Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reviewed: 2010 Kia Soul. Price, performance, and personality.

Since taking possession of the 2010 Kia Soul, I've gotten quite a few comments from friends and onlookers. However, “Does it come with hamsters?” is the comment I've heard the most. A lot of people already know what this vehicle is—a testament to Kia's marketing efforts.

The Short Story
Pros: Good power; outstanding stereo; lots of standard features. A lot of car for the cash.
Cons: Flat front seats; uncomfortable center armrest; less refined drivetrain than the competition.
Verdict: Lots to offer at a very reasonable price. Definitely a Kia to consider.
Undoubtedly, the Soul is targeting the Scion crowd, and it may have hit near the bullseye. As of July, the Soul has already outsold the 2009 xB by 1,623 units. When showing a current Scion xB owner the Soul, even he said the Soul will probably steal away some potential Scion owners. With it's edgy looks, ability to customize from the dealership, and desirable features, the real question is will potential Scion owners shop for a Kia?

Kia has been an automotive up and comer for the last few years. Increasing quality, appealing products, and a great warranty have all helped boost the brand and attract buyers. Kia has always offered a lot of bang for the buck, but hasn't been known for being, well, “hip.” However, the Kia Soul is changing that.

My test model was a manual-transmission-equipped 2010 Soul Sport (an automatic is available). The only option on the car was a $700 sunroof, which brought the test model's price to $18,345. For this price, buyers get a lot of stuff: 18” wheels; a 2.0-liter, 142 hp engine with continuously variable valve timing; cruise control; power everything; fog lamps; a spoiler; a outstanding stereo; Bluetooth connectivity; USB and auxiliary ports; and traction control, stability control, and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock.

Exterior Styling: Funky for sure
Like it or not, the Soul is distinctive, make no mistake about it, and I like the looks. Its big wheels, unique stance, and pseudo-sloping roofline set it apart from other vehicles in its class. Speaking of which, I thought the roof actually was angled, but the use of a level showed otherwise. It's actually the windows that create the effect.

My test vehicle came in “Molten Red,” with a coordinating red-trimmed interior; more on that later. There are fog lights, black door molding to resist door dings, and privacy glass. The rear end has high-mount taillights, and a rear hatch that opens vertically. Even if you're not a fan of the styling, there's no denying that it is different.

One thing that struck me about the Soul's stance is the lower rear bumper area. There isn't much of an apron, which makes it look higher off the ground than it really is. Vehicles, such as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube tend to look like they're sitting a bit lower. No worries about departure angles, though! Regardless, the Soul does have an athletic look to it.

Wheels/Tires: Big, wide shoes
Adding to the Soul Sport's sporty looks are the big 18” alloy wheels wrapped in wide 225/45/18 Nexen tires. These shoes not only look good, but provide substantial grip, although the low-profile tires do slightly decrease ride quality. People living in the country's snow belt may want to invest in a set of winter tires though, as the tires are pretty wide, especially for a vehicle weighing 2,800 lbs.

Suspension: Sporty but firm
The Soul Sport has a pretty taught suspension; it almost feels as if the vehicle rides on aftermarket lowering springs, minus the low ride height. Passengers did notice the firm ride, but no one complained. It is, however, quite noticeable over broken or imperfect pavement. Not bad on the freeways around Portland, though. Hey, it's the Sport model, right?

The handling, however, makes up for any shortcomings in ride quality (yes, indeed, it is the Sport model!). The combination of firm suspension, quick steering, and wide tires all come together to make this vehicle fun to drive in the twisties. Although, every now and then, the traction control seemed a bit invasive under spirited driving. Thankfully, it can be deactivated with the push of a button.

Not super refined, but plenty of power

The Soul Sport is equipped with a 16-valve, 2.0-liter, DOHC engine with continuous variable valve timing (CVVT), and a five-speed manual transmission. I've driven other Korean-made vehicles with manual transmissions (both the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent), and did not like their shifters. However, the Soul's transmission feels better. Shifter action is very easy, although the gates aren't superbly defined. Clutch uptake is also very good and predictable; starting out on the steepest hills was no sweat. My biggest transmission gripe is the reverse lockout feature. A few times I would be in reverse, and go into what I thought was first gear, only to find myself still in reverse.

The 2.0-liter engine makes 142 hp and twists 137 ft./lbs. of torque; plenty of power to make the Soul scoot, especially through first and second gears—great for city use. Above 3,500 RPM, the engine gets a bit noisy. There also seems to be a fair amount of geartrain noise; it's quite mechanical sounding at times, actually. Although it may not be quite as refined as some of the Japanese counterparts, the driveline makes good use of its power, and is entertaining to drive. One more note, there's no drive-by-wire throttle here. Kia opted for a cable-actuated throttle, which is fine by me.

For the all-important fuel economy, the Soul Sport with the manual trans is rated at 24/30, and I got 24 MPG, although, I'm sure I could've achieved better.

