2010 Kia Soul
In a segment where fashion has arguably become as important as value, without style, you don’t have much to lean on. Scion
defined this new segment, delivering a stylistic take on economical motoring with an emphasis on personal expression and factory-backed customization. But as it often happens in the autoscape, when a niche segment has been carved out, others always try to edge in on it. Kia is looking to get their slice of the pie with the 2010 Soul
, an econobox with an oh-so-important low base price that comes reinforced with a slew of youthful upgrades. The Soul has the kind of flair both outside and in that is needed to take on the aging xB, but soon the competition will turn ruthless in light of Nissan’s nearly simultaneous decision to bring its unapologetically eccentric Cube stateside. This will put a major emphasis on the Soul’s drivability and usability – a good thing for Kia, considering these are two areas where the quirky wagon shines. On the road, the Soul feels much more robust than its size and curb weight (under 3,000 lbs) suggest, thanks to a wide track and optional chunky 18-inch (!) wheels. Inside, Kia appears to have struck a good middle ground without taking things too far, throwing in catchy Gen-Y-themed items like light-ringed speakers that pulsate to the beat of the music. If your idea of the Kia brand elicits images of the Sportage and Rondo, prepare to have your expectations changed.
What's to Like
Kia’s 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty is a premium selling point if we’ve ever seen one. Including tech items like Sirius satellite radio standard and Bluetooth and iPod connectivity on most trim lines gives the Soul a decidedly 21st century demeanor. You’re free to personalize, and add to your car loan, with over 50 accessories straight from the factory.
What's Not to Like
Use of a four-speed automatic transmission for a 2010 model seems downright backwards thinking, especially when the competition boasts more gears and also, CVTs. We would also have liked to see the 1.6-liter engine put to use in more than just the base trim, as those who decide to opt for more robustly powered models would sacrifice potential fuel savings by doing so.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
For a small economy car, the Soul is surprisingly capable on road. You won’t confuse it as being anywhere near fast, but power is more than ample to motivate it up to freeway speeds. The only real slack in the drivetrain, where the four-speed auto can be slightly schizophrenic in its shifts and the five-speed manual’s clutch has all the character of a stack of wet bricks. It counters this with steering that’s hot hatch heavy and a wide track that leads to improved cornering – important in a top-heavy car with an inherently high center of gravity. Both standard and sport suspension packages are compliant over all but the most broken of roads. Road noise isn’t an issue even with optional 18-inch tires, and while wind noise becomes apparent at 75 mph, it’s hardly what we’d call intrusive.
Engine and Drivetrain
The base Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 122 horsepower, 115 lb-ft of torque, and is available only with a five-speed manual. However, the rest of the Soul family (Plus, Exclaim and Sport) makes due with a diminutive but zesty 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that makes 142 horsepower and 137 lb-ft of torque. Power is driven to the front-wheels via either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
While the base model Soul can have options added to it, Kia plans on mostly selling Soul+ (Plus) and Soul! (Exclaim) models. The Soul+ adds 16-inch wheels, cruise control and window tint to the base model, while the Soul! goes slightly farther with 18-inch wheels and a performance audio package. There’s also a Soul Sport, which gets sports suspension and 18-inch wheels. However, those feeling the need to add to some flair have access to more than 50 accessories.
Key Technology Evaluation
The Soul gives you the kind of technology you’d expect from vehicles with price tags nearly twice the Soul’s base MSRP. Among the available technologies are items like keyless entry, a crank-it-up 315-watt sound package, USB and auxiliary input jacks with steering wheel-mounted controls, Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity. Electronic stability control, traction control and ABS all come standard, which, in our book, is a great deal.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The 1.6-liter Soul obviously carries with it a fuel economy advantage, but it’s relatively minor. While the 1.6 can achieve 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, the 2.0-liter engine isn’t far behind at 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. Either way, it won’t cost you a fortune to fill up.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
Kia is looking to entice young buyers, offering expressive interior colors and cool touches like a laptop shelf in the glovebox and multi-colored seats. Thanks to the Soul’s boxy design and supportive seats, six-foot plus adults will fit comfortably, front or back.
The Soul’s quirky exterior has a lot of appeal to it. Kia has done a great job of riding the slippery slope between original and obnoxious, and we especially like the car with chunky 18-inch wheels. 11 colors are on offer, so you should easily be able to find something you like.
Market Segment and Pricing
If you’re content with the base model, you won’t be shelling out much. Pricing begins at a low MSRP of $13,300. Soul+ models begin at $14,950, and Soul! and Sport models start $16,950, but if you want an automatic transmission be prepared to pay another $950. We’d consider the core competition to be the now ubiquitous $15,750 Scion xB, $16,100 Pontiac Vibe, $14,750 Honda Fit and soon to be released $13,990 Nissan Cube.
What We Think
Kia’s Soul is a great modern interpretation on the economy car, packing in the kind of technology and style young buyers demand at a price they can afford. And it drives great, too. But Nissan is throwing a big, fat wrench in the works in the form of the charmingly obscure Cube. Time will tell who comes out on top, but one thing is for sure – the days of the Scion xB ruling the roost are quickly coming to a close.