Kia Soul

The new Kia Soul is a small stylish boxy street-cruiser that will compete directly with Scion’s trendsetting xB. Both vehicles exude a hip and youthful vibe. It’s another example of Hyundai proving itself as a maker of higher-quality cutting-edge fuel-efficient automobiles. The Kia Soul’s tag line is, “A new way to roll…50+ accessories, 31 mpg/hwy, starting under $14k.”

Built on the Kia Rio’s subcompact platform, the Soul offers a lot in terms of affordability, practicality, and efficiency. It’s powered by a choice of two small four-cylinder engines. One is a 1.6-liter powerplant yielding a modest 122 horsepower, and the other is a peppier 142-horsepower 2.0-liter. The 1.6 has government fuel economy ratings of 26 in the city and 31 on the highway—while the 2.0-liter rates at 24 in the city and 30 on the highway. The MSRP starts at $13,300.

We put the EPA’s mileage numbers to the test by taking our 2.0-liter Soul out on our regular 114-mile test loop. The first time, we applied harder acceleration and a heavier foot. On this run, we achieved a respectable 25.7 miles per gallon. We were expecting less given the more spirited driving, but the Soul kept a comfortable margin over its city number.
On our more passive run, again the Soul out-did its ratings—achieving 33.1 miles per gallon. Sure, the driving style was subdued, and even the heat was turned off, but the final result was encouraging.

From a handling standpoint, the Soul is a fun little car to drive. But due to a higher center of gravity, you have to watch taking corners too fast. There’s more body roll here then the typical subcompact. Electronic Stability Control helps, but the driver still needs to be aware of the vehicle’s limits. Its ride is comfortable and fairly smooth, making it a natural commuter. The only real complaint is the buzziness of the engine. It can get a little loud and annoying on the highway.

The cabin of the Soul is as stylish as the exterior. Its use of color and curved lines give it a very modern appeal. Beyond aesthetics, the Soul has a level of fit and finish that is comparable to rivals from Honda or Toyota. Interior materials feel solid, not plastic-y, a direction Hyundai has been moving in for the last couple of model years. And there’s plenty of passenger room for five—more than the xB. Seats are firm and supportive, and the ones up front offer excellent visibility in all directions. The Soul, however, falls short on cargo room compared to the xB and the Fit. Not to say that it’s unusable—just limited. The overall interior packaging leans toward passenger space over cargo volume.

But the true essence of the Soul’s urban flavor is captured by its 315-watt upgraded stereo system with subwoofer and pulsating speaker lights. No doubt a novelty, but super cool nonetheless. And it delivers sound that’s similar to that of systems found in higher-end luxury automobiles.

In the end, the Kia Soul is a fun, little people carrier, with eye-catching looks, very good fuel economy, and Hyundai’s newfound reputation for quality. Add to that a 10 year/100,000 warranty—the best in the industry—and a base price around $15,000. It’s possible that we may have a cult hit on our hands.