Safety: Lots-o-features
You get a lot of safety equipment on the Soul. Standard ABS, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Front, side, and curtain airbags, and active headrests. The Soul earned a top safety rating by the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) on August 13.

Interior: Functional, funky, fun
Upon first glance (and second, third, and so on), the Soul's interior looks cool, and I got that reaction from just about everyone that saw it. As I mentioned, its red-and-black theme works well without being garish. Overall interior quality is decent. Yes, there's a lot of plastic, but fit, finish, and tolerances are good; a great improvement compared to Kia's early vehicle offerings.

The front bucket seats, however, were not my favorite. I found them flat and hard. You feel like you're sitting on the seats, not in them. Additional bolstering and lumbar would've be great, so you don't slide around when utilizing that sporty suspension. They do, however, easily accommodate some of my taller friends who are about 6'5.

Looking towards the rear, the back seats were comfortable and offer ample room for taller passengers, so long as the front seats aren't moved all the way back. My friend Jackie sat in the Soul's back seat on an hour trip to wine country; she had no complaints about the comfort.

The cargo area behind the rear seats is ample, too. The floor lifts up to reveal a plethora of cubbys molded into Styrofoam. Under the cubbys resides the spare tire and jack. In addition, the 60/40 split rear seats fold nearly flat. This allows the Soul to swallow a lot of cargo. A quick trip to Costco and the grocery store was no match for the Soul; neither was a trip to go Goodwill to drop off a TV and a chair. The Soul has usable space in spades.

A few other interior gripes, though: The center console armrest is hard plastic, and becomes uncomfortable quickly. When carrying a passenger, I was forever bumping elbows with them. Secondly, the doors are tall, making it rather uncomfortable do drive with your elbow out the window. So much for my “trucker's tan.”

: A standout feature
When it's time to turn up the tunes, the Soul Sport's sound system has great performance. This is a powerful system (315 watts) with crisp highs and deep lows. In fact, it was one of the nicest factory stereos I've heard in a long time, especially for a vehicle under 20K. My wife agreed, saying, “I wish the stereo in my [Suzuki SX4] sounded this good.” Kia includes a complimentary three-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio, which is great.

The test vehicle also had the optional “speaker lights,” which can pulse along with the music, be on a “mood” setting, be on all the time, turned off. Passengers had mixed reactions about the lights; I could live without them.

Another cool feature was the Bluetooth connectivity, which was easy to use. Simply sync a Bluetooth-enabled phone to the Soul, and press the button on the steering wheel. Say, “call,” and follow the voice-prompted directions. Although I don't encourage talking on the phone and driving, it would be handy for anyone running a business on the go.

The Soul also has an auxiliary input, a USB port, and a cord to connect and control your iPod using the stereo.

A great mixture of price, performance, and personality
There's no doubt about it: You do indeed get a lot for your money with the Kia Soul Sport. From the great stereo with the latest features, to a cool-looking set of wheels. The Soul performs well, doesn't guzzle fuel, and looks hip—and it's got personality. People looking to save some cash (and fuel) can get into a base-model Kia Soul for about $14,000, which includes a smaller 1.6-liter engine, and fewer of the doo-dads and cool features. But, for the extra cash, you get a lot with t he Sport model.

Regardless which Soul buyers opt for, it's fair to say that this is the most “soulful” Kia ever produced. Aftermarket parts are also starting to become available, which could give this car even more appeal. It certainly seems to be aiming for the right demographics, and could steal some of Scion's thunder—and customers.

Kia Soul Forums


hodad66 said...

Nice review dude..... been reading your stuff while I was waiting to get my Alien + Soul. (lease end) You pretty much nailed it.

I'm really enjoying mine and love the sound system (and mine is only the stock one). The seats were very different than my Miata seats but after a month they feel like home.

This is a fun vehicle that is already creating quite a community of owners. Thanks for the review.

sleeksilver said...

Nice review Andy!

I stopped by a Kia dealership a couple of weeks ago to check one out and I was impressed. The interior really is fantastic for an inexpensive vehicle.

adamaoc said...

Great review! I think Kia really hit on something with this vehicle.

Unknown said...

The roof line makes this car. It's boxy, but it doesn't look like a box. The gradual slope to the rear makes it look like it's moving even when it's standing still. The interior is....cringe worthy. Seriously, it looks like something a bored teenager would do to a normal car interior. Red dash excluded, this is a beautiful Kia. I never thought I'd be able to call a Kia beautiful, but I just did. I think you'd really have to hate red dashboards to get a Dodge Caliber over the Soul. It's just a really good looking car.

By the way Andy, are those the OEM pedals?

D2M said...

I actually really like the Soul. It's one of the alternatives to the Fit that I picked out.


Andy Lilienthal said...

"By the way Andy, are those the OEM pedals?"

Yes, they are.

kia said...

Great review!

The Soul has become a real success for the Kia brand and it is even more successful now when in the second generation.

Hope Kia manages to repeat that when it launches the third generation Soul!