2014 Kia Soul

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2014 Kia Soul review

By Doug Newcomb of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.0

Bottom Line:

Bottom line: The 2014 Kia Soul takes what was good about the previous model – and “box” cars in general – and makes it even better. If you want an economy car with exterior styling that stands out and an interior that offers more bang for the buck, the new Soul is an easy sell and will likely have staying power.
Pros:
  • Improved handling
  • Quiet interior
  • Above-its-class infotainment technology
Cons:
  • Weak performance
  • Interior styling that runs in circles
  • Love-it-or-hate-it exterior styling

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.

View Pictures:  2014 Kia Soul

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.

Model lineup
The Soul comes in three trim levels. At $14,700, the base Soul has plenty of standard amenities even for the lowest rung of an entry-level model. These include power windows and door locks, a telescoping steering wheel, heated outside mirrors, hill-start assist control, and a 6-speaker stereo system with Bluetooth, satellite radio and USB and auxiliary-in ports. Options include remote keyless entry, 16-inch alloy wheels and cruise control.

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
The base Soul is powered by an all-aluminum double-overhead-cam 4-cylinder 1.6-liter engine that produces 130 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 118 lb-ft of torque at 4850 rpm. It's mated to a 6-speed manual transmission and a 6-speed automatic is optional. A similar 2.0-liter engine rated at 164 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at a 4000 rpm with a 6-speed automatic transmission is standard on the Plus and Exclaim trim levels.

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.

Inner space
Like the exterior, the interior of the Kia isn't subtle. The door panels incorporate what Kia calls "sculpted circles." The theme is carried through to the "floating" housings for the outer dash speakers that appear not quite recessed and ready to rise out of the dash (but don't). More roundness is found on the steering-wheel controls that are arranged in circles on the middle spokes. The instrument cluster features deeply recessed and, of course, circular gauges.

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
The previous Kia Soul exceled in many ways, but performance was never a hallmark. And that's one thing that hasn't changed. The 2014 Soul felt sluggish when asked to get up and go at almost any speed, even though Kia claims that torque from zero to 30 mph has improved. While buyers don't really expect great acceleration or handling in this segment, the Soul's bulk and top-heavy design don't help.

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?
Like most automakers — or marketers in general — Kia is chasing the coveted Gen Y buyers with the 2014 Soul. As with the Honda Element and Scion xB, actual buyers of the Soul range from retirees to teenagers, and Kia probably doesn't care as long as the Soul continues to be a sales star.

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.

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BB01 - 8/22/2014 1:17:15 PM