Boxy vehicles like the Kia Soul, Scion xB, and Nissan Cube have been all the rave in Japan and other Asian markets. In 2003, North America received our first glimpse at this styling of vehicle with the Scion xB. Then, in 2009, Nissan brought in the Cube ready to gain ground in the funky segment of the U.S. automotive market. The Kia Soul is the latest integration into this segment coming to market in 2010. Although the design is distinctively Asian, the Soul was actually designed by Kia’s design team in California, but is manufactured in South Korea. The Soul instantly became a much bigger hit in the segment than either the xB or the Cube and has won many awards in it’s short lifespan.
It’s 2012, we’re looking at the 3rd year of production with this vehicle dubbed the “Hamster-car,” thanks to Kia’s popular commercials featuring dancing hamsters, not much has changed since 2010. Kia has addressed one of the more significant downfalls of the Soul by updating their powertrain offerings. They have upgraded the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine as it now produces 138-horsepower and 124-lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, like the one in our tester, now pushes out 164-hp and 148-lb-ft of torque. Both these engines can now be matched up with either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.
This upgrade has not only helped with powering the little car, but also helps with fuel economy. The Soul infused with a 1.6-liter engine and manual or automatic transmission will average the consumer around 25-mpg city and 30-mpg highway while the 2.0-liter engine should net you closer to 24-mpg city and 29-mpg highway.
The looks on the outside have been changed up some as well. The overall vehicle has been given a wider and lower look with a new front fascia and larger fog lamps. The rear has gone through much of the same work to give the Soul the appearance of being lower and wider. The headlights have been redesigned, too. The new lamp separates the headlamp from the daytime running lamps with an inset pattern of LED’s. The taillights have also received the LED treatment to round out the cars new design.
For 2012, you’ll also see a full set of revised wheels from a 15-inch wheel all the way up to the 18-inch. Our tester was equipped with some of the newly designed 18-inch wheels and I say they look really great!
Of course one of the big draws to the Soul is not in factory options, but in aftermarket or dealer added flare. Vinyl covering, aftermarket wheels, aftermarket stereo and speakers, and many more accessories are what make this car so attractive to so many people.
So with updated drivetrains and some revised styling inside and out, how does the Soul drive?
Kia is still going to be a mixed bag as far as quality goes. The new Kia Optima we reviewed a few months back just blew us away with it’s interior quality and lack of road and wind noise. The Kia Sportage and Forte similarly have a nice quality feel. The interior of the Soul is actually pretty nice and about on par with that of the Forte, but where this boxy ride left a real sour taste in our mouth is in the driving quality and road noise. Driving the Soul down a normal city road, you get a lot of road and wind noise inside the cabin.
Steering feel and power from the 2.0-liter engine though is nothing to turn your nose up at. This little boxy ride can really get up and go, but again, you’re hearing everything you don’t want to hear. Talk about a car that gives the feeling of driving a go-kart.
This less than quality feeling ride is most likely a symptom of the price point of the Soul. Pricing starts at $14,650 for a base vehicle equipped with a manual transmission. Adding an auto brings that base price up by $1,800. If you’re looking at a top spec car, much like the one we’re reviewing, you’re still only looking at just over $20k.
Looking at the competition, price point and the funkiness of the design leaves me with a few lasting impressions. The Soul is a great entry-level ride for a young buyer looking to express themselves. I think it’s also a great buy for small business to use as a small company vehicle, something like an insurance agency or traveling photographer or something. Speaking of insurance, make sure you talk with a car insurance agent if you’re planning to buy a new car such as this.
One more note is that 2014 will be a big year for Kia. They are planning more design changes, and even more powertrain changes are in the works. If you’re looking at this car and really like the styling but can’t get over the low quality at the current state, you might wait and see what Kia has in store for us in 2014.