The design is a love-it or hate-it. It’s short, squatty and square. The Soul reminds me of what might happen if you placed a large SUV into one of the crushing machines at the junkyard and stopped it short of its full crush-cycle.
There are benefits to its square-ness, the main one being roominess. Think of it like a house. A Cape Cod has an aggressive roofline that limits closet space and headroom upstairs. Because of the Soul’s almost 90-degree vertical pillars it feels roomy inside and would probably be considered livable square footage in NYC. This also means the Soul has great rear cargo space. With the rear seats folded down the Soul has a rear cargo volume of 54.3 cubic feet or 407 gallons of ice cream (1 cu ft = 7.5 gals of ice cream).
The Kia’s front end sports a larger version of the iconic pinched tiger nose grill. Only the highest trim model, the Kia! (Kia Exclaim), is available with LED running lights and projector headlamps. The base and + (plus) models are equipped with standard headlights. I will continue to beat the well-deceased horse – automakers should make every effort to make projection headlamps available in all trim models, if for no other reason than safety.
The Soul on loan to me was a 2012 +. The sole additional equipment on the car was a $95.00 set of floor mats, brining the total MSRP to $17, 145. The Soul was equipped with the six-speed manual transmission and came standard with Kia’s Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC). This option is standard on all models of Soul with the manual transmission and keeps the vehicle from rolling while taking off from inclined positions. While there are not many hills in the DC area I’m sure it helped add some life to the clutch seeing how I hadn’t been behind the wheel of a manual for a year. When leaving from an incline you notice right away how helpful this little bit of technology is.
The shifting involvement wasn’t anything exceptional. The higher seating position made the shifts seem very long like driving a small truck. Finding the gears was easy and the clutch uptake was smooth and submissive, much like you might anticipate in a small fuel-efficient cargo vehicle.
All of the Soul’s come with either Kia’s 1.6L I4 or 2.0L I4. The + and ! model gets the larger of the engines giving them a bump in power, from 138hp/123ft.lbs to 164hp/148ft lbs. respectfully. While I didn’t have the opportunity to drive the 1.6L to compare the difference in power, acceleration in the Soul matted to the 2.0L was respectable and didn’t require a great deal of work from the engine. The power was more than adequate for day-to-day duties. The ability to select my own gears made getting the most out of the 4-cyclinder much easier. Depending on the calibration of the automatic transmission, it may feel actually feel quicker than the manual, but may shift sooner for economic reasons. I did not have an opportunity to drive the automatic.
The SOUL doesn’t come off as ‘sporty’; after all it is a box, the most non-aerodynamic shape in automotive design. What it does do well is practical fun. We took the Soul to a crab house on the east coast of Maryland. We encountered plenty of winding back roads, dips and mild-sweepers. Seeing how I had baby and wife in the car, these were taken at the recommended speeds. The Soul was fun, but most of that was largely due to the ability stay in a gear longer through a corner. Like I said, it had been awhile since I’d driven a manual, I was in heaven, even with the long throws. An automatic would have made this less exciting.
Inside the cabin you are greeted to mostly plastic and cloth. Keep in mind; this is a $17,000 vehicle. While the cabin may lack Italian leather, it never really feels ‘cheap.’ The center section of the seat is covered in a material imprinted with a pattern of the word Soul. My wife thought this was ‘very cool.’ The seats were firm, but I wouldn’t call them comfortable. After 2 hrs behind the wheel they started to feel a little hard.
Standard in every Soul is Bluetooth and a USB connection, options typically reserved for higher end. They add a sense of premium to what can be best described as a functional (no frills) interior. My one gripe concerning the USB connection was that I never did fully comprehend how to traverse through my music. The whole songs vs. folders via the iPod interface left me scratching my head. One minute I was listening to The Beancast and next it was Bone Thugs in Harmony. The orange backlit screen gave very little info or direction. I’m sure had I read the manual I could have figured it out. But – I am man. I don’t do manuals.
The Bluetooth was easy to connect to my iPhone and it worked, well. Nothing fancy, just a quick connection with a rational pairing process. Bravo for keeping it simple, Kia.
I have to admit that during my week in the Kia I failed to keep a fuel log or note the actual fuel economy I attained. The EPA estimates the fuel economy of the 2.0L I4 at 26/34 and 27/35 for the Base model with the 1.6L engine. Numbers are unchanged between the automatic and manual, which typically lean towards a manual being a bit more fuel-efficient. For the 2012 model year Kia replaced the SOUL’s 4-speed auto (2.0L 24/30mpg; 1.6 26/31mpg) and 5-speed manual (2.0L 24/30; 1.6 26/31mpg) with new 6-speed variations to improve acceleration and improve fuel economy. This would be something to keep in mind if you are looking at used models.
The Soul is a very capable vehicle. Given its price (a big factor in my evaluation) its fuel economy, cargo room, design and digital connectivity; it really is in a niche of its own. While the Soul is classified as a 5-door hatchback, I doubt it is cross-shopped with others in that class which tend to have more of a sporty-pedigree, such as the Mazda3 or Subaru Impreza.
This Soul seems aimed at giving buyers cargo room, safety and fuel economy at an inexpensive price-point. This would be a perfect vehicle for the light DIYer, first time parents or a college DJ. For anyone who needs a low-cost way to move people and stuff around in style (subjective, I know) and isn’t seeking sports-car-like handling, the Soul is your perfect vehicle.