities and help reduce wind and road noise. Kia claims overall interior noise level is approximately 3 decibels less.
Right for you?
The Kia Soul has not only survived but surpassed other box cars that have fallen out of favor. And the latest version significantly improves on the appeal of the previous model without sacrificing its quirky style. So if you're looking for a low-cost crossover-type vehicle that offers good value, the Soul shows it's hip — and sensible — to be square.
Doug Newcomb has been writing about automotive-related topics since 1988. His work has appeared in Consumers Digest, Road & Track, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and many other publications. His book, "Car Audio for Dummies," is available from Wiley Publishing.