2014 Kia Soul - 'Soul’s a small car with big changes' Published by USA Today

The 2014 Kia Soul subcompact resembles the car it replaces, but is a very new machine.

Kia, of course, applies the auto industry's favorite description to the car: "all new."

In this case that's pretty close to right — although it seems more like fine-tuning if you just look at the dimensions, the engines, other specifications. Length and width are just fractions of an inch greater than for the previous model. Headroom and total passenger space are reduced very slightly, but rear legroom, front shoulder room and cargo space are up. So's fuel tank capacity.

Base 1.6-liter engine, no powerhouse to begin with, loses eight horsepower, five pounds-feet of torque and one mile per gallon on government ratings. The base model also 2014 is up to 100 pounds heavier than the 2013. Combined with the drop in power and its small engine, we'd expect that one to feel like a slug.

Most models come with the 2-liter engine, which is newly fitted with direct injection. That engine has the same 164 hp as last year, but three more lbs.-ft. of torque, and mileage ratings one to three mpg better than its predecessor, making it about a match for the smaller, 1.6-liter engine's mileage ratings.

The 2-liter also makes its hp and lbs.-ft. at lower engine speed to make it feel livelier in traffic and on entrance ramps. No rocket, but the test car demonstrated it was interesting at full throttle.
More obvious: Body panels and interior are new, though the car continues the original boxy look. It's made jauntier, however, by a slightly lower roofline, new grille, huge taillights and more angle of the windshield pillars.

Kia says Soul has an "iconic" look, and it wanted to preserve that instead of radically changing the appearance.

Less obvious, more important: Additional sound insulation imposes an applause-worthy level of quiet in a small car. The test model did kick up some tire noise on certain surfaces and once in a while suffered from slight wind noise on the driver's side. Minor matters.

Stiffer chassis and reconfigured rear shock absorbers that are mounted more upright than before combine for a pleasant blend of ride comfort and handling agility. That's worth noting on any Kia, because the brand went overboard for a time stiffening its suspensions to deliver what it considered sporty handling, but creating harsh-riding vehicles.
The test car was a high-end, $26,195 Soul Exclaim (!, in Kia-speak) with all factory options.

The base model is called simply Soul; the mid-level, Soul Plus (+).

A new version of the Plus, called Red Zone Special Edition, runs $28,895 with all factory options.

Anything beyond $22,000 seems stiff for a subcompact, but the test car's price is well below the average new-car transaction price of about $31,000 nowadays. And the Soul Exclaim test car came with a great array of features, providing evidence that you can downsize and down-price without much down-scaling.

Ours had the only two factory options packages offered for Exclaim:Sun and Sound package ($2,600), which delivers navigation, automatic climate control and a panoramic sunroof that's great for an illusion of openness in a tidy-size car.

The delightfully named The Whole Shabang package. We think the right spelling in this case is "shebang," the Kia spelling normally being used to identify a computer code.

By whichever name, it adds leather seats that are heated/ventilated in front and heated in back, heated steering wheel (among our favorite options in any vehicle), push-button start and high-intensity-discharge headlights.

Soul's tight turning circle, trim dimensions and auto-folding outside mirrors all were perfect for the holiday shopping crush at the mega-mall. A nice touch: The mirrors unfold when you approach the car. The key fob remote is what triggers them.

The Kia proved quite satisfying on our daily mix of "S" corners, short straightaways, patched and potholed pavement, suggesting it's just right for the daily commute that has a bit of sporting enthusiasm tossed in.

The leather upholstery looks good and is comfortable, neither of which can be taken for granted in a mainstream-brand small car.
The steering feel is adjustable on all models. A comfort setting adds power assistance for a light-tough feel (too over-boosted for Test Drive's taste), a normal setting that's just what the name implies (the one we used the most) and a sport mode that firms the feel (artificially so, alas).

We'd prefer that Soul be equipped with all-wheel drive, a power hatch and a quieter, slightly more-powerful engine, all to help justify the top model's relatively high price.
Nonetheless, all the changes and features make Soul a premium-feeling small car, especially if you spring for the loaded Soul Exclaim. It seems at odds with the cartoonish styling and the goofy hamster ads, but Test Drive is untroubled by the persona conflict, and finds the new take on Soul to be a very, very appealing machine.


Available in three trim levels: Soul, Soul Plus (+, in Kia-speak) — including a new-to-the-lineup Plus Red Zone model — and Soul Exclaim (!).

When? On sale since October.

Where? Made in South Korea.

How much? Starting prices: $15,495, including shipping, for the base model with 1.6-liter engine and manual transmission; $18,995 for Plus with 2-liter engine, automatic; $21,095 for Exclaim with 2-liter, automatic; $23,995 for Plus Red Zone.
Test car, an Exclaim with all factory options, was $26,195.

What makes it go? Base model has 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated 130 horsepower at 6,300 rpm, 118 pounds-feet of torque at 4,850 rpm.
Others get 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated 164 hp at 6,200, 151 lbs.-ft. at 4,000.
Most models come with six-speed automatic standard; base has six-speed manual.

How big? Fraction of an inch longer, wider than previous model; has slightly less passenger space, more cargo space. About 1 inch longer, 4 in. wider than Honda Fit. Passenger space: 101 cubic ft. (96.8 cu. ft with panoramic sunroof). Cargo space: 24.2 cu. ft. behind rear seat, 61.3 cu. ft. when rear seat's folded. Weighs 2,714 to 2,834 lbs.
Turning circle diameter: 34.8 ft.

How thirsty? 1.6-liter rated 24 mpg in the city, 30 highway, 26 combined city/highway; 2-liter rated 23/31/26; 2-liter with Eco package rated 24/31/27.
Well-furnished 2-liter test car registered 19.8 mpg (5.05 gallons per 100 miles) in moderately vigorous suburban driving, 31.1 mpg (3.22 gal./100 mi.) in highway driving.
Overall: Seriously good small car with premium touches.

Published January 4, 2014 by USA Today