Test Drive: Kia Soul gets new design for 2014

Test Drive: Kia Soul gets new design for 2014

May 31st, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The redesigned Kia Soul is bigger than last year's model.

Photo by Mark Kennedy/Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

* Model: Kia Soul ! (Exclaim)

* Exterior color: Fathom Blue

* Interior color: Black

* Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder

* Horsepower: 164

* Transmission: six-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 31 mpg highway, 23 mpg city

* Dealer: Pye Kia (Dalton, Ga.)

* Price (as tested, after discounts): $22,988

When the first-generation Kia Soul hit the market in 2009, it was part of a wave of boxy, urban commuter cars (think Nissan Cube and Scion xB). But it has since emerged from the pack as the sales star of the segment.

In unit sales, the Soul now trails only the popular, mid-size Optima in the Kia line-up, and it gets some important design and mechanical upgrades for the 2014 model year that should keep its sales trending upward.

The second-generation Soul is a Hot Wheels car come to life, with its trapezoidal profile a good example of the modern car designer's art. In most modern vehicle designs, the exterior designers and those in charge of interior ergonomics are locked in a tug-of-war. The sheet-metal boys want jazzy horizontal lines and made-for-the-wind-tunnel aerodynamics. Meanwhile, the interior team wants expansive outward sight-lines and an abundance of head and shoulder room. Vehicles like the Soul prove that you can have it both ways, making a fun, funky vehicle with the basic proportions of a bread box.

Our test car, painted Fathom Blue, has a $24,415 MSRP with an asking price this week of $22,988 at Pye Kia down the road in Dalton, Ga. Base Souls with automatic transmissions start at about $16,200. It's a lot of car for the money.

FEATURES AND STYLING

When it hit the road a half-decade ago, the Kia Soul, which the manufacturer calls an "urban hatchback," was a polarizing vehicle. Some loved its unconventional dimensions and thrifty power-train, while others withheld judgment to see if the design would age well or wither. Thankfully for Kia, the target market, young drivers, fell in love with the cute little Soul and its TV pitchmen, a group of hyperactive hamsters.

Now, even older drivers (mainly empty-nesters) have embraced the Soul, according to Conrad Easley, a sales consultant at Pye Kia. Unlike lots of compact vehicles, which can be a tight squeeze for some of us, um, mature drivers; the Soul has tons of hip and shoulder room. It takes a glance in the rear-view mirror to remember that you're in a vehicle that measures only 163 inches from tip to tail. The back seat, too, has lots of leg room, and a panoramic sun roof adds to the sensation of cruising in wide, open spaces.

Seat comfort is an often overlooked quality when customers take a test drive but crucial if you do a lot of highway driving. The Soul's seats are firm and supporting in the right spots. If you're long-legged, the seat bottoms are especially generous.

The Soul comes in three trim levels: Base, Plus and Exclaim. On top of that, several available option packages make the possible build combinations virtually endless. The Base comes with a 1.6 liter, 130 horsepower engine, and both the Plus and Exclaim trim levels include a 2.0-liter, 164-horsepower engine. If you plan to do much highway driving, the bigger 2.0-liter engine is clearly the better choice.

Even the base Soul comes with standard Bluetooth connectivity and four-wheel disc brakes. The Soul Plus adds remote keyless entry, steering-wheel mounted controls and 17-inch alloys. Souls in Exclaim trim, such as our tester, also include power folding outside mirrors, LED front headlights lights and a telematics system called UVO eServices.

Our tester also comes with a Sun and Sound package which includes an upgraded Infinity sound system, automatic climate control and the panoramic sunroof. Kia also offers a Whole Shabang package (yes, that's what they call it, and how Kia spells it), that includes heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, push-button start and leather seating surfaces.

DRVING IMPRESSIONS

Car and Driver estimates the 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter motor will propel the Kia hatchback from 0-60 mph in just over eight seconds. Extra body welds add rigidity and and boost ride comfort. Overall, the Kia is solid and well composed. New this year is direct fuel injection, which has a negligible impact on horsepower but adds a little torque and better fuel economy. Our tester is rated by the government at 31 miles per gallon highway and 23 mpg city.

I tried out the rear seat and was impressed with both leg room and head room. The back seat is a comfortable place to be, even for teenagers and adults. Although technically a five-passenger vehicle, it's more practical for four or fewer occupants.

BOTTOM LINE

The Soul has earned a permanent place in the hatchback universe. For first-time buyers and empty-nesters it's a hip, thrifty little ride. And with Kia's industry-leading 100,000 mile powertrain warranty; the Soul promises years of worry-free motoring.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.