With an exterior that is distinctive to the point of being divisive and a quirky interior, the Kia Soul is a latecomer to the funky compact crossover segment. The Soul is aimed at the same urban, style-conscious, hip consumer as established competition such as the Scion xB ad Mini Cooper, and other models also introduced around the Soul’s 2009 debut, like the Nissan Cube and Hyundai Veloster.
Kia Soul Origins
The Kia Soul was introduced in 2009 as Kia’s entrant into the urban compact multi-purpose vehicle segment. While Kia was already producing the Forte in the compact car range, they were in search of a hip, boxy vehicle that could make Kia relevant to the younger generation. The first-generation Soul complements the Forte while filling the gap between that model and the larger Sportage.
About the Kia Soul
The Kia Soul is a vehicle designed for style-conscious urban consumers in search of an economy car that can also hold plenty of cargo. The Kia Soul provides a neat, flashy cabin, good fuel economy, plenty of cargo space, high-tech amenities, and all for a nice low price. Supporting this is Kia’s developing reputation for competence and value.
Kia Soul Features
The Kia Soul is available in three different trim levels, the base level, the + level, and the ! level. From the outside, there is no real difference between these levels. The front end is centered on Kia’s Tiger Nose corporate grille, with large headlights bookending it on the front fascia. Combined with the large trapezoidal lower front fascia, from straight on the Kia looks a bit like a bulldog. The front end is rounded back into the hood, but this design changes a bit when it comes to the cabin area, going from rounded and car-like to boxy and van-like at the rear. The beltline angles up from the hood, while the roofline angles down from the front to the back, turning down to a nearly vertical rear hatch. With four doors, this angling combined with flared wheel wells helps to keep the Soul from appearing slab-sided. A few options are available to customize the exterior, mainly three different sizes of wheels, upgraded headlights, power-folding and heated mirrors, and a sunroof. All of this comes together in styling that is either instantly likeable or not, with no real middle ground.
Underneath this exterior is a roomy, practical, and stylish interior, with plenty of standard and optional features. Thanks to the boxy exterior of the Kia Soul, there is copious head and leg room in both the front and back rows. Behind the rear seats is 19 cubic feet of storage in a very usable layout, and this is increased to 53 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, slightly above average for the segment. Fabric is the standard upholstery option available, although a two-tone houndstooth fabric or leather is available for an upgrade. The dash, constructed of hard plastic, provides a modern look and is easy to navigate, while the rest of the cabin continues to be mostly hard plastic, which feels a bit cheap but is put together nice and tight.
The variety of trims for the Kia Soul might be a bit difficult to figure out, but they all come with plenty of features standard as well as available as packages or stand-alone upgrades. All models get standard climate control, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, steering wheel with tilt and telescoping capabilities, and a CD stereo with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs. Moving up in trim to the + model, or available as individual options on the base model, cruise control and Bluetooth capabilities are added. On the top-of-the-line ! trim, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system with speaker lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and the UVO media player interface is standard, while they all can be had as options on the lower models. Other available features for the Soul include heated front seats, automatic climate control, and a navigation system with a touchscreen.
Under the hood of the Kia Soul is a 1.6-liter engine producing 135 horsepower and providing adequate fuel economy, although the optional 2.0-liter engine provides 164 horsepower while having essentially identical fuel economy. The 2.0-liter should be the preferred engine, especially if the Soul is being used for moving a full load of passengers and cargo. The larger engine also makes the six-speed, automatic transmission feel better, as with the 1.6-liter the automatic lags and has rough shift changes at low speeds. A six-speed manual can help the 1.6-liter perform better, but it has long throws and a long, heavy clutch. When the 2.0-liter is combined with the automatic transmission, it makes the Soul feel crisp and taut. The steering is precise, although the suspension has a bit more bounce than is preferred.
Kia Soul Evolution
The Kia Soul has only been around since the 2010 model year, but has seen some significant changes in that time. The original model year had rear drum brakes that were changed to disc brakes for 2011. Also changed were the rear shock absorbers, providing for a smoother ride in later models. For the 2012 model year, a number of changes were made to the Soul, including six-speed automatic and manual transmissions in place of the previous four-speed automatic and five-speed manual, updated engines with additional power yet better fuel efficiency, revised steering, updated interior, and exterior styling and new technology options.