KIA SOUL GT-LINE
Kia’s Soul is not easy to classify but it is easy to love. Some call it a car – ding! ding! ding! – while some call it a crossover, some stretch and call it an SUV. Before car companies en masse said Americans don’t buy hatchbacks the Soul would’ve been labeled a hatchback, and it still is: Compact outside, spacious inside, nearly as practical as a minivan, wrapped in a unique package, not yet another jelly bean derivative covered in plastic cladding. And nicely equipped it costs half of the average new car.
The face is a Pixar-like mashup of Papa Smurf and a bulldog, the tail could be an airport or amusement park tram and the window-line profile has a hint of Range Rover Evoque in it, no doubt helped by the black roof. The whole is distinctive, as is the center-exit exhaust typically reserved for performance models.
As any delivery van reminds you, a box shape is good for cargo room, and the Soul has plenty. The deep bin behind the rear seat yields 24 cubic feet of volume and 62 with the rear seat folded (it doesn’t go flat); compare that to a sleeker Mazda CX-30 that’s eight inches longer but holds only 20.2 or 45.2 cubic feet for the same respective measures. The Soul offers an optional cargo board that essentially makes a false floor for concealed storage underneath; since this board is only offered with the Tech package I’d just get one at the parts counter or wrecking yard.
Box shapes also tend to work against aerodynamics, but there are no obvious clues here. There’s little to no discernible wind noise at highway speeds, and while the GT-Line’s 18-inch wheel/tire combo helps drop the EPA ratings to 28/33, I managed nearly 38 mpg on a 200-mile out-and-back metro crossing.
The turbo Soul has ended its run, so the GT-Line has the same 147-hp 2-liter four-cylinder, continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive of every Soul. A set of winter tires will cost less than a competitor with all-wheel drive, be easier on gas, and stop and handle better in winter than the AWD on its standard tires, but by all means if you want to go further into the snowbank before you get stuck, be our guest.
A GT’s pace is not the Soul’s mission, though it’s plenty adequate and feels sprightly around town. You’ll hear the engine merging when the digital tach changes from 2.5 to 5.2 and it’s otherwise unobtrusive in the background. It also idles quietly, inside and out.
The GT-Line’s 235/45R18 tires do provide more grip, much of the Soul’s nimble agility attributable to good wheelbase-to-length ratio, moderate roll stiffness and weighing less than 3,000 pounds. It’s not a sports car, the steering requiring little effort while returning similar feel, but it’s easy to drive, predictable, doesn’t beat you up and has no vices. Forward collision warning, lane and blind-spot warnings, and lane-keeping are all standard, while the GT Tech pack adds automatic emergency braking, and smart cruise control highway drive assist. Lane-keeping worked well, making more smaller adjustments than fewer larger changes.
Inside, GT-Line cars get synthetic leather and satin chrome door handles in addition to the dual-zone climate control and 10-inch navigation with CarPlay and Android Auto. The layout is logical and useful, and while eminently practical there is some whimsy evident in the broadcast radio frequency display that only electrical engineers and buyers of a certain age will understand. Outward visibility is excellent, I had no issues with room front or back, and comfort proved fine for two-hour rides.
This tester has the Designer package, no-charge black roof over surf blue, which deletes the sunroof and negates the Tech option, maybe Kia’s version of Porsche’s ‘we’ll charge you extra to take this out’ pricing. Personally, I’d rather have the sunroof, but even equipped as this one for less than $25,000 the Soul makes a compelling value argument, and adding the Tech pack (driver assists, power driver and heated front seats, Harman-Kardon audio upgrade, cargo deck and all-LED exterior lighting for $2400) and Kia’s long warranty doesn’t hurt that value.
The Soul outlived its toaster competitors Scion xB and Nissan Cube, and remains as distinctive now as when it debuted. Yet it’s a far better car, not trying to be something it isn’t, and makes a helluva good showing for anyone in need of four seats wanting more than a bulked-up jelly bean.