Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Driven: 2014 Kia Soul

2014 Kia Soul Driving in Minnesota

When a car company creates an iconic design, it can be very hard to update or improve it. How does a manufacturer freshen up something like the Volkswagen New Beetle, the MINI Cooper, or the Jeep Wrangler, for example, without losing the shape and traits that made it so appealing in the first place? VW, MINI, and Jeep have done a good job updating their well-known designs without leaving people wondering whatever happened to their beloved and iconic vehicles. It’s no small feat to do successfully.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the Scion xB. You’ve probably read my gripes about the xB’s 2008 redesign where it transformed from a small, square, hip subcompact into a larger, thirstier vehicle that barely resembled the xB that people fell in love with. It turns out Scion’s approach with its redesign was a mistake as sales plummeted after the new version hit the market. With the xB in mind, Kia wanted to make sure it didn't lose sight of what made people love the Soul, which has been a runaway success for the Korean automaker. In fact, it’s the company’s number two seller in the U.S. behind the Optima sedan. So what’s a company to do when faced with the redesign of a popular shape that helped put the brand on the map? If you’re Kia, you don’t reinvent the wheel, you simply improve upon it.

Kia says an improvement in dynamics is the most important part of the Soul's remake. A smart move—since the outgoing model’s suspension, interior, and braking could’ve used some tweaking. Kia didn’t deviate too much from the current look and feel, though. They know the Soul’s shape is extremely important and they also knew that people liked its current dimensions, so any increases (or decreases) in size are minimal. Kia put it smartly: Only make it bigger where it makes things better.

2014 Kia Soul taillights

Despite the familiar shape, this is an all-new car. Overall, the vehicle is 28.7% more rigid thanks to high-strength steel. Kia has also redesigned the suspension geometry, changed the shocks to a twin-tube design (vs. a monotube design) with better damping, and gave the Soul improved brake stability. Additionally, Kia added new subframe bushings and used expandable foam in the A-, B-, and C-pillars to quiet noise. All this leads to a more refined Soul and one that simply drives better than earlier models.

Soul will be available in three levels. The Base Soul starts at $14,700 (+$795 delivery). This nets you a 1.6-liter direct-injected engine that makes 130 horsepower and gets 24 city, 30 highway MPG. Step up to a Plus model for $18,200 and you’ll get the 2.0-liter engine making 164 horsepower, a six-speed automatic transmission, and you’ll get an EPA estimated 23/31 MPG. The Exclaim model will run you $20,300, net you the bigger engine, the automatic, as well as a host of other goodies, such as bigger wheels, heated/ventilated seats, more infotainment, and so on and so forth. Again, manual transmission can only be had on the base Soul.

By the way, Kia points out that the Soul is 85% recyclable and 95% recoverable. This means the car can be disassembled vs. simply throwing parts into a landfill.

2014 Kia Soul in Yellow

When you see the redone Soul in the flesh for the first time, you’ll see that the overall styling has been minimally changed. But be sure, they have been changed. It’s almost as if everything got tightened up just a bit The look is a bit more modern, a bit more cohesive, bit more pulled together. You’re certainly not going to question whether or not it’s a Soul, but you may question whether or not it’s a 2014 at first. The rear end is where the change is most apparent to me. The large, wide horizontal panel distinct; Kia maintained the high-mounted tail lamps.

Our drive route took us from downtown Minneapolis towards the Mississippi River, then along picturesque Highway 35 on the Wisconsin side and eventually crossing over to Highway 61 on the Minnesota side. This was a route I was very familiar with, as I drive it nearly every year while visiting family. It’s also a very good place to drive the Soul, since it has a nice mix of highway cruising, country road curves, and stop-and-go driving in the small river towns.

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim Interior
But even before we left the parking lot in Minneapolis, it became instantly apparent that the Soul’s interior had been greatly improved. The previous Soul had hard, flat seats and a good amount of hard plastic throughout. The new interior felt more upscale; almost Volkswagen-esque with its dark colors, silver highlights, and attention to design. I love the speaker pods atop the vents; they look modern and stylish and provide a high-end appeal. The interior quality also feels superior to the previous models, and is easily at the top of its class with other vehicles in the b- and c-segments. The models we drove also had the panoramic roof, and unlike some manufacturers' offerings, this roof actually opens up and isn’t simply a fixed panel.

We briefly toyed around with the infotainment system, which was mostly intuitive. The Infinity stereo sounds very good and yes, you can still get the pulsing LED speaker surrounds if that’s your think. The navigation system worked quite well, as the 8” capacitive touch-screen display had plenty of room to display both the audio and navigation side by side, which was convenient. In addition, the automatic climate control system was easy to use, and I loved the fact our car had both heated and ventilated front leatherette seats. By the way, the rear seats are heated, too. The seats are also much improved, especially compared to early Souls.

Driving the 2014 Kia Soul in Minnesota
Yours truly driving the '14 Kia Soul in Minnesota
As a whole, the new Soul’s driving manners have been substantially upgraded. You can feel the refinement has been raised up a couple of notches. The highway ride is more compliant, although still not the best in the segment, especially with the big wheel and tire package. It is, however, better than the previous models. Due to the rainy conditions, which were somewhat heavy at times, we didn't get to throw the Soul into the corners too much, although I'll be the revised suspension geometry and tuning would prove to be a positive thing. Kia also addressed the last Soul’s brake feel—no more ultra-grabby brakes. Pedal feel is natural and solid.

2014 Kia Soul driving on Interstate 94 in Minnesota

All the cars that were available to drive were the 2.0-liter versions, which will represent the vast majority of sales. Acceleration feels adequate; there's enough gusto for merging onto highways, two-lane passes, and such. A race car it isn't, but it's more than enough grunt. The six-speed automatic had to frequently hunt of the correct gear and would often hang longer than I felt it needed to before upshifting. You can take on the shifting duty yourself by moving the selector into manual mode and tapping the shifter in the up- or downshift direction. Sadly, we have to mourn the loss of a manual transmission, unless you opt for the Base model and the 1.6-liter engine.

The Soul has always delivered a great amount of practicality, style, and value for the money and the 2014 version continues that. It also adds a nice increase in refinement and style that goes a long way. In all honestly, regardless of the fact that Kia flew me to Minnesota and fed me for a day and a half (full disclosure here), the new Soul was redesigned right. Kia has addressed items that needed addressing and left the good things alone. I really appreciate the fact Kia didn't go “big” with the redesigned Soul’s size, too. After all, not all Americans want a big car. And by the way, although the Soul is sold worldwide, it’s most popular here in the U.S. The Soul has been a winner for Kia, and with this redesign, I’ll be willing to bet that its popularity continues.

Kia Soul logo

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent read.
Had been looking forward to reviews on the 2014 Kia Soul.
Now we have it!
BYW, my wife likes it, too!
Thanks, GotSoul2013