Automakers take notice. Kia’s new Soul is not perfect. It is no engineering masterpiece, and nobody has named it “car of the year.” But manufacturers, if you look around you, you will see people driving the new Soul on the streets, lots of people who have paid good money to sit in this box of style.
Why is this? Because the Soul – while far from flawless – gets one thing right. It offers personality and “fun” at a time when folks need it most. And it does this at a price most folks can afford, starting just under $14k.
Now, a commute to work or the grocery store can be exhilarating – even for penny pinchers. And those same tightwads can be proud of their ride. A ride available in shades like Alien, Molten, Java, Shadow and Dune. A ride with speakers that light up in tune with the music and with optional glow-in-the-dark upholstery.
Given its gadgets, styling and name, the Soul clearly targets a particular demographic – the same young’ns who have been buying “cool” competitors like Scion’s xB, Honda’s Element and Nissan’s Cube. But older buyers and even company/fleet purchasers have taken notice of the Soul.
So how does Korea’s hip hatchback rate against the Japanese trendyweights that created the genre? Surprisingly well. All in all, the Soul is a competent five-door with superb styling (at least for its target buyers), a great warranty and an attractive price.
Inside, the Soul’s components and controls are simple to use but fun to view. My tester came with a bright-red two-tone dashboard. The Soul looks small but offers plenty of legroom and headroom in the front and backseats – even enough for six-footers.
Of course, this eco cruiser doesn’t float like a Lincoln on the highway. But it’s comfortable enough and plenty fun to drive around town. While sporty in décor, the Soul is no performance vehicle either. It wasn’t meant to be.
Thanks to its dainty four-cylinder engine, my tester with manual 5-speed transmission averaged 31 miles for every gallon on the highway and about 26 mpg in the city. I also liked the Soul’s large, grippy shifter – a bigger version of the rubber golf ball Volkswagen planted atop its five-speeds during the 80’s.
Buyers can choose between a tiny, gas-sipping 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine and an even tinier a 1.6 liter engine. Many stateside Soul seekers will opt for the 1.8 liter, as it’s the only engine available with an automatic transmission (though I’d recommend the manual).
The Soul’s stats, from price to acceleration and gas mileage are typical Kia – strategically engineered to be competitive and appealing. What’s harder to communicate is this Kia’s, well, soul. It’s a fun little car and well worth a look for anyone shopping the small five-door hatchback genre.
The Soul offers plenty of room for riding and stowing. It’s well built, fun enough to drive and really fun to be in or look at. Also, it comes with Kia’s trademark 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. This little hatchback offers its own unique hip ness and personality.
© 2010 John Dickerson
The inside of this Soul is practical and lovely.
* Each month John Dickerson tests a worthy car. From smoking teenagers at stoplights to cramming groceries and small appliances into the trunk, Dickerson examines the features you actually care about, like how well a spilled mocha cleans off the upholstery. Dickerson was raised on industrial pollution, deer venison and American steel in Detroit, Michigan. His co-workers often find him in a trance, slumped over his keyboard, uttering words like “torque steer, horsepower-to-displacement ratio” and “nav system.